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'When I pull that thing from the earth, there is a certain amount of wonder and excitement that sort of courses through my veins.'

November 02, 1986|NANCY REED

Trained in archeology and anthropology, Ron May didn't expect to make a living in the field; most graduates wind up selling insurance. But he has. As an environmental management specialist in the Department of Planning and Land Use for the county, he has a "healthy respect for the luck that brought me here." He has mapped mammoth and camel bones in the desert, and led the excavation of Fort Guijarros at Point Loma's Ballast Point. He encourages individuals, from Boy Scouts to senior citizens, to join archeological digs for "hands-on history." The 40-year-old La Mesa administrator and excavator has published 27 articles, earned seven awards and served as a leader in more than 10 organizations. Recently he was named to staff the county Historical Sites Board and he hopes to see oak trees and Indian burial grounds preserved for the heritage of San Diego County. Times staff writer Nancy Reed interviewed him and Times photographer Dave Gatley photographed him at his county office. I think I never grew up. I think somewhere between 12 and 18, some parts of me were arrested permanently as a child. And I think that archeology brings that out. I can still learn the very sophisticated theories that guide me at what I do, but I can still get very much excited about a piece of an old wine bottle or a lead bullet that a Spanish soldier might have held.

You know, when I pull that thing from the earth, there is a certain amount of wonder and excitement that sort of courses through my veins.

It's the ability to re-create in my mind when the last person touched it. So it's in that world of make-believe.

The more enriching side is that I have read and researched enough and had enough courses that, instead of making things up, all I need to do is add my touch of imagination to re-create in my mind, based on facts, what might have happened had I been there. Archeology is that bridge.

To me, to be doing relaxing things is to carry on research. I don't drop my pencil at 5 o'clock and go off and watch TV.

(An excavation) is sort of like playing a three-dimensional chess game for me. I enjoy being out in the fresh air and I enjoy the people and the ability to educate them--to get them excited about something beyond whatever mundane job they do in life.

It's one thing to read about bones and sticks and it's another thing to be out there turning a shovel and seeing your first piece of 18th-Century pottery that someone was eating off of 100 years ago. Being there on the spot during an excavation--there is an element of glamour, an element of camaraderie. When somebody makes a discovery--everybody rushes over--you are sharing in it, and it's a charge.

Sometimes I'm the person who picks up the broken clay pipe fragment and am able to bring people to that time when the whalers were sitting on the beach in 1860. I guess I am a frustrated educator.

In high school I wanted to be a marine biologist. I never thought of history or Indians. It wasn't really until I was at San Diego State University that I read about an excavation in Presidio Park, where university teams were excavating a Spanish church and human burial--exciting things that caught my attention.

I went down there and looked through the fence. There were friends of mine working down there, and a professor I knew.

I had taken his class and found it a boring, plodding-along, historical anthology about anthropology development in the world.

He invited me in and gave me a trowel. I felt sort of like they were playing Tom Sawyer and I was sucked into painting the fence. The next thing you know, I am carrying dirt and taking field notes, and pretty soon I got enrolled in the classes.

That's exactly how I got started--a newspaper article got my attention--and I found out there was more to American history than presidents and political scenes.

There are so many Americans that feel like we are immigrants, we don't really identify with the land. When we talk about heritage, we look to Europe or South America or something else; we don't really feel like we are here yet. But in two or three generations we will. And if we work now to preserve the historic remains of the past, then we can help them feel their heritage.

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