Back in time

Antoinette Martinez

Photo By jeff peeter

Anthropologist Antoinette Martinez was selected as Chico State’s Outstanding Teacher of 2007. Martinez, who has been teaching at the university since 1999, first became interested in anthropology when she was driving a school bus in Chico and raising three daughters on her own. She squeezed in anthropology courses whenever she could. By the time her children graduated from high school, Martinez had been accepted into the graduate program at UC Berkeley. She’s been at Chico State since graduation, teaching a variety of classes, doing excavations at Big Chico Creek Ecological Reserve and working on a manuscript of her research.

How did you become interested in anthropology?

I found that anthropology asks the big questions in life. For example, I have always wondered why women have the roles that they do, how they got those roles and have they always had them? Psychology and sociology are fun, but anthropology gets to the heart of what it is to be human.

What is the most interesting thing you have found?

What is the most interesting thing to me is finding examples of prehistoric everyday life in context. For example, I’ve excavated pits where houses used to be and I found a hearth, ashes and a meal still there. So I haven’t found gold or gems or things like that, but the things I have found, examples of everyday life in context, are of great value to me. And the more you excavate, the more you get this sense of responsibility, because you are disturbing someone’s past and once evacuated it can never go back.

Can you give an example of this sense of responsibility?

There is a site I found with many house depressions. And because it was so amazing that all these house depressions and artifacts inside the house pits had survived. I felt so much responsibility for the site that I left it alone. Also, when I work, I always consult the local Native American people to make sure we are not doing anything against their values.

Can you talk a bit about the manuscript you are working on?

The manuscript [Keepers of Tradition: Two Thousand Years of Cultural Continuity] deals with the culture contact period of North American archeology, which is when native people first came into contact with Europeans. My first experience was when I was at Fort Ross, which was a multicultural settlement in the early 1800s. Working at Fort Ross, one of my interests was women in cultural contact. I have found examples of strong female leaders in the Kashia Pomo tribe maintaining a strong Pomo identity. In California, so many tribes lost their identities when the Europeans settled, but the Pomo still have a very strong identity, and I think that a large part of that is because of these women leaders.