Archaeology Magazine Archive

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

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Writing Unwritten History Volume 53 Number 6, November/December 2000
by Joe Watkins

An archaeologist and American Indian walks the tightrope of a double life.

"Into each life, it is said, some rain must fall, some people have bad horoscopes, others take tips on the stock market. But Indians have been cursed above all other people in history. Indians have anthropologists."

--Vine Deloria, Jr.

I laughed as I read those words excerpted from Custer Died for Your Sins in the August 1969 edition of Playboy, for I was gripped immediately by the irony that here I was, an incoming freshman at the University of Oklahoma majoring in anthropology, and also an American Indian. My interest in the unwritten history of Native Americans had drawn me to archaeology, and the University of Oklahoma was just 25 miles down Interstate 35 from my home in Oklahoma City, the heart of "Indian Country." In 1993, I began in my current job as the agency archaeologist at the Bureau of Indian Affairs in southwest Oklahoma. I remain intrigued by the relationships between archaeologists and American Indians, and may now be in a better position to make a difference. I try to show American Indians the ways they can use archaeology to meet their goals, and believe that archaeology will function best not as an esoteric science which neatly sorts potsherds and arrowheads into even rows, but as a collection of methods and theories that offer us insights into the ways that people in the past coped with their daily lives and environments. Perhaps some archaeologists have forgotten that those were real people with hopes, fears, sorrows, and joys. I know that American Indians have not forgotten. But I am still caught in the middle.

Joe Watkins lives in Oklahoma with his wife and two children where he is employed by the Bureau of Indian Affairs as the Anadarko Agency archaeologist.

© 2000 by the Archaeological Institute of America