January Costa, the archaeologist for the Lincoln County Historical Association, has been chosen to chair the North Carolina Archaeological Council (NCAC).
The NCAC is comprised of professional archaeologists who reside or work in North Carolina. According to Costa, it provides an opportunity for archaeologists to share their work and encourages members to publish their findings.
Costa has been a member of NCAC since 2008, the same year she began working part time with the Lincoln County Historical Association (LCHA). She earned an undergraduate degree in anthropology with a concentration in archaeology from Appalachian State University and a master’s from the University of Leicester in the United Kingdom.
Since joining the LCHA, Costa has worked on various historical sites in the county and surrounding areas. She’s helped to facilitate research using ground penetrating radar (GPR) that indicates buried features at the Battle of Ramsour’s Mill site and Ingleside Plantation in Iron Station.
For two years, Costa has lead research at the Michael-Butt-Brown-Pressley house in downtown Lincolnton. She published her research to date with the North Carolina Archaeological Society, which differs from the NCAC in that membership is open to the public as well as professionals.
As chair, Costa hopes to make the NCAC more active and bring more awareness to sites in the western part of the state. She wants to facilitate meetings where local archaeologists can network and share their work.
“It’s a really good way to get people to see what all the other archaeologists are doing,” Costa said.
The reality of Costa’s everyday work is different from what the public may imagine.
“Most people when they meet me, they ask, ‘have you found any dinosaur bones or gold,’” Costa said. “First of all, I’m not a paleontologist.”
Although Costa has worked for the LCHA for over ten years, she still encounters people that are surprised to learn an archaeologist works in Lincoln County. Costa and volunteers get a lot of exposure and generate excitement when people seen them in action at the Michael-Butt-Brown-Pressley house or other sites.
Costa points out that digging isn’t the only part of her work, it’s just what the public can see.
“The point of all of it isn’t the artifacts themselves that we’re digging up,” Costa said. “We’re looking at and analyzing those, but the whole point of it is what are these artifacts telling me.”
The artifacts offers clues that can help determine whether they found a kitchen, for example.
The rest of the work happens at the lab in the Cultural Center. Volunteers help by washing the artifacts, then Costa will analyze, bag, record, and place the items acid free boxes. For every hour spent in the field, three hours are spent in the lab.
In addition to Costa’s part time work for the LCHA, she’s a consultant at the Schiele Museum in Gastonia, is vice chair at the Hoyle Historic Homestead in Dallas and active at other sites in the region.
Costa’s biggest challenge is time and funding. Volunteers have an integral role onsite and in post-excavation work. Anyone willing to get their hands dirty can contact Costa at firstname.lastname@example.org.