Meet a Member: David Landon

Here’s the latest in our series of entertaining interviews with a diverse array of your fellow SHA members. Meet a member for the first time or learn something about a colleague that you never knew before. This blog series also offers current members an opportunity to share their thoughts on why SHA membership is important (Camaraderie? Professional service? Exchange of ideas in conference rooms and beyond? You tell us!). If you would like to be an interviewee, please email the Membership Committee Social Media Liaisons Eleanor Breen (ebreen@mountvernon.org) or Kim Pyszka (kpyszka@aum.edu).

An Interview with Dr. David Landon, Associate Director of the Andrew Fiske Memorial Center for Archaeological Research and Adjunct Associate Professor, Department of Anthropology, University of Massachusetts, Boston

Who influenced your decision to become an archaeologist?

The key influences were the two professors I started working with as an undergraduate at Wesleyan University, Diana Crader and Steve Dyson. Diana was a physical anthropologist and zooarchaeologist, and had started working on a consulting project to study the faunal remains from Monticello, which became the project for one of our classes. Steve was sending the students on excavation projects on local historical sites, so got us into fieldwork (the fun part) immediately. Steve was a classicist, but was working on a comparative colonialism volume that had a chapter from Mary Beaudry, so when it came time for graduate school his advice was to go work with her. Basically I just fell in with the wrong crowd! : )

What is the first site you worked on? What is the last one (or current one)?

One of the first sites was an apothecary shop in Middletown, CT. Great artifacts for a first dig!

What are you currently reading?

You mean besides Game of Thrones, right?

Cooler Smarter: Practical Steps for Low-Carbon Living, by the Union of Concerned Scientists.

What did you want to be when you grew up?

The first job I can remember wanting to have was an architect. I went to college thinking I was going to be an international development economist, and ended up with an economics major and an undergraduate honors thesis in archaeology.

Why are you a member of SHA?

SHA is my primary professional organization and it would be hard to imagine not belonging!

At what point in your career did you first join SHA?

I think I was  just starting graduate school at Boston University when the SHA conference came to Boston. I missed the conference, but that was the first time I understood that this professional organization existed, and I joined shortly thereafter.

How many years have you been a member (approximately)?

Probably closing in on 25 years at this point- yikes!

Which benefit of belonging to SHA do you find the most beneficial?

I enjoy the conferences and the collegiality of the organization. I still remember the sensation of first publishing in Historical Archaeology- I was amazed and thrilled to think that something I wrote was being mailed out to so many people I respected. Still a wonderful feeling!

SHA’s INVITE YOUR LAWMAKER DAY IS AUGUST 20!

Congress’ summer recess is underway! August is a great time to invite federal, state and local lawmakers to visit sites and projects, and to learn about the importance of cultural heritage education and preservation. It is also a chance for us to advocate for SHPO/THPO offices, social sciences funding, and NHPA’s Section 106 and upcoming 50th anniversary in 2016.

This summer, SHA is holding its first annual Invite Your Lawmakers Day on August 20, 2014. Please invite lawmakers –  and the press – to visit nearby sites and digs, and learn why archaeology matters.

We have prepared a sample email to use if you are asked to submit a written request:

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Dear Representative ___________/Senator ___________,

I am your constituent, and I would like to invite you to [visit my site, come see my facility] on August 20, 2014, which the Society for Historical Archaeology (SHA) has designated as its first annual Invite Your Lawmaker Day.

I own/work for  [company/school name]. My company does ____[describe your firm or department in 1 sentence]_____. [Company name] employs __[X]__ number of people in the district/ state.

I am an active member of SHA, the largest organization in the world dedicated to the archaeological study of the modern world and the third largest anthropological organization in the United States. Members come from a dozen countries, and most are professional archaeologists who teach, work in museums or consulting firms, or have government posts. The SHA and its members strongly support the protection of cultural and historical resources and sites around the nation.

I hope that you will be able to visit on August 20. If you have any questions or would prefer a different date, please reach me at ___[provide best method for contacting you]___. Thank you.

Best regards,

[Your signature block]

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A 1-pager about SHA to hand out during lawmaker visits is available at: http://tinyurl.com/oooptsg.

If you missed Cultural Heritage Partners’ webinar providing tips and guidance for summer recess visits, the slides are available at: http://tinyurl.com/p9vjfkj.

An Interview with Connecticut’s (former) State Archaeologist

By Mandy Ranslow

State Archaeologist, Dr. Nicholas Bellantoni, has held his post watching over Connecticut’s archaeological resources for the past 27 years.  During his tenure he encountered sites ranging from Native American settlements to a World War II plane crash.  Throughout his career Dr. Nick has included the public in many ways, speaking regularly about his excavations at historical societies, libraries, and even to Audubon groups.  His fieldwork endeavors make use of a large volunteer group who supports his office, the Friends of the Office of State Archaeology (see SHA PEIC Blog November 4, 2013).  Part of his job is also teaching introductory archaeology classes at the University of Connecticut, where several students have been known to declare their major as anthropology after completing his class.  Even in my own experience the response I get from anyone who hears I’m an archaeologist is, “Do you know Nick Bellantoni?”  Dr. Nick is a celebrity in his own right here in Connecticut.  A lot of that has to do with his passion for exciting the public about archaeology and his constant outreach efforts.

I caught up with Dr. Nick while he was leading a public dig for teenagers for the Historical Society of Glastonbury.

I want to share his thoughts on the importance of public outreach and engagement in archaeology:

Dr. Nick was the first State Archaeologist after the Office was legislatively established.  Upon starting the job, how important did he think engaging the public would be?

  • Dr. Nick knew from the beginning that working with the public would be very important.  The public didn’t have any awareness of archaeology, and largely viewed collecting arrowheads as a pastime.  At the local level archaeology was seen as a hobby, and the general public didn’t think the archaeological sites in Connecticut were necessarily significant.  Dr. Nick realized quickly that public education would be the key to preservation.

FOSA Volunteer Assisting Excavation Participants

Dr. Nick’s schedule has been packed with speaking arrangements in the last several years.  Has this always been the case?

  • Yes, Dr. Nick has given talks in almost all the state’s historical societies, and the more talks he gives, the more he is asked to do.  As Dr. Nick became involved in more projects, he was also extended more invitations to talk about them.  The Horton Farm site in Glastonbury (the location of the Historical Society’s dig) was made known to Dr. Nick because Mr. Horton attended a local lecture.  Mr. Horton has opened his property to Dr. Nick many times for public excavations.  By creating contacts through speaking engagements Dr. Nick has excavated interesting sites throughout the state.

How did Dr. Nick’s relationship with the public evolve over the last 27 years?

  • Over Dr. Nick’s tenure he continues to reach new audiences with his message of preservation and archaeology.  Keeping local connections is very important.  Local officials on Planning and Zoning Boards are made aware of preservation issues through Dr. Nick’s talks.  Dr. Nick very much values the freedom the Office of State Archaeology has as an entity outside the State Historic Preservation Office to focus on local engagement outside the state and federal regulatory framework.

How does Dr. Nick maintain the energy and enthusiasm for working with the public?

  • Dr. Nick was quick to answer, he “works out.”  And his primary motivator is his sense of responsibility to the archaeological record, tribes, and the public.  He is also very cognizant of the expectations of the local archaeological community, for which Dr. Nick is the public face.  While Dr. Nick is a self-professed workaholic, he does feel privileged (and lucky) to be the State Archaeologist.  This drives him to excel at his job.

Many articles have been published in Connecticut lately about Dr. Nick’s celebrated role as State Archaeologist and his favorite excavations.  What excavation stands out as successfully including the public?  And what excavation is the public most fascinated in still to this day?

  • Dr. Nick says the Vampire Dig (highlighted in a 2012 article by the Smithsonian) is still the most asked about by the public even though it took place over twenty years ago.  Though a sensational story, Dr. Nick does use the opportunity to also talk about archaeology and forensics in general.  “Like a vampire, it never dies.”

What advice do you have for your successor in regards to working with the public?

  • Dr. Nick stresses the importance of outreach, and that, “You can never do enough.”  The State Archaeologist’s ability to protect sites depends on the public’s interest and excitement in archaeology.  This is paramount in doing work at the local level, especially when there is “shaky legislative ground.”  The next State Archaeologist (Dr. Brian Jones) will need to establish his own working relationships and “do things his way.”  Dr. Brian will also have the continued support of the Friends group.  “Public outreach is the key to everything else we do (as archaeologists); it all connects.”

Does Dr. Nick see himself remaining involved in archaeology after his retirement?

  • After he “sleeps for the first three months,” yes.  Dr. Nick will continue to teach at the University of Connecticut, and he will help with fundraising at the Connecticut State Museum of Natural History.  Dr. Nick will also fit in some time for research and finishing up projects.  He also hopes to do some writing.  Connecticut will continue to benefit from Dr. Nick’s energy and passion for archaeology for a long time to come.

As President of the Friends of the Office of State Archaeology, our volunteers, and all of Dr. Nick’s fans in Connecticut and beyond wish him a happy retirement.  Words cannot express the gratitude we have for Dr. Nick’s contributions to Connecticut archaeology.

Who inspires you in the world of public archaeology?  What can you do to continue the tradition of public engagement in archaeology in your own backyard?  Or what can you do to start a tradition of public outreach yourself?