Hurt & Proffitt, Sweet Briar College open new archaeology lab

Posted on January 04, 2011 by Staff Writer

Hurt & Proffitt Inc., a Lynchburg, Va.-based civil engineering and surveying firm, is collaborating with Sweet Briar College to expand its cultural resource management services. The company has teamed with the nearby women’s college to establish the Sweet Briar College Archaeological Materials Laboratory. Under the agreement, the lab will process, record and temporarily curate artifacts discovered as a result of work performed by the company for its clients.

The laboratory is expected to be fully operational by the end of January, although work has already begun to process materials from an ongoing Hurt & Proffitt project.

Archaeologist Randy Lichtenberger is H&P’s director of cultural resources. He said the new lab complements the cultural resource management, or CRM, services the company already offers for clients, whether they are meeting regulatory requirements to investigate their project’s impact on historic properties or conducting an investigation solely for research purposes.

“The Sweet Briar lab is an essential component of our archaeological services. It allows us to offer a complete range of those services to our clients,” Lichtenberger said, noting that with archaeologists Keith Adams and Perry Tourtellotte directing its operation, it will be led by highly qualified and experienced professionals.

In addition to cleaning, labeling and cataloging artifacts, the lab will coordinate with consultants in specialized subfields such as conservation and faunal or macro-botanical analysis when required.

Two rooms in Gray Hall, home to the College’s archaeology program, are being renovated and equipped to accommodate the new lab. Adams and Tourtellotte, both adjunct instructors at Sweet Briar, will supervise paid student employees who will do much of the work.

“Perry and I will direct the lab and train students in cultural resource management, artifact processing, curation and analysis — all hands-on skills training for students in archaeology or arts management,” Adams said. “Depending on students’ background and interest, we could employ anthropology, art history, history and classics majors.”

Adams also is hoping a new one-credit course on archaeology lab management will be approved to be taught with SBC’s archaeology field course beginning next fall. “In that case the lab will be used as a full-fledged classroom teaching environment,” he said.

H&P’s staff archaeologists and architectural historians are experienced in helping public and private clients meet complex regulatory requirements in projects ranging from small developments to interstate transmission lines. Lichtenberger said each one meets or exceeds Department of the Interior requirements for professional qualifications. And they’re experts in developing CRM plans as the most cost-effective way to balance development with the preservation of significant cultural resources.

They also have worked with private preservationists and museums, including the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation and Thomas Jefferson’s Poplar Forest.

“In fact, all of our cultural resources personnel are actively involved in historical societies, professional associations and personal research projects,” Lichtenberger said, noting that among his colleagues, history is as much a passion as a job.

Hurt & Proffitt’s complete company portfolio includes environmental engineering, geotechnical services, land development, and construction testing and inspection. Employee-owned since 1996, it is one of the largest civil engineering firms in Central Virginia and has offices in Norfolk and Wytheville.

Beyond the new lab, the collaboration between Hurt & Proffitt and the College offers great potential for Sweet Briar students. Those with appropriate excavation experience will be given priority for paid summer internships or employment as archaeological field technicians for the company. But as the relationship matures, both parties envision opportunities extending to students in the engineering, business, environmental studies and other programs.

“The opportunities created by this collaboration have been terrific” said Bif Johnson, Hurt & Proffitt’s chief executive officer and president. “Sweet Briar students get exposure to real-world projects, the College gets a well-equipped lab, Hurt & Proffitt is able to offer an entirely new service, and our clients get high-quality services offered locally.”

Sweet Briar President Jo Ellen Parker agrees the new lab is a plus all the way around. “It is good for education, good for business and good for our community,” she said. “Sweet Briar is very proud to be partnering with local business to create value. While providing a valuable service to Hurt & Proffitt, our students will gain hands-on experience — and show why archaeology matters outside the academy.”