Elizabeth Watts Malouchos' love for archaeology has followed her for most of her life. What started as a pre-Kindergarten interest in paleontology, her passion for archaeology has taken her around the world. In fact, archaeology played a role in how she met her husband—while she was working as an archaeologist in Greece.
She recently answered some questions about her career, commonly-held misconceptions about archaeology, and her advice for those just starting out in the field.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and your role at ISAS.
I have been a research archaeologist and the collaborative research liaison at ISAS for just over a year. I am based out of the American Bottom Field Station in Collinsville, Illinois, and live across the river in St. Louis, Missouri. I first worked for ISAS as an undergraduate student at the University of Illinois and returned after earning my doctorate at Indiana University where I served as a research scientist at the Indiana University Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. As a research archaeologist, I write summary reports of compliance research for transportation-related projects, lead fieldwork, conduct non-invasive geophysical surveys, and develop research focused on the Mississippian period in the Midwest. As the collaborative research liaison, I work with the descendants of the peoples that built the places, made the things, and lived in the landscapes we study in order to develop partnerships and collaborative research.
What drew you to your particular area of study?
I have been interested in archaeology most of my life. I think it was rooted in an early, pre-Kindergarten interest in paleontology. I can’t pinpoint the exact point of epiphany, but in my Brownie Girl Scout Guidebook from first grade, I wrote that I wanted to be an “archeologist” when I grew up. My interests wandered over the years but never strayed too far, and I picked Anthropology as my undergraduate major. In my freshman year of college, I enrolled in a course about the deep histories of Illinois and became interested in doing an archaeological field school. Once I experienced fieldwork, I was hooked.
It's noted that you have been to various locations to conduct your field research. Where has been your favorite place to go? Why?
I have worked across the Midwest and as far as Alaska and Greece. Doing archaeology on a Greek Island is exactly as beautiful as you might imagine. I met my husband while working in Greece, so Greece has become home to me, but Midwestern archaeology has always been my favorite. No matter how far I strayed, how beautiful the landscapes, or how cool the archaeology was, I always longed to return to the dirt archaeology of the Midwest.
What question do you get asked most frequently about your career?
By far, the most frequently asked question is, “What is the coolest thing you have ever found?” Most everyone who asks immediately loses interest when I explain that the coolest thing I ever found wasn’t an artifact, but stains in the soil that are evidence of the houses and buildings Native peoples constructed a thousand years ago.
What do you wish more people understood about archaeology?
I wish more people understood that you don’t have to travel to exotic locales to encounter amazing archaeology. Illinois and the wider Midwest have such rich histories and there are archaeological traces of these histories everywhere. Some of the most incredible and complex cultural sites in the world were built by Native peoples indigenous to lands that are now the state of Illinois.
What advice would you give to those just starting out in your field?
Don’t be shy. If you are interested in someone’s research or project, send them an email or introduce yourself at a conference meeting to initiate a conversation. All, and I mean all, archaeologists are total nerds about their research focus and love nothing more than nerding out with someone else interested in the same topic. Reaching out to professionals in your area of interest with help grow your professional networks and might help get your foot in the door of a project, program, or job down the line.