It is with profound sadness that we share the news that James “Jimmy” Burns passed away on November 7, 2023. Jimmy was a consummate field archaeologist who worked extensively across the Midwest, Far West, and Southeast over a 40-year career in both cultural resource management and academic settings.
"Jimmy was a cherished colleague and friend whose enduring passion for archaeology is only matched by his authentic kindness, generosity, and friendship. He left an indelible mark on those who knew him, and there are not enough words to describe how he will be missed." – Praveen Kumar, PRI Executive Director
For most of those years, he worked for the Illinois State Archaeological Survey or its earlier iterations, but also spent time at Southern Illinois University, the University of Pittsburgh, State Archaeologist offices in Wyoming and Iowa, and CRM firms (American Resources Group, Institute for Minnesota Archaeology, and Gilbert Commonwealth). Given his background in soil morphology, Jimmy served as crew chief and heavy equipment monitor on multiple projects, including the large FAI-270 Highway Mitigation Project in the 1980s, the Scott Airforce Base in the 1990s, and the even larger New Mississippi River Bridge project in the 2000s. Jimmy was also an avid historical re-enactor, taking part in many rendezvous events across the Midwest and Mid-South over his lifetime. For Jimmy, both archaeology and re-enactments were a way of life. He told the Alton Telegraph in 2020: “I’m a woodsman, I hunt and fish and I’m outside all of the time, so re-enacting is not really like re-enacting for me,” he said. “It’s more like reality.”
“I knew Jimmy Burns since he was a teenager when he began working on archaeological projects with his mother, Joyce Williams, herself a well-known veteran of University of Illinois archaeological projects. There was not and probably will never be another archaeologist and human being like Jimmy Burns, and ISAS staff have been deeply affected by him. Everyone remembers what a friendly, good-hearted, kind, and funny person he was.” – Tim Pauketat, ISAS Director
“Jimmy was truly a legend in his own time. With his decades of experience working on archaeological field projects and keen memory, he had near-encyclopedic knowledge of American Bottom archaeology and was always willing to share it. He’s touched many lives, including dozens of up-and-coming archaeologists who worked with him on large-scale excavations for ISAS. His good humor and kind spirit will be greatly missed.” – Alleen Betzenhauser, ISAS, ABFS Coordinator
“I think we all have something in our offices or field packs that Jimmy found for us, a beaver stick he pulled from a river, an old tool, or something else that made him think of us. He was a good friend and had a kind heart, and he will be dearly missed.” – Erin M. Benson, ISAS, ABFS
In celebration of his life, a memorial gathering will be at Irwin Chapel, 591 Glen Crossing Road in Glen Carbon, Illinois on Saturday, November 11, 2023 from 12:00 p.m. until 2:00 p.m. More information can be here.