Erik Kreusch is the full-time archeologist in the Smokies, and Heath Bailey is the archeological technician. Work goes on year-round, although much of it happens with the help of a seasonal field crew in the spring, summer, and fall. The archeologists hike the park’s trails to survey areas where park management or park users might disturb cultural resources. For example, when fire managers plan a prescribed burn in Cades Cove, archeologists survey the area to make sure the burn won’t harm any prehistoric or historic resources. Heath Bailey is in charge of digging shovel tests in areas they have learned are likely places to find cultural artifacts.
In the search for traces of human activity, archeologists often find things that people discarded: a broken pot or a bone with the meat removed. Most people would refer to this as trash. To the archeologist, however, this is scientific data. The archeologist can recognize patterns in the placement of these items or in the frequency of their occurrence and build a picture of what life was like in the past.
Archeologists can also tell who people traded with, what types of houses they built, what types of food they ate, what and how they hunted, and how their society was structured. Finally, archeologists can use clues about how artifacts are layered in the ground, which can tell them when people lived in certain areas, and what happened in the time since they left.
You can learn more about an archeological excavation in the park by watching the podcast in the NPS Profile: Uncovering the past.
Return to Meet the Managers: Cultural Resources.