Around the Table with Johna Hutira

Welcome to Around the Table, a regular series where we talk to people in our network and share the incredible work they are doing in their industry. Pull up a chair and join us for conversation and connection.

Name: Johna Hutira

Company: DAWSON

Where to Find You: LinkedIn

What drew you to the world of archeology?
I always had an interest in the past, even as a kid.  I had a high school teacher who had a degree in anthropology which furthered my interest. I was a political science major for my first two years at Arizona State University, taking anthropology classes to fill my science and humanities requirements. I was offered a job doing archaeological survey on the south rim of the Grand Canyon and realized I could actually do archaeology as a career. Paid to go camping — A dream job for a child of the 70s!

What do you think is the biggest challenge the industry is facing today?
It’s a tie! First, the death of qualified archaeological technicians. While many companies pay a living wage, many do not in order to secure contracts by being the lowest bidder. It is very difficult to attract young people to an industry where the wages vary so widely. Entry-level technicians generally go from job to job as they build their resumes. In addition, it is rare to have one organization with fieldwork full-time, 52 weeks per year, so the field technician lifestyle can be rather nomadic.

This leads into the second issue: Clients (federal, state, and private sector) want the cheapest option. In order to be the cheapest, a company may pay a low wage, short them on per diem, and ask to work unreasonable hours at an unreasonable pace. This leads to disenfranchisement of the labor pool and dangerous conditions leading to injury. So, the two are interrelated. Call your congressman and tell them not to be so cheap!

What current projects, conferences, or events are you working on now or in the future?

DAWSON, the company I work for, is doing projects all over the U.S. Just last week I was in Vermont doing a project for a federal client. As for conferences, the Annual Meeting for the Society for American Archaeology is coming up in March in Portland, OR. Looking forward to that!

What’s the best advice you’ve received in your career?
Again, it’s a tie. From a mentor in the archaeological compliance sector: Business is business. Friendship is friendship.

From an archaeology professor: Sometimes, you gotta learn to be an asshole.

What advice would you give to someone wanting to join the field today?
Specialize! Have a skill other than “dirt” archaeology. GIS, bioarcheology, archeobotany (my specialty), and geomorphology are all good options.

When you aren’t working, what do you like to do?
I have a hobby! I do fused glass pieces. Right now, I am mostly doing pieces containing cremated pet remains. I had several containers with various well-loved pets in the house and was thinking about what to do with them (watch Hoarders – you’ll understand). So I experimented with fusing the cremains into glass pieces.

It works quite well, so now I do it mostly for friends and friends of friends. I don’t do it for money – just a promise of a donation to an animal charity. I have done bowls, plates, candle holders, and Christmas ornaments. Currently, I have Coco Chanel (a lovely chihuahua) who is going into some glass cacti pieces.

If we were literally “around the table” right now, what food would you have brought to share?
Cookies! Lemon ones. . .