Archaeologist isn’t shy to tackle rock-solid workloads

Tuesday, March 9, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 2:43 p.m. CDT, Saturday, June 28, 2008

Only two years out of graduate school, Brant Vollman achieved his ultimate goal — to work as an archaeologist for a state department.

“I got here quicker than I thought,” he said. “That’s when I realized why: The job burns you out real quick.”

Vollman is an archaeologist with the Missouri Department of Natural Resources. When there is any federal involvement in a construction project in Missouri, Vollman comments on the effect on cultural resources in the area. However, the federal agency has the final say on whether the project will begin.

After taking the job, Vollman realized why it was available. He averages 700 projects to review per year, a task that most people with more experience wouldn’t continue to do for too long, he said. But five years into the job, the workload hasn’t bothered Vollman at all.

“The satisfaction is why I stay,” he said.

If a building project will interfere with or destroy historical or archaeological sites, Vollman first asks that the builder avoid interfering with them.

“Archaeological sites are a nonrenewable resource,” Vollman said. “If we can preserve it, then it’s preserved for everyone.”

If interference cannot be avoided, then an effort is made to mitigate the effects. Someone is sent out to get as much from the site as possible before it’s destroyed. This may include excavation of archaeological sites or photographic documentation of historic buildings.

Vollman said he’s had to take on additional responsibilities because of budget cuts. He also handles permits for the relocation and salvation of shipwrecks and at times assists the Unmarked Human Burial Consultation Committee, which advises the natural resources department on the reburial of human remains.

He also works with two other people on the inventory of reports and files, including the National Register of Historic Places and all cultural resource management reports, until a full-time person is hired.

His job is taxing, but Vollman said that’s the aspect he likes most.

“That is the most interesting thing — it keeps me busy,” he said. “There are always projects coming in.”

Over the holidays, which he calls the slowest time of year, Vollman had 24 projects on his desk awaiting review.

“It’s not unusual to have 40 to 50 projects stacked up,” he said.

Vollman has wanted to be an archaeologist since his childhood in Chicago. In high school, his parents sent him to field school in Kampsville, Ill., during the summers so he could learn more about the profession.

He went on to study archaeology at Northern Illinois University. Before being hired by the department, Vollman did fieldwork for Hanson Engineering in Springfield, Ill.

Although he said he still likes getting his hands dirty in the field when he can, Vollman said he gets more out of working as an archaeological reviewer.

“I feel that I can do more with archaeology as a whole in a review and compliance position,” he said. “I was only seeing small windows of what was going on. I can do more to protect the resources from this job.”

And the job of protecting those resources for everyone to enjoy is something many people don’t even realize takes place.

“They’d be surprised,” he said. “They wouldn’t see it directly. We deal with people behind the scenes.”

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