Archaeology graduate student Kate Yeske has made a living on backcountry adventures. As a field technician for Colorado State University’s Center for Environmental Management on Military Lands (CEMML), Yeske has worked at archaeological sites in remote Alaska for the past 10 years.
This year, Julia Kenyon and Katherine Sinsky, students working with Jason LaBelle, associate professor of archaeology, traveled with Yeske deep into the Alaskan wilderness.
But Kenyon and Yeske knew each other before they started the Department of Anthropology’s master’s program in archaeology. They met while Kenyon worked for Northern Land Use Research in Alaska and she was thrilled to go back.
“I was excited to return to a state where I had enjoyed field work three years ago,” said Kenyon. “I wanted to see firsthand the archaeological capacity of some military lands that CEMML fulfills there.”
Working in the remote Alaskan wilderness
Working with archaeologist Julie Esdale, CEMML’s field crew located, recorded and excavated archaeological sites at Fort Wainwright across central Alaska’s Middle Tanana Valley. The team would often travel to remote backcountry locations by plane, helicopter, or ATV and camp for periods of four or eight days.
“Some of the joys of seasonal fieldwork are working outside with great people, in beautiful and archaeologically interesting places, and in challenging and diverse environments,” Sinsky said. “Alaska offered all of these.”
When returning to Alaska this year, Yeske worked as a crew leader on a project that determined site boundaries and significance. The sites were located along a terrace edge near Clear Creek in the Tanana Flats.
“No matter how exciting the work may be, a good crew is invaluable,” Yeske said. “When everyone works hard, feels valued, contributes to and is invested in the success of the project, you have a happy team and get a lot of good work done. We overcame some unexpected challenges and grueling days. As a result, we have some amazing stories to tell.”
Challenges of fieldwork
By nature, fieldwork involves challenges that the team must endure such as constant sun without shade, wind and rain without cover, and wild animals. However, unexpected situations, and how the crew handles these experiences, are what make work in the field both demanding and worthwhile.
On one occasion, Yeske and her crew took four ATVs out to a site along the Tanana Flat terrace edge. It started to rain. Then, it turned into hail and the trails quickly turned to mud. As the crew headed back to camp, two of the ATVs got stuck. Everyone was calm, focused, and worked together as a team. They were able to wench the ATVs out and get back to camp safely.
“Attitude is everything when working with the same people, over long periods of time, in close quarters,” said Yeske. “Fieldwork experience can be extremely rewarding and the crew develops lifelong friendships.”
To read more about the fieldwork that CSU archaeology students conducted in Alaska last summer, check out “CSU archaeologists unearthing human roots in Alaska.”
The Department of Anthropology is in CSU’s College of Liberal Arts.