Ashley Peles, graduated from UMB in 2010
Doctoral Candidate, Department of Anthropology
University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
1. What is your position now; what do you do on a day-to-day basis?
I’m currently a graduate student at the University of North Carolina; I’m ABD and am expecting to have another two years here, between dissertation analysis and write-up. This year (and next year) my main job is as a Research Assistant for one of my advisors, Vin Steponaitis. We are working (along with one other RA, the Research Laboratories of Archaeology’s (RLA) public outreach coordinator, and the RLA’s associate director) on building a website about North Carolina archaeology, modeled on Texas Beyond History. More specifically, I’m working to take site reports and articles about specific sites and turn that into more public-friendly information. When we start getting submissions from the archaeologists who excavated many of those sites, it will be my job to edit those and get them up on the site as well. You can actually see what we’ve got in progress at ancientnc.web.unc.edu. I’m also working a small number of hours as an RA for an NSF that our department got (C. Margaret Scarry, Dale Hutchinson, and Ben Arbuckle). The goal of their NSF project is to combine paleoethnobotanical, zooarchaeological, and bioarchaeological data from sites in the North Carolina Piedmont in order to better understand diet and health in the late prehistoric and early historic periods. Right now I’m working on compiling information about aging deer and will also be getting into contact with the Fish and Game people to find out what they know about herd demographics in NC and see if we can get some aged jaws from them. Outside of those jobs, I’m organizing materials and tying up loose ends from the 2012 field season at the Feltus Mounds in Mississippi, working on a 3D modeling project (early French colonial Natchez, Mississippi), and completing a rough sort on all the faunal material for my dissertation.
2. What is the most interesting project (field, lab, academic, or community) that you have worked on recently?
My own dissertation is actually going to be pretty cool (zooarch and pbot analyses from three Late Woodland mound sites in Mississippi, Louisiana, and Arkansas)! But in terms of something that I can say more about – last summer and this coming summer we are running a field school at the Wall Site, a palisaded village that dates from roughly 1400-1600 and is located along a bend in the Eno River in Hillsborough, NC. Although much of the village has been disturbed by plowing, we still find the postholes from the palisade and houses, as well as large pits that seem to have refuse from some type of feasting or communal event. And last summer, while placing the water screening set up in the woods, we actually found undisturbed and well-preserved midden! It looks like it was on the edge of the plowed field, where soil accumulated, and that seems to be what saved it. There was a ton of deer coming out, as well as smaller amounts of fish, squirrel, rabbit, etc., plus some really neat bone tools and pottery. That’s one area that we’ll definitely be targeting again this summer. As part of the NSF I mentioned above, I’m also going to be analyzing the faunal material from that unit once the field school is over.
3. What is one thing that you remember specifically about your time at UMass?
Well, some of the people who were in my cohort are still some of my best friends. But if I had to pick something more specifically about the program, it would be the professors. I had the opportunity to work on projects with Steve Silliman, Steve Mrozowski, and David Landon, as well as be advised by Heather Trigg. That gave me experience on a lot of different projects with different types of methods, and I feel like I grew a lot as an archaeologist between when I started in the program and when I finished.
4. What is the best advice you got (or wish you had gotten) in graduate school?
Give yourself multiple options when it comes to jobs. Having an idea of your dream job is helpful for giving you an overall focus and direction, but life can get messy and being over-committed to one thing can make you feel like you are in an all-or-nothing situation. You can’t do everything, but learning a few different skills can help you out a lot when it comes to getting hired later. For example, I got trained in pbot and zooarch, which puts me in a relatively unique position; I’ve also dabbled in ArcGIS (practically a requirement these days) and digital archaeology methods. Plus knowing that you have multiple options can help keep things in perspective when you get stressed out about life and work in general (I think this is also good advice for anyone going on to get a PhD and has certainly helped keep me sane).
5. Anything else you would like to add?
Take the opportunity to do CRM! One of the unique aspects of UMB, at least when I was there, was the cross-section of people in the program. This gives you an incredible opportunity to get into some contract work. I was able to pay my UMB fees by doing CRM on breaks and ended up in a full-time position for two years while I was actually writing my master’s. While I’d say that getting a Master’s at UMB was the most important thing I’ve done, doing CRM was the second most important thing I (accidentally) did for myself. It gave me even more experience with different survey and excavation methods, and helped me to gain a lot of contacts that are still important to me today. And to reiterate the above comment – knowing that I can always work in CRM again (and am planning on applying for those jobs when I finish) has helped me to put things in perspective when I’ve gotten stressed out about the PhD and job prospects.