Digging deeper with Fort Johnson’s archaeology team

By Porsha AuzenneOctober 30, 2023

Digging deeper with Fort Johnson's archaeology team
1 / 3 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Sherry Wagener, demonstrating the use of an early spear. "Most people don’t realize how much technology Tribes had back then. (This spear) consists of two pieces: the hollow, lightweight shaft (gun) and the wooded piece with the projectile point attached (bullet). The shaft bounces off when a target is hit and you reload with another wooden piece. (Photo Credit: Porsha Auzenne) VIEW ORIGINAL
Digging deeper with Fort Johnson’s archaeology team
2 / 3 Show Caption + Hide Caption – This fossil of an extinct glyptotherium tail, also known as a giant armadillo, was discovered by Fort Johnson’s archaeology team. (Photo Credit: Porsha Auzenne) VIEW ORIGINAL
Digging deeper with Fort Johnson’s archaeology team
3 / 3 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Read on to learn about Fort Johnson archaeology. (Photo Credit: Porsha Auzenne) VIEW ORIGINAL

FORT JOHNSON, La. — Whether you’re a fan of Indiana Jones or Lara Croft, one thing that can probably be agreed upon is archaeologists have a pretty cool job. Though most don’t travel deep, dark, secret passages filled with booby traps, dodge round boulders trying to flatten them, or exchange live fire with bad guys, they do uncover history one brush stroke at a time. Whether fictional or real, archaeologists tend to be known for their hard work and dedication to their field.

International Archaeology Day, which is recognized the third Saturday in October (Oct. 21), celebrates the wondrous accomplishments of those in the archaeology field.

Fort Johnson’s very own team of archaeologists share what makes day-to-day life in the field rewarding and how important archaeology is to the local area.

“Archaeology is the study of past human culture, which includes information about history,” said Brad Laffitte, Fort Johnson’s cultural resources manager. “I think the archaeological and historical resources here help to enhance quality of life by providing a historical and cultural understanding of the area. We have many Soldiers who visit our office and want to learn more about the history of the area. We show them historical displays, answer their questions and provide them the resources they need. In that aspect, archaeology helps Soldiers gain a better understanding of the area in which they are training.”

Archaeology in and around the Fort Johnson area is also important to the local community.

“It’s important for the local Families. In 1941, the Families who lived here were displaced by eminent domain due to the nation’s need for training lands for World War II. Their sacrifice led to the creation of the installation. We have two heritage reunions each year where we provide access downrange for families to visit historic cemeteries and homesteads,” Laffitte said. “Most of the work we do reaches back thousands of years, but our work also involves managing cemeteries the heritage Families still visit today. We also coordinate and consult closely with 10 federally recognized tribes on Native American resources. Many people don’t realize that about archaeology, but there are many tribes and historic organizations that care about or have direct connections to these resources.”

With more than 50 years of continuous hard work done by both Fort Johnson’s current and former archaeology teams, many relics have been unearthed and preserved. These include arrowheads from Native American tribes, prehistoric pottery, and historic homestead remains built by the area’s early settlers. Other accomplishments include repair work done on 14 major cemeteries and working with the National Park Service to produce posters that show the types of projectile points and pottery found on the installation.

Sherry Wagener, a curation specialist at Fort Johnson, explained what being an archaeologist means to her.

“I love giving tours of the archaeology shop to visitors and doing the environmental compliance classes. Sometimes, parents ask if they can come back and bring their children. The answer is yes, and both always have fun learning about and interacting with the artifacts,” Wagener said.

It’s also important to protect the sites Fort Johnson’s archaeology team is currently examining.

“We have a diverse community from all over the country. I use the exhibits to give them a history lesson of the Fort Johnson area and explain it’s against the law to disturb archaeology sites,” Wagener said. “More importantly, if they know the history of a place, people tend to have more respect for that place and the individuals who live and have lived there. Fort Johnson isn’t just a spot on a map — it is important to highlight its historical context, which is what my team and I do.”

As International Archaeology Day comes and goes, one thing is clear — archaeologists work to bring the past back to life, and there is still much history waiting to be unearthed. Without archaeologists and their dedication, many relics seen in museums, history books and documentaries might still be beneath the surface.