Bakersfield is famous for…?

Spain, Alaska, Mediterranean views, Cheetos in a tent a zillion miles from civilization… Pish. This weekend Ashley and I made the exotic trek to Bakersfield, California to present at the American Rock Art Research Association (ARARA)– a trip filled with views of cattle, caravans of trucks huffing and puffing their ways up the Interstate 5, and rolling brown hills. Bakersfield is usually about 1.5-2 hours away from central LA, but the traffic was so bad leaving Brentwood that it took us nearly FOUR hours to get there. In-N-Out was desperately needed by the both of us, and we finished both our meals on the road, before we’d even gotten 8 miles out from the parking lot. The conference was held at the Doubletree Hotel, a small hotel near the exit for the 5, and about five miles from my aunt’s house.

Sarah working out her nerves before presenting at ARARA
Sarah working out her nerves before presenting at ARARA

Upon arrival to drop off our presetation the night before, the presentation coordinator looked surprised to see Ashley and I standing in line to have our powerpoint checked… I was confused as to why she would be surprised, but realized that Ashley and I are probably about 40 years younger than everyone in the organization. At first this was a little disheartening, but I soon found that it was more scary– that just meant that everyone else was 40 years more experienced than me in the field of rock art! Luckily my aunt’s house always brings happy memories for me, like Thanksgiving and housesitting with HDTV, and proved to be a nice, calm place to crash before the conference frenzy.

We woke up bright and early to the smell of bacon and croissants, and headed out to the conference for Donna Gillette’s (a Berkeley anthropology professor and strong supporter of the NACL project) paper, and a few other papers about California rock art, of which there is no dearth. I want to PTM everything that was discussed, of course, but I’m looking forward to exploring the Coso Range petroglyphs… Any volunteers to help? 🙂  We stayed through a BLM panel on site visitor impacts and their methods of controlling vandals, which was interesting in that there really is no way to control visitors aside from restricted access to guided tours. Plenty of condemnation of vandals, and the presentation of rock art descriptions on advertising websites/guide books (“doodles”? oh please…) came up. Ethical problems were discussed mostly– the same ethical problems that come up in other archaeological discussions come up in the case of rock art.  True, no UNESCO agreements govern the exportation of rock art panels and boulders (because they cannot be moved), but the American people own the sites located on public land. That being said, how does the government protect these sites while still allowing the owners access? Is restriction ethical on a legal basis in this case? How can we allow appreciators of rock art access while filtering out vandals and other criminals? The answers aren’t so easy…

Our session was up next, and I will stop here for a second and just mention that public speaking is not a very strong point for me. Yes, I took drama in high school for four years, and was in plenty of productions. Yes, I helped write the paper. Yes, I’ve explained this project about a zillion times in other papers and grant proposals, and to curious friends and family. And yes, I’ve even somewhat presented this paper before (I clicked up the powerpoint while Lucy presented). While I know this project back and forth, upside down and inverted, the clammy palms and asthmatic tightening of my chest was intense. And my entire script was already written… Sheesh.

The first paper of our session was AWESOME. It was a rock art database, similar to ours, but using a Python database (30,000 lines of code!!) instead of a GIS base. While it seemed complicated the way the presenter explained it, it looked very user friendly. Check it out:

The second paper was about XRF dating rock art. “What?” was mine and Ashley’s reactions. It seemed viable, but still somewhat… Complicated? It was several parts using spawled samples of paint, etc. I couldn’t really see his powerpoint (we were off to the side) but he didn’t really give too many results/data about his conclusions.

And then our paper. Ahh… I had to stand on a stage alone with a podium, mic to my face, staring into a sea of scholars’ faces (250!!) . Deep breath and… go. I was focused on enunciating and speaking slowly, and did well until I looked up and saw the wrong video was playing. I panicked a little, but kept going. I have faith in Ashley… And so that was it. Just reading a 6 page paper while Ashley clicked up videos. I was more nervous giving this paper than I was skydiving! Crazy…

Ashley and the banner at ARARA
Ashley and the banner at ARARA

After our session, Carla Shroer and Mark Mudge of Cultural Heritage Imaging (CHI) came and spoke to us. They came up behind us and I got scared for a second, partly out of surprise and partly because they look exactly like their pictures from our powerpoint. They spoke to us about a lot of technical things that most people (sometimes including Ashley and myself) wouldn’t understand. The exciting thing is that they’ve set up the Gizmo in our lab! And new software is being produced for better quality, easier to use RTI (PTM) processing/viewing!

And then Ashley and I booked it back to LA, where I slept like a baby after my adrenaline rush. I love conferences! Now to publish the proceedings…

~Sarah Butler


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