CPA’s double life

John Burge

Photo By meredith j. cooper

John Burge is a busy guy this time of year. One of his most in-demand jobs as a certified public accountant—which he has been for the past 34 years—is doing people’s taxes. Besides being a CPA (a job that keeps him inside his office in Chico’s Stonebridge Professional Village for many hours a day), Burge is also an RPA—a registered professional archaeologist. Burge developed an early love of the outdoors as a child accompanying his father on hunting and fishing trips, during which he quickly learned that he “was always good at finding stuff”—lost lures and sinkers, arrowheads, rocks and fossils. His services have been contracted by the Bureau of Land Management, and he’s worked for the U. S. Forest Service on excavation projects in the Ishi Wilderness. In 1991, he memorably floated the San Juan River in southeastern Utah on his way to “the heart of Anasazi territory” in the Southwest’s Four Corners area, where he found 700-year-old “pottery shards kind of spilling down the hills.” Burge’s first real “dig” took place when he was 9 or 10 years old.

Tell me about that first dig.

It was with one of my boyhood friends, John, who was one-quarter Indian. His grandma was full-blooded. I went with John and his dad to some semi-public Wintu sites north of Redding—what’s now Shasta Lake City. They brought sophisticated [archaeology sifting] screens. … There were no artifact laws back then.

What did you find?

We found lots of arrowheads, beads, flakestone implements, some bone—not sure—probably animal bone. That’s kind of where I got started.

You have an eye for finding things …

Well, yeah, you just look at the ground. … Everywhere you go, there’s stuff. … After I got back from Utah, I ended up exploring around [the Chico area]. I found dozens of sites—rock shelters with mortar holes, pestles. There are a lot of rock shelters in Upper Park.

Tell me about your most recent project.

It’s called the Ruby Pipeline Project. I was hired by a large oil and gas supplier.

To do what?

We surveyed a hundred-meter swath the width of Nevada. We walked across Nevada from border to border. We started in May [2008] and basically walked all late spring, summer and fall, and didn’t knock off till January-something. … Most people think all we do is dig, but we do a lot of surveying.

What’s the most common thing you’re hired to do?

Lot splits. Most of what I do is lot splits. You just walk the ground. I have yet to turn a spade.