Digging Into The Past

At work

Julie Schablitsky, Chief Archaeologist, State Highway Administration, Baltimore

August 02, 2009|By Nancy Jones-Bonbrest | Nancy Jones-Bonbrest,Special to The Baltimore Sun

Age: 39

Salary: $85,000

Years on the job: 2 1/2

How she got started: : Growing up in Minnesota, Julie Schablitsky first became interested in archaeology at the age of seven when she discovered fossils in the limestone of her gravel driveway. She went on her first dig at the age of 15 and at the age of 18 began working as an archaeologist in the Midwest for the National Park Service and U.S. Forest Service during the summers.

She received a bachelor's degree from the University of Minnesota in anthropology and a master's degree from Oregon State University in anthropology. She earned a doctorate in urban studies with an emphasis in urban archaeology from Portland State University.

She worked as an archaeologist for the Oregon Department of Transportation and taught archaeology for the University of Oregon before moving to Maryland and taking the job with the State Highway Administration.

Typical day: : Schablitsky oversees 12 archaeologists and architectural historians who study planned state transportation projects to determine if they will affect archaeological sites or historic structures.

She works to identify and manage these cultural resources during all phases of project development. Of the many highway projects, Schablitsky says only about two archaeological sites a year require full excavation.

"I'm part of the project planning team," Schablitsky said. "Based on the plans given, we determine what resources might be in the path of destruction."

Historic maps, Geographic Information System data layers and published reports are the first step in determining the presence of cultural resources within the construction area. She often works with consultants who are hired to excavate the sites.

Schablitsky must also decide if a site has enough resources and context to warrant a full-scale study.

"Not everything needs to be saved," she said. "Every archaeologist is looking for whether or not a site can give you a story."

Much of her job is done from her desk, managing the work of her staff, guiding policy for the cultural resources section of the SHA, dealing with budget issues, reviewing reports and keeping projects on schedule. She often meets with members of the public to advise them on state cultural preservation practices. About 20 percent of her time is spent in the field supervising and participating in state archaeological projects.

She helped carry out three programs that focus on historic bridges, Native American consultation and public outreach. She said she must balance preserving the state's heritage and cultural resources with the need to move state transportation projects forward.

Best find in Maryland: : While working on the Inter-County Connector project, an undisturbed 19th-century African-American farmstead was discovered. Schablitsky called the site, known as the Jackson Homestead, an "archaeologist's dream" because so many artifacts were found providing insight on life immediately after the Civil War.

Additional research: : Schablitsky still has an affiliation with the Oregon university and has continued her research on the site of the ill-fated Donner Party in the Sierra Nevada of California, as well as on the birthplace of naval hero John Paul Jones in Scotland. Two years ago, she edited and contributed to the book Box Office Archaeology: Refining Hollywood's Portrayals of the Past.

Television show: : Schablitsky is a member of Time Team America, a new science reality series on PBS that sends a team of archaeologists throughout the country excavating historic sites.

The good: : The interdisciplinary aspect of working with the many divisions within the SHA to guide a state project. As the chief archaeologist on that team, she gets to be a part of what she calls the big picture.

"So as an archaeologist, I can make a difference."

The bad: : Budget constraints. "I've had to make a lot of hard decisions."

Philosophy on the job: : In managing her staff she tries to determine what their strengths are and create opportunities for them to excel. "That's how you end up with a supportive group of people who feel like a family."

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