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Archives For June 30, 2013


The Many Hats of Directing an Archaeology Program

My name is James Newhard, and I am Director of the Archaeology Program at the College of Charleston (SC), a position which I have held since July of this year.  This is the second time that I’ve held this position (the first time, between 2005-2008).  In between my first and second term, I served as chair of the Department of Classics (2008-2010).

In my training, I held a focus early on in classical archaeology, earning degrees in classical languages and classical art and archaeology at the University of Missouri, before graduate work in classical and pre-classical archaeology at the University of Cincinnati.  Along the way, I also worked as a staff archaeologist at the CRM firm of Gray and Pape, Inc., and held a geoarchaeological fellowship at the Wiener Laboratory at the American School for Classical Studies in Athens.

The diversity of experiences has served me well in understanding the variety of archaeological approaches and methods in play in an active, multidisciplinary program.  Charleston, SC is a unique place in terms of archaeological activity, possessing in its environs evidence for Native American, Euro-American contact, colonial, ante-bellum plantation, and post-civil war systems of organization.

CofC students excavating at Hampton Plantation, SC

College of Charleston students excavating at Hampton Plantation, SC. Photo courtesy of Dr. Barbara Borg

In addition, there are significant sites of military conflict in the area (American Revolution and Civil War). All of these activities and periods of history are found both on land and offshore.  Archaeological studies by faculty and other entities are constant in the area, providing local opportunities for student engagement that few other areas of North America can offer.  In addition to the local archaeological wealth, the College is home to scholars actively involved in the Mediterranean, Near East, eastern and western Europe, and Egypt.

As in many American universities, archaeology at the College of Charleston is an interdisciplinary program, pulling its coursework, faculty, and students from cognate programs.  As Director, my role is to coordinate and communicate the course offerings provided by the constituent programs (Anthropology, Art History, Biology, Chemistry, Classics, Computer Science, Geology, History, Historic Preservation, and Mathematics) to faculty and students, receive and distribute information about internship opportunities and supervise their academic components; build community across the program via social media and events; engage with departmental chairs, program directors, and deans on academic programming to strengthen the program and cognate areas; promote the research and other activities of faculty and students; lead discussions among the program’s Steering Committee in regards to curriculum design and management; advise students; recruit new students; and in general to promote academic and research cooperation across the institution and with relevant local, state, federal, and private entities in the area.  In these activities, I am provided with some administrative assistance to facilitate communication with various stakeholders and maintain records useful for tracking the program’s progress and activities.

I still retain my appointment to the Department of Classics, where I teach typically in the areas of introductory Latin and classical archaeology (focused upon Aegean Prehistory and Classical Greece, landscape archaeology, and computer applications in classics and archaeology), and contribute to discussions of curriculum, program development and promotion, and the general academic community.

As a scholar in my own right, I am involved as the Assistant Director for the Avkat Archaeological Project in central Turkey and

Fieldwalking in the Avkat region, central Turkey

Fieldwalking in the Avkat region, central Turkey. Photo: AAP Archives

Peter Bikoulis and Jim Newhard review in-field database systems on the Avkat Project, Turkey.

Peter Bikoulis and Jim Newhard review in-field database systems on the Avkat Project, Turkey. Photo: AAP Archives

the Göksu Archaeological Project in the Taurus Mountains.  My interest in survey archaeology has turned my attention to the intersections of survey methodology, geospatial applications, and informatics.  I am currently designing the computing data systems for the study of the Linear B deposits from the Palace of Nestor and a number of other informatics and geospatial topics.  Currently in the analysis and publication phases for Avkat and Göksu, I am busy with processing these datasets, writing relevant sections of the publications, and managing ‘spinoff’ ideas that are an inevitable by-product of fieldwork.

Fortunately, these various roles tend to not happen all at once.  On the appointed ‘Day of Archaeology,’ my day was spent working in one of our GIS labs on campus, where we are developing methods to refine chronological and functional information derived from survey data.  Throughout the day, there was the scheduling of several meetings with students, faculty, and administrators for the week ahead; updating members of the archaeology staff on the development of a database to track internship opportunities; forwarding employment opportunities to Classics majors; reviewing abstracts for a professional conference; and communicating with collaborators on the progress of the publication for the Avkat project.  In the early afternoon, I briefly met with several students in geospatial informatics about the status of several ongoing research projects and how they may become engaged, and reviewed the efficacy of recently-obtained 3D visualization software.

Newhard, wearing a hat

Newhard, wearing a hat. Photo by permission of author.

As an academic archaeologist with administrative duties, one wears many hats.  As I work in the field of archaeology, I find that the skills and knowledge critical to most tasks are not the ones that were the subject of comprehensive and final exams.  Archaeology is as much a process of working with people as it is with the artifacts.  No day is the same, but in most cases, the day is full with any number of activities that engages the mind, other people, and our combined understanding of the past and its applications to our present condition.


After weed whacking in a ditch full of water, Larry James surveys the property he maintains and proclaims to be the happiest guy in the world.

The land is not just any piece of dirt. James is in charge of what he considers one of the most precious pieces of property in the entire Lowcountry. The 38-year-old is the manager/ranger and resident archaeologist at Colonial Dorchester State Park.

What he loves to do most is discovering what’s underneath the green grass. He only gets to spend about 30 percent of his time doing that, though.

The majority of his days are devoted to interpretive tours, upkeep of the grounds, public outreach and lecturing.

Managing a historic site is a privilege coupled with responsibility. He also knows that anytime you dig a hole, it’s never the same once the dirt is replaced. That’s why he cherishes and protects what he believes is hallowed ground.

Colonial Dorchester and Charles Towne Landing are generally considered to be the richest archaeological sites in all of South Carolina. Not far beneath the surface are pieces of history that tell us about life “… before America was America.”

Self discovery

His grandfather and father were both pioneers in the car business in Charleston. After Larry graduated from the College of Charleston, he tried to appease his dad by pursuing business and sales. Larry loved history, though, not balance sheets and monthly quotas.

In 2005, James returned to the area to be near his father, who was in poor health. He also started to volunteer at the Charleston Museum. It didn’t take long to rekindle that thirst for discovering the unknown and he decided to seek a master’s degree in archaeology at the University of West Florida in Pensacola.

Soon, he would teach at that same school, but something kept pulling him back to his Lowcountry roots.

In 2011, he learned of an opening in archaeology at Colonial Dorchester and after a few years of wondering and wandering, he came home.

Looking for the past

Though everyone knows about Colonial Williamsburg, Va., Colonial Dorchester was actually founded earlier. For 80 years, this trading town along the Ashley River was populated by 800 to 1,000 people.

While Williamsburg has been commercialized and heavily marketed, Dorchester’s landscape remains rustic and largely unchanged. What fascinates James is that there’s still so much unknown about the people and the property because the ground has been undisturbed for 300 years.

He still “feels” something when around the various ruins. The church bell tower remains, though the church was burned by the British. A tabby wall that once protected the powder and munitions is still intact, but there’s a huge crack delivered by an earthquake in 1886.

Archaeology is all about discovering or seeing “the gray”: Often there’s more unknown than known. Sifting through the remains can produce more questions than answers.

This ground is so fertile and its contents so vast. By design, though, barely 20 percent of it has been fully explored. At a recent dig, a 9-by-12-foot hole revealed 4,000 artifacts. There were pieces of ceramic, buttons, glass and coins.

For James, those days when he gets his hands dirty are when the job doesn’t seem like work. But his passion for finding answers is tempered by an understanding that he’s also the property’s caretaker.

The first 100 years of Colonial history are under his feet every day he comes to work. To understand the past, he appreciates a need to protect the present.

He loves to dig and sift in the rich soil that early settlers once found so appealing. There are times, however, he also must grab the business end of a weed whacker to make sure it is as attractive to the eye on the topside as it is to inquiring minds who want to dig a little deeper.

Check it out:

See something missing or want to add more? Let us know!

Dr. Harris’ write-up in the Post and Courier.  Neat stuff!

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