Johnson is professor of the past at Ole Miss


Daily Journal Oxford Bureau

OXFORD – Brimming bookshelves fill each nook and cranny of Jay Johnson's small university office, but he doesn't mind the cramped quarters. He would rather be outside anyway.

“I tell students, if you don't like being dirty and hot and bug-bitten, archaeology is probably not the job for you,” he said speaking from his office in Leavell Hall.

Johnson is the director of the Center for Archaeological Research at the University of Mississippi, and over the past 30 years, he has witnessed remarkable technological changes in the fields of archeology and anthropology that are making the process of locating and uncovering sites much easier.

When Johnson joined the University of Mississippi teaching staff in 1976, he never imagined he would still be here 30 years later. A Panama City, Fla. native, Johnson graduated from Florida State University where he discovered archaeology by accident.

Through a general elective anthropology course, Johnson was able to work with Florida archaeologists excavating a downtown block in Tallahassee.

The hands-on work fascinated Johnson, so from the start he tried to involve students in actual field work.

Some of his first archaeology students examined the trash in a campus dumpster to make observations about campus life.

Today, Johnson's students are using new technology to explore real archaeology sites including the Parchman Place Indian mounds near the town of Coahoma in the Mississippi Delta.

“It is much easier to teach in the field where they learn by doing,” he said. “Also, by working on big sites they develop a feel for how good the job can get.”

It is likely to be the last year students will work on the project which started in 2002, Johnson said.

However, the Archaeological Conservancy, which owns the Parchman mounds and other archaeological sites, has more work for students to do at a new site near the Mississippi River.

Students are using a host of new technology including gradiometers, conductivity meters, resistance meters and thermal sensors to create a clear picture of what sites looked like and where to look for artifacts.

The process is a far-cry from the old way of excavating which involved tilling land and waiting for a rain to reveal a concentration of artifacts or soils on the surface.

“I remember one project where we just sat around and waited for a week for it to rain so we could see what we had uncovered,” he said.

Contact Jennifer Farish at 281-1069 or

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