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Survey Crew and Partners with Prescott National Forest

The Verde Valley Archaeology Center and Museum’s volunteer archaeological survey crew performs important field research and data collection in partnership with Prescott National Forest, making discoveries that further the knowledge of the United States Forest Service and the archaeological community in the region. 


VVAC has a contract with Prescott National Forest (PNF) to perform surveys of forest land to look for signs of human habitation and artifacts. VVAC volunteers donate their time to perform this work and the United States Forest Service (USFS) pays the billable hours to VVAC, benefiting the nonprofit organization. 

The survey crew will go to an area that is suspected of having archaeological sites. The group will gather and talk about safety and ensure everyone has the tools needed to do their part. They then line up with a certain spacing between them and start walking, either in north-south or east-west transects, and look for artifacts. If a volunteer comes across an artifact, they flag the site. 


If they find a concentration of artifacts, typically 25 or more artifacts within a four or five meters square area, that is then considered a site. They will then define the boundaries of the site and record every artifact within those boundaries. The crew then uses GPS to put the site on a map. 

The artifacts the crew finds include pottery sherds and lithics such as fragments of grinding tools and arrowheads. 


The crew analyzes the artifacts determining what the item is, what type of material it is made of and their exact location with GPS coordinates. 


One crew member will be designated as the photographer to take photos and fill out a photo log. 

The survey crew mainly works in the spring, late fall and winter. The crew averages about ten volunteers on site at a time but there are over 20 who have volunteered throughout the year. 


“It's pretty intense work,” said Dr. Jim Graceffa, VVAC Lab Manager and organizer of the survey crew volunteers. “Everyone that goes really enjoys what they're doing.” 


Each volunteer takes a survey course taught by Graceffa and then teams up with an experienced volunteer for their first survey. 


Once back in the lab, the crew gets everything ready to be sent to PNF. Graceffa does most of the writeup for the report along with Keith Greiner, VVAC Field Crew Leader of the survey team. 


Graceffa takes the GPS coordinates from each artifact and plots the information on a GPS map. A report is written after each time the crew goes out in the field, stating what was accomplished and found that day. 

Graceffa said that it benefits PNF and the federal government because the work helps them have a better idea on how to manage the resources for the forest. He added that it helps the museum because now VVAC has a database of what artifacts and sites are in the area. 


“It also offers another opportunity for the layperson to be out in the field and to learn what was happening in the forest and to learn about the artifacts,” said Graceffa. He also mentioned Jerry Walters, Friends of the Forest and that he has done a lot of important survey work for the museum. 


Greiner has been doing surveys for about 14 years. “I really enjoy being outdoors and the teamwork that we've established,” said Greiner. “Everybody knows everybody. We know all the capabilities of each of the people and everybody is having a good time. I just love being out there. What’s really exciting is that you find new and unexpected things that you didn't think you were going to run into.” 


Greiner added that through finding artifacts doing the field survey work, he has learned about the Native people’s agriculture and who they traded with. 


“Pottery tells a tale of trade because most of the pottery that we can identify and date is pottery that's been traded in,” explained Greiner. He added that plainware is the type of pottery that was made in the Verde Valley. 


“The real story is the decorated pottery which we can identify with different areas throughout southern Utah, northern Arizona, eastern Arizona, and south towards the Phoenix basin,” said Greiner of pottery that was traded into the region. 


“I think it's thrilling knowing that you're walking on the land that prehistoric peoples lived on and getting glimpses of their way of life,” Greiner continued. “You get to look into the past.” 

Greiner mentioned the great working relationship VVAC has with PNF. He added that without this relationship, Greiner and other volunteers wouldn’t be authorized to go out and do this type of work. 


PNF is approximately 1.25 million acres and is within the realm of VVAC’s archaeology and collection. 


“For a forest service that's so all-encompassing, there's a lot of territory to cover and PNF does a fine job managing that and working with archaeologists, state agencies, local governments and tribal nations,” said Monica Buckle, Executive Director.


Buckle mentioned that because of the volunteers’ generosity, even working outside in rough conditions, that VVAC is able to receive federal funds for their efforts. 

John Rose, PhD, Former Director of Archaeology of PNF, has recently joined VVAC to help expand field survey work and assist with museum repository matters. 


“Having Rose join the ranks is wonderful to further expand VVAC’s footprint within the archaeology community and enhance the scope of the work we're doing,” said Buckle. 


Many museum visitors are unaware of the behind-the-scenes research that VVAC performs and that they’ve participated in field survey work for several years now. 


“The work that the volunteers do is so multi-dimensional, and if it wasn't for them, none of this would be possible,” said Buckle. 


VVAC has a volunteer fund to make sure that volunteers know they are appreciated. This money goes towards things like ordering pizza for lunch and baked goods. 


“It's these small gestures to make the volunteers know how well appreciated they are and that they have a sense of belonging at VVAC,” said Buckle. 

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