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Remembering Gordon DeAngelo on Avocational Archaeology

Posted by Edward V. Curtin on May 3, 2011 in Archaeology |
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I reported earlier that on April 16, 2011, the New York State Archaeological Association (NYSAA) remembered the late Gordon DeAngelo through an afternoon of presentations on Gordon’s life and contributions to archaeology.  I remember Gordon from my first meeting with him in 1978, when he was the DOT liaison for archaeology in the Syracuse regional office.  He helped me get started on an archaeological survey in Fulton, New York by giving me the project maps with the map-documented structures already drawn in.  It made my life a little easier, and for the van full of people who were working for me, it suddenly made their leader look like I knew exactly what I was doing.

I would usually chat with Gordon at NYSAA meetings, and he would describe such things as, for example, prehistoric sites exposed by low water levels in an Adirondack lake; or his recent analyses or fieldwork on sites in central New York, the Hudson valley, or elsewhere; or the importance of the Chittenango Landing Canal Boat Museum.  And I would express my long-held opinion that there must be more prehistoric sites along Adirondack lakeshores than people realize; or, sometimes I would expound upon the importance of utilized flakes in my most recent research on low density lithic sites.  Several years ago, when I needed help trying to study a pile of burned bricks that I though might have come from an undiscovered, on-site kiln, I was happy to find Gordon’s article on brick-making (DeAngelo 2001), and also happily learned that the pile of bricks probably was the kiln remnant, which had been staring me in the face.

In 1994, when I asked Gordon to participate in the Festschrift that Christopher Lindner and I were planning for then recently-retired New York State Archaeologist Bob Funk, Gordon more than rose to the occasion.  He provided an eloquent statement on the hopeful future relationship between avocational and professional archaeologists (DeAngelo 1996).  Several speakers at the 2011 NYSAA meeting referred to this article or quoted from it.  I seem to remember that this statement was revisited a couple of times:

…we will attempt to briefly offer you one person’s concern regarding the future of the avocational in archaeology.  The word itself —  avocational – is still bothersome although the Latin ab-vocare to call away —  that is from one’s regular work is appropriate.  However, the pleasurable aspect of such work as an important factor seems lost (that is, lost in translation). (DeAngelo 1996:45)

At the same time, although not necessarily evoking “the pleasurable aspect of the work” —  and not implying the love of it, as does the word amateur with its source in the Latin verb to love–  Gordon decided that avocational was the best descriptive category for what he did in archaeology.  Most other words, amateur included, too often connoted being less than competent or experienced. So, he settled on avocational as the aspiration for those who find pleasurable work in archaeology, away from their first career (DeAngelo 1996:45).

In writing about this, Gordon found inspiration in Bob McGimsey’s (1972) Public Archaeology.  It is important to find ways to meet the public’s genuine interest is participating in archaeology, Gordon argued.  He quoted McGimsey at greater length than is repeated here:

…the public is going to participate, and no amount of legal action or moral suasion is going to discourage them.  It thus behooves professional archaeologists to utilize this inescapable fact to archaeology’s advantage, rather than to condemn such participation, or to pretend it will go away, or simply to wring their hands in horror (McGimsey 1972:37).

This is a round-about way of saying that Gordon foresaw a future of beneficial cooperation between avocational and professional archaeologists; as well as the prospect of channeling the interest and activities of untrained collectors or other members of the public into ongoing professional-avocational partnerships of great utility to the documentation and preservation of the archaeological record.

Nothing happens overnight, but some good things have been developing for the avocational-professional partnership, and to meet the public interest in archaeology over the years since Gordon’s statement on the role of the avocational.  For one, the New York Archaeological Council (NYAC, a professional organization) and the New York State Archaeological Association (NYSAA, with a wide range of membership including professionals and avocationals) have continued to meet together in the spring of each year, and have provided excellent contexts for all concerned to demonstrate leadership.  This degree of organization and cooperation at the state level, is in effect leading by example, providing a very seemly basis to offer moral and ethical guidance to individual programs that reach out to the interested public.

In addition, various local educational venues incorporating fieldwork, data recording, artifact analysis, and interpretation operate on a regular basis, serving the public’s interest in exploring the past through archaeology.  Programs that come to mind include Binghamton University’s Public Archaeology Facility, Community Archaeology Program (CAP), as well as the Community Archaeology Program (CAP) of Schenectady County Community College; the hands-on archaeology, professional development workshops for school teachers conducted by the New York State Museum (in conjunction with joint research with The University at Albany summer field school); and the Schoharie River Center archaeology module for school children conducted in association with Hartgen Archeological Associates.  The last operates within a larger context of environmental education.

These collaborations and programs may not be all that Gordon had in mind, but they provide a foundation for interaction, learning, and respect; an outlook of site and collections stewardship; and greater public advocacy for archaeology–  not to mention “the pleasurable aspect of such work.”

 

References Cited

DeAngelo, Gordon C.

1996 Archaeology in the Future:  The Role of the Avocational.  In A Golden Chronograph for Robert E. Funk, edited by Chris Lindner and Edward V. Curtin, pp. 45-48.  Occasional Publications In Northeastern Anthropology, No. 15, Bethlehem, Connecticut.

2001 An Outline History of Brickmaking in New York State.  William M. Beauchamp Chapter, N.Y.S.A.A. 8(1):51-66.

McGimsey, Charles R. III

1972 Public Archeology.  Seminar Press, New York.

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