Friday, June 23, 2017

Dad and Alabama Archaeology

During the early years that my brother Richard and I were growing up in Huntsville, dad [Amos J. Wright, Jr.] worked on two hobbies as time permitted--coin and stamp collecting. Richard collects both to this day. We had a lot of fun with those activities as kids, and learned a bit of history and geography in the process. One fond childhood memory is that bag of coins dad would bring home from the bank on many Fridays. We spent lots of time looking for "Indian" head pennies, buffalo nickels and other goodies. 

In the early 1960's dad became involved in another "hobby" that soon developed into something more. He joined the Alabama Archaeological Society in 1962, just eight years after the organization was founded. This group of mostly "amateurs" and a few professional archaeologists met regularly and published both a newsletter and a scholarly journal. 

Richard, mom and I were soon going along with dad on wintertime Saturday trips to cotton, corn and other fields all over north Alabama and into southern Tennessee looking for artifacts. After getting the owner's permission, the four of us would fan out--often on cold days and tromping through mud--and pick up everything: projectile points, pieces of points, pottery shards, anything that looked like the hand of man had worked it.

We brought home lots of material and now and then some interesting stories unrelated to archaeology. One I remember is the time mom was walking along a corn row for some distance and sensed an animal in the row beside her heading in the same direction. She didn't really pay much attention, thinking it was probably a friendly dog, until she reached the end of the corn row and realized the creature was a skunk!

There was a routine for dealing with the artifacts we carried home. We washed them, of course, and once dry dad would go to work. He labelled each piece we found--large, small or tiny--with three pieces of information: the site code where we found the item as established by the state archaeological society, the month and year, and the initials of the finder. Then he varnished over the info so it wouldn't flake off. Thus we could look at a piece and determine that mom found it in January 1968 at a particular site in Morgan County. The site location code and the fact we picked up everything made all this material more useful to future researchers now that much of it has been donated to the Office of Archaeological Research at Moundville. 

By the time dad died in July 2003, he had made numerous contributions to Alabama archaeology. He served the AAS as  President, Vice-President, Program Chair, and as long-time member of the Board of Trustees. He edited the group's Stones and Bones newsletter from 1977 until 1991 and worked as associate editor before that. The group gave him an Honorary Life membership in 1992. 

His numerous other awards related to state archaeology are noted in one of the memorial articles below. Gov. George Wallace appointed him to the Alabama DeSoto Commission in 1985. That group was charged with making a new attempt to determine the Spanish explorer's route through Alabama.  He also published several scholarly articles related to archaeology in the state, as noted below.

Comments are below some of the images.

Dad's knowledge of computers via his job with the U.S. Army's Ordinance Missle Command at Redstone Arsenal resulted in one of the early articles published on programming applications to projectile point classification. See below for more information on that article. He made several framed cases of arrowheads like the one shown to use when he gave talks at schools and elsewhere. We still have them in the family. It's a nice juxtaposition with that 1968 mainframe computer terminal!

Dad published two books; this one appeared from the University of Alabama Press not long before his death. He spent many years researching it in numerous libraries and archives around the Southeast. 

Dad's first book was published in 2000 and was also the fruit of many research trips. 

These special remembrances of dad were written by his long-time friend Jim Lee and another friend and AAS colleague Bart  Henson and published in the September/October 2003 issue of the Stones and Bones. Mr. Henson tells the story of the Great Winston County Aboriginal Sandstone Quarry Hunt led by my maternal grandfather, the Rev. John M. Shores. I remember that day well; granddaddy thought he could take us right to the location of the rocks with the strange markings. We spent a long time that day wandering around while he tried to recall landmarks near that spot. Dad and Mr. Henson later published an article on the topic; see below. 

Journal covers, first pages and some illustrations from a selection of dad's articles are below. He had mom as a co-author on one of them; she found the artifact!


Wright, Amos J. and Roger Yates. A Ceremonial Pipe. Journal of Alabama Archaeology 15(2): 59062, December 1969

Wright, Amos J. Upper Alabama River Historic Indian Towns and their Inhabitants. Journal of Alabama Archaeology 24(2): 102-117, December 1978

Various book reviews and other items in the Stones and Bones newsletter

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