Blog of the Pennsylvania State Historic Preservation Office

You’ll Dig our New Archaeologists!

I can hear the collective groan at that tired old archaeology joke, but I couldn’t resist. We have four new(-ish) archaeologists on the PA SHPO team and I wanted to officially welcome them with a blog post. I am confident that you’ll enjoy working with them at the PA SHPO just as much as I do.

I asked each of them to give me a short bio for our readers and to answer a few questions for us. I laughed at loud at some of their responses!

Casey Hanson

Casey has been with the PA SHPO the longest of the four archaeologists, so he is new-ish… Casey started at a the PA SHPO as the Environmental Review Archaeologist for the Western North/Central Region and recently shifted over to the Eastern/South Central Region

Casey Hanson

Casey recently moved to Pennsylvania from Texas, where he grew up in the Rio Grande Valley. He received his B.A. from Texas A&M University and his M.A. and PhD. from the University of Texas at Austin.  He has worked in various roles in historic preservation, ranging from a consultant in cultural resource management, to state agency archaeologist, to academia and finally as a project reviewer for the Texas SHPO before taking on the same role here in PA.

Sara-Ladd Clark

Sara-Ladd Clark has served as the PA-SHARE Triage Specialist since January 2020. Prior to the launch of PA-SHARE, Sara assisted with the development and migration efforts, while also working with the Environmental Review Division to log and triage incoming projects. Now Sara works as part of the team on the “front-line” of PA-SHARE by processing and reviewing incoming project submissions, resources, and surveys. Sara is also a member of the Help Desk team—you might have talked to her if you have had any questions or issues with PA-SHARE!

Sara-Ladd Clark

Prior to starting this position, Sara worked for Johnson, Mirmiran, and Thompson (JMT) on their contract for the PA SHPO Digitization Project. This work focused on the digitization of historic and archaeological records by clearing backlogs, scanning documents, entering data into CRGIS, and mapping using GIS software. Sara also spent time working in Museum Collections Management for Delaware State Parks. A native of Chester County, Sara received her Bachelor of Arts in Anthropology from the University of Pittsburgh before pursuing a Master of Arts in Archaeology from Durham University. She has been a resident of Midtown Harrisburg since 2017.

Taylor Napoleon

Taylor Napoleon is PA SHPO’s new Pennsylvania Archaeological Site Survey (PASS) Coordinator! As PASS Coordinator, Taylor maintains the PA SHPO’s archaeological site inventory and helps both the public and professionals record sites all throughout the Commonwealth.  She is also responsible for PA SHPO’s proactive archaeological survey efforts, which are designed to fill in the gaps in Pennsylvania’s archaeological record, give us a more complete picture of the types of sites that exist in the state, and how to identify and evaluate them.

Taylor Napoleon

Though Taylor was born and raised in Burlington, New Jersey, her archaeological career started at Indiana University of Pennsylvania where she received her BA in archaeology.  She spent the next five years splitting her time between working at the New Jersey State Historic Preservation Office as an environmental reviewer and as a field technician working on a variety of archaeological survey projects throughout the Mid-Atlantic. Shortly before starting at the PA SHPO, Taylor received her MA in anthropology/archaeology from Monmouth University.

Justin McKeel

Justin is the most recent archaeologist to join the PA SHPO and is the Environmental Review Archaeologist for the Western North/Central Region. His role is focused on the management and protection of archaeological resources through the review of proposed state and federal project submissions. Justin is a native of Latrobe, Pennsylvania and has spent the majority of his career working as an archaeologist in western Pennsylvania. He has a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg and a Master of Arts degree from the University of Wyoming, both in Anthropology with a focus in North American Archaeology. 

Justin McKeel

Justin has a broad interest in Pennsylvanian archaeology. His first research interest was and remains studying stone tools to better understand hunter-gatherer lifeways. He has had the opportunity to work on a range of archaeological sites spanning from a Clovis mammoth kill site to 20th century industrial archaeology sites – and many sites types in between. Prior to joining the PHMC Justin was an Archaeological Principal Investigator at Markosky Engineering, a consulting firm in Westmoreland County. He has also previously worked for the Wyoming SHPO and various other consulting firms in Pennsylvania and the surrounding area. 

Q&A with the new staffers

What have you found to be the most exciting/rewarding part of the job so far? Most unexpected or challenging?

Casey: The most rewarding part has been learning about Pennsylvania’s rich archaeological past and getting to know a new archaeological community.  The most unexpected/challenging would have to be doing all of this during COVID.

Sara: PA-SHARE has been both the most exciting and the most challenging aspect of my work within the SHPO. Contributing to the development of PA-SHARE encouraged me to expand my understanding of the many programs and needs of the PA SHPO and the public, while also allowing me to learn more about databases and GIS. I anticipated that the launch of PA-SHARE would be challenging, but it has been rewarding to help our users navigate the system and ultimately find the convenience and ease of access that PA-SHARE offers.

Taylor: The most rewarding aspect of my job is getting to work with individuals who truly care and want to record archaeological sites. It’s encouraging to see people excited to talk to me about what they found and how they can record it or offer their expertise to help in larger-scale survey efforts. The most challenging part has been adjusting to a new office environment and learning PA-SHARE. But everyone has been extremely welcoming and PA-SHARE is a really useful system once you get the hang of it!

Justin: The single best part of this job so far is being engaged in the consultation process and having conversations about projects and archaeological resources. I’m always excited to talk about archaeology, but I’ve also had the chance to discuss some really interesting development projects occurring across the state. I look forward to continuing these conversations and building relationships with state and federal agencies, project applicants, and consultants. What has been most unexpected is undoubtedly the volume and variety of projects that are submitted to our office for Environmental Review.

What made you choose archaeology as a career path?

Casey: It was not the money.  I have always been interested in the past and archaeology, but it was not until I went to undergrad that I learned that Texas had a very active archaeological community and that it was a realistic career path.

Sara: My interest in archaeology started early when I visited the Penn Museum; after countless trips back, I went into my undergraduate, and subsequently my graduate degree, with a firm belief that my career was in archaeology. I’ve been fortunate to find positions early in my career that allow me to continue working in archaeology, while also learning about other aspects of historic preservation.

Taylor: I have a very vivid memory of seeing a picture of an archaeological dig in a textbook when I was in second grade and at the time thought it was the coolest thing ever and decided that day, I wanted to do it! Of course, my career aspirations changed over the following years, but I always kept my love of history and wanting to do something hands on. Archaeology seemed like the most natural choice. And now all these years later having worked on some amazing sites and I can confidently say it is the coolest thing ever!

Justin: I was drawn to archaeology because it is a uniquely interdisciplinary field. Being an archaeologist requires a broad knowledge of not just archaeology, but also history, geology, geography, cultural anthropology, environmental science, engineering… the list goes on and on. So as an archaeologist I get to constantly learn new things in the pursuit of gaining a better understanding of our past. That’s not only what made me choose archaeology as a career path, it is what keeps me interested in it every day.

What is something fun/quirky that you like to do in your spare time or that others might not know about you?

Casey: My wife and I grew up skateboarding and now we get to skate with our two boys.

Sara: I love games! Whether it’s a Crossword or Bingo (my first date with my now fiancé was at Bingo!), I’m always the first to suggest a game of some sort. You will never catch me without a pack of cards, at a minimum! I’m also an avid baker, and I have been in the pursuit of the best chocolate chip cookie recipe. I’ve tried dozens, but I’m still working on pinning down the perfect recipe for me.

Taylor: I have been horse back riding since I was 8 years old. I rode competitively all through high school and college both in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. It is still something I love doing whenever I have the time.

Justin: There are a lot of things I like to do in my spare time. My wife says my hobby is trying new hobbies. Lately that includes wood carving tiny toy animals for my kids, swinging kettlebells around, standing in streams with a fly-fishing rod, and sometimes even catching fish with that rod. 

What is the number one thing you would like people to know about archaeology?

Casey: Archaeology can be exceptionally powerful.  It represents our shared cultural heritage, it tells the stories of ordinary people overlooked by history, and it has the ability to bring communities together.  But the archaeological record is also a non-renewable resource that is worth preserving because of its significance.

Sara: We aren’t digging up dinosaurs, and this is not the same profession as Ross Gellar! More seriously, it is so easy to overlook archaeology. We need to remember that archaeology provides access into valuable information about the human past, information that cannot be replaced and is constantly at risk.

Taylor: It’s everywhere! The most common question I get asked when people find out I’m an archaeologist is, “where do you do that?” Generally, people tend to think archaeology is just about mummies in Egypt or some other far away country, but it actually exists all around us. Pennsylvania has a rich archaeological history and there are thousands of sites throughout the commonwealth that have contributed to our understanding of the people and practices that shaped this landscape.

Justin: Archaeology isn’t limited to exotic international locations. In every county of Pennsylvania there are significant archaeological sites that provide insights into our past that can be gleaned only from the archaeological record. Also – we don’t study dinosaurs.

Thank you… and Welcome!

A hearty thank you to Casey, Sara, Taylor and Justin for being good sports and answering my questions. We’re excited to have you as part of our team preserving Pennsylvania’s older and historic places and spaces.

1 Comment

  1. John E. Petrisek

    Trying to get help on documenting a stone burial vault I accidentally uncovered. I feel this is very rare and needs to be checked out..PLEASE

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