by Alex Lehning
As a Conservation Technician with the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum, I spend the majority of my time doing research, preserving artifacts, and documenting our archeological collections. Each day in the Conservation Lab I have the opportunity to literally hold history in my hands, and there is nothing I enjoy more than to be able to share part of that experience with our guests at the museum.
This past month, LCMM was proud to host Boy Scout Troop 624 from Essex Junction, VT here in our lab as they began work on their Archeology Merit Badge. Each Scout was in the process of completing a series of diverse requirements that provided them with both a scholarly and practical understanding of archeological methods and their place in uncovering our local history. The Archeology Merit Badge was established fairly recently, in 1997, and earning it is not a simple task. A Scout working towards this award is asked to research several historically significant excavations located both in the United States and abroad, study local colonial and/or Native American history, and spend professionally supervised time either in the field at an archeological site or in a conservation laboratory.
Our afternoon together began with a discussion of archeology, and its place alongside other disciplines such as anthropology, history, and geology. As a group, we debated about what it meant to be an archeologist, as well as our role in protecting precious cultural resources. The Museum views the responsibility of sharing our knowledge of the past with the public as a critical part of our mission. I then explained the process of examining an underwater archeological site, from initial discovery and survey, to documentation, excavation, and analysis. Many of the same techniques and ideas that are used on land can be applied underwater as well. Artifacts from various locations on Lake Champlain, including naval battles and shipwrecks, are brought to the Conservation Lab for analysis and treatment. The Scouts also shared how their “Leave No Trace” training would apply to any newly discovered artifacts they might encounter.
We also spent some time reviewing the various treatments that are performed here on LCMM’s campus throughout the year. The Conservation Laboratory is equipped to preserve wooden, metal, organic, and composite artifacts. The highlight of their visit was a chance to do some actual “hands-on” archeology. Each Scout mechanically cleaned a piece of canister shot that dated to the War of 1812 and the Battle of Plattsburgh Bay. Using dental picks and wire brushes, the Troop worked carefully and diligently to remove rust before documenting their efforts. Finally, along with my fellow Conservation Technician Paul Gates, we discussed career options and educational pathways in archeology. I encouraged the Scouts to study chemistry, biology, and mathematics in addition to the social sciences to broaden their opportunities as future archeologists.
The visit with Troop 624 was a great success and an enriching experience for all, and I look forward to working further with them and other local Scouts on the Archeology Merit Badge this spring.
Alex works as a Conservation Technician with the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum and in his free time volunteers as a Merit Badge Counselor with the Green Mountain Council/Boy Scouts of America.