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"Do It Because You Love It:" An Interview with Dr. Elizabeth Chilton
Sam: When did you become an archaeologist or how old were you when you started?
Dr. Chilton: I became an archaeologist in college, when I was 21 years old. That was in 1984.
Sam: What got you interested in archaeology?
Dr. Chilton: I love the combination of scientific and humanistic, of creativity and logic. I also liked working outdoors, even though excavation is only one small part of what a professional archaeologist does.
Sam: What training or education has helped you most as an archaeologist?
Dr. Chilton: I received a B.A. degree in anthropology, but graduate school provided me with the best training. I received a Ph.D. after 7 years of graduate school (that was after four years of college, and two years of working as a "contract archaeologist" (which is archaeological work in advance of construction projects). You don't need to have a Ph.D. to be a professional archaeologist, but you need to have a B.A., for the most part, and a Masters degree helps.
Sam: What kind of archaeological work or what field do you work in?
Dr. Chilton: New England prehistoric archaeology. I study Native Americans who lived between 11,000 and 400 years ago in the New England region. I often direct excavations in the summer and do lab work, research, and teaching during the rest of the year.
Sam: Can you tell me about any interesting field experiences you've had?
Dr. Chilton: Right after college, I volunteered on a project in Belize studying the Maya (volunteering is a great way to get experience!). We excavated Maya buildings and discovered a tomb that was more than 1,000 years old. Even though I enjoyed the experience in Belize a great deal, I decided to focus on prehistoric Native Americans in New England because we know so little about them.
Sam: Where have you found your most interesting artifacts?
Dr. Chilton: When doing research on museum collections! But also when digging on Martha's Vineyard in Massachusetts.
Sam: How many hours a day do you work at a dig?
Dr. Chilton: My digs are usually only 5-8 weeks in the summer. But when we are digging, we work from 8 in the morning to 5 in the afternoon, Monday through Friday. Sometimes if we find something interesting or important we may stay late.
Sam: What tools do you use?
Dr. Chilton: A trowel, a shovel, a screen (for sifting dirt), a measuring tape and line levels (for taking depth measurements). Cameras and note-taking are also very important for recording information.
Sam: What is your favorite thing about archaeology?
Dr. Chilton: Digging! And learning about time periods for which we have not written history
Sam: Is there anything you don't like about archaeology?
Dr. Chilton: Sometimes the note-taking and all of the laboratory work that needs to be done can become boring and tedious at times.
Sam: What would you say to a child who was thinking about archaeology for a career?
Dr. Chilton: First of all, you
will never make a lot of money being a professional archaeologist. You
need to do it because you love it. Luckily, in the United States there
are PLENTY of jobs in archaeology. So even though you may not get rich
doing it, you still can make a decent living. The most important thing
I would say it that archaeology is NOT treasure hunting. We are interested
in objects for what they can tell us about past peoples. We are NOT
interested in the monetary value of the things we dig up. Also, archaeology
is never something you should try on your own without thorough training.