– Devin Ward, Maine
“One year digging through hundreds of fragments of turtle shells for this, one year”, I told myself repeatedly on the two-hour drive to my first conference presentation. I was the first speaker on a Sunday morning, with all the awards having been distributed the night before. I expected the conference room to be near empty, and the full seats to hold my project supervisor and other archaeologists I knew personally. Easy, right?
“Speak up!” of course, my perpetual presentation problem; there were more people than I had expected. I cleared my throat and continued. I spoke about an archaeological excavation occurring in the early 1970’s along the New Jersey coastline, and about the produced bone fragments, teeth, and shells being accessioned into the New Jersey State Museum in 1981. I continued to describe the poor state of preservation in which I found the excavation’s documentation, tucked away in museum storage for decades. I used this excavation as a case study of the inevitable deterioration of aging collections in perpetual storage, and attempted to shine a positive light on what research on these collections still had to offer. However, other audience members chose to focus on some of my other conclusions.
“Is there time for questions?” an old man nearly yelled gruffly from the seats, even before the polite applause had ended.
“Yes, one” said the moderator. The man began on a tirade detailing how he had excavated this site and claiming my representation of it was entirely false. He continued, as I stood, stunned into silence. With a motion from the moderator to wrap things up, I tried to defend myself. I apologized and explained haltingly that I suspected there were many bones missing, lost during the 1990’s when the museum moved buildings. As the man began speaking over me loudly, the moderator took the podium and we moved to the next speaker. When intermission was announced, I nearly ran for the door, just trying to reach the ladies’ room and some respite from the tension in the room.
“Hey!” another man I did not know, younger, grabbed my arm in the doorway and pulled me close to him.
“You need to be careful that you don’t offend people. You did a good job, but make sure you have respect for the people whose work you use” he said in a low voice. I nodded, not sure what to say, and he released me. I bolted again towards the ladies’ room, this time with more urgency. I found it bustling and full of laughter when I entered.
“You’re the girl who presented this morning, right?” a woman turned around from the sink and smiled at me while drying her hands. I nodded and looked nervously at the floor. Must to my surprise, the group of women now gathered in front of me, continue smiling. One by one they congratulated me, told me not to take any mind of the old man, and asked me questions about my project.
I sought the ladies’ room after my presentation because I needed a safe place, never expecting the outpouring of support from other women in archaeology. Their words gave me the courage to walk out and into the conference room with my head held high.