Petra Elfstrom headshot photo

Petra Elfstrom

Science/Data Team
Graduate of Hamilton College's Undergraduate Program
Hamilton College

Tell us about your work/research. What kinds of things do you do?

I am a field and lab archaeologist with experience in lithics, geochemistry, and landscape archaeology as well as an author of creative fiction. I have mainly studied archaeological first nations households in British Columbia, Canada and I performed original research on the geochemistry of the pithouse floors: both pXRF analyses and mass-spectrometry (processes that tell us about the chemical and elemental makeup of the soil samples). I am also interested in landscape archaeology and participated in a study of cemeteries in Oneida County, NY which included demographic analyses, view-shed analyses, and more (using information about those buried in various cemeteries). I also worked as a Research Intern at the Vasa Museum in which I documented artifacts from the wreck of the Vasa Ship (which is 98% complete and on dry land in the museum!) and educated the public on what I was doing. Now, s a recent college graduate I am using both my archaeology and creative writing degrees to write a novel. I currently spend most of my time as a novelist completing my first book but eventually, I plan to continue my archaeological education in a graduate school program.

What sparked your initial interest in your career?

My love of and fascination with archaeology was sparked early on when I was very small but was rekindled recently because of travel and reading. Being lucky enough to travel with my family often, I was always caught by both ancient and historic sites and the stories they held. I am a firm believer that we can learn from the past to make a better future in terms of human history, but also environmental change. Revealing human history and prehistory can tell us a lot about ourselves and can often advise us on how to move forward.

Who influenced you or encouraged you the most?

My parents and later my professors and advisors in and outside of school have been guiding lights but also strong and warm lights of friendship my whole life. I am incredibly lucky to have been part of many amazing collaborations, both creative and scientific. My peers in archaeology have also made everything even more enjoyable and interesting, as I learn so much from them as well. All these amazing people have done nothing but encourage me, and that combined with my own determination and love of my work has gotten me where I am now.

What element of your work/study do you think is the most fascinating?

Conducting my own original research to identify activity areas that had been invisible before on an archaeological household floor that has been buried for thousands of years was incredible. It is amazing what new technology can do to pick up ancient chemical signatures, and even more amazing that that can tell us a lot about human actions.

What other jobs led you to your current career?

My travels and archaeological experiences both led me to my current career as a novelist and as an independent contractor in field archaeology. Every single internship, teaching, or research position I have inspires the stories I write and Hamilton College's Creative Writing Department honed my writing skills, something the institution is known for focusing on. My classes, research, and teaching opportunities in archaeology gave me the training to now participate in field archaeology anywhere! Except for underwater archaeology... which is one of the reasons I want to sail on Nautilus! To learn more!

What are your degrees and certifications?

Bachelor of the Arts in Archaeology and Creative Writing - Hamilton College 2018

What are your hobbies?

I love singing (I was in a cappella at school), reading (everything!), off-road/4x4 driving, taking care of animals/farming (I have four dogs, three cats, twelve sheep, a lizard, and a bunch of chickens), drawing, exploring - all sorts of things! I also play video-games in my free time, especially ones involving adventure/exploration like the Tomb Raider games (the newer ones, where she doesn't actually raid tombs).

What advice would you give someone who wants to have a career like yours?

To pursue both archaeology and creative writing, I recommend going to an undergraduate college with small, close departments in either one of those fields. You get very close to your advisors, have much more one on one time with them, and are often given research opportunities that usually only graduate students get. I, of course, would recommend going to Hamilton College for either of these fields. Besides that, traveling and reading as much as you possibly have can only add to your knowledge and expertise.


Petra participated in the following Ocean Exploration Trust expeditions: