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Denise Jaffke

Denise Jaffke, Associate State Archaeologist

Denise Jaffke
Associate State Archaeologist

Sierra District
P. O. Box 266
Tahoma, CA 96142
Phone: (530) 525-9526
Email: djaffke@parks.ca.gov

Article:  A High Sierran Nexus: Hot Obsidian Data from Donner Memorial Park

BIO INFO:   I was born and raised in Carmel, Indiana. I’ve lived in various areas around the United States, but finally found my home at Lake Tahoe, California where I live with my husband and daughter. Archaeology was not my first career. I worked as a baker/pastry chef for eight years before I discovered archaeology. I’ve attended numerous community colleges and universities and explored several majors, but it was anthropology, specifically archaeology, that had all the components that interested me. I signed up for an archaeological field school early in the academic process to make sure that I enjoyed archaeology as much as I thought I would. I spent most of that summer excavating an Iroquois village site in northern Michigan. I was hooked! I then decided to move out west to finish my bachelor’s degree. I first attended University of Nevada, Reno (UNR) but then transferred to Chico State where I finished my B.A. and M.A. Although I always enjoyed working in the field, it was my experience at the archaeology lab that impacted me most. I developed a keen interest in teasing out information from the most basic of material remains. I was introduced to dental increment analysis while at Chico by Dr. Christopher O’Brien and spent many hours in a dark lab analyzing the growth marks in mammal dental cementum. I used my training in dental increment analysis to research seasonal use patterns of bison kill sites in the Northern Plains.

Denise Jaffke at Bodie State Historic Park
Denise Jaffke recording mine sites at Bodie State Historic Park

CAREER:   I was incredibly fortunate to land a job with Carrie Smith, Tahoe National Forest, Truckee District, following my first semester of anthropology course work at UNR. It was an incredible three years; working as a pastry chef at Plump Jacks restaurant and snowboarding at Squaw Valley in the winter and working as an archaeologist for the Forest Service and mountain biking in the summer. I eventually had to get serious and finish school. While attending Chico State, I gained invaluable field experience working under the direction of Dr. Gregory White for the Archaeological Research Program. I served as a staff member for several field schools and numerous contracting jobs in Northern California. After finishing my graduate study course work, I accepted a job working for California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) in Fresno as an Associate Archaeologist for the Environmental Branch in District 6. While at Caltrans, I had the opportunity to manage the cultural resource component of several large scale projects, but it was my experience working along Highway 395 that energized my interest in western Great Basin archaeology. When I received my graduate degree in 2003, I returned to Tahoe to work as Associate State Archaeologist for California State Parks, Sierra District. This position has developed into my dream job; managing some of the most significant archaeological resources in the region, if not the state.

RESEARCH:   My personal interests in archaeology involve studying past human activity in accordance with natural seasonal episodes. To develop settlement-subsistence models, concepts of seasonality must be considered with regard to decisions made by people and how variables such as climate and resource availability influence procurement strategies and mobility patterns. Information in prehistoric research pertaining to seasonality gives archaeologists a critical perspective on regional mobility patterns and the economic and social mechanisms that motivate foragers to change site location throughout the year.