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Today is January 27, 2022

Adventures in archaeology

By Steven Ward

Adventures in archaeology

Although his life is not much like the exciting cinematic universe of Indiana Jones, retired Mississippi State University professor and professional archaeologist Evan Peacock still has an interesting story to tell.

Born in the Delta and reared in the hill country of north-central Mississippi, Peacock has just released a memoir, “Kudzu on the Ivory Tower: From the Backwoods to an Academic Career in the Deep, Deep South.”

When he was 10, Peacock found a stone arrow point on his family’s land, and instantly fell in love with archaeology.

One of the people in his life that helped Peacock follow his dream was his ninth-grade music teacher.

“Mr. Hill had an impressive library that included many large, picture-heavy books about science, which he freely shared. After I helped him move a pipe organ from Tennessee down to French Camp Academy, he gifted me with a copy of a book about the Aztecs,” Peacock said.

“Not only did that help spur my interest in archaeology, but it demonstrated that such interest could be taken seriously by others.”

Peacock said he’s heard over the years that some mistakenly think archaeology is not a viable career.

“I cannot say how many times people told me, “You can’t get a job doing that.” It turns out that archaeology is a well-developed profession with a need for smart, dedicated practitioners,” Peacock said.

“Most of the jobs are related to what is called cultural resource management, that is, commercial archaeology done in the face of development. While I was working at Mississippi State University, we started a master’s program which boasted over a 90% job placement rate for our graduates.”

Peacock also said Mississippi is a bountiful resource for archaeologists.

“Mississippi has a very rich archaeological record, stretching back some 14,000 years, that remains little explored. During my career, my crews and I found and recorded about 1,000 sites that never had been formally reported before, and we were just scratching the surface,” Peacock said.

“Most of what exists in the state remains to be found. And much of what we find in Mississippi can be used to address very large-scale questions about humankind in general, like what led to the adoption of settled life and agriculture.”

Late in his career, Peacock discovered something fascinating in the Mississippi Delta — shell rings.

“These are large, circular rings of freshwater mussel shells and other artifacts; they are so large that they easily can be seen in aerial photographs. They mark where Native villages stood about 1,200 years ago, when people had their houses on top of the shells and other refuse, probably as an efficient way to lift their dwellings out of danger of periodic floods,” Peacock said.

"I was born in Clarksdale, but was reared in the backwoods of Choctaw County. The nearest town, French Camp, was four miles away. At the time, it held fewer than 200 people, so we really lived out in the sticks. We were very poor; being the sixth of seven sons meant that I wore a lot of hand-me-downs, and government cheese was a welcome menu item."

 

Visit borgopublishing.com/evanpeacock for more information about Peacock and his new book. A resident of Starkville, “Kudzu” tells the story of how Peacock became an archaeologist and college professor.

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