The University of West Georgia has waved goodbye to a beloved professor after he lead his final archaeological dig with his students.
Dr. Thomas Foster was a professor in the Anthropology Department and the director of the Antonio J. Waring, Jr. Archaeology Laboratory on campus. At the lab, Foster was responsible for ensuring that the lab was legally compliant, as well as managed grants and contracts.
“We manage more grants and contracts than any other department on campus,” Foster said. He was also responsible for public outreach, research and teaching at the lab. Foster has published two books, 25 peer-reviewed articles and presented almost 50 conference papers.
Foster’s research focuses on the Southeastern Indians, colonial period archaeology and ecology. This summer, Foster worked on an archaeological site in Holy Trinity, Ala. with volunteers, primarily UWG students and alumni.
“It is a Protohistoric and Historic period Hitchitee town called Apalachicola…who later became part of the Creek Nation,” Foster said. “We currently have a three-year NSF (National Science Foundation) grant to conduct a wide range of scientific studies at the site including archaeology, document research, palynology, botany, zoology, erosion studies and magnetometry.”
Foster has taught four archaeological field research classes; he taught one each summer for every year he has been a professor at UWG. “It is a normal university class in that you receive credit, but the course is conducted in the woods at the site,” he said. “We live on site and learn excavation methods by doing them.”
This summer, however, Foster allowed students to have a different experience with his site. Instead of paying tuition and special fees to learn archaeological methods, Foster let students volunteer at the site. Students were able to gain the experience they need in the field of archaeology without the normal constraints of taking the archaeological field methods class through the university. Foster also said that he and his students found a lot more this year because they had a “better idea of where household remains are” due to research conducted during past field researches.
This experience varies greatly from a typical university course. Students and volunteers generally loaded the university trucks with equipment by 7 a.m. and were out at the site shortly after. They worked in the Alabama heat and humidity until around 3 p.m., when they would load up and head back to where they were staying. Foster and his students lived under the same roof for almost two months—eating dinner together, spending free time with each other and lounging around after a hard day’s work. “The relationships I have developed over field schools are a lot stronger than in a classroom,” Foster said. “It brings us closer and shows more of my personality to them.”
However, Foster isn’t the only one who feels this way. Foster’s students, current and past, feel the same bond with each other and with Foster himself. Meggie Dunivent Miller, UWG alumnus, describes her relationship with Foster as a special breed. Miller graduated from UWG in 2009 but has volunteered at last summer’s field school and this past summer’s dig. She says that Foster is constantly inspiring her to further her education and work in anthropology.
“It was fun being able to be around him again,” Miller said. “It’s a good influence to keep you on track.” Miller also says that Foster has offered her support throughout the years, both professional and personal. “He’s always there no matter what you need.”
Foster has left UWG this fall to pursue a job opportunity at the University of Tulsa in Oklahoma. He plans to start a doctoral program at UT and expand his research in applied ecology. Several students are so dedicated to Foster that they have even decided to apply to UT for their Master’s and Doctorate degrees solely on the basis of continuing their work with him. Many students are still keeping in touch with Foster through email and phone conversation. It is clearly an understatement to say that Foster will be missed by the students and alumni of UWG.
Foster’s future plans include finishing his book about Apalachicola and writing a memoir on the experiences he has had working with his students over the years.
“I really enjoyed working with [all my students],” said Foster. “I will remember it forever.”