In a small laboratory off Washington Road, 150 boxes of 1,000-year-old American Indian artifacts wait to be cataloged, inventoried and photographed.
The collection includes ceramics, projectile points, and bits of glass and brook stone dating back to A.D. 800. The job of sorting and archiving each relic is expected to take two years, which is good news for military veterans in the Augusta area seeking part- or full-time work.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced Wednesday that, starting in May, it will hire a half-dozen retired service members to begin work on the project, one of many sponsored by the federal agency’s Veteran Curation Program.
Though the opportunity to play the role of an archaeologist holds high entertainment value, a recent survey shows it also serves a larger purpose: providing work and training to the nearly 10 percent of post-9/11 veterans without a job – an unemployment rate that’s about two points higher than the national average.
“Just getting out the door and making the first step has proved to be really helpful to veterans in the local community and across the country transitioning from the military into the civilian workforce,” said Caroline Bradford, the archive manager for New South Associates, a cultural resources firm that has taken over management of the Veterans Curation Program in Augusta.
A commonly cited reason for veteran joblessness is that many service members joined the armed forces out of high school and missed out on the training and experience that came with working toward a career.
The Veterans Curation Program is changing that by meeting two needs, said project manager Kate McMahon.
First, the director said the project, which began in October 2009, gives veterans a paycheck to preserve and possibly restore artifacts unearthed by the Army Corps of Engineers, mostly after World War II.
More important, she added, it pads the résumés of veterans with marketable skills such as team-building communication and training with computer spreadsheets.
The six veterans hired in Augusta will work in two groups, polishing and logging into databases the Miller’s Ferry Collection, an assortment of artifacts salvaged from Wilcox County, Ala., in the mid-1960s when a dam flooded a community’s river line and washed out pieces of historic glass and American Indian ceramics made between 800 and 1300, said Patrick Rivera, the artifacts manager at the Augusta lab.
“It really is a fabulous collection,” Rivera said Wednesday.
Once completed, the anthology will join more than 525 boxes of artifacts and 28 linear feet of documents that have been cataloged, inventoried and photographed by more than 100 veteran curators at laboratories in Augusta, St. Louis and Alexandria, Va.
The albums include papers and pieces from the Clarks Hill Dam and from Martin Luther King Jr., which one veteran documented Monday in Augusta.
Her experience, Bradford said, matched the results of a survey on the Veterans Curation Program, in which nearly 80 former participants graded the project highly. The results include:
• 99 percent of respondents said that the experience had been a positive one.
• 95 percent of respondents said that they feel more positive about themselves and their qualifications after participants.
• 97 percent of respondents said that they feel the project has equipped them to succeed in a nonmilitary office environment.
Bradford was unsure of the future career path of the veteran who worked this week, but said when the woman left Monday, she had “renewed focus.”