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Interning at the QAR Lab

Thursday, July 25, 2019
My Story
Author: 
Grace Fawcett, QAR Intern

My name is Grace Fawcett and I am an intern at the Queen Anne’s Revenge Conservation Lab in Greenville, NC, through the State of NC Internship Program. I am a rising junior at East Carolina University majoring in Anthropology with a focus in archaeology. I have wanted to be an archaeologist since I was nine, which is somewhat of an oddity given the fact that most people don’t really know what anthropology is, let alone archaeology, until they take an anthropology course in undergrad to fulfill a credit. What sparked my own interest in archaeology is my parents’ love of history. From an early age, they would make it a point to take my older sister and me to any museum they could find, whether it was science or history, and even help us with little science experiments at home. It helped that my mom majored in anthropology as an undergrad, so as a child I had my own source of information on all things anthropology. My earliest memory of being interested in this field was around the age of four when I visited my favorite museum, the Natural History Museum in Washington, DC. They had an extensive ancient Egypt exhibit. While my dad sat with my sister to watch a video on mummification and organ extraction, my mom and I looked at the mummies on display. Of course, they had a mummified cat, and being an avid cat lover, I was fascinated that this museum had A CAT! However, being so young, I didn’t understand that this cat had been sacrificed thousands of years ago and was not going to let me pet it. I had to be dragged away by my mother promising that we would come see the cat another day. We did not.

Whenever we had career day in elementary school, the room was filled with kids wanting to be a police officer, or a chef, or an actress. I hope it wasn’t too jarring telling my teachers I wanted to be an archaeologist because I wanted to dig up dead things. Being from Yorktown, most, if not all, my history classes in school were Virginia or US history. I was spoiled by the fact that I lived in the middle of one of the most historically rich places in America, but unfortunately, American history was not one of my main interests. The first time I took a class on world history in high school was like taking a drink after working outside on a sweltering day. I answered every question on archaeology and the Middle East and China. I am sure the other kids thought I was obnoxious.

As I continued throughout high school, I eventually started touring universities. I knew I wanted to leave Virginia and see what other opportunities the rest of the country held for me. I didn’t end up going too far, and ECU is a perfect fit for me! Since I have been here, I have added two more majors onto my anthropology degree making me a triple major, (yes, I do sleep), been an active member of the anthropology club (its secretary and now its president), gone on a field school, and have worked at the QAR lab.

When I applied for this internship, I honestly knew nothing about conservation, as it is the backstage handywork of the already elusive archaeology field. So far, this internship has given me so many experiences I wouldn’t have had otherwise. I have learned that there is a lot more chemistry involved with conservation than you might think. I chose archaeology as my field of study because I don’t have the greatest track record with math or science, but the chemistry at the lab seems less daunting. It is a very good thing I don’t mind getting dirty because whether it is terrestrial or maritime, archaeology is dirty business. The conservation lab is also open to the public for tours, which has helped me better understand public archaeology. By explaining to the public what we do and how we do it, it has in turn given me a greater understanding of how the lab operates.

The main purpose of my internship is to digitize x-rays of artifacts. When iron spends hundreds of years underwater, it builds up a concretion housing several if not hundreds of artifacts. To make sure we see everything in the concretion, x-rays are taken which show small artifacts like beads, lead shot, nesting weights, chains, etc. Digitizing the films makes them more easily accessible. Additionally, by digitally altering the lighting and exposure, some artifacts in the x-ray may become more visible. Given the fact that there are hundreds upon thousands of x-rays of artifacts, this project will continue after my internship is done. 

After completing undergrad, I plan on attending grad school somewhere away from the east coast, preferably California. There is not a lot of work in archaeology you can do with just a bachelor’s degree, and I am not nearly done learning yet. Different schools specialize in different branches of archaeology as well and may teach different techniques, and I think it would be beneficial to really diversify my experience. I am unsure of the kind of archaeology I would like to pursue, but I know that there is nothing else I would rather study.

Images:
-Grace Fawcett. Courtesy of Grace Fawcett, used with permission.
-Grace digitizing x-ray films. Image by NC Department of Natural and Cultural Resources.