Meet the Scientist:
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Growing up in New Hampshire, the love of archaeology came to Dick Boisvert at an early age. While reading for school, he stumbled across tales of discovery and exploration among the pages of science and history books. Fascinated by the fossilized remains of long-gone dinosaurs and the flint littered remains of cavemen’s campsites, Dick’s budding interest in archaeology was soon apparent to both parents and teachers.
By high school, Boisvert was convinced that he had found his calling as an archaeologist. Thanks to the support of his family and encouragement from local professors at Dartmouth and Franklin Pierce College, Dick was able to pursue his dreams by volunteering in the field and getting firsthand knowledge of archaeological work. Rather than reading about dig sites in the faded pages of books, archaeology was now an experience familiar to the hills and riverbanks of his own backyard. Unraveling the mysteries of hometown archaeology proved to be just as exciting as fossil hunting in the jungles of South America or excavating tombs in the Valley of the Kings. It was this love of archaeology and the passion to explore his surroundings that led Boisvert to study at Beloit College, and later to the University of Kentucky where he earned both his masters and Ph.D.
After more than 30 years working in the field, Dick Boisvert’s focus may have changed from the frightening T-Rex of childhood books to the slightly less dangerous study of lithic technology and Paleo-Indian tribes, but it is the same childhood fascination refined over time that drives him. For Dr. Boisvert, archaeology is “one enormous, fantastic puzzle,” and every artifact found represents another missing piece. Finding each clue brings the scientists of today one step closer to seeing the complete picture, trying to understand the lives of ancient people. While we may never see the finished puzzle, archaeologists know that each pottery shard or fire pit unearthed is a small success in its own right. “You know you’ll never get the whole picture,” explains Boisvert, “but you hope to make a contribution to what’s being done.”
While true archaeological work may be lamentably more routine than the glamorous escapades of Indiana Jones, Boisvert still finds his share of precious treasure. “The most rewarding part of what I do is discovering students…it’s one thing to go out and find a site or an artifact, but that’s a one time event. When you encounter somebody who’s really interested and enthusiastic, to encourage them, to prepare them and launch them out, that has a far greater effect on archaeology than anything I’ll do.”
For Boisvert, one of the joys of his job as State Archaeologist of New Hampshire is sharing his passion with others, a goal he promotes through “SCRAP,” the State Conservation and Rescue Archaeology Program. Founded in 1978, with the belief that everyone should be able to study and appreciate their own past, the organization works to involve enthusiastic citizens in the study of local history and culture.
Understanding and preserving the past is one of archaeology’s greatest powers, and as a learning tool, it allows us to educate ourselves by recognizing the mistakes and successes of the history. It shows us the incredible achievements of so-called “primitive cultures,” and how their accomplishments rival modern day feats of engineering, mathematics, and art.
Dick Boisvert explains that while archaeology seeks only to answer the most basic questions: “Who lived here? How many of them were there? What did they eat? How did they survive?” The answers provide a wealth of information. Looking at changes over long spans of time, thousands of years, “archaeology can show what happens under certain circumstances. When cultures ignore or abuse the environment or refuse to adapt to changes, they go extinct. That’s the lesson we can deliver to contemporary society.” Archaeology is the ultimate history book, open to anyone who cares to thumb through its pages. The lessons of untold generations lie buried beneath the ground, and with the help of people like Dr. Boisvert, there will always be opportunities for eager, young archaeologists to unearth them.
For more information on New Hampshire’s SCRAP program, visit the website at: www.mv.com/ipusers/boisvert or write to
State of New Hampshire Department of Cultural Resources
19 Pillsbury Street, Box 2043
Concord, NH 03301-2043