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Superior scholar

Magazine salutes area archeologist

May 14, 2011
By RENEE PRUSI - Journal Staff Writer ( , The Mining Journal

MARQUETTE - Archeologist Marla Buckmaster could not have been more pleased with how some of her colleagues and former students chose to salute her career after her retirement.

"I was surprised," she said. "This is the best honor I could imagine. After 36 years of work - and that's a long time - this is amazing."

"This" is a special edition of The Wisconsin Archeologist (volume 90, 1 and 2) which is a tribute to Buckmaster and her work in that field. The articles contained in the issue were written by many of Buckmaster's former Northern Michigan University students and are all about the Upper Peninsula.

Article Photos

Archeologist Marla Buckmaster was saluted by former students in a special edition of The Wisconsin Archeologist. (Journal photo by Renee Prusi)

Buckmaster arrived at NMU in 1971 and retired four years ago after 36 years of teaching, mostly an introductory archeology course. She grew up in northern Illinois then in downstate Parchment.

"I started out as a home ec major," she said with a grin. "Then I changed to an art major. I got all As but maybe I realized I wasn't as talented as some of the other students. So I dropped out of the university (Western Michigan).

"I worked a couple of different jobs and was miserable," Buckmaster said. "One day I was waiting to pick up a friend when a professor approached me to ask why I had dropped out of school. I told her I liked everything, not one subject in particular, so she suggested I look at anthropology.

"So I went back to school and I loved it," she said. "I was home."

Buckmaster was enrolling in graduate school ad had to decide between cultural anthropology and archeology.

"I like cultural anthropology but I chose archeology," she said.

Working her way through school, Buckmaster ran out of money. She learned there was a one-year position open at NMU due to a professor's sabbatical.

"They asked me to stay a second year," she said. "And then I just stayed on from there."

And stay she did, through times of great change.

"Marquette has changed a lot in those years, for the better," she said. "It's much more ethnically and culturally diverse now. I have changed as well.

"When I first got here, I thought I had come not to a happy place. Now I don't want to ever leave," Buckmaster said. "I love it here. I love the bike path in to town. I love the views. I love the people I have met."

Buckmaster recalled an early visit to Newberry.

"We were out in the field and we met these wonderful people, Mike McNabb and his wife, Billie," she said. "They would come out and bring us homemade ice cream. That was pretty luxurious when we were out there, living in a tent.

"I have been so fortunate to meet so many wonderful people."

Along the way, she developed a technique considered radical at first that is now a standard procedure.

"It's now accepted everywhere for site surveying in a wooded area, this method I developed," Buckmaster said. "In lower Michigan, you have plowed fields to work in. The U.P., you don't."

Shovel testing was developed, involving the digging of holes at regular intervals, to allow for sampling and sifting.

"You get cold and hot and buggy while you're doing that in the U.P.," she said. "Sometimes all in the same day."

The project to honor Buckmaster was discussed by a number of her former students at a symposium in Vancouver, British Columbia, she said. Among those contributing to the publication is a non-student, James Paquette of Negaunee, a retired miner who has developed a solid reputation as an archeologist, something he attributes, in part, to Buckmaster.

"I am not a professional archeologist, I am an avocational archeologist," he said. "It's quite rare for a professional to partner up with a non-professional. It was unique. It still is unique. I owe a debt of gratitude to her.

"Marla took me under her wing and I learned about how to be a professional archeologist from her," Paquette said. "It worked out really well. I was happy to be able to contribute to the project in her honor. I am really happy for her."

In her retirement, Buckmaster is an avid kayaker who also enjoys skiing, snowshoeing and working out.

"I am leaving soon on a kayak trip on the east side of the Queen Charlotte Islands in British Columbia, south of Alaska," she said. "And right after I retired, I did a kayak trip in Madagascar."

She and her Vizla dog, Josephine Abigail Buckmaster - known as Josie - live in Harvey.

Renee Prusi can be contacted at 906-228-2500, ext. 253. Her email address is



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