"What it's all about for me is helping my troops. That's what I believed in when I was in the service. That's my duty. That's my obligation for the rest of my life that will not go away." Dr. Stephen Humpreys, archeologist, American Veterans Archaeological Recovery
Archeologist and veteran of the US Air Force Dr. Stephen Humpreys joins episode 139 of the podcast this week. Dr. Humphreys talks about what led him down the path to archeology while in the service and how it helped him formulate the plan that would eventually become the American Veterans Archeological Recovery program. Dr. Humphreys and his team invited me along with members of Death Wish Coffee to their recent archeological dig of the Saratoga Battlefield and discusses just what they found and their hopes of returning.
AVAR or the American Veterans Archeological Recovery program is dedicated to bringing a unique approach to discovering the past while helping people in the present with what they call "rehabilitation archeology". Archeological digs have a specific mission, objectives, strategy and tools that are deployed and allow veterans to easily acclimate to the parameters. Plus, AVAR is dedicated to helping veterans pursue archeology as far as they would like, not just on a single dig site, but even as a budding career if they so choose.
You can learn more about how amazing AVAR is and the archeology they are a part of at:
Jeff: Thank you so much for coming here, and not only coming and talking with me on the podcast, but inviting me out to the dig with the team here at Death Wish. That was one of the most fun things I've ever done.
Stephen: I'm just glad you got to actually get on the metal detector a little bit.
Stephen: That was really cool.
Jeff: I found a thing.
Stephen: You found a thing.
Jeff: I don't know what it is. It was probably a nail. Let's be honest, it was probably a nail.
Stephen: No, it could have been... It was a nail.
Jeff: It was a nail.
Stephen: But yeah, I think the coolest thing for us is to kind of see new people come out and get on the equipment and see how much fun digging is.
Stephen: Because that's why we do this. So yeah, thanks for coming out.
Jeff: I can 100% understand how people get into archeology. Just from being there for a couple of minutes, I was like, "Oh my God, I'm Indiana Jones and I'm going to do this forever."
Stephen: Yeah, it's addictive, and I had never metal detected before this project. This is a new thing-
Jeff: Oh, wow.
Stephen: ... for the world of archeology, so yeah, it's kind of a new methodology. The guys would go out there and they'd get hooked on like, "Oh, I hear the beep, I hear the beep," and I didn't really understand it until I tried it and then I was like, "Wow, the beep is fucking addictive."
Jeff: It really is.
Stephen: They live for that beep. So yeah, I'm glad you got to get the rush.
Jeff: It's so cool, and I want us to actually start there because this is exactly what you guys just started doing with AVAR. You guys are in our backyard at the Saratoga Battlefield, and I want you to talk a little bit about that because I learned that you're the first people to excavate that battlefield?
Stephen: Yeah. So this is a really neat collaboration. Basically a year ago, we came up with this idea to put veterans on this specific battlefield. We've been working with the park service and the American Battlefield Trust since then in order to kind of make this come together, but this site is the turning point of the Revolutionary War. This is where America came from, and no one had ever tried to explore this battlefield before. So we're the first ones to go out there and not only take the texts, but also take the archeology to kind of tell the story of this battlefield, which is pretty cool.
Jeff: It's incredible.
Stephen: Americans are kind of doing things on their own. You've probably heard sort of the myths that the Americans are shooting from the trees and sniping at the Red Coats and stuff like that. By this point in the Revolutionary War, that's not the case. Both sides are using skirmishers more or less.
Stephen: See, it's hard to see from this angle, but you see a little bit of a rise up there on that hillside?
Stephen: So that's the German line coming in this general direction. And then the American line was over here roughly where this tree line is.
Speaker 3: We're going to go to the other side. It's just easier to walk this path. It's not as swampy over there. There's an overlook and then you'll be able to see the whole field. That makes sense.
Stephen: Yeah. So what you're going to see as we walk by is we've mowed these transects, these lanes across the battlefield, and they're mowed from north to south. And the reason for that is because we want to find those two battle lines. That's really the research project here. You don't just dig holes or do projects, you always have a research question and sometimes you make up the research question after you find stuff because it makes you look smarter that way.
Stephen: But the a research question for this-yeah, it's true-is where were the battle lines. So we've laid those transects out across the battlefield that way, and as we detect across, we're going to hopefully find musket balls in the line over here and musket balls in a line over there. And we can tell a lot from musket balls. Like Paul was talking about, we're looking for things like had they been fired or not? Maybe some poor 15 year old kid was rushing when he was loading his weapon and drop the musket balls on the ground.
Stephen: So what we're doing on the site is called conflict archeology.
Jeff: Conflict archeology.
Stephen: Conflict archeology, and that's why we use metal detectors. Like we don't dig very much. We just do metal detectors sweeps across the entire site that lets us pick up the musket balls or the nails, as you saw for yourself, and the distribution patterns of those items across the battlefield that's what tells what actually happens. So it might feel like you're just pulling up a nail or a musket ball or whatever case shot. But when you put all those things together on a map, you can pretty much tell the story of a German captain pulling his cannons across the line in order to reinforce his men and to fire more shot into the American lines. And you can kind of get a sense of like these American soldiers fighting against the British who were the big dog in their day. These guys had to be incredibly intimidated and incredibly terrified. So you get a sense of them ramming their shot down their barrels and shooting that off into the lines because you find those bullets in a line formation that they've either dropped or that they fired. So yeah, you can tell the story of the battlefield with this stuff.
Jeff: I was so interested in that because not only, I mean, and this is for people who might not even understand this. Not only are you out there on the field finding this stuff, then you have to go through cleaning it, cataloging it and that kind of stuff. You were showing us you find musket balls that obviously have impacted something because they are depressed. They're oblong now they like they hit a wall or they hit a person maybe or they hit something, and it changed the shape of it. But then you found ones that are pristine and like you said, that could literally be from somebody scared shitless trying to get their musket. Because it's hard. I mean as good of a technology as muskets were back in the day, it was very hard to load those things, especially quickly during war.
Stephen: Yeah. So like we actually got a chance to go and fire muskets a couple of days ago with a local volunteer group, which was pretty cool as well. But all of our guys have like infantry backgrounds. All of us have fired guns before. Like I grew up with guns myself even though I'm Air Force. So I've fired a lot of guns. Those are not easy guns to shoot. I mean, there are a lot of steps involved in making that thing work and trying to do that while you're under fire, I can't even imagine. But yeah, when you find that like musket ball that's completely pristine, it really makes you think like, "Wow, is this some like 15 year old kid that was just trying to fire off another round as fast as he could and dropped it in place?" Because we find them in like lines. So we know that these guys are like lined up and they're firing. Obviously if you've seen pictures, you know that's what they're doing.
Stephen: But you find these like unfired balls in a line and it's like, "Man, these guys must've just been..." The last person that touched this thing was probably in dire terror. The most terror they'd ever faced in their life. That was the last person that touched that before we did. And that's pretty cool.
Jeff: That is cool. And it's cool how it tells the story of the battlefield too because you guys are learning things that no one's known. We knew that the battlefield was there, we knew that the battle happened, but now that you're mapping it out, we're getting new insights into how that battle actually transpired. And that is exciting in and of itself.
Stephen: Yeah. So the thing is we don't actually know exactly where that battle occurred.
Jeff: Other than it's on the field. We knew it was in this area.
Stephen: In the area. Yeah. But like the park service has basically come in and said, "Yeah, we think the battle is right here. So we're going to cut the trees in this area to make it look battlefield like." But really we're not entirely sure about where that battle was out there. So probably some of those battle lines are in what our tree lines today. So we're actually metal detecting in the tree lines as well to catch those battle lines because right now it's an approximation. And that's what we hope to continue doing in the future too is revealing more of what the battle actually looked like as opposed to what it kind of looks like right now.
Stephen: It's a different thing.
Jeff: It's so cool. And can you walk us through a little bit what we got to see out there. Some of the different tech that you're using because you are using the metal detectors. Use the handheld one, which is really rad. But you have other ones too, right?
Stephen: So actually there's an incredible amount of tech. Like archeology is so tech heavy right now. Like if you're thinking Indiana Jones archeology out in the desert with pickaxes and shovels, yeah, we do that too. And that's also fun. But that's not all it is now. So before we ever showed up, there was a drone that overflew the entire battlefield that shot science called LIDAR down into the ground. And that gave us like a super precise Topo map. If you've ever seen some of the stuff being done in like Honduras to find lost cities, same thing because it doesn't show foliage. It shoots through it. So you can shoot through a forest and it gives you all the lumps and bumps on the ground. So that was done before we ever showed up.
Stephen: We show up out here, we do our a really precise metal detectors survey in lanes that is laid on top of that Topo map, so that gives us the distribution of the fines in those lanes. But then we also do what's called ground penetrating radar where you run a cart across the battlefield and that picks up things like walls or possibly graves, although not in this case, but it'll pick up density differences in the ground. So all these things are being added in together to give us this extremely precise map of the battlefield.
Stephen: Look to the left of the barrel.
Jeff: Then you're also cataloging the field as you're out there. It was really cool to see like all of the different flags and everything. Can you talk a little bit about like how you were doing all that too?
Stephen: Yeah. So like right now if you go out to the battlefield and probably not the case while this is airing, but right now it's completely covered in flags. Orange, blue and yellow flags and those all mean different things. So every time my guys have a find, they plant the flag to show where it is. If it's an iron find, they plant one color. If it's a metal or a led find, they plant another. So if you look at those yellow flags, those are the ballistics, those are the musket balls. And you can literally see just from looking out on the field right now, where are the patterns of yellow are, which is where those battle lines were back in the day just by looking at those yellow flags.
Jeff: Wow. That is so cool. And then the other thing, I think you might have mentioned this too, but that was so interesting to me, is you're walking around and your GPSing this as you're doing it as well.
Stephen: Yeah. So we're also using essentially satellites to plot in exactly where these points are on the field. And it was really cool last week because... So we bring in obviously disabled vets. We had a female officer, Air Force officer who had been driving satellites during her career. So she literally was piloting satellites while she was in the Air Force and now she's carrying this GPS pole around and connecting to those same satellites in order to get points on the ground for these fines from 1777. so it was like a nice... She's doing everything. She used to fly the satellites, and now she's using them on the ground to kind of see where this ancient battlefield was or this old battlefield was. But yeah, we get really precise data for every single thing on the ground and that's how we make those really precise maps.
Jeff: It's really cool. You showed me like all the plotted points and everything, and you really do get to see like, "Wow, that's how the battle happened.".
Jeff: It really is. So you're not just pulling stuff out of the ground. You're painting a picture from 250 years ago.
Stephen: Yeah. No. And for us it's not even so much about the individual finds. I know like people watching are going to say like, "What's the coolest thing you found?" Because that's what we always hear.
Jeff: What is coolest thing you found?
Stephen: The coolest thing we found is the battle lines.
Stephen: No. So the coolest thing we found is, yeah, the battle lines and the house. I'll talk about the house here in a minute. But it's not so much about the individual finds, it's about the story that those finds kind of tell as a whole. Because if you come to like our lab, you'll see like, oh, we've got a bunch of musket balls and whatnot. And again, if you just look at him, you're like, "Well, that's a lead ball." But it's what numerous lead balls tell us about how this battle occurred. That's what we're really kind of interested.
Jeff: It's so, so interesting. And yeah, you just mentioned it. We know that on this battlefield there existed at one point a house and you think that you might've found it.
Stephen: Yeah. So the house is important because the house basically anchored part of the German battle line. The Germans were fighting for the British. So if we can find that house, we kind of know where that battle line was, and we know that that's where they were putting some of their ordinance, some of their cannons. And that would be the one thing from this battle, this fairly short one hour battle that we would really still be able to find on the ground with kind of normal archeological techniques like excavation and stuff. And yeah, through the geophysical survey we think we've got it. It's something that we're looking to come back and dig in the future, hopefully next year. So we're looking to actually like excavate some on this site to see what's down there.
Jeff: That is so exciting and it's really exciting. Like I've said this, I was saying this to you. I grew up in this area, so there was many school field trips that were taken to the this area of the battlefield, and I never knew that no one had really taken the time to do what you're doing before here. It's so interesting that you guys are doing it and able to find what you guys are finding.
Jeff: The other question I kind of had was you're doing metal work right now, metal detection and really finding the ordinance and finding a lot of nails and all that kind of stuff.
Stephen: Well, you're finding the nails.
Jeff: Yeah. Yeah, exactly. But if you were to do traditional excavation, would you find bones?
Stephen: So very possibly. We don't try out there to find human remains, but if we did find human remains and we did need to excavate, we would do the normal archeological excavation. But yeah, there are probably human remains out on the battlefield and that's why we really emphasize to everyone that like that's hallowed ground for us. There are probably quite a few human burials that we're working around out there. So you know, every time we hear a beep or a buzz through those metal detectors, we do remember that those are real people down there that we're kind of working around. But yeah, there are probably burials on that site.
Jeff: Wow. That's so, so interesting. Archeology as a whole I think is just so interesting and it was so cool to see it in action for real. Because I've obviously I've seen Indiana Jones and I've seen Jurassic Park and stuff like that but to see you guys out there doing it, it was just amazing. And I kind of want to hear your story because, like you mentioned, you were in the Air Force. And I thank you very much for your service, by the way. With your military background, how do you go from that to archeology?
Stephen: Yeah, so I was always better when I was in the Air Force at taking care of my troops. Like I was an aircraft maintenance officer, but I wasn't one of those tech head guys that was kind of like out making cars and stuff like that in my spare time. But I love taking care of my guys and I always had like 50 to 100 that I was kind of in charge of at a pretty young age I guess. And so I got out and I was actually going to go back in as a chaplain because that's what I was good at. So I got out and I was going to go back and get the MDF degree that you need to be a chaplain.
Stephen: And while I was doing that MDV, I happened to go on a dig in Israel. I knew nothing about archeology. I'd never been interested in it before. I had a bachelor's degree in history, but archeology just looked boring to me. If you've ever looked at like archeology reports, they just look fucking dull. It's just a lot of black and white pictures that don't mean anything at all. So I went out there because I wanted to go see Israel. I just wanted to travel, and as soon as I started digging, I was just like, "Fuck, this is like the coolest thing I've ever done in my life. It's endlessly fascinating." I tell people I could just dig dirt all day with nothing in it and I'd be ecstatic because to me it's just endlessly fascinating.
Stephen: So as soon as I started doing that, I just switched everything over, switched out of the MDF and became an archeologist, went through a couple of master's programs and then a PhD in archeology because I was trying to never have a job.
Stephen: But yeah, during the course of that PhD we started developing this veterans program where we could put veterans on archeology digs and that really tied in those two things together where I was able to take care of my guys and do the archeology at the same time. Because what you realize, I think when you were out in the field too, like if you've seen Indiana Jones, you think archeology is like one random guy in a crazy hat and a whip off having crazy adventurer someplace around the world. Archeology is like an adult team sport. Like basically the head archeologist give you the mission and then a team of accomplish that mission. Everyone's doing their own things but it all comes together to be bigger than the sum of its parts, so to speak. It's kind of like a cross between summer camp and football for adults. And that's how it actually works.
Stephen: And as soon as I started doing it, even when I was in my MA, I was like, "Wow, this feels like a deployment. This feels like a training mission. This feels like the military did.".
Stephen: So through the course of the PhD we were like, "Why don't we just start putting veterans on, these American veterans on archeology digs?" And it just sort of kept growing and growing. And there are a couple of British organizations that do something similar to this. So we kind of worked with them to get their best practices and share ours with them as well.
Jeff: Are you the only American?
Stephen: We are the only American nonprofit or for-profit or anything that does this. We're the only game in town when it comes to putting veterans on archeology digs and also moving them through because we don't just... One of our big things is we don't just put veterans on one dig. We're trying to make a community out of those veterans and move them forward. So if they want to become an archeologist, we're going to help them to do that by putting them on multiple digs that are kind of specific to their area of interest. If they don't want to become an archeologist, which is totally fine, then they come out of this learning something new and with a bunch of new friends because inevitably these people will bond together.
Stephen: Like last night, these guys have known each other for two weeks. These guys that we have out in this field right now, two weeks total, and you would swear that they're family. They're just bullshitting around the fireplace. And Nicole and I, my COO and I walked out. We've got a little overlook in the house that we're all staying in together. We just heard them like giggling from upstairs. We were working on some stuff and we heard all these giggles, and we walked down there. And we looked over the overlook and these guys were all just like sitting around playing Cards Against Humanity. And I mean it was, for one thing, terribly offensive to anyone with sensibilities, which is Cards Against Humanity.
Jeff: Love that game.
Stephen: Everybody does. I mean, yeah, everybody loves that game. But, yeah, these guys looked like they'd been buddies for like years and they just met each other. So we use archeology to make that happen though because they go out in the field, they work together toward this mission, just like they did in the military. They get tired, they sweat together. They see that they can count on each other and after just a couple of weeks, they're tight and that's what we want to see. So yeah, it's about making archeologists, but it's also about making those buddies so that a couple of years from now after the, long after the dig is over, if one of them's having a problem, we want them to be like, "You know what I could rely on so and so out in the field. I'm going to give them a call.".
Jeff: That's incredible.
Stephen: So that's what we're really trying to do with it. We think archeology can do a lot more than it's doing right now.
Jeff: That's incredible. So American Veteran Archeology Recovery AVAR, and you guys started in 2016.
Jeff: Was it hard to get this off the ground, an idea like this because it seems like such a great idea, but it's also very new it seems like.
Stephen: It's very new. Yeah. And so at first it is really hard and also we wanted to be sure that we were doing it right before we got big because we're taking veterans out there who do have disability ratings in most cases and who are really putting a lot of trust in us. We're saying like, "Hey, this is going to help you. You're going to make friends on this." And that's an obligation that we feel on our part to actually make this work for them.
Stephen: So we knew we had a really strong idea, but we wanted to get the experience and kind of get our feet wet a little bit before we started doing like 20 person digs. So yeah, for the first couple of years we're just doing small projects, three or four or five veterans on a dig here, three or four, five veterans on a dig there. We did a little work overseas, which was really cool. But it really wasn't until last year when we got funding from National Geographic.
Stephen: Where they put a lot of faith in us and funded a project for us. And that's when we were kind of like, "You know what, we got this now. We understand what we're doing." We're still learning all the time. We're getting better every day. But that's when I think we really felt our feet kind of underneath us.
Stephen: And this project's been awesome. The Saratoga community is just really kind of rallied around us. We've had you guys out to the site obviously, but everyone has shown a lot of interest and really helped us out with a lot of community support. So now we kind of feel like we have something going forward that is solid. Like now we feel like if a veteran calls us, we can be like, "Yeah, this is what we can do for you. We got your back, come out and do a dig with us. It's going to be awesome." And we don't care if they like or know about archeology beforehand. Our thing is if you really have no idea how archeology works or have never thought about being an archeologist before, if you've been in the military, this will feel familiar to you. If you miss the military, come out and dig with us, man, because it's going to feel the same.
Jeff: It's really, really interesting. And also, are you all always on battle sites on digs?
Stephen: No. So one of the things we've been looking at is how the site impacts the participants. So we were just on a dig in Israel a month ago out in kind of a remote environment out in the middle of nowhere. You could like hear the jackals howling at night and shit. We were all camping out there in Israel with the veteran team. So that was really cool. When the guys weren't on the dig site, they were like crawling through tunnels and caves. It had been dug by Jewish Rebels in the second century. So it's an incredible adventure. So that worked really, really well.
Stephen: The battlefield sites work really well because they can understand that. It's something that they can relate to. They've been there before. So we try to do stuff that the guys are interested in. Like I have my own academic whatevers and so do a lot of academics, but we try to pick stuff that they want to do. So like if they want to dig a Viking site, we're going to try to get them a Viking site. If they want to dig up a Samurai household, we're going to put them on a Samurai household. We want them to do stuff that they think is fucking cool.
Jeff: That is so cool. And you brought up the dig in Israel and one of the things that I thought was absolutely incredible that you told us when we went out to visit you guys is you had veterans from there working side by side from Israel.
Stephen: Yeah. Yeah.
Jeff: That's incredible.
Jeff: Making those bonds.
Stephen: Yeah. So one of the cool things about Israel that's different than the States is that they have compulsory military service. Everybody served for a little while. And everybody gets it. I mean, this dig site we were on was a couple of miles away from the wall, the Gaza Strip wall, so we could see it. We were actually in a IDF or Israeli Defense Force training area. The only reason we were able to go in there was because they were out of there for Passover. So we went in and did the job and pulled out.
Stephen: But yeah, we're working alongside Israeli vets who have done their compulsory service, who were in this kind of unique environment. But then they moved on and are now doing something else. So what we find is like the Israeli vets don't talk about their military service as much as the Americans do. It's not as big of a thing for them and their identity.
Stephen: So the Americans, sometimes you'll have someone that's just like, "You know, 15 years ago I was an NCO. It's coolest thing I ever did. I'm going to talk about it all the time. And that's where I stopped. I was a tip of the spear operator, but now I'm on disability, so I sleep on my couch.".
Stephen: With the Israelis. They're like, "Yeah, I did my two years. I fought in this war, in this war. Now I'm off running the shop where I'm off being an archeologist," or whatever. It's not a big deal to them. And it's kind of a... I think for some of our guys that go out there, it's a neat thing to see that these guys have also been in the shit, but they just, that's not what defines them. They get past that. That's what we want our guys to do. We don't want our guys to... What we tell our guys is you used to be a badass. We're going to make you a badass again. We're going to take you and give you something fucking cool that you never thought you could do. You can go off and have these amazing adventures that you wanted to have. You can have those again. That's what we're trying to do. That transition with them.
Jeff: It's so inspiring what you're doing because it's not just here's some busy work to get your mind off of what's hurting you. You know? Because you work with wounded vets, you work with active military, you work with people who are dealing with a lot of different things. And it's not just, "Here, dig a hole. Go dig a hole," or whatever. You're giving them actual skill sets and teaching them all along the road. One of the things you told me that I am just so excited about is you said you have a girl that's been working with you since the beginning, since 2016 and you guys are going to fund her on her own dig.
Stephen: Yeah. So we have a, we have a tier system because there are a lot of programs out there, veteran programs that like put veterans on a two week retreat or one week hunting expedition or a scuba trip or something like that. And those are great. I'm not shit talking those guys. If the vets are into that stuff, then let them do it. That's cool. And I'm definitely up for vets using their benefits. But what we want to try to do is move them past being independent on us. Ideally, they work with us a few times and then they can go off and be amateur archeologists or professional archeologists and have these adventures for the rest of their lives. And that way we can keep bringing new people in and using our funding to the max.
Stephen: So yeah, we have this tier system. This woman is an Army veteran, retired out of the Army after 22 years of service.
Stephen: She's worked with us on a couple of projects since the very beginning. She was on our first project in 2016. She knows the field now. She's not a professional archeologist, but she knows it well enough to get along with a team. She knows what she's doing. She's an asset on the site and so because she's interested in sort of Old Testament archeology, biblical archeology, as some people would call it, she wanted to dig Iron Age Israel. So we hooked her up with a dig in Iron Age Israel. She's about to go on that in about a week and a half now. We fund that. She's basically getting a scholarship through us to go off and have this adventure and be able to engage in exactly what she wants to do. But now she doesn't have any of support team around her. It's just her and that dig team, and she's off doing her thing and kicking ass by herself. And that's what we want to see. We want them to go off and kick ass without needing any kind of a support network around them anymore.
Jeff: It's so, so cool. So inspiring. My eyes are open to it now, and I never knew that archeology could have so many different applications other than literally digging a hole in the ground. You know what I mean? And it's so inspiring and amazing. And I'm sure in just the last few years seeing this grow from your perspective is just amazing as well.
Stephen: It is. Yeah. Like I don't know if this, this happened to y'all at all, but it's really crazy for me to see this logo that I came up with while I was panicking in the middle of my PhD at like two in the morning when I was just like, "Ah, I got to have something that'll work." It's really crazy that I see this like on stuff now, and people have seen what this logo is and kind of remember our name, which again is something that I... We were almost AVAST believe it or not. I can't remember what the acronym was going to stand for. Instead of AVAR.
Stephen: AVAST. But everyone was like, "Oh, everyone's going to think you guys are pirates.".
Jeff: That's true.
Stephen: So we put a lot of thought into it. Right? But now it's kind of weird for that name to start getting out there and people to start kind of recognizing, "Oh AVAR. Yeah, I've heard of you guys." In the archeological community, like in America, people are like, "Oh yeah, I've heard of this veteran group. That's pretty cool." And it's weird because at first we were just like fighting tooth and nail for someone to be... People were like, "Why are you putting veterans on digs? Why does the military need to dig?" And we were trying to tell them, "No, it's really good for them. Plus their awesome archeologists because they work really hard. These guys are good at this.". So we were like tearing our hair out trying to get this idea across for a while, and now it's starting to catch. And that's really fucking cool.
Jeff: That is so fucking cool. And that brings me the question I get to all the time and I really am curious. Through your journey from the military to getting your PhD in archeology to starting AVAR and everything in between, what fuels you to keep going? What fuels you to keep doing this?
Stephen: Well now that Death Wish Coffee is helping, I got to give you guys up. That's a totally legitimate plug, by the way, because like I drink a lot of caffeine and your stuff is good. And yeah, I will-
Jeff: Well, thank you.
Stephen: ... keep drinking that. But it's really my guys. It really is. Archeology is great. I enjoy it. Obviously I got the PhD and everything, so I've ticked that box. And I do love it. But what it's all about for me is helping my troops. That's what I believed in when I was in the service. That's my duty. That's my obligation for the rest of my life that will not go away. And Nicole and I, again, my COO and I have these conversations because she was a sergeant the Marine Corps. I was a captain in the Air Force. Some of these guys are assholes. Like if you've met veterans before, they're not all nice people. And the ones that need help the most tend to not be or be the least nice of the veterans.
Stephen: So it's not that we like these guys or that we're out there working with our buddies. It's that it's our duty to take care of these people. These are our family. And so they're the ones that keep us going. Like as long as these vets need help, we're going to be doing this to help them. If this stops working, then we're going to be in a soup kitchen someplace serving vets. Whatever helps those guys is what we're going to do.
Jeff: That's so, so cool. This is a perfect time to then ask. You guys are a nonprofit organization and, I mean, it was awesome that you're getting recognition from National Geographic now and stuff like that, but you rely heavily on donations, correct?
Stephen: Yeah. Yeah. So like this years projects were funded by the Blake and Bailey family Foundation, which was awesome. They came through at the very last minute when we were just like, "Hey, we got to make this work." And they really hooked us up. The American Battlefield Trust also gave us a really nice grant for this project at Saratoga. But Nicole and I, none of our staff take a paycheck. Like we believe this works. So every dollar that people give to us goes straight back into putting these veterans on the site and to keeping them happy while they're out here because they get like, I mean, they get a nice experience. We're taking them to museums. They eat well, sometimes too. My shirts have all gotten a lot tighter since I got here.
Jeff: That's great.
Stephen: But yeah, if folks want to donate, they can do so either through our website or our Facebook page.
Jeff: And any of our listeners or our viewers, they can go right to your website...
Stephen: Right to our website.
Jeff: Donate right there.
Stephen: There's a donation page on the website. We would love to take those in, and I can assure them that all those dollars... I mean we stretch them to the max. We did an entire fairly significant dig at Saratoga for a very, very low figure compared to what others would have done. So because we leverage local donations and people really help us out and the veterans work incredibly hard. So we bring in kind of a smaller team. So we really do stretch those dollars to the limit. If you want to get something done for nothing, bring in a Marine because that's what they're good at and she just can make things happen. So yeah, those dollars will go to work.
Jeff: That's awesome. Well, I'll put links for that, all that in this show as well. Speaking of successfully getting recognition from like National Geographic and stuff like that, what was that project that National Geographic was interested in?
Stephen: Yeah. So National Geographic funded a project on a Shaker site in New York. It's actually like an hour and a half away from here I think, which was pretty cool. Like we didn't realize that we were going to be doing two projects so close to each other, but that puts 13 veterans on that dig for about three weeks last year.
Stephen: Which was a pretty cool project. All living together again. All working the site. So yeah, that was a cool one as well.
Jeff: What were you excavating?
Stephen: It was a Shaker house. So we were interested in sort of like how the Shakers were living basically. So Shakers are kind of seen as being pretty, what's the word for it? Abstinent T total types, like stuck-up types I think you'd be a good characterization. So basically we were kind of looking to see if that was true to see if we could find like the beer bottles in the cellar and stuff like that, which we did find a few of. So we were trying to, yeah, find out their dirty little secrets and whatnot, which is what archeology is pretty good at doing.
Jeff: That is so exciting, and it's really exciting again, bringing it full circle back to what you're doing on the battlefield because even from this area, Saratoga... When I tell people I'm from Saratoga, more often than not in normal conversation either people say, "I have no idea where that is," because I usually have to say, "Oh, it's near Albany, New York." That gives them some sort of reference, or they go, "Oh yeah. You got horses up there, don't you?" Because of the horse track.
Jeff: It's a shame that the first thing on everybody's lips isn't, "Oh, that's the turning point of the Revolutionary War," because it is. The Battle of Saratoga. I mean, obviously, I learned about that in school because I was from this area, but I mean everybody learns about that in school. But you forget about it because you learn about him in fourth grade and it's over. I really think it would be incredible if you guys are able to continue to work here and hopefully get some sort of larger recognition. I mean, it would be amazing to see your finds on like a special on National Geographic or something.
Stephen: That's kind of the plan. We really want to be here for a long period of time and not only because the community has been great but also just because this is such a good site. And the partnerships we had with the archeologists that work out there with us and the National Park Service were so positive and they have such cool ideas about kind of like how to make this a digital display, how to make this really appealing to people that want to come in.
Stephen: I think all of us want everyone that comes to that park to be blown away by what we found, the quality that displays. We want them to get a sense for how this happened, and we know we can do that better. So yeah, I think we're all on the same page with that. We want to be here for a long time working and making this incredible.
Jeff: That's awesome. I can't wait to see what else you guys are going to find because there's so much we don't know about what actually happened there. We know the outcome. Obviously, we're sitting here and we're not British. We know the outcome, but it's so cool to start to really put those pieces together. And I tell people all a lot when they come to this area and anybody that's listening or watching, you ever can make it to Saratoga Springs, New York. So much emphasis is on our horse racing, is on our performing arts center, is on our... That type of stuff. And I always tell people like, "You need to go to the Saratoga National Park. You need to check out the battlefield." It's not only gorgeous. It's a gorgeous park, but it is so rich with history. You feel it. Just walking on those fields, you feel the conflict, you feel the weight of really what went down there.
Stephen: Yeah. You really can. And we're actually so excited about it that our plan for next year is to camp on the battlefield on one of the actual sites out there for the entire time that we're doing the project. So hopefully a tick and mosquito season aren't going on at that time. But yeah, because it's just cool. Like why wouldn't you camp on a battlefield if you had the opportunity to, and because of this really unique opportunity that we have with the National Park Service, we get to do that. Because you normally... Normally, by the way, I should add in, you can't metal detect on a battlefield.
Jeff: No, not at all.
Stephen: That is a federal crime. So the stuff that we're allowed to do through the National Park Service and on this specific site, this is a once in a lifetime type of opportunity.
Jeff: It's incredible. I'm so excited that it's happening and I'm so excited that an organization like yours actually exists and is doing so much good. And I can't wait to see even more stuff that you're doing, and I can guarantee that we're going to keep you caffeinated on other digs because just meeting a lot of the guys that were out there. You're right. These guys are some of the hardest working guys because their ex-military or their current military. That's all they know is to work hard and do a good job at what they're doing. And I want to keep them caffeinated to do that.
Stephen: Yeah. Well, believe me, I would be happy for you guys to. Our guys don't stop. You cannot make them get out of the field. They do not take breaks. So yeah, we're working long days out there so it would help.
Jeff: It's awesome. Well, thank you so much for taking time to talk to me because it's so interesting, and I'm sure we will be checking in with you in the future about other digs and hopefully when you get to come back and dig again on the battlefield.
Stephen: Yeah, I'd love to. I'd love to keep you guys up-to-date. Thanks for having me.