ExplorersBio

John Kelly

Archaeologist

Committee for Research and Exploration Grantee

Birthplace: Hagerstown, Maryland

Current City: Columbia, Illinois

What did you want to be when you were growing up?

Air Force pilot, then baseball player. I enjoyed reading about history, biographies of various American presidents, American Indian leaders, and Western "heroes." I also would sit on my aunt's front porch and look at the National Geographic images.

How did you get started in your field of work?

My first fieldwork was in 1967 at the Northern Lakes Project near Minocqua, Wisconsin. It was a 15-week archaeological field school through Beloit College, where I was enrolled. I was at the end of my second year and was an anthropology major. My mentor, Professor Robert Salzer, encouraged me to go into archaeology and on to graduate school. That did it. I was hooked.

What inspires you to dedicate your life to archaeology?

That quest for knowledge, understanding and being able to share it with others. Archaeology touches on so many other disciplines that I also enjoy.

What's a normal day like for you?

I will arise sometime between 4 and 6 in the morning. I enjoy going out and looking at the end of the night sky as the stars begin to fade and the sun rises. I then work for the next few hours on papers, emailing people, or getting ready for my classes or preparing for fieldwork when that is ongoing. There is nothing normal about my day. We usually eat about 6:30 p.m. and I try and relax. I am generally fading, although I will continue to read or work on projects. I am usually in bed by 10 if not sooner.

Do you have a hero?

My dad. You would have to have met him. He was extremely supportive of me and my four brothers. It was he who guided me to Beloit College. This brings tears to my eyes when I think of him. If you want to get a sense of him Google "YouTube" and Paul Peterson's song "My Dad."

What has been your favorite experience in the field? The most challenging?

Perhaps the most favorite overall experience was rediscovering the East St. Louis mound group some 20 years ago and working on its preservation. Most challenging are some of my colleagues.

What are your other passions?

Beside my wife, children, and grandchildren, who are the top of the list, I enjoy sketching, running, and canoeing with my wife in the northern lakes.

If you could have people do one thing to help preserve archaeological sites, what would it be?

If there is one thing to save from an archaeological perspective it is the East St. Louis mound group for the citizens.

News

Inside National Geographic Magazine

  • cahokia-map.jpg

    Cahokia: America's Lost City

    Cahokia Mounds may not be aesthetically pristine, but at 4,000 acres, it is the largest archaeological site in the United States, and it has changed our picture of what Indian life was like on this continent before Europeans arrived.

In Their Words

Perhaps the most favorite overall experience was rediscovering the East St. Louis mound group some 20 years ago and working on its preservation. Most challenging are some of my colleagues.

—John Kelly

Photos

  • Photo: Early morning aerial photos of Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site.

    Cahokia Photo Gallery

    Cahokia was born with a bang and died of unknown causes. Yet, it remains America's forgotten city.

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