Busy UNL anthropology major unwinds with folk-punk band

A computer program in Cole Juckette’s room whirs away, trying to determine what a cracked bowl looked like before it was was discarded in a Lincoln cistern over 100 years ago.

The senior anthropology and art history major at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln has five hours to kill before the program finishes its task. So he heads down to the basement to practice his mandolin and talk with his roommate, Andreas Miles-Novelo, about a new song that suddenly popped into his head.

Juckette lives a life of hard work and hard play as he delves deeply into anthropological research while playing in a folk-punk band — and he embraces the rewards of both endeavors.

Mapping out history

Originally a history major, Juckette soon realized that a purely scholarly career wasn’t for him. He found what he hungered for after an anthropological trip to Southern Turkey, where he researched the remnants of a third-century AD Roman site.

“There was field work, there was scientific method,” he said. “I felt like I needed that. It really cemented what I wanted to do. I wanted to get deeper into what these people made.”

In one of his independent projects after switching majors, he helped recreate an entire Mayan city. While working with anthropology professor Heather Richards-Rissetto, Juckette and his fellow researchers used GIS – or geographic information systems – to map out the Mayan city of Copán, which helped when they created a 3-D model of the city that is fully explorable by people in a video game through the new Oculus Rift virtual reality headset. He worked on many aspects of the project, from creating the model for the city to finding a way for the “player” to hold a torch or even other small objects in-game.

In another project, he contributes to a GIS date map of what the area around UNL looked like during the 1880s and 1890s and how it’s changed. He’s also made a catalogue of objects that he’s found discarded in cisterns and privies underneath sites now occupied by businesses like the Ross Theater. Using photogrammetry – or a form of modelling by using photographs taken at different angles – Juckette made 3-D models of what these items looked like before they were thrown and crumbled with damage or age.

“One of the best things for an archaeologist to find is a place where people throw their trash,” he said. “You learn that day one.”

Research fascinates him

With all of this research – and his part-time job at The Still Fine Wine & Spirits Superstore and the band – Juckette packs his schedule. Still, he appreciates the hours spent on research. For one, the innovations of his anthropological research – especially those to the public – fascinate him.

“With digital humanities, we’re able to – the best we can – make something consumable to the public, but also something fantastic for researchers,” he said. “One of the things that I think is needed to make our field relevant is to get people to see and care about it.”

Also, the research scratches an itch for the search for answers.

“It’s very satisfying to help develop and problem-solve on these projects,” he said.

In fact, according to Richards-Rissetto, he’s very dedicated to his work, at one point going so far as to take the time to revisit a photogrammetry lab and take additional photos, even when his professor was unavailable to help.

“He’s very enthusiastic, and he’s very curious,” she said. “It’s the digital that fascinates him.”

Subbing a laptop for a mandolin

Yet Juckette still manages to find time for his hobbies. If he isn’t playing soccer, he’s in the basement practicing with the band.

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In addition to Juckette and Miles-Novelo, the Trashbag Ponchos consists of roommates Luke Glassman and Eric Larson. The group, which practices on weekends, focus on “folk-punk,” which incorporates traditional guitars as well as folksy instruments like a harmonica, mandolin and muted trumpet. It released its first album, “A Girl, a Dog, and a Magician,” on September 14, 2016.

With anthropology his main pursuit for the future, Juckette sees his band as a more casual yet important part of his life that allows him to have fun with his roommates without zoning out on the sofa all the time.

“This is very much a hobby,” he said. “It keeps me honest. It’s something else. When you’re busy as I can be, you don’t have the desire for that stuff – videogames and TV – anymore.”

Juckette also appreciates the activity and satisfaction that follows a Trashbag Poncho practice or performance.

“If it’s different work, it doesn’t bother me, and I am still productive.”

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