Professor Authors Archeology for Dummies

TAMPA, Fla. (Nov. 12, 2008) – Hollywood has Indiana Jones and the University of South Florida has Nancy Marie White, author of Archeology for Dummies, but she’s not after golden idols or crystal skulls in exotic locales like her fictional colleague, and that doesn’t bother her one bit. A prehistoric pottery bowl right here in Florida is more her speed.

“Archeology has little to do with how it’s portrayed in the movies,” said White. “The field is not about obtaining fancy artifacts and has nothing to do with dinosaurs, but instead aims to learn of the human past on this planet. And of course it can be quite adventurous, without the car chases but sometimes with snakes and trucks stuck in the mud. More than anything, archeology is fun and very accessible to people in all walks of life.”

White is a natural to serve as author of Archeology for Dummies. She is a professor and an author and has held public archeology programs since the late 1970s to bring her findings to the local communities where she digs. She has helped build USF’s Department of Anthropology, which is famous for being the first in the nation to feature graduate training in public archaeology, “so it is only fitting to have such a book come out of this institution,” she noted.

When Wiley Publishing approached her to write this installment in its “…for Dummies” series, White was happy about the prospect of demystifying her field. A registered professional archaeologist, she welcomed the challenge and enjoyed the process of cutting mountains of knowledge on all the subjects down to quick, readable bites.

“They wanted informal and chatty, and so I got to stick in some of my bad jokes from lectures and some common puns and wordplay, like, ‘how does an archaeologist get a date?’ in reference to dating ancient artifacts,” White said. “An academic writing a popular book needs to be more aware than ever of cutting the jargon, the long run-on sentences, the obscure references. This was fine with me because those are qualities I hate about professional writing anyway.”

Archeology for Dummies is aimed at both students, as a supplement to course material, and interested lay people and readers of all kinds who are fascinated with archaeology and want to learn more or even get involved in excavations or laboratory work. The book explores how archaeology uncovers the lives of our ancestors, examining dig sites around the world and explaining theories about ancient human societies.

White’s primary areas of interest are the southeastern United States, especially the Apalachicola Valley region of northwest Florida, and the Gulf of Mexico coast. She investigates the origins of social stratification, human settlement patterns in the Americas, cultural and human ecology, and gender in anthropological perspective. White also does a lot of public archeology and what is known as CRM or cultural resources management projects. “CRM refers to locating, evaluating, excavating, and/or protecting archaeological and historic sites or cultural resources, often with regard to laws and regulations, in the public and private sector,” she explained. A Pasco County resident for 22 years, she has done many small archeological surveys in the Tampa Bay area in the path of proposed construction projects. She said these are good opportunities to further student training, as well as gather more information about natives of ancient and historic Florida.

In Archeology for Dummies, White traces over two million years of prehistoric times and the earliest civilizations on earth. She explains the areas where modern archaeology gets controversial and relates archaeological knowledge to modern issues like global warming, environmental depletion, genocide or disaster victims, and even recovering a people's lost heritage. Using short summaries of important topics, she shows how archeology can tell more and different things about historic peoples than history can. She even delves into how to know where to dig, ways people can volunteer on digs and visit famous sites, and how to get the most out of visits to museums.

“Archeology also can be about the very recent past,” White said. "All archeology is detective work, and we often provide forensic evidence in criminal cases or even analyze what’s in modern - day garbage to learn things about our own society that we can’t learn any other way.”

White conducts an archaeological field school every year in the northwest Florida-south Georgia-south Alabama area. Her continuing research aims to interpret how past peoples lived in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee River Valley and St. Joseph Bay regions over the last 10,000 years. She writes grant proposals every year to try to get funding for the expeditions, which help train students as well as accomplish research. She always includes archaeology day programs for the public. “I learn as much from local residents about the area's archaeology as they do from me,” she said.

White pointed out that the first big development construction projects in Florida, built between 1500-1000 years ago, were large earthen mounds -- some right here around Tampa Bay, though many are now gone. She said, “The research projects I’ve pursued with my students have uncovered evidence dating back to the earliest people in northwest Florida, over 12,000 years ago, all the way through many succeeding cultures.” She’s now working on a few sites that have artifacts from the first Spanish in northwest Florida between Tallahassee and Pensacola.

White edited Gulf Coast Archaeology: The Southeastern United States and Mexico, co-edited Northwest Florida Expeditions of Clarence Bloomfield Moore with David S. Brose, and Grit-Tempered: Early Women Archeologists in the Southeastern United States with Lynn Sullivan and Rochelle Marrinan. She received the prestigious Ripley P. Bullen Award for furthering cooperation with avocational archaeologists in 2001, and outstanding undergraduate teaching awards in 1993 and 1994. She teaches introductory archeology, Florida and Southeastern archeology, South American archeology, European prehistory, archeological theory, gender in cross-cultural perspective and other courses.

The University of South Florida is one of the nation's top 63 public research universities and one of 39 community-engaged, four-year public universities as designated by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. USF was awarded more than $360 million in research contracts and grants in FY 2007/2008. The university offers 219 degree programs at the undergraduate, graduate, specialist and doctoral levels, including the doctor of medicine. The university has a $1.8 billion annual budget, an annual economic impact of $3.2 billion, and serves more than 46,000 students on campuses in Tampa, St. Petersburg, Sarasota-Manatee and Lakeland. USF is a member of the Big East Athletic Conference.