Treasure Keeper

By Jeremy Craig

When Bryan Tucker (B.A. ’98) came to Georgia State, there were two paths of interest he considered following: anthropology and law enforcement.

“It was the thinking involved in each area that appealed to me — taking evidence and trying to sort it into some sort of conclusion,” Tucker says. “I had some classes, and it became much more clear that I was interested in anthropology.” He now sits as the state archaeologist with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.

Tucker is the head of a section of the Georgia DNR that oversees archaeological research activities across 2.2 million acres of state-owned or state-managed lands. His area is also responsible for overseeing the compliance with state and federal law designed to protect Georgia’s and the nation’s archaeological treasures.

His office doesn’t have the resources to perform the mountains of archaeological research to be done in Georgia plus perform compliance duties, so Tucker invites university researchers — and their students — to dig in.

“This allows students a chance to work on some of the really awesome sites we have, because we have quite a few,” Tucker says. “It provides us and the taxpayers of Georgia with more manpower to get out there and do levels of work we couldn’t do, and also leverage outside expertise and outside equipment.”

For example, students in the Heritage Preservation Program at GSU have investigated the preservation and interpretation of the tabby slave quarters on Ossabaw Island. Tabby, a building material comprised of lime, water, sand, oyster shells and ash, was commonly used on the Georgia coast up until the 1850s.

Even if a site doesn’t appear interesting to researchers today, Tucker says it’s still important to preserve and protect sites in the event that future researchers take an interest in a particular area as technologies improve to allow researchers to find answers to archaeological mysteries.

“We could lose important things and just never be able to answer questions if we don’t protect sites now,” Tucker says.

While public interest in archaeology is heartening, one of the issues Tucker and his division is facing is members of the public — inspired by TV shows such as the now-cancelled “American Diggers” — haphazardly digging for artifacts without the guidance to preserve a site like a professional archaeologist would, and without considering the context and relationships between artifacts that really help to answer questions.

“One of our biggest challenges is communicating to the public why it’s important to have a professional archaeologist excavate archaeological sites,” he says, noting that it’s perfectly legal for someone to dig up one’s own backyard.

“Arrowheads and pieces of pottery in and of themselves don’t tell us much,” he continues. “What’s interesting are those questions we can ask when we see the relationship to each other in the ground.”