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Shovel Ready

Archaeology and Roosevelt's New Deal for America

Bernard K. Means

Publication Year: 2013

Shovel Ready provides a comprehensive lens through which to view the New Deal period, a fascinating and prolific time in American archaeology.
In this collection of diverse essays united by a common theme, Bernard K. Means and his contributors deliver a valuable research tool for practicing archaeologists and historians of archaeology, as well as New Deal scholars in general.
To rescue Americans from economic misery and the depths of despair during the Great Depression, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt created several New Deal jobs programs to put people to work. Men and women labored on a variety of jobs, from building roads to improving zoos. Some ordinary citizens—with no prior experience—were called on to act as archaeologists and excavate sites across the nation, ranging in size from small camps to massive mound complexes, and dating from thousands of years ago to the early Colonial period.
Shovel Ready contains essays on projects ranging across the breadth of the United States, including New Deal investigations in California, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Texas. Some essays engage in historical retrospectives. Others bring the technologies of the twenty-first century, including accelerator mass spectrometry (AMS) dating of curated collections and geophysical surveys at New Deal–excavated sites, to bear on decades-old excavations. The volume closes with an investigation into material remnants of the New Deal itself.
John L. Cordell / John F. Doershuk / David H. Dye /Scott W. Hammerstedt / Janet R. Johnson / Kevin Kiernan /Gregory D. Lattanzi /Patrick C. Livingood / Anna R. Lunn / Bernard K.  Means / Stephen E. Nash / Amanda L. Regnier / Sissel Schroeder / James R. Wettstaed

Published by: The University of Alabama Press


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pp. v-vi


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pp. vii-x

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pp. xi-xii

This volume certainly would not have been possible without Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s vision of a New Deal for the American people—putting the unemployed to work rebuilding the nation and exploring America’s past. Countless men and women participated in the various archaeology projects we discuss in the following pages. ...

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Introduction: “Alphabet Soup” and American Archaeology

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pp. 1-18

At the time of this writing, the United States remains in the grips of the Great Recession, marked by high unemployment, considerable job insecurity, and thousands of anxious Americans who have lost or may soon lose their homes. Archaeology has been adversely affected as well, with public-and private-sector hiring slowing to a trickle. ...

Part I. Middle Atlantic States

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1. The First Stimulus Package: The WPA and the New Jersey Indian Site Survey

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pp. 21-32

Between 1936 and 1941, the Indian Site Survey—a federal relief program operated by the Works Progress Administration (WPA)—identified numerous sites and conducted archaeological investigations throughout the state of New Jersey (Table 1.1). These excavations were conducted under the sponsorship of the New Jersey State Museum ...

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2. Historical Archaeology’s “New Deal” in Pennsylvania

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pp. 33-47

Massive unemployment as experienced by so many people during the Great Depression was a motivator for the implementation of numerous federal relief projects. Favored were projects deemed as “shovel ready” because they could quickly provide jobs to laborers desperately seeking employment. ...

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3. Archaeologist #.00000000000000000: Edgar E. Augustine and New Deal Excavations in Somerset County, Pennsylvania

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pp. 48-64

From the harsh winter of 1934 to the eve of American entry into World War II, ordinary men labored under New Deal work relief programs to excavate American Indian archaeological sites located across the rugged, mountainous landscape of Somerset County, Pennsylvania. ...

Part II. Midwestern States

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4. The Great Depression Begets a Great Expansion: Field Museum Anthropology, 1929–1941

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pp. 67-88

The Great Depression of 1929–1941 is one of the most important economic, social, political, and now symbolic events in American history (McElvaine 1993). The very term Great Depression invokes images of the Dust Bowl and Grapes of Wrath–style hardship. The collapse of economic markets and systems beginning on October 29, 1929, ...

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5. Project 1047: New Deal Archaeology in Iowa

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pp. 89-109

New Deal funding for Iowa archaeological projects permanently transformed the essential character of archaeology in the state, pushing research in a new direction and to a new level of intensity from its 1920s surface-only orientation. First Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FER A) and later Works Progress Administration (WPA) ...

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6. The Last of WPA Archaeology in Oklahoma: The Clement and McDonald Sites

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pp. 110-126

By 1941, federally sponsored archaeology in Oklahoma had been ongoing for nearly eight years. As part of economic relief intended to mitigate the economic collapse of the early 1930s under the weight of the Dust Bowl droughts and the Great Depression, sites had been identified and tested in 12 counties. ...

Part III. Southeastern States

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7. Trouble in the Glen: The Battle over Kentucky Lake Archaeology

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pp. 129-146

New Deal archaeological investigations have long been recognized for their valuable contribution to scientific archaeology (Davis 1997; Dye 1991; Fagette 1996; Guthe 1952; Haag 1985; Lyon 1996; Sullivan 1999). Lesser known or appreciated are the battles waged and compromises hammered out among archaeologists, ...

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8. WPA Archaeology at the Slayden Site, Humphreys County, Tennessee

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pp. 147-164

Modern perceptions of archaeology frequently view excavation and data recovery as the field’s heart and soul—the driving force that keeps archaeology alive. Large-scale excavation is certainly the most direct and exciting way of discovering what lies beneath the ground’s surface, and archaeologists draw hypotheses and conclusions ...

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9. Culture, Time, and Practice: The Shifting Interpretive Potential of New Deal–Era Collections

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pp. 165-184

The field investigations conducted with New Deal funds in the eastern United States significantly expanded the quantity of excavated sites, many of which serve as type sites or yielded type specimens for archaeological taxa still in use today, provided a rudimentary understanding of chronology, and were pivotal to the initial construction ...

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10. New Deal Archaeology in West-Central Kentucky: Excavations at Annis Village

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pp. 185-201

The New Deal archaeological program in Kentucky, directed by William S. Webb, conducted fieldwork at more than 70 sites between 1937 and 1941. While only about a quarter of these excavations were published, New Deal archaeology made tremendous contributions not only to contemporary knowledge of Kentucky’s prehistory ...

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11. Preston Holder’s WPA Excavations in Glynn and Chatham Counties, Georgia, 1936–1938

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pp. 202-222

The history of New Deal archaeology on the Georgia coast has remained obscure, because the foremost archaeologist of the coast, Preston Holder, was not permitted to publish the major results of his excavations. His superiors at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., at the Ocmulgee National Monument in Macon, Georgia, ...

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12. The Resettlement Administration and the Historical Archaeology of the Georgia Piedmont

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pp. 223-234

The Depression-era programs sponsored by the federal government have long been held as significant in the nation’s history. Archaeological investigations sponsored by these programs have also had a special place in the history of the field (Lyon 1996). There are, however, programs that indirectly created a significant benefit for archaeological research today. ...

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Conclusion: Shovels at the Ready: Work Relief and American Archaeology—Today and Tomorrow

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pp. 235-242

New Deal excavations by “Forgotten Men and Women” in the 1930s and 1940s are demonstrably of continuing and critical importance to our evolving understanding of America’s past. Ordinary Americans during the Great Depression were given an otherwise unimaginable opportunity to make extraordinary finds ...


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pp. 243-290

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pp. 291-294

John L. Cordell is employed at the University of Iowa Office of the State Archaeologist (OSA) in Iowa City, Iowa. He has worked at the OSA since 1983 and has been repository manager since 1990. He has day-to-day responsibility for managing the approximately 4,000,000 items housed within the State Archaeological Repository at the OSA. ...


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pp. 295-316

E-ISBN-13: 9780817386252
Print-ISBN-13: 9780817357184

Page Count: 288
Publication Year: 2013

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Archaeology and state -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
  • Archaeology -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
  • Historic preservation -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
  • New Deal, 1933-1939.
  • United States. Work Projects Administration.
  • United States. Civilian Conservation Corp.
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