Q and A with Time Team America's Eric Deetz

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With thirty years experience in the field, Eric Deetz can decipher the past like few others. Known as an adept teacher and excavation director, Eric believes public involvement in archaeology is paramount, and his innovative approach to speaking about history wins audiences over.  Eric took time out of his schedule to answer some questions about his experiences on the upcoming series Time Team America.  Here is what Eric had to say:

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SexyArchaeology (SA):   How did you come to be involved in archaeology?

Eric Deetz (ED):  I got interested in archaeology at a very young age. My father was an archaeologist of some note. All of us kids (there are nine of us) spent time at various points in our life “digging with dad.” When I was in my early teens I expressed this interest by hunting around all of the old bottle dumps in my home town of Plymouth, Massachusetts. Mostly we would bring home old mayonnaise jars and other 20th century stuff so my dad wasn’t concerned about us doing any damage to archaeological sites. One day we came home with the stem of an 18th century wine glass. My brother and I were then told about the archaeological version of the facts of life; especially why what we had done was wrong and the importance of proper archaeological methods. It was about this time I started volunteering more with him on some local sites.

SA:  You have over thirty years experience, you must have a lot of great stories. What were you doing before Time Team America?

ED:  For the last four years I have been doing CRM work in Northern Illinois. For ten years before that I was working for Bill Kelso at Jamestown. I will never experience other excavation like that. Important and unbelievable finds all the time. I worked for a few seasons at Flowerdew Hundred. Being able to say you worked at Flowerdew is a bit like being able to say you were at Woodstock. So most of my best stories will never come out of the vault!

SA:  How does working on Time Team America differ from other archaeological work you have done?

ED:  The three day time limit may seem arbitrary or unnecessary to some but it’s not that different than a lot of the projects I have worked on, especially in the world of CRM. Time is always an issue in archaeology. For instance working in the Caribbean is very expensive so you maximize the amount of work you get done. This often means long days and digging six or seven days a week. This doesn’t mean the archaeology is done poorly but it does make for a schedule similar to the long days we put in for Time Team America.

SA:  What sort of planning goes into an episode of Time Team America on your end? What do you do to prepare for an episode?

ED:  Lucky for us archaeologists the production staff did most of the logistical planning so all we had to do was study profiles of the sites we were going to work on and get our brains around the archaeological questions we were going to be addressing. Our Geophysics team, Meg and Brian, were not as lucky. They had to haul a great deal of expensive equipment all over the country.

SA:  Can you tell us what a typical day of shooting is like for you?

ED:  You have to divide up the shoot into its three separate days. For me day one was usually pretty calm. Not so much for Meg and Brian though. I would be setting up and getting ready to get the results from the Geophysics so all the pressure was on them. Day two was usually the least stressful, just a whole lot of digging, a real “heads down, butt up” kind of day. By the end of day two and into day three is when the field archaeologists start to feel the pressure. By that time you have an idea of what needs to be accomplished and you start stressing about getting it done between all of the filming.

SA:  The first series explores five locations around the United States. If the producers came to you with the option of choosing a site for season two, anywhere in the US, without restriction, where would you like to dig?

ED:  I would love to work on an early 17th Century site in New England. I have a few in mind, so we’ll see what happens.

SA:  What is the most enjoyable part of working on Time Team America?

ED:  Professionally, I learned a great deal. It was like taking a seminar in American Archaeology where you got to work on a different site each time you met. I also had a chance to meet some fantastic archaeologists that I may not have ever crossed paths with otherwise.  Personally, the production crew from OPB was the greatest bunch of folks you could have imagined. I had an absolute blast all summer long with these folks!

SA:  How is Time Team America making archaeology sexy?
ED:  Smart is sexy right?  So smart archaeology is sexy archaeology!

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You can view the first episode of Time Team America now by heading over to the PBS Digital Portal.  And don’t forget to watch Time Team America on Wednesdays starting July 8th at 8/7c on PBS.

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