Bringing Private Artifact Collections into the Light

Andrew Krawczyk

In addition to professional archaeologists, many students conduct archaeological research in South Carolina. As part of Archaeology Month we are featuring a fraction of that research in a series of posts written by students. Our first contribution is from Andrew Krawczyk, a senior at the University of South Carolina who discusses his journey through archaeology and his passion for bringing together professional and avocational archaeologists.

Hailing from the upstate of South Carolina, our great state’s past has always called to me. From an early age, I knew that I was devoted to understanding the past and present cultures that have occupied its land. Like many archaeologists, I got first “taste” of artifacts by walking the plowed fields of farms around the Upstate and Lowcountry of South Carolina. I will never forget my excitement when I found my first “arrahead”, as my Appalachian grandfather called them, between two ankle-high corn stalks in a recently plowed field. Its white quartz material contrasted the Upstate’s red clay beautifully. At that point, my grandfather’s proud smile knew he had piqued an interest in history, science, and archaeology in a seven-year-old boy. I remember sitting in my elementary school classes yearning to get back out into a farm field to continue my searches and I passed time in class by creating very rudimentary maps that showed where I had found these artifacts. Seeing that I was artifact-crazed, my grandfather introduced me to various collectors who were willing to share the innumerable finds and purchase with a bright-eyed child full of curiosity. Little did I know, these initial encounters would spark a fascination not only with material culture from the past, but with a specific population that is equally gripped with the same fascination that drives all archaeologists. As years passed by, I attended numerous artifact trade shows in convention centers across the Southeastern United States, taking in as much as I could from the collectors. They taught me most of what I know about dating historic material, the typology of military buttons, how to find prehistoric and historic sites, and even the botanical elements that one can observe occupying these sites.

As a result, I had it instilled in me at an early age that collectors and avocational archaeologists had a lot to share; however, it was also at this time that I learned about a rift that has historically divided the avocational and professional archaeology communities. Due to distrust and misunderstandings, both sides have contributed to a gap that occasionally causes issues and tensions while researching an archaeological site or community. While upholding the values, ethics, and methodological approaches of professional archaeology, my senior thesis aims to bridge this frayed relationship between avocational archaeologists, private collectors, and professional archaeologists to benefit the public as a form of action research.

Originally, I intended to conduct my research and write my senior thesis on the backcountry fortifications of South Carolina, but after being advised by Dr. Eric Jones of the University of South Carolina, I was drawn back to my roots. Private collectors and avocational archaeologists have helped pave my career path, and I am extremely interested in seeing how professional archaeologists can work with these individuals to benefit the citizens of South Carolina. With the help of Dr. Eric Jones and Ph.D. student Nina Schreiner, I have begun an independent study that allows me to conduct background research while networking with interested private collectors across the state. Focusing on artifacts recovered in South Carolina by collectors and avocational archaeologists, I hope to not only encourage collaboration between these individuals and researchers, but also provide an open dialogue and raise questions regarding private collections and their role in a broader community. As I examine where privately held artifacts serve their best purpose, I would also like to champion the role of modern technology by utilizing photography and photogrammetry to upload these artifacts t oa database with the private collectors’ and descendant communities’ permission so that any interested interested South Carolinian can learn or teach from the material culture that has been found around the state.

If you would like to contact me regarding my senior research thesis, please feel free to send me an email at krawczya@email.sc.edu.

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