Standing on the banks of the Ohio River almost 20 years ago, I looked out across the site of my first archaeological dig post-college. There were two components to this site, a historic site at the top of the hill and a prehistoric village site downslope and about 100 feet away. Earlier that day, there had been a team of archaeologists (me included) working on excavations in both areas. We had been excavating units and screening dirt, taking measurements and samples and notes and all the things good archaeologists should be doing. But now it was just before dark. All the archaeologists had gone home. It was just me and the site. I climbed to the top of the hill alone, sat down, took a deep breath and thought, I wonder……
Photo courtesy of Cheryl Munson
I wondered what the place looked like 1,000 years ago, when that other group of people lived and died here. I wondered what they saw in the place that made them want to settle here. I wondered if what those people from 1,000 years ago saw was the same as, or similar to, what people saw who settled in the same spot 200 years ago. Did they fish the same way? Did they grow their own food? Did they hunt? How long were they here for? Why did they leave? Were they happy?
That was the moment I knew I wanted to be an archaeologist. Even though I’m from North Mississippi, it was the archaeology of the Ohio River Valley that first got me hooked. Some archaeology professors will tell you that you should not approach archaeology in that fashion. Archaeology is a destructive science. Once you dig something up, its context is gone forever. That is true, and as an archaeologist, I take that responsibility very seriously. But what makes archaeology important to me is THE WONDER. I’ll go out on a limb here and say that what makes archaeology important to us all, all of society, is the wonder. Before the questions can be answered, they have to be asked.
So, twenty years later, and here I am back home in Kentucky. I’ve traveled all around the Midwest and Southeast and worked on all kinds of archaeological projects. But, believe me when I say, there is no doubt, I am home now. Kentucky IS home. And, after all of the travelling and all of the archaeological sites and surveys,
I STILL WONDER….
Greetings from the newest Kentucky Heritage Council archaeologist.
Kentucky Heritage Council
Transportation Archaeology Review Coordinator