Most little boys enjoy digging in the dirt before they get bigger and start digging other things. Sports. Girls. Cars.
But Stephen Davis, an adjunct professor of anthropology and associate director of the University’s Research Laboratories of Archaeology (RLA), stayed stuck on dirt – and finding the mysteries waiting to be revealed beneath it.
As a sophomore at Carolina in the early 1970s, Davis stumbled upon the research lab of anthropology professor Joffre Coe, who was still excavating at Town Creek Indian Mound that Davis first visited as a fifth grader.
It took Davis two weeks to work up the nerve to ask Coe for a job in his labs.
Coe shook his head. “There is no money.”
“You misunderstood,” Davis responded. “I wasn’t asking to get paid. I just want to work here.”
For 28 years now, Davis has taught a five-week field school in North American archaeology at Carolina that allows students to participate in excavation, recovery, recording and interpretation of archaeological remains.
In a sense, Davis said, archaeology is like working on a puzzle with most of the pieces missing. Part of the job is to find more of the missing pieces, and part is to figure out how all the pieces might fit together to fill in the story of how people lived centuries ago.
“Experience counts for an awful lot, but you always need to maintain a certain level of humility and realize what you think you know may not be so,” Davis said. “That is why this work never gets old. It just gets deeper.”