Shovel Ready: Archaeology and Roosevelt's New Deal for America

By McCarthy, John P. | Southeastern Archaeology, Winter 2014 | Go to article overview

Shovel Ready: Archaeology and Roosevelt's New Deal for America


McCarthy, John P., Southeastern Archaeology


Shovel Ready: Archaeology and Roosevelt's New Deal for America. BERNARD K. MEANS (editor). University of Alabama Press, Tuscaloosa, 2013. 328 pp., 26 ill., 28 tables. $39.95 (paper), ISBN: 978-0-8173-5718-4; $39.95 (e-book), ISBN: 978-0-8173-8625-2.

Archaeologists working in North America are nearly all aware of the pioneering work of the archaeologists employed by the Works Progress Administration and other federal government agencies during the depths of America's Great Depression. What many are unaware of, however, is the extent of and the details of that pioneering work. In Shovel Ready: Archaeology and Roosevelt's New Deal for America, Bernard K. Means has collected a dozen papers examining the nature and lasting effects of the extraordinary public-funded archaeology of the Depression era. These papers are framed by introductions and conclusions authored by Means, whose doctoral research focused on New Dealera excavations in western Pennsylvania covered in Means own paper (Chapter 3).

Means opens the volume with a discussion of the Depression and the public works programs of the New Deal. Following this introduction, the papers are divided into three sections along geographical lines, addressing aspects of New Deal archaeology in the mid-Atlantic, midwestern, and southeastern regions. The lasting impact of the research undertaken despite the limitations of underdeveloped methods, inexperienced personnel, and limited analysis and publication of results flows through every paper in the collection.

As Means explains, archaeology was ideal for federal work relief programs because it involved no design effort, could be done with limited simple equipment, involved many transferable skills of manual workers, and did not conflict with private economic activity; it was truly shovel ready. The unprecedented, and in many places unrepeated, archaeological research provided the underpinnings of the cultural chronological framework that remains the basis of most prehistoric archaeology in North America.

The first regional section, the mid-Atlantic, opens with Gregory D. Lattanzi's paper on the New Jersey Indian Site Survey. This program, directed by the New Jersey State Museum, identified over 700 sites throughout the state and undertook 58 large-scale excavations. Janet R. Johnson's paper on the Frontier Forts and Trails Survey of 1937-38, details the survey of French and Indian Warera forts in northwestern Pennsylvania which opened the way for future historic archaeology in the Commonwealth. Means's chapter focuses on the work of Edgar Augustine in Somerset County in southwestern Pennsylvania. From that work, Means has been able to examine community patterns, and with radiocarbon dates, revise cultural chronologies in the region.

Turning to the Midwest, Stephen E. Nash's chapter reviews Depression-era archaeology at the Field Museum and discusses changes to museum practice from collection and display of artifacts to scholarly archaeology through the 1930s. Unlike other New Deal programs, there was actually a decline in fieldwork at this institution, and increased staff efforts were directed toward artifact analysis and publication of results. John F. Doershuk and John L. Cordell discuss New Deal archaeology in Iowa. Federally funded archaeology was conducted throughout the state. While the authors recognize the limitation of the methods of the era, they note that much valuable data was saved from destruction. In the third paper in this section, Amanda L. Regnier, Patrick C. Livingood, and Scott W. Hammerstedt examine WPA-funded archaeology in southeastern Oklahoma, focusing in particular on the Clement and McDonald sites, two Caddo sites.

The third section includes six papers on the Southeast. David IDye's paper on archaeology at Kentucky Lake opens the section. William S. Webb, University of Kentucky, and Thomas M. N. Lewis, University of Tennessee, competed with each other over New Deal archaeology along the Tennessee River. …

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