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An Archaeologist in Portugal

Updated: Aug 25, 2023

Hello Xplorers!


Did you know our team of archeologists, historians, report writers, and architectural historians actually have lives outside the project fields and artifact labs? Neither did we! (It’s like the equivalent of seeing your teacher at the grocery store — just weird.) But our very own historical archeologist and archeological geophysicist Steve Filormo has shown us our team has some pretty amazing extracurricular activities that go beyond TerraX.


A little background on Steve: He is a Registered Professional Archaeologist (RPA) specializing in historical archaeology and archaeological geophysics as shown through both the elemental compositions of archaeological materials, spatial analysis, and inequality through archaeologies of life, labor, and early industries in coastal and riverine environments in the US Southeast and Caribbean. Steve has been a Cultural Resource Management (CRM) professional and a dedicated member of the Society for Historical Archaeology (SHA) for the past several years. In January 2023, Steve jumped on the chance to join his colleagues at Heritage at Risk Committee (HARC) and all his fellow educators, PI’s, researchers, and archeological professionals on a panel in Lisbon, Portugal to discuss various international approaches to managing heritage at risk (Talk about extracurricular.)


Archaeological Geophysicist Abroad


But before we dig into the major points of the panel, we wanted to live vicariously abroad through our archeological geophysicist and ask — How the heck was Portugal?!


Portugal, TerraX, Historic architecture

“It was awesome!” Steve says. He let us know that before he even got to Portugal, he had minor previous experience with the Portuguese language that helped him to enjoy the history of the country even more so. Steve clarifies, “I’m not good at Portuguese, but I know how to not get myself in trouble!” (Hey, that’s all you really need isn’t it?)


In addition to ingratiating himself with the language, Steve says that whenever he travels, he always makes an effort to take the available public transportation as well. “I have to go on it,” he says. “It’s the best way to see what the city is actually like!” And if y'all were curious, according to Steve, Portugal has an “amazing subway system!”

historic buildings, portugal, cabo de roco

Through his travels, on and off the subway system, Steve stopped at some of the more unique spots all around Portugal. Like a true archeologist, Steve explored an old monastery that was destroyed by an earthquake in the 1700s, followed by a couple castles and palaces built from as early as the eighth to eleventh centuries, including the Carmo Convent. On the coast, he stopped by the old ports, where he saw replica ships and old Portuguese sailors to match. One of the more well-known architectural resources (as we call them in our reports) Steve stumbled across was the Palacio da Pena. He describes the Palacio da Pena like “a beautiful mess,” (respectfully) in reference to the representative historic architecture from every century. Steve of course traveled to see the cliffs of Cabo de Roca (AKA The End of the World), nicknamed for its most western point on mainland Europe. And lastly, Steve strolled around one of the many beach towns of Portugal where he met fisherman, stumbled upon a Christmas festival, and where he claims to have had “the best churro in my entire life!”



The Panel: Society for Historical Archeology and Heritage at Risk Committee


Although Steve definitely wanted to spend time being the proper tourist he always knew he could be, Steve’s main focus was on the panel for heritage at risk. The panel was titled International Approaches to Heritage at Risk, and it included various international members of the Heritage at Risk Committee within the Society for Historical Archeology (HARC; SHA).


“There were seven of us,” Steve says, including Vibeke Martens from the Norwegian Institute for Cultural Heritage Research (NIKU), Bonnie Newsom from the University of Maine, Elinor Graham from the University of Aberdeen, Sara Ayers-Rigsby from Florida Public Archaeology, Lindsey Cochran from East Tennessee State University, Louise Barker from the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales, Lisbeth Iversen from the Nansen Environmental and Remote Sensing Center (NERSC), and Daniel Zwick from the Archaeology Department of Schleswig-Holstein. Steve describes the gathering as, “a collective of project managers (or as we call them, PI’s), professors, and researchers all dealing with the climate crisis in their respective countries as well as those engaging with local communities and sharing their findings.”


This collective of seven gathered in Lisbon to discuss various international approaches to managing heritage at risk. When they say “heritage at risk,” they mean cultural resources, architecture and artifacts that are at risk of being lost, eroded, or essentially disappearing at the hands of the climate crisis. “Human-induced climate change is an immense concern,” Steve reminds us, “even for the archeological community.” As an experienced archaeologist in the CRM field, Steve is able to provide insight in this area of expertise to the panel discussion, especially in regard to Section 106 and the geophysical and environmental methods we employ at TerraX.


Wait, what is Section 106?


“Section 106 actions” explains Steve, “are part of a federal law that requires agencies and other entities who utilize federal funds to account for potential impacts on historical sites in the United States.” More specifically, according to the USDA, “Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 (NHPA) requires Federal agencies to take into account the effects of their undertakings on historic properties.” Steve says, “It’s basically a federal review.”


Essentially, Section 106 actions are what CRM firms like TerraX do. When we perform a survey and we send our team members out to dig shovel tests and evaluate architectural resources, we’re part of the effort to our clients and their projects compliant with Section 106.


But how does this relate to climate change?


With the understanding of the specificity of CRM and the precautionary hurdles of Section 106, Steve says, “We need to utilize archeology as a tool for cultural preservation, preserving and recording archeological sites prior to the effects of climate change.” To do this, the panelists have concluded that, “the most important thing we can do in the archeological climate crisis is to connect the community to the work.”


What they are emphasizing here is a matter of respect, specifically shown to the communities of which the archaeological professionals perform their studies. “Archaeology is often extractive and can reinforce subtle forms of colonialism,” says Steve. By involving stakeholder communities when possible, Steve claims that both these communities and the archaeologists involved can benefit and learn from each other. Basically, when a team involves the community, we are not only respecting their place in the community but we are doing the work in aid of the community as well. Historians and archaeologists are acting thoroughly by gaining further knowledge on heritage sites already at risk due to climate change. “Speaking primarily from a geophysical and remote sensing aspect, interdisciplinary collaborations are important when moving forward with the climate crisis.”


As an example, Steve told us how Louise Barker, a Senior Investigator in Wales, works within a program that uses integrative methods such as community surveys, remote sensing, and geophysics to identify areas of archaeological sites that are more complicated or are at risk. Steve says “Our goal is to be proactive rather than reactive.” He claims that taking actions such as detailed research on market access and connections within the area, continued genealogical and ethnographic research, and multi-site analysis of generational relationships and labor in these areas are just some of the steps archaeologists can take in the future.


However, Steve and the rest of his panelists believe “sustainability” should drive our efforts to build longer term relationships. “These things need to be done in a collaboration with the community, so it’s not just interdisciplinary but also collaborative.” At TerraX, we are all for collaboration, and we are so excited to see where these proactive ideas take us in the near future!


Half a Cup of Coffee


religious architecture, portugal, saint

We are always impressed with any of our team members who go above and beyond in their work, even outside of TerraX. Although it may be strange to see our little historians and archaeologists out and about, we couldn't be more proud of them. We are so grateful for all the effort Steve has put toward these communities and we are ecstatic to have learned about the importance of their work within the Heritage at Risk Committee. It sure has given us some insight into something that affects us all but most of us wouldn’t normally think about!


Our heritage is important to everyone! It’s plain and simple — the destructive climate is not only affecting our future, but it’s erasing our history as well. We may not have yet found a solution to climate change, but in connecting with our communities, as laid out by the panel, we may have found a solution to saving our history.


The good news is, Steve has informed us that many people from all over the world have already begun implementing these kinds of preventative practices, saying, “The people running these proactive programs are leaders and members who have held sustainable relationships and who are continuously returning their efforts back to the community.”


If you want to learn more about the panel, HARC, or SHA, you can go to sha.org to check out how to get involved, learn more, or even become a member. We hope you have a wonderful week everyone and be sure to find us on all the social outlets for more extracurricular stories including, Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn.


We'll catch ya later, Xplorers!


— The TerraX Team

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