Cultural Resources Facility: Students Working to Preserve History

Livia Arnold came to Humboldt State as a student with an interest in other cultures, but it wasn’t until she volunteered with the Cultural Resources Facility (CRF) that she discovered her passion for archaeology.
“It’s really cool to be able to touch history,” she says. “You can take an object that has little meaning by itself and figure out its cultural context and historical significance. You can create a snapshot of that place and that point in time.”
The facility, located in the Behavioral & Social Sciences Building on the HSU campus, works with a number of government and tribal agencies and individuals to study, preserve and manage the community’s cultural resources to ensure they survive for future generations.
“Our goal is to protect significant cultural resources,” says James Roscoe, project director of the facility. “From 5,000-year-old village sites to trails, roads and old mines, we complete a variety of tasks to identify and manage sites of cultural significance.”
To determine cultural significance, Roscoe, his staff and a number of undergraduate students, like Livia, examine the area. Through site mapping, construction monitoring, historical research, consultation with local tribes and sometimes excavation, the facility seeks to determine if sites are considered “significant” according to the California Register of Historic Resources and the National Register of Historic Places criteria.
Although other campuses have similar contractual research programs, the level of undergraduate involvement at HSU is unique.
“We pride ourselves a lot on our hands-on training,” says Marisol Cortes-Rincon, one of two co-directors of the facility. Undergraduate students can volunteer for activities from data entry to fieldwork as part of the facility’s contracts.
“We encourage students to stop by the office and sign up on the volunteer sign up sheet,” says Matthew Steele, CRF research associate. “We work hard to put students on projects within their interests.”
Livia volunteered with the facility to explore her interest in archaeology and determine her career path in anthropology. Then, during fieldwork in Mendocino County, she found her first archaeological site when she discovered a projectile point. “It was too big to be an arrowhead—it could have been the head of a spear,” she says.
But the work that the facility does within the community isn’t limited to prehistoric sites. Currently, student volunteers are working on an historic buildings database. “Some of our architecture goes back to gothic revival period. We see buildings from the Vernacular period and pre/post-Victorian period,” says Steele. “Architecture changes every couple decades and studying it can give you a better understanding of the community.”
Contracts that the facility handles come from a range of people and agencies, from the federal government to private individuals.
For the past 15 years, the facility has had a cooperative agreement to work with the Bureau of Land Management. As a result, some students have continued working on their CRF projects directly under the bureau.
In addition, the facility is building a working relationship with local tribes to ensure the protection of culturally significant tribal lands.
“We work really closely with surrounding tribes,” says the facility’s senior historian, Jerry Rhodes. “There was a tremendous wounding of this place. I like to feel that we honor the past when we honor those who were here before us. We try to protect the features of their culture as people who were here before us and had a magnificent culture of their own that we can help preserve.”