"When I Was a Lad, I Served a Term ..." Minor Adventures in Plains Archaeology in the 1950s and 1960s

Article excerpt

My careers in anthropology and archaeology began in 1949 and have continued beyond my formal retirement in 1994. I use the plural because at various times I have focused on four different areas of research interest and professional activities, although they have all been inter-related, overlapping, and more or less continuous as well. One career has been in muscology as a staff member in anthropology at the Field Museum in Chicago and in various roles from curator to museum director at the Nebraska State Historical Society (NSHS) in Lincoln. A second employment career was 30 years of teaching and academic administration at the University of South Florida where I served as a Professor, Department Chairman, and graduate program Archaeology Track Leader. My archaeological research has encompassed two separate but parallel and overlapping tracks in Plains archaeology and in historical archaeology. Field expeditions have been enlivened by being robbed, flooded, hailed, burned, tornadoed, and bombed.


As a child I found an arrowhead or two and had a modest diet of walking mummies in movies, but that was less exciting than seeing the real thing in museums. I grew up in Chicago and spent a lot of time in the Art Institute, the Museum of Science and Industry, and the Field Museum (then the Chicago Natural History Museum). I always thought museums were pretty neat places but never dreamed then that they would become a substantial part of my career.

I spent a year in general junior college courses and a lot of engineering, but my interests changed when I went to the College of the University of Chicago (UC) in 1945 during the Robert Maynard Hutchins era. I was drafted at the tag end of the war and spent a year in the Army, then returned to UC and graduated in 1948. In the later part of my undergraduate studies, I was into geology and would have continued there had it not been for an elective course "Introduction to Anthropology." All of the faculty participated in discussion lectures. Who would not have been inspired by a course taught by Robert Redfield, Sol Tax, Fred Eggan, Sherwood Washburn, Robert Braidwood, Kenneth Orr, Norman McQuown, and guests like Theodosius Dobzhansky? They all talked about the current hot stuff. For example, Washburn's "new physical anthropology" was brand new, Braidwood was just back from Jarmo, and the invention of radiocarbon dating was announced in class. After that course there was never a question about a career in anthropology for me.

My first experience in archaeological fieldwork came when several graduate students asked for volunteers to help dig an Indian mound about to be destroyed in a park development. I had just been reading about Hopewell mounds and envisioned something of really impressive size. We walked out into a field and reached a point where everyone stopped and put down his tools. I hadn't learned to shut up and observe at that point, so I asked, "Where is the mound?" "You're standing on it" was the reply. Well, 4 inches wasn't 40 feet, but it was OK with me. I found my first human burial that day-nicked it at nasion with a shovel, I am sorry to say, but then no one expected it to appear just barely below the surface.

In the summer of 1949,1 went on the UC field school at Starved Rock State Park in Illinois. Kenneth Orr directed with Robert Braidwood as a twoweek substitute. Braidwood regaled us with stories of the hardships at Jarmo, such as being two weeks from a supply of sherry. The undergraduates worked on various excavation projects, directed by graduate students, including Mike Fowler, Bill Mayer-Oakes, and Elaine Bluhm (Herold). I worked for Elaine and thought it was normal for women to have careers in archaeology. I found out otherwise and think I have done my bit to help change that in later years. Our field camp was shared by Dick Hagen, who was excavating LaSalle's fort on Starved Rock, so I thought digging at Historic period sites was normal too, but it was some years before that became fully true. …