Digging In

When most people picture an archaeologist going to work, they might envision someone in an Indiana Jones hat heading off into the desert to sift through the sands. Dr. Jon Marcoux is an …

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When most people picture an archaeologist going to work, they might envision someone in an Indiana Jones hat heading off into the desert to sift through the sands. Dr. Jon Marcoux is an archaeologist, but his job involves a lot more than digging.

Dr. Marcoux, assistant professor of Cultural & Historic Preservation at Salve Regina University, has worked on his fair share of digs, including the Townsend site in the mountains of eastern Tennessee, where it took two years to excavate an area equal to 20 football fields. The project uncovered dozens of houses, hundreds of fireplaces, roasting pits and garbage dumps dating back 5,000 years. It revealed slivers of the lives of Cherokee Indians who occupied the land and left remains of food, pottery, stone tools and European trading goods.

However, his work extends far beyond the field. Through his work in cultural resources management, Dr. Marcoux has consulted with private and government clients to assist them in complying with federal, state and municipal historic preservation laws. “Most times when roads or bridges need to be built, or a private developer needs permits to build a large subdivision, they are mandated to determine if any important archaeological sites or historic buildings will be affected by their projects,” says Dr. Marcoux.

Sometimes, people need reminding that history is not only worth protecting but can add value to all parts of human life as well. Dr. Marcoux recalls a consulting job where he had to convince residential developers why they should alter their construction plans to avoid disturbing a 3,000-year-old Native American campsite that looks today just like an empty field. “The key is in educating folks to see how the past can directly affect their lives,” he explains. To do this, Dr. Marcoux had to convince the developer that the site could actually add value to their property. He offered to assist in the production of interpretive signs and exhibits that could be displayed in the subdivision, allowing potential buyers to see the property as connected to the deep history of the area and thus distinguishing the development from its competitors.

“Doing archaeology and seeing sites destroyed by erosion, flooding, plowing, looting and construction, you realize how impermanent the past can be,” says Dr. Marcoux. “You also realize that some communities do not have a lot of economic or political power, and sometimes their concerns about their heritage are not taken into consideration when development occurs. As a preservation archaeologist, I can work with those communities to recover and understand aspects of their past and make this information known to the wider public.”