February 6, 2012 | Vol. 42 No. 6

Archaeologist shares expertise and skills with Native communities

Archaeologist Nancy “Anastasia” Wiley tells her younger students not to agonize over their course of study choice. “It doesn’t really matter because you are going to change your mind anyway when you get there.” Wiley herself began her academic career studying Latin at the Albany State Teacher’s College of New York. “I decided I wanted to be an ‘old maid’ Latin teacher,” she said. “I decided I couldn’t live without Latin.”

Submitted photo.
Anastasia Wiley Examines the Klaney wooden cabin remains at 13 Mile Haines Highway in July 2011.

But once she got into the Classical Studies program, she discovered that she liked Ancient Greek better than Latin. Next, she added anthropology to her degree. Finally, her summertime work on archaeological digs convinced her to continue her education at the University of Pennsylvania, from which she earned a master’s and then a doctorate in Classical Archaeology.

Shortly after receiving her Ph.D., in an effort to expand her field work opportunities, Wiley moved to the sunny shores of California and stepped away from Classical Studies, stepped away from her work in Italy and Greece, and entered into what would become a successful career as a working archaeologist and cultural resource investigator on the West Coast.

In another fortuitous twist, Wiley has made the decision to bring her talents and experience to Haines where she and her company, Scientific Resource Surveys, Inc., have already put down roots.

Wiley’s Alaskan adventures began in 2005, when she met and married Ted Wiley, a Tlingit, originally from the Haines area who was living in California at the time. Anastasia laughs when she recalls her courtship with Ted. “I had a friend in church who kept telling me that she had met someone who was going to be my future husband. But I didn’t want to meet anyone who was going to be my future husband. I had been alone since my first husband died in 1982 and the thought of a husband didn’t necessarily thrill me. Finally she tricked me into meeting him. I met him and we just talked for hours. Within four months we were married.”

Ted brought Anastasia to Haines for their honeymoon. Wiley describes her first impression of Haines as “breathtaking. I fell in love with the place. Everything about it is, as they say, a breath of fresh air. It is so clean and quiet and the people are respectful of each other. People give each other privacy, but also help each other,” she said. “That’s one thing about Haines that is just unbelievable. Anytime there is a fire or someone’s house burns down or somebody gets cancer, they have a fundraiser to help each other, and people show up who don’t even know that person.”

In 2006, the Wileys bought a large home off Piedad Road and began the extensive remodeling required to create a full-size, working archaeological office and laboratory out of the 1,500-square-foot bomb shelter that formerly made up the basement level of their home.

Wiley also linked up with Haines resident Andrea Nelson, who had archaeological field work experience, but had been unable to pursue her interests in Haines. “I really missed Haines,” Nelson commented. “I thought I would have to choose one or the other. It is great to be able to pursue a field that you enjoy in the place you want to live.”

Nelson is impressed with the SRS’s new office. “The facilities are amazing. [SRS] has an amazing archaeological laboratory set up with great resources, technology, and a library. All the tools are there to really accomplish a lot.”

Wiley’s approach also jibes with Nelson’s. “It seems like Anastasia’s heart is in the right place. She is in it for the archaeology and the people, which is refreshing, because I have worked with others who were more corporate. She does a good job collaborating with the Natives and putting them in the center of it.”

Wiley foresees that SRS will win business from state, federal, and local agencies who need environmental impact statements or archaeological monitoring for a project. The National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 requires any project or action driven by federal funding to have an environmental assessment that takes into account the impact on culturally important sites. SRS has the certifications and experience necessary to provide the analysis and documentation required by NEPA.

In 2008, SRS provided archaeologic grading monitoring during Southeast Roadbuilders’ refurbishment of Union Street and Third Avenue.

SRS projects are more diverse than assessment and monitoring. One project, begun in 2007, involves transferring Tlingit language field notes from an early study into digital format. “Marsha Hotch, as a linguist, was looking at the words, and some words had been lost, so this (project) is already a contribution to the (Tlingit) language.”

However, the project that Wiley seems most excited about is her partnership with the local Native organizations and the University of Alaska Southeast to train Natives in archaeological techniques. The training will be sufficient to allow them to work as monitors for their own cultural sites during road construction projects, for example. “It’s better for everyone. It saves a lot of problems down the line if the [Native] people are integrated into the whole process.”

This past summer, eight Native students from Klukwan and Haines participated in a five-week pilot program. The students learned basic archaeological theory and techniques and completed independent study projects. The program was supported and funded by the Alaska Department of Natural Resources.

Hotch, a Tlingit linguist and UAS adjunct professor, was a student in the program. She said the program provided an enormous benefit for the community as well as the students who participated.

“I wish I had had this class years ago. I think I would have been a better person to represent my community knowing what our rights are, as a Native people, what we are entitled to, and what can and can’t be done, pertaining to cultural sites. I think it empowered all of us to better make decisions in our community and outside our community. Not even just the Chilkat Valley, but I also think that other tribes throughout the state will benefit from their members becoming knowledgeable and giving them the opportunity to collaborate with other projects that might take place in their area.”

Wiley was enthusiastic about continuing this program and expanding it to other parts of the state. “You do archaeology to gain knowledge so you can share it with people. You need to write or teach or lecture. The tribal groups are wonderful. I like working with them. On these training programs I have gotten to know the younger people. It is a lot of fun teaching them something new that they are extremely interested in because it is part of their heritage. Eventually you will get a student who wants to continue this, to become an archaeologist or anthropologist.”

Another overarching goal for SRS in the Haines and Klukwan area is to identify and find all the traditional sites of the Chilkat Valley, including records, maps, historical photographs and oral histories. She is working to build a consortium of Native, government and academic entities to further what SRS calls the Chilkat Valley Traditional Cultural Places Project.

Wiley has been pleased with SRS’s developing relationship with the Haines and Klukwan communities. She recalled an open house that SRS hosted with the Haines Chamber of Commerce in November 2011. “People began to realize that we have a tremendous resource that can be used by the community.”

Increasingly spending her time in Alaska, but still traveling back down to the main branches of SRS, Wiley is determined to make the move to Alaska full-time. “More and more I just want to stay in Alaska. I don’t want to keep going back and forth. I only have so much energy and I prefer to spend it working in Southeast.”

In part, Wiley’s timing is driven by the impending culmination of her largest project to date: Her work on the Bolsa Chica site in California. “I am writing the final reports on 20 years of work ... It is an eleven-volume final report. It should be done by March or April and go to the printers. Then I can breath easier.”

Wiley is looking forward to having time in the winter to explore Haines’ local resources, like the Sheldon Museum. “It’s one of those rare hidden jewels that most people don’t know about. They have so much information - the historic photos, the historic books, the oral interviews of early families. It is just tremendous, what is there. That is another reason why I like Haines. I could stay in the library at the Sheldon Museum for days and days.

“I love being in Haines in the winter, because it is even quieter, and there is nothing to do but research. In the summer, of course, you are lured away by fishing and berry picking, but the winter allows you to sit back and write up everything. ”

Despite being a longtime resident of sunny California, Wiley claims to be looking forward to a winter replete with snow and limited daylight. “I come from upstate New York originally, from snow country,” she points out. “That’s another reason I am comfortable in Alaska.”