Photograph by Amanda Roberts Thompson
Birthplace: Covington, Georgia
Current City: Columbus, Ohio
What did you want to be when you were growing up?
Well, I knew I wanted to be a professor. I even played professor when I was little. I'd get my brother's old glasses (which were too big) and I'd have all these books and pretend like I was teaching class. As a kid and even when I was in college, I just really liked everything—astronomy, physics, religion, history, and, of course, archaeology.
How did you get started in your field of work?
I attended an archaeological field school at the University of Georgia with Dr. Mark Williams. I remember going to see him in his office and he asked why I wanted to study anthropology. I naïvely replied that I wanted to know as much about the human condition as possible. I think he chuckled a little at that. While I was always interested in anthropology and archaeology, it was working and living in a tent in Macon one hot Georgia summer that sealed the deal for me.
What inspires you to dedicate your life to anthropological archaeology?
To me, anthropological archaeology is more than just trying to understand the past. It is fundamentally about the actions and perceptions of individuals. I am most interested in how and why people modified past environments and how such modifications may still have lasting effects on modern coastal ecosystems. My work with the Georgia Coastal Ecosystem Long Term Ecological Project has allowed me to explore this aspect of my work through collaborations with marine ecologists, geologists, plant biologists, and a host of other scientists. It is this spirit of collaboration and knowing that the work has implications beyond just understanding who lived where and when that really inspires me in my work.
What's a normal day like for you?
Well, during the school year I spend most of the day writing, interacting with students, directing student projects, and conducting my own research in my archaeology laboratory at the university. During the summer and on breaks, it's off to the field-usually the coasts and wetlands of Georgia and Florida. I involve a lot of students in my work; it really gives me pleasure to see them have that "aha!" moment. You know, where they finally get something.
Do you have a hero?
My heroes are people who look at the world in a different way and have the courage to express it. Those people who have changed our thinking, moved us beyond our own selfish endeavors, or have bucked the system and helped to usher in a new social or intellectual order. People like Patty Jo Watson (archaeologist), Richard Feynman (physicist), Clair Patterson (geologist), John Lennon (activist/musician), and for me personally, my dad (cattle farmer/mechanic/philosopher).
What has been your favorite experience in the field? The most challenging?
Well the most challenging was when my wife was bitten by a pygmy rattlesnake. That was not a fun day.
My two favorite experiences, thus far, have been the Fort Center project in the Lake Okeechobee region of South Florida and our Crystal River project along the central Gulf Coast of Florida.
What are your other passions?
As a new father, my son is the other focal point in my life. My wife (also an archaeologist) and I can't wait to teach him about the world and the past. I know that it's hokey, but I sometimes envision us as the traveling archaeology family. We've already made plans to take him on our project next summer—he won't be digging just yet.
What do you do in your free time?
I read books to my son and try and spend time with my family.
If you could have people do one thing to help preserve sites, what would it be?
Support archaeological research through organizations like National Geographic. There are a lot of talented people out there with great ideas. Give them a chance to implement their ideas. Every day sites are destroyed through natural and human-induced causes, such as erosion, sea level rise, and development. Help us preserve sites and learn about the past before it is lost to us forever. As many have said, the archaeological record is a nonrenewable resource.
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