History of Program | Contracts/Grants | Curation | Staff | Publications | Mission | Alabama State Site File
GIS in Archaeology | UA Anthropology | UA Museums | UA Home | OAR Home

History of OAR/Program Statement


The University of Alabama has been a leader in archaeological research since the beginning of the twentieth century. Three men, Eugene A. Smith, Walter B. Jones, and David L. DeJarnette, pioneered initial research under the auspices of the Alabama Museum of Natural History (AMNH). Smith was appointed State Geologist in 1873 and founded the AMNH in 1910. Jones was appointed as Assistant State Geologist in 1924, but soon was appointed as State Geologist and Director of AMNH upon Smith's death in 1927.

DeJarnette joined the Museum staff in 1929 as a full-time archaeologist, although he was an electrical engineer by education. One of the many commitments of the AMNH, under the leadership of Smith, Jones, and DeJarnette, was the research and preservation of the Moundville archaeological site located about fifteen miles south of Tuscaloosa on the Black Warrior River. DeJarnette Excavated Several Mound Sites during the 1930s and 1940s for the WPA.


Walter B. Jones

David L.DeJarnette

Research by the AMNH began at Moundville in 1929. Jones and DeJarnette had two initial goals: conserve the site by bringing it into public ownership; and show that the site still contained significant archaeological deposits after C.B. Moore's excavations of the early 1900s (Peebles 1981). By 1932, most of the park area had been acquired, with Jones mortgaging his house to buy the properties when the AMNH funds fell short.

Test excavations were conducted as new property was acquired, demonstrating that most of the archaeological site was intact. A long-term research program was established for the site. DeJarnette, having no formal education in archaeology, studied under Thorne Deuel at the University of Illinois to improve his excavation and recording techniques (Knight 1993). The AMNH received funding from the Emergency Conservation Work Program in 1933. Federal support of the excavation and preservation of Moundville continued until 1941. The work conducted by Jones and DeJarnette are invaluable and were essential to the evolution of archaeological research in the southeastern United States.

DeJarnette Excavated Several Mound Sites during the 1930s and 1940s for the WPA. Click on image for larger view.

1930s WPA Field Crew on the Wheeler Reservoir Excavations. The AMNH was actively involved in numerous other archaeological expeditions during the Jones-DeJarnette era. For the most part, Jones oversaw the expeditions as the AMNH director; however, it was DeJarnette who actually performed most of the work.

In 1931, excavations were conducted at the Walnut Mounds in Arkansas and the Wickliffe site in Kentucky. The Nodena site in Arkansas was excavated the following year. During that same time period, DeJarnette started the Archaeological Survey of Alabama, a survey to record archaeological sites across the state (Knight 1993). This survey eventually led to the Alabama State Site File, the state's inventory of archaeological sites, which is currently maintained at the Office of Archaeological Research.

Grants from the National Research Council funded archaeological excavations at other mound sites around the state, including Hobbs Island and the Florence Mound on the Tennessee River, Omussee Creek Mound on the Chattahoochee River, and the Bottle Creek mounds in the Mobile Delta. The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) and Civil Works Administration sponsored large-scale excavations on the Tennessee River in the Pickwick, Wheeler, and Guntersville basins between 1934 and 1939 (Webb and DeJarnette 1942, 1948a, 1948b, 1948c). DeJarnette was "loaned" to TVA to help oversee these excavations (Knight 1993). The Works Progress Administration funded excavations, directed by DeJarnette, at the Bessemer site in Jefferson County (DeJarnette and Wimberly 1941), and numerous sites in Baldwin, Mobile, and Clarke counties.

DeJarnette eventually assumed the direction of Mound State Monument in 1953 and received his Master's degree in archaeology in 1958 from The University of Alabama. Appointed to the faculty in 1956, he taught twenty field schools between 1957 and 1975, training a "generation of archaeologists, many of whom practice the craft today" (Knight 1993:623). DeJarnette continued to work throughout the state and ran numerous contract projects, either through the AMNH, the Department of Anthropology, or Mound State Monument. He was a founder and promoter of the Alabama Archaeological Society (AAS) and editor of the Journal of Alabama Archaeology. Many research efforts were sponsored by the AAS in the 1960s and 1970s, most notable were the excavations at the Stanfield-Worley Bluff Shelter which DeJarnette directed between 1960 and 1963 (DeJarnette et al. 1962, 1973).


1930s WPA Field Crew on the Wheeler Reservoir Excavations.Click on image for larger view.

New Era of Cultural Resource Management

1977 Gainesville Lake Excavations. Starting in the 1970s, there was a growing need for contract archaeologists and cultural resources management (CRM). The Office of Archaeological Research (OAR) was established in 1972 in response to that growing field. OAR was created as a department of The College of Arts & Sciences and Carey B. Oakley was named as its director. Oakley, a graduate of the University, studied under DeJarnette and had already successfully completed a large contract from the Alabama Highway Department for the excavation of the Honeymoon site on I-65 in Montgomery County (Futato 1973).

The first contract obtained by Oakley through OAR was from TVA to survey the Little Bear Creek Reservoir in Northwest Alabama (Oakley and Futato 1976). Another TVA contract, obtained in 1973, negotiated the excavation of the Bellefonte site in the Guntersville Basin (Futato 1977).

During the 1970s, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began planning the construction of the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway which would impact numerous cultural resources. OAR conducted several survey, testing, and mitigation projects associated with the waterway that produced a multitude of reports (Bense 1982; Caddell et al. 1981; Coblentz 1979; Ensor 1981; Hubbert 1978; Jenkins 1981, 1982; Jenkins and Ensor 1981; Lafferty and Solis 1981; Murphy and Saltus 1981). In addition to large-scale CRM projects, a market for small contracts was being cultivated.

In 1976, DeJarnette retired from the University. In his possession was an impressive collection of artifacts, records, and documents. OAR was charged with the responsibility of maintaining these collections. Artifacts from all over the state, and elsewhere, were stored at the park in the Erskine Ramsay building, which was in need of repair and curationally unsound. Most notable among the assemblage was the Moundville collection, including all of the artifacts excavated from the site since the 1930s. The TVA reservoir collections, the Archaeological Survey of Alabama collections, the Nodena collection from Arkansas, and the Stanfield-Worley collection were also quite substantial. The Alabama State Site File (ASSF), an inventory of all the archaeological sites recorded in the state, was also transferred to the management of OAR. Space to maintain the DeJarnette collections was limited, however.

Prior to 1980, OAR had been scattered in various buildings and houses on the University campus. In January, 1980 OAR moved to a new building at Moundville named the David L. DeJarnette Research Laboratory. This 12,000sqft research laboratory contains: an archaeological laboratory (4,400 sq ft); a curational processing laboratory (3,000 sq ft); and an office complex (4,600 sq ft). The office complex accommodates administrative offices, project offices, a darkroom, a mapping and drafting room, equipment storage space, and a library/conference room. All of the OAR and DeJarnette collections were transferred to this facility.


1977 Gainesville Lake Excavations. Click on image for larger view.

A progressive program of curation was begun at OAR in 1984, with the renovation of the Erskine Ramsay Archaeological Repository (ERAR). This curational effort was steered by the curator, Eugene M. Futato. The climate-controlled facility was brought up to and, today, exceeds federal standards of curation.

The renovated building features a combination of electronic and infrared security systems and alarms tied by direct phone line to the Moundville City Police Station. Smoke and gas detectors, the fire suppression system, and the fire alarms are likewise tied by phone line. The building has more than 15,000 cubic feet of available shelf capacity. Separate rooms are provided for special collections, document collections, and photographic collections.

Today, ERAR is recognized as one of the finest facilities of its kind in the eastern United States. Curational policies and procedures are cited as a national standard for other such facilities. OAR curates material for a number of federal and state agencies. Federal clients include the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Mobile, Savannah and Jacksonville districts), the National Park Service (Southeast Region), the Fish and Wildlife Service (Southeast Region), Redstone Arsenal, Fort Rucker, the U.S. Navy, the U.S. Air Force, the Tennessee Valley Authority, etc. In addition to these governmental contracts, OAR curates numerous collections funded by private organizations. The University's archaeological collections are curated at ERAR as well.

R.C. Eisle Collection in the Special Collections Room of ERAR. Click on image for larger view.

1988 Bridgeport Field Crew, Site 1Ja574. 1991 Moundville Riverbank Project. Since its inception, OAR, has been successful in conducting archaeological research and cultural resource management, as well as providing a place for other researchers to study. OAR has negotiated contracts funded in excess of ten million dollars. Almost eighty research monographs and thousands of unpublished technical reports have been generated during its 25 years of CRM and archaeological research. Work has been conducted in Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, Kentucky, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Puerto Rico, and U.S. Virgin Islands, as well as outside the United States in Israel, Mexico, and Guatemala. OAR has performed survey, testing, and mitigation programs associated with waterways, reservoirs, highways, pipelines, methane gas fields, coal mines, landfills, timber harvests, and other developments.

As a research center, archaeologists and other specialists from across the region visit OAR to review the Alabama State Site File, reference the research library, and study the collections curated in the ERAR. Research at OAR is assisted by state-of-the-art technology. Report figures and illustrations are computer generated. OAR is equipped with several GPS (Global Positioning System) units for use in field navigation. GPR (Ground Penetrating Radar) technology assists in the discovery of subsurface archaeological deposits, historic cemeteries, geologic mineral deposits, and other subsurface anomalies. For laboratory analysis, one computer is equipped for microscopic analysis of stone tools. Computer databases manage the Alabama State Site File, the state's National Archaeological Database Bibliography, and curated collections. GIS (Geographic Information Systems) creates graphic images to interpret databases, particularly with reference to the site file. All of these databases are available for research by OAR and other professional archaeologists.


1991 Moundville Riverbank Project. Click on image for larger view.

OAR merged with The University of Alabama Museums in 1986. This consolidation opened a new dimension to the program by promoting educational activities for the public. OAR has been involved in numerous field schools, most notably at Dust Cave (Goldman-Finn and Driskell 1994) and Smith Bottom Cave on the Tennessee River near Florence, Madison Hall on the University campus, and Tannehill State Park in east Tuscaloosa County. Joint field schools with Jackson State University were conducted at Cathedral Caverns and the Hightower site. Schools and other organizations are visited by OAR personnel to educate students and the community about our prehistoric and historic heritage. Laboratory analysis and large-scale excavations employ the assistance of volunteers. OAR is actively involved in the Museum's annual Native American Indian Festival at Moundville Archaeological Park. In addition, OAR co-sponsored a colloquium series bringing international experts in archaeology, anthropology, geography, and many other fields, to speak to the general public.

1988 Cathedral Caverns Expedition. Click on image for larger view.

The Laboratory for Human Osteology, located on the main University campus in the Scientific Collections Facility, serves as an affiliate of OAR. This state-of-the-art facility houses the human osteological collection, among other scientific collections. One of the largest human osteological collections in the Southeast, the Moundville collection excavated during the 1930s and 1940s, is managed here. A physical anthropologist/ osteologist manages these collections and maintains records on a computerized database. OAR employs a variety of expertise. In addition to the director and various office personnel, staff members includes several archaeologists, cultural resource specialists/analysts, an architectural historian, an archaeological collections assistant, numerous archaeological technicians/assistants, aGISspecialist, drafting and photography technicians, and several field/lab/student aides. Other employees and outside consultants are hired as needed.

This multitude of talent efficiently undertakes a variety of tasks through mutual cooperation. Research activities not only include the investigation of archaeological sites, but also: evaluation of historic standing structures; curation of archaeological, specimen, document, and photographic collections; electrolytic reduction and restoration of historic iron artifacts; public education concerning archaeology; distribution of publications for the Alabama Archaeological Society and the Southeastern Archaeological Conference; management of the Alabama State Site File; and coordination of the state's National Archaeological Database Bibliography. As a research office of the University, OAR has direct access to special services. Of particular importance are the remote imagery collections, reproduction services, access to the internet, and several research libraries. OAR also has the advantage of consulting faculty/staff experts in other fields such as geology, geography, biology, and history, for their professional insight.

Other University consultants include the Department of Anthropology, the Alabama Museum of Natural History, and the Moundville Archaeological Park. The University of Alabama Museums, through its various divisions, curates archives and collections assembled during more than seventy years of archaeological investigations in the Southeast. All of these resources contribute to an amenable and progressive research environment.