Legislation, Legacy, and Larson: Lewis H. Larson, Georgia's First State Archaeologist

Article excerpt

In 1972, when Lewis H. Larson, Jr. was appointed Georgia's first state archaeologist, state historic preservation programs were struggling to combine state duties with the new mandates of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA). As state archaeologist, Larson was the senior advisor in matters involving archaeology in state government. Only one year after Larson's appointment, Governor Jimmy Carter reorganized state government and followed Larson's advice to transfer the Historical Commission's functions to the new Department of Natural Resources. This paper reviews those times, the subsequent development of the Office of State Archaeologist at West Georgia College, and Larson's role in assuring that archaeology was considered in every facet of the Georgia State Historic Preservation Program.

Not all states have state archaeologists, and those with state archaeologists organize their archaeology offices in many different ways. Some state archaeologists work for or advise survey and antiquities commissions, some work in state historic preservation offices, and others work for academic institutions. Some state archaeologists are compensated for their services, and some serve strictly in a voluntary capacity. In this paper, 1 will highlight some of Lewis H. Larson's contributions, as Georgia's first state archaeologist, to historic preservation and archaeological site protection in the state and his influence on historic preservation policy well beyond the state's borders.

In 1969, the Georgia Legislature passed Act Number 706, which called for the protection, preservation, and investigation of archaeological sites, antiquities, and artifacts on state-owned lands. Beyond the direct actions of the Board of Regents, the state acting through the Georgia Historical Commission reserved to itself the exclusive right and privilege of exploring, excavating, and surveying all prehistoric and historic sites, ruins, artifacts, treasure, treasure troves, ancient and abandoned ships and other similar sites, and objects found on state lands or water bottoms. Further, to implement the protective and research policies of the act, the act authorized the Georgia Historical Commission to appoint a state archaeologist.

Returning to Georgia in 1971 after a sojourn at the University of Michigan (finishing his Ph.D.) and Eastern Kentucky University (teaching), Lewis H. Larson began his tenure on the anthropology faculty at the State University of West Georgia. In that same year, Lew was appointed to the Georgia Historical Commission's Review Board for the National Register of Historic Places. And the following year, 1972, he was appointed Georgia's first state archaeologist.

Act 706 directed the state archaeologist to:

* Direct, coordinate, and otherwise engage in fundamental research into archaeology on state lands and water areas;

* Cooperate with other agencies of the state which have authority in areas where sites are located;

* Conduct a survey of important archaeological sites on state lands and water bottoms; and upon the request by private landowners, officially recognize significant archaeological sites on their lands and work to encourage the preservation of those sites;

* Conduct salvage archaeology on state sites threatened with destruction;

* Protect, preserve, display, or store objects of archaeological significance;

* And, through the auspices of the Georgia Historical Commission, encourage the dissemination of archaeological facts.

Larson's previous experience as de facto staff archaeologist for the Historical Commission in the 1950s and his various academic and research positions thereafter provided him a direct understanding of historic preservation issues in Georgia, and as state archaeologist, Lew was given the opportunity to put that experience to work.

In 1973, the reorganization of state government in Georgia brought new opportunities for the preservation and protection of archaeological sites. …