Jamie Stott

Guest Post: Aspiring Archaeologist – Melissa Fritz

March 21, 2016, by Melissa Fritz, category Ramblings
Melissa Fritz in Chaco Canyon

Melissa Fritz

Hello everyone, my name is Melissa Fritz and I am a 29 year old aspiring archaeologist who was invited by Jamie to do a guest blog post after reaching out to her for some student advice about archaeology (thanks again Jamie!!). In this post, I want to introduce myself, discuss how I decided that archaeology was the career choice for me, and how I am preparing myself for such a career. I was 24 years old and visiting Angkor in Cambodia when I realized I wanted to be an archaeologist. Like many others in this career, I always had an easy, natural interest in history above other subjects in school and in addition, I am in LOVE with the outdoors! Drop me in the middle of a forest and I am one happy girl just hiking around, scanning the ground for arrowheads or quartz, checking out indigenous plants, looking for wildlife, and just reconnecting with the Earth. So anyway, I had a few 103 degree days to check out these incredible temples and sites of Angkor that were bordered by jungle and packed with tourists, and I kept thinking over and over again how amazing it would be to work at locations such as this, excavating for clues that could offer a rare insight into the lives of ancient people, like those who had constructed and populated Angkor. I like to think of that trip as my career vision quest, even though I wasn’t depriving myself of food or human contact, spending three days visiting temple after temple with boiling temperatures definitely had a spiritual impact on me and it culminated in me finding my true calling.

The famous Ta Prohm temple at Angkor, literally coexisting with the jungle that surrounds it.

The famous Ta Prohm temple at Angkor, literally coexisting with the jungle that surrounds it.

Bayon Temple at Angkor, so detailed and enormous, I had chills when approaching it.

Bayon Temple at Angkor, so detailed and enormous, I had chills when approaching it.

So I knew what I wanted to do now I needed to figure out how to do it. But first things first, I was more than half way through earning a B.A. in Legal Studies, (I know, I know, what the hell was I thinking?!), so I needed to get that degree out of the way before I could become an anthropology major. In the meantime, I took a few intro level anthropology courses in addition to my law courses, and I continued to travel to archaeological sites when I could, including the four corners area in the Southwest region.

Cliff dwelling at Mesa Verde

Cliff dwelling at Mesa Verde

Pueblo Bonito, Chaco Canyon

Pueblo Bonito, Chaco Canyon

Another site I am fortunate to live near and have frequently visited is Cahokia Mounds. This site is particularly special since it is the only World Heritage site in the United States aside from the Four Corners area, and is the largest North American archaeological site (north of Mexico).

cahokia

Monk’s Mound at Cahokia Mounds, IL. The base of this mound is actually larger than that of the Great Pyramid of Giza

Finally I graduated(!), only to turn around and begin earning my second B.A., but I didn’t care because this time I was 100% confident in the direction I was headed. Now I’m currently enrolled as a Cultural Anthropology student with a senior standing at Webster University in St. Louis, MO. Although I am considered a senior, I really just had a ton of credits carry over from my previous degree and I realistically have another two years before graduation- working full time is not speeding up this process by any means. This university is private and on the smaller side, and honestly doesn’t have the strong archaeology emphasis that I need. But I was able to find a full time gig at my school (aka I don’t have to give the school any dollaz for my second degree), so I am going to stick it out here and move on to a school more established in archaeology when I earn my M.A. (thinking somewhere in Arizona possibly). In the meantime, I am still receiving a great and necessary education consisting of a lot of anthropological theory and history, and training in research writing. I have some really amazing professors and classmates, but I do strongly sense the lack of archaeology in the program’s curriculum which can leave me with a feeling of disconnect between what I’m learning and what I want to be doing as a career. There are a few archaeology courses offered from time to time, but these are lecture based rather than hands on learning.

Melissa Fritz

Doing some post excavating (and post shower) sherd cleaning

What I have decided to do then is supplement my education with archaeology experience during my summers when I am out of school. Last year I visited Nicaragua and by chance found an archaeology museum down the street from my hotel. So I took a tour of it (duh), and met Dr. Geoffrey McCafferty, who has been running field schools in Nicaragua for years. I told him of my interest and he was nice enough to let me volunteer at the El Rayo site where a field school was already underway. I couldn’t believe my luck! So I got my hands dirty for the first time, sweated so much while excavating for lithics and pottery sherds in that patch of jungle that I didn’t pee for eight hours despite the eight bottles of water I went through and topped it off with a nice bee sting in the neck. After excavating I got some practice cleaning off what had been excavated and properly recording and organizing all of the sherds and lithics. I loved every second of it and the experience only reaffirmed my passion for archaeology.

Ometepe Island, located in the middle of Lake Nicaragua, is another area I checked out while in Nicaragua. This place was amazing and contained a few areas that were just packed with petrogylph rocks. Unfortunately there is not a ton of information available about the sites and their history, something I will keep in mind when it’s senior thesis time 😉

nicaragua 2

One of the many petroglyph rocks on Ometepe

With summer in sight, (FINALLY!!!!), I am soo excited to announce I will be participating in a month long field school through the Maya Research Program in Belize! I chose this particular school for a few reasons, over the last couple of years I have realized that I have a peaked interest in studying Mesoamerican sites so what would be better than excavating at a Mayan site in Central America?! The field school itself is extremely affordable compared to most and which is nice because I am one broke college student, and the program has been offering field schools in Belize for 24 years with great feedback from those who have participated in it, so overall it felt like a good choice for me personally. Through this field school I hope to learn more about the ancient Mayans who inhabited Belize, become more familiar with the archaeological process of excavation and analysis of material remains, learn how to attach the theories I have been learning about to the archaeological methods, and also meet and develop friendships with lots of fellow aspiring archaeologists like myself! I will be gone for the month of June and will make sure to update everyone on how it went and what I learned so stay tuned and wish me luck!!

-Melissa

4 Comments

  1. Audrey Toole |

    Very inspiring and lovely story. I hope you continue to follow your dreams Melissa!

    Reply
  2. Liz |

    I found your site while researching a career in archaeology, something I thought about as a kid but never took it seriously. Right now I only have an Associates Degree, majoring in Web Design, and almost went for a Bachelors in IT, but it didn’t feel right. I was also stuck at a job I hated, so it felt like I was looking for an escape and not focusing on what I actually wanted. Now, I feel so sure about pursuing it, and reading about your journey is so relatable to me! I also have a job that’s great, but not what I want as a career, so it will be difficult balancing a full-time job and going back to college. So glad you are following your dreams!! Any tips on balancing the full time job and school?

    Reply
    • Jamie Stott |

      Thanks for the positive shout out! I think you’ve got it right, knowing what you want to do and then going for it is so much easier than forcing yourself to go to college just because that’s what you’re supposed to do.

      As far as working and school – I say take the amount of credits you’re comfortable with. Try to avoid overloading yourself because you’ll be so overwhelmed that you’ll forget everything you learn. Try to soak it all in, and make as many faculty and graduate connections as you can. Oh and lastly, volunteer anyway you can. It’ll do nothing but boost your interest/confidence, and give you experience over others when you’re trying to find a job.

      Cheers!

      Jamie

      Reply

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