card
234

David Hurst Thomas

OLogy Series
ologist
card
234

David Hurst Thomas

OLogy Series
ologist

As an Eagle Scout, David Hurst Thomas was always on the lookout for ancient Indian camps. He never found one as a kid, but he got his chance when he grew up. Dave became an archaeologist, a scientist who studies past cultures from the materials they left behind. He has made some amazing discoveries, such as the Gatecliff Shelter in Nevada, the deepest rock shelter known in the Americas. He also found the buried Spanish mission of Santa Catalina de Guale on Georgia’s coast, lost for more than 300 years.

Mission Impossible

One of the most important 16th/17th century settlements along the Southeast United States coastline was a Spanish mission called Santa Catalina de Guale (translation: Mission St. Catherines to the Guale Indians).

Most experts believed the mission had been on St. Catherine’s Island, but no one knew exactly where.

To find the lost mission, Dave’s team from the American Museum of Natural History began an archaeological survey of the entire island.

They used multiple remote sensing technologies to project what might be buried there and these findings showed them where best to excavate.

The survey project took four years. But when they finally began to dig, they uncovered the church itself almost immediately. They had found Santa Catalina de Guale!

Dave works closely with native people, out of respect and also because of their extensive knowledge of their own past. In recent years, native groups have used archaeology to:

learn more about their own past

preserve sacred sites

both A and B

Are you right?

Correct!

Archaeology has also helped tribes build education programs and has provided valuable evidence to help reclaim tribal land.

Growing up, Dave was an active Boy Scout. Today, he cowrites the merit badge pamphlet for:

environmental science

fire safety

Indian lore

Are you right?

Correct!

American Indian lore—an understanding of Native American culture and its archaeology—is an important part of the Boy Scouts program. Dave also works to improve the relationship between Native American communities and scientists like archaeologist and anthropologists.

Davis Hurst Thomas, archaeologist

Sometimes archeological sites are full of treasures, but usually they’re just loaded with garbage—discarded stuff that ancient people left behind. We always try to remember that it’s not about what we find, it’s what we find out.

Davis Hurst Thomas, archaeologist

When I was young, I read an article about archaeology in Boys Life scouting magazine. At that point, I thought that archaeology might be a pretty neat hobby.

Dave has made many important discoveries. A very important one was Gatecliff Shelter in Nevada.

Fact
or
Fiction
?

Fact

This is the deepest cave or rock shelter known in the Americas. The artifact-rich deposits are more than 40 feet deep. And the oldest of these stratified archaeological strata is more than 8,000 years old!

Dave has dug up mummies.

Fact
or
Fiction
?

Fact

Every once in a while, his team encounters buried mummies. In the Americas, most of these are natural mummies. They have dried up in a very arid place inside a cave and sometimes outside in the extreme desert.

Hometown: Oakland, California

Education: Ph.D., University of California at Davis

Job: Curator of North American Archaeology at the American Museum of Natural History

Known for: Studying Native American sites and colonial missions in the Southwest and Southeast United States; founding trustee at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian

Favorite Artifact in the Museum: 63-foot long Native American “Great Canoe” (This was the first Museum artifact ever shown on a U.S. postage stamp!)

Cool Fact: Sixty years after he received the Boy Scout merit badge for Indian lore, Dave now writes the book of instructions showing modern Scouts how to receive the same award.

Image credits: © D.Thomas; © AMNH; © AMNH.