Dustin Steinhoff, News Editor
Anne Austin, anthropology and archeology assistant teaching professor at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, arrived at a Peruvian airport ready to board her plane in order to get back to St. Louis in time for the first day of school. However, Austin realized this was not going to be the case because the plane that was supposed to take Austin and her colleagues’ home was nowhere in sight.
During the summer of 2018, Austin spent some time in Peru where she worked with an archeological expedition looking at burial plots and homes in the Peruvian Highlands. The expedition was part of a funded grant through which Austin and her colleagues were looking at topics across the world. As part of the grant, she agreed to go to Peru, Ethiopia and England. Some of Austin’s colleagues are also traveling to the wine regions of Italy, a location she laments missing out on.
Austin’s background is in archeology and in particular, bio-archeology, meaning she studies human skeletal remains that are found in archeological contexts. This was the type of research being done in the field work. However, instead of taking part in the archeological dig and studying the Peruvian remains, she was studying the archeologists themselves as they excavated.
“I am normally an archeologist, so it was weird to be on the other side,” Austin said. “I want to just jump right in. I want to do it.”
The research Austin was conducting was looking at how archaeologists deal with problems when they disagree about what they should record and, if someone is recording something differently, how they deal with that issue.
“[Disagreements] come up a lot in archeology and it is a problem because if we do not have data that everyone agrees represent what happened, then we cannot excavate again. Once you excavate it once, it is gone,” Austin said.
If the data collected during an excavation is not strong, it will cause problems for archaeologists down the road. If a future archaeologist wanted to use the data that a previous archaeologist recorded, the archaeologist reusing the data will not know if there was a debate about what should have been written in the report. That might make a big difference later when someone is attempting to use the dataset for another purpose. This is where Austin’s research came in.
“My work was looking at those little moments in the field and writing down and observing exactly what people say, do and react. And then also interviewing them about what their experiences are like in order to see if we can do things better in the future and make it easier for people to reuse archeological data,” Austin said.
Despite not being a part of the archeological dig itself, she could not help but get excited about the progress being made.
“It was great to be able to work with people who are doing things that I know so well. We found some very exciting things in terms of burials and condors and different kinds of diseases so there were a lot of interesting things on the site that I got to participate in even though I was really there to see what they were doing and understand what their lives were like recording all of these new discoveries in their field work,” Austin said.
Austin is still writing out the results and believes her work will result in about 60-70 single-spaced pages of notes from two weeks of field work. When Austin and her colleagues were not busy with their archeological dig, they were able to enjoy what the Peruvian culture and nature had to offer.
Austin looked at the people around her on the top level of the double decker bus. Many of them seemed prepared for the 11-hour bus ride back to Cusco, Peru, bringing pillows and blankets in order to sleep and pass the time. None of the passengers seemed phased by the infamously dangerous mountainside roads of Peru. Although, neither was Austin, but that was just in her nature.
“Peru is a really beautiful country,” Austin said. “The geography is really complex. You have these incredibly high highlands.”
Their free time included a trip to Cusco, Peru to see Machu Picchu, a site Austin claims you must see in person to fully appreciate it. She did warn that visitors may not have a great time if they do not enjoy high elevations and long hikes. She also got the chance to enjoy Peruvian cuisine, which is one of her favorites. Unfortunately, Austin has yet to find a proper Peruvian style restaurant in St. Louis.
While the time Austin spent in Peru went great, as Austin described, Peru is not an easy place to fly into or out of. It took Austin about three days just to get to Peru. Her flight that was meant to go through Miami, Florida was diverted to Orlando due to storms. However, this unfortunate feat would soon be undone by her attempt to return home.
The location of the town Austin and her colleagues were staying in was a suburb about 30 minutes outside of a larger suburb. Then, it was about a four and a half hour drive away from a two-gate airport that could fly them to Lima, Peru. Due to reasons Austin was never fully made aware of, the flight leaving that two-gate airport was cancelled. However, Austin noticed there was never a plane for anyone to board, which led her to a logical conclusion.
“At a two-gate airport, you can see all of the planes that were there and there was no plane. There was not a plane waiting for us. I think they just forgot to send one for us,” Austin said. “And if your flight is cancelled, it is not like there is another plane to get on.”
This complication ended up pushing back Austin’s return to St. Louis by a day. The delays did not stop there, though. To further complicate things, when the second plane left the Lima airport headed back to the town it came from, the pilots realized midair their middle landing gear was not working and made an emergency landing in Lima.
“There are videos of the landing online. The landing gear does not activate, and sparks are flying everywhere,” Austin recalls. “They had to shut down the airport to do an entire investigation of the crash to make sure the airport was safe. That meant no planes were entering or leaving Lima and I was delayed again.”
The plane made a calculated crash landing and there were no injuries or casualties, as the non-Spanish speaking Austin found out after trying to speak with various Spanish-speaking
Peruvians to find out what happened. Relieved to find out everything had turned out okay, Austin’s attention turned toward the classroom.
Due to the multiple delays occurring on her trip back to St. Louis, Austin was unable to attend her first two days of classes. Luckily for her and her classes, Austin designed her course schedule with some wiggle room in case the class fell behind schedule. Though, Austin did not anticipate needing that wiggle room in case she was stranded in Peru.