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Senior Archaeological Specialist | Knoxville, Tenn.
“I love history and I love sharing my passion with others. I am a doer, a restorer and a protector of things. I cherish the beauty of the past, just like my home.”
Archaeologists like to dig, right? Our cultural imagination is filled with excavations, of Indiana Jones-types hauling up ancient vessels, pre-modern weaponry, invaluable jewels and the like. But things are different for Erin Pritchard.
Sure, she’s spent her time excavating—with both a bachelor’s and masters in archaeology, she logged plenty of time in the field with a trowel in one hand and a brush in the other. But since coming to TVA, Pritchard’s focus has shifted to protecting the sensitive cultural resources that lie in the soil of the Tennessee Valley, not digging them up.
“My whole perspective has changed from working at TVA,” says Pritchard. “For me, it’s not just about digging things up any more; it’s about protecting them too. This is where Native Americans lived, where their ancestors died. We’re protecting these ancestral lands.”
TVA lands include some of the most significant archaeological sites in the southeast, she explains: “When people dig or remove illegally artifacts from TVA lands, they’re destroying archaeological sites. And when you dig a hole, you’re destroying part of that site. You’re destroying the context associated with that artifact, because to study human behavior you need to understand the relationship of that artifact with those that are found around it. And people don’t realize they could be impacting a grave.”
In order to increase TVA’s stewardship of these cultural resources, Pritchard has led an effort to increase public outreach and education. She and her team speak to school groups, and they’ve started a new program, A Thousand Eyes, in which they train citizen volunteers to monitor archaeological sites for damage from erosion, looting or other activities that may have an effect on these resources.
“I’m so excited that we’ve gotten this program started,” says Pritchard. “It’s just getting off the ground but it’s a great way for the community to be more involved in archaeology. They become our ambassadors in the community so they can share with their friends and neighbors, and hopefully interest will grow.”
It wasn’t just the archaeology that drew Pritchard to TVA—it was her own family too. Her great-grandfather, Charles Henry Garity, moved to Tennessee from Maryland in 1933 to become TVA’s first purchasing agent. Pritchard keeps his company portrait on her desk. Two great-aunts worked for TVA as well.
“TVA has a rich legacy that goes back to the 1930s,” Pritchard says. “I’m glad to be part of it. We’ve been able to do things in the past few years that have been really important in making TVA better stewards of the cultural resources in the Tennessee Valley.”
Technology has been key. “We’ve been developing a database to house 80 years of archaeological data that has never been pulled together in one place,” she explains. “We’ve worked with IT for three years to build it and now we’re plugging information into it so we can better manage these sites and resources.”
But data collection is hardly the point. Pritchard envisions a living, breathing system that will serve the public good—one intimately linked to TVA’s mission of stewardship. “We’re going to have a better inventory of the archaeological collections from TVA sites, and we want students to come do research on these materials,” she says. “In everything we do, we try to get the public to see what archeology is, and to have a greater appreciation of it. We’re not just doing this for the artifacts; we’re doing it for the community. This is about our collective American heritage.”
By putting the information in our collective hands, she’ll make archeologists of us all, here in the Tennessee Valley. And you don’t need to dig it to “dig it.”
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