Gaining a career by happenstance |

Gaining a career by happenstance

Rhonda Costa-Landers
Appeal Staff Writer

For Jana Trudell, working as an archaeologist has become her dream job.

“I used to be a welder,” she said. “Then I applied with a computer company, and they put me to work in their archeological lab.”

Interested in the artifacts she was working on, Trudell, 43, then focused her learning on archaeology.

A resident of Mark Twain, Trudell has educated herself and many others in the world of archaeology. She attended Western Nevada College and University of Nevada, Reno, in the basics of geology, anthropology and history, specifically to North America and Nevada.

“I like being outdoors. You meet a wide range of people, from college students to volunteers. You have to have a vast knowledge and help each other.”

Trudell’s work is contracted mostly by archaeology firms, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, Department of Forestry and private businesses. She’ll work four days to six months, or could be with a firm for years.

“It sounds like fun, but it’s very hard work – a poor man’s job. But it is fun,” she added with a smile.

“I meet new people all the time. I travel a lot and get to see places not a lot of people get to see. But winter is not so fun, digging in the snow. It’s very cold.”

One of Trudell’s favorite places to go is near Nellis Air Force Base in Las Vegas.

“The topography, the geology and the plants are very different. Mostly it’s better there being on top of a mountain looking down. It’s very beautiful.”

Among Trudell’s most significant finds are a soapstone disc ornament, and a flute from about 400 A.D. that she found in Utah.

“It was from the Anasazi Indian tribe,” she said. “I cleaned it up, played it, and it sang like a bird.”

Trudell said a lot of time is spent researching an area beforehand, and still more research is done upon the return. Then they survey, use global positioning systems and quad maps to determine area.

“Recording a site consists of describing the topography, geology and plant resources, water, artifacts, projectile points, as well as pottery, obsidian, pollen or carbon in a feature (hearth), can be sourced for a timeline.

“With the information we can determine if the site is significant or not to the archaeological record.”

More research is conducted on items found, a report is written by the archaeologists and turned into the State Historic Preservation Office. When work is completed, the artifacts are curated, boxed and sent to the museum where they are stored for further study, usually by students who are vying for their thesis.

“Being a field crew member, or shovelbum, is hard work,” Trudell said. “You travel from project to project, camp or live in motel rooms, work in all weather, carry a lot of gear and many times travel to a site on foot because a vehicle cannot get there. Then walk the work surface 10-12 hours a day – about 10-20 miles a day – in mountains, drainages, mesas, canyons, rocky and unstable surfaces and flat, unshaded desert.

“But archaeology is fun. You discover the remains of the past.”

For one job, Trudell walked from Reno south to Highway 50 and the length of Highway 50 to Provo, Utah.

“You set up grids and units, and we are very discreet as to where we are. If the public finds out, there is a lot of looting, which is illegal.

“If we find something significant on private land, the property owner has the choice of keeping it or turning it over. We rather anyone leave something where it is, than move it.”

Trudell said there are sites “everywhere” in Nevada with archaeological treasures – river and stream beds for one.

“A lot of archaeologists from back East come here to work. It pays more and you don’t have to put a lot of holes in the ground.”

The mother of two, a son, 22, and daughter, 19, Trudell said she has developed her skills and knowledge from her co-workers.

“I feel I’ve learned from the best in the state,” she said.

What she would like to teach others – if you find something, leave it.

“Especially if it is human bone or artifact,” Trudell said. “If you can remember where you saw it, it’s helpful. Or map it, if you have a map.

“Then call the Nevada State Museum, BLM field office or the Nevada Department of Forestry.”

In her personal life, Trudell said she has yet to find someone understanding of her work schedule.

“It is difficult to establish a solid relationship because you are never home long enough to have one. It can also ruin a relationship for the same reason.

“And you have to be one step – if you can – ahead of projects so you can avoid a break in employment. On the other hand, I cannot think of anything else I would rather do.”

• Contact Rhonda Costa-Landers at or 881-1223.