Who or what drew you to study archaeology?
My first introduction to anthropology was a course I took in junior high school. Our school had a teacher who participated in an instructor exchange program in England, and upon return to the states, he developed an anthropology course. This class piqued my interest in the field and I continued to think about it long after the course ended. When I got to Indiana University, I declared my major upon enrolling on the first day. I have pursued my studies of humans in the past ever since. When I look back I am very appreciative of the person who took the time and had the patience to talk to a teenager about their interests and possibilities. It forever changed my life.
What is the best part of your job, and what work are you most proud of?
I enjoy the fieldwork and the thrill of discovery. In recent years most of my archaeological discoveries have been achieved through conducting non-invasive geophysical surveys. The results of this work have changed our understanding of many archaeological sites. These techniques have allowed us to detect the layout of whole communities, revealing such things as their structures, hearths, agricultural storage features, and plazas. For instance, a magnetometry survey at the Noble-Wieting site in McClean County, a site with two types of pottery indicating separate populations, demonstrated that the village was not created in two overlapping time periods, but a single integrated settlement. This new type of information allows archaeologists to broaden their focus and take research into completely new directions.
What is the best part of your job as Section Head and Assistant Director for Special Projects?
We are one of the top archaeological institutions in the country, and it’s been my privilege to work closely with a dedicated group of professional archaeologists who are specialists in their respective interests. The staff at the Illinois State Archaeological Survey (ISAS) are highly motivated and always willing to share their expertise. The ability to walk down the hall and have a conversation with such a variety of specialists is unique to ISAS.
What are common misconceptions about your career? Or What is a question you get asked
most frequently about your job?
One of the biggest misconceptions of our field is that archaeologists keep what they find. Professional archaeologists document what they find by recording the location, cataloging the artifacts, and submitting the material for curation at an institution for preservation. That way others in the future can study the items recovered. Also, a small number of people believe that archaeologists want to take artifacts away from private collectors—this is simply not true. Finally, sometimes archaeology gets confused with paleontology. We do not study dinosaurs. We are interested in the study of humans from a holistic perspective at all times and places.
What has been the most challenging aspect of your current research?
There are several avenues of research that interest me, and my challenge is to limit myself to those that can reasonably produce a final product given the administrative demands of a management position. Currently, the biggest challenge is writing grant proposals to fund these various research interests in ways that add value to the field and the people of Illinois.
What advice would you give to future scientists in your field?
Learn to write. The fieldwork is exciting and rewarding, but the analysis and report writing form the most time-consuming part of any project. Without clearly communicating the results of our work, we will be denying others to learn from our work. Excavation is destructive to the archaeological record, and we are ethically bound to record and disseminate what we found.