When I was asked to write an article about Dr. Emily Beahm, who became the station archeologist for the Arkansas Archeological Survey’s WRI research station in September 2015, I became more than a little excited. I’m serious when I say I’ve always had a fascination with archeology and geology and things going on beneath the Earth’s crust. I credit this interest to my Arkansas Delta upbringing.
In my corner of Northeast Arkansas, earthquake tremors are commonplace and arrowheads lay hidden just beneath cotton-field furrows. Plus, the Hampson Archeological Museum State Park in Wilson is only a few miles away from our family farm. It houses an impressive exhibit of nationally renowned artifacts from the nearby 15-acre Nodena site. This collection of Late Mississippian Period Native American artifacts (dated A.D. 1400–1650) provided many a school-day field trip for my classmates and me.
Even with my interest in all things prehistoric, until I visited with Beahm, I was a bit clueless as to the day-to-day activities of an archeologist. You may be surprised to learn the archeological goings on not only at Petit Jean Mountain but also all around Arkansas.
Q: Are you a native Arkansan?
A: No, but I grew up not too far away in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. I attended graduate school at the University of Georgia and did my dissertation research in Middle Tennessee ("Mississippian Polities in the Middle Cumberland Region of Tennessee").
Q: How did you become interested in archeology?
A: It seems like a lot of archeologists have cool stories about why they decided to go into the field, but I really don't. I like history and science, and I guess archeology is a way to both pursue scientific inquiry with data and learn about the past.
Q: So how did you end up in Arkansas and, more specifically, at WRI?
A: Originally, I moved to Russellville because my (then future) husband got a job at Arkansas Tech. He’s an anthropology professor. I joined the survey as an assistant at the WRI research station in September 2013. A few months ago when Dr. Stewart-Abernathy retired, I became station archeologist.
Q: Congratulations on your new position. You couldn’t work in a more beautiful setting than Petit Jean Mountain. I suppose I’ve always romanticized archeology and imagined massive digs in exotic locales. I’m sure there’s more to it, regular “duties”. What’s a typical day like for you
A: There’s a fair amount of variety in what I do from day to day. The Arkansas Archeological Survey's mission is to research, preserve, protect and educate the public about Arkansas' archeological resources. I often work on records management at the office—filing archeological site information and organizing our artifact collections.
Q: I did a bit of research on the Arkansas Archeological Survey website. I’m fascinated by the projects going on across the state, particularly the Plum Bayou Gardens at Toltec Mounds and Historic Cane Hill. What research do you have planned specific to the WRI station and surrounding area?
A: There are several. One project that I’m working on is putting together a comparative collection at the WRI station—of artifacts ranging from historic pottery to prehistoric projectile points and chert types. I anticipate this will be a useful tool not only for those of us here at the station, but also for other local archeologists. Non-professional visitors to the station should also find this interesting. Also, I’ve begun researching the Mississippian (late prehistoric) occupation in the Arkansas River Valley. The first step in this has been to look closely at some artifacts we currently have in our collections that have not yet been analyzed. Another project that I’m excited about is the Native American garden I’m planning next to the station at WRI. It will have native cultigens—domesticated and cultivated plants used by Native Americans in the area prior to the introduction of corn. And I’m involved in the Project Dig program. This outreach program involves working with several local elementary schools.
Q: I love that the WRI research station is working with schoolchildren. I think that’s so important.
A: I agree. I love teaching children about the elements of culture and basic archeological methods. It’s a lot of fun and rewarding at the same time.
Q: Do you need volunteers to help with your projects?
A: I would be happy to have volunteers. We usually have volunteer days the third Saturday of the month. Volunteers would be especially useful this spring when I start working on the garden. If someone is interested in devoting a few hours, email me at email@example.com.
Thank you, Dr. Beahm! Don’t be surprised if I show up one Saturday to volunteer.
The station located at the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute is one of 10 Arkansas Archeological Survey research stations located throughout the state. To learn more about sites and ongoing research, visit http://archeology.uark.edu.
Read more from Talya Boerner at Grace, Grits, & Gardening.