Modern technology, ancient history

Published 9:32 pm Wednesday, July 5, 2023

Archaeologist and Ice Age expert Jesse Tune joined the faculty at the University of Mississippi July 1 as the new director of the Center for Archaeological Research.

For the past six years, Tune has studied landscapes of the earliest humans in a unique way: with drones.

“I’ve used a lot of drone-based remote sensing methodologies to help locate archaeological sites,” Tune said. “In addition to just locating those sites, I’m able to map the surrounding landscape at a very high resolution.

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“I can better understand why the site might have been there – things like why people chose to live in one river valley over another and what environmental factors played into their decisions.”

“We are very fortunate to have Dr. Tune joining us here at the University of Mississippi to lead the Center for Archaeological Research,” said Jeff Jackson, chair of the Department of Sociology and Anthropology and professor of sociology. “Students will be thrilled to work with him because he brings the latest research technologies to bear on questions of great importance to the world today.”

Tune, an associate professor of archaeology at Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado, specializes in Ice Age migrations and the colonization of new landscapes. His research aims to answer questions surrounding how humans adapt to new or changing environments and limited resources.

He received bachelor’s degrees in aerospace and anthropology before earning a doctoral degree in anthropology from Texas A&M University in 2015. It was natural to combine his interests in aerospace and archaeology, he said.

“I use drones and lidar (a laser light sensing method) that allow me to look through the tree canopy to see the topography below the trees,” Tune said. “I can identify hidden landforms like where river channels used to be. Such landforms may be obscured today by dramatic environmental shifts but would have been important resources to people in the past.”

“We try to peel back some of those layers. It’s just one more way we can approach understanding the people and how they interacted with their environment.”

Tune has worked at archaeological sites and studied artifact collections in 10 states, Mississippi included. He has excavated mastodons in Tennessee and worked on some of the oldest archaeological sites in North America.

Ashley Smallwood, associate professor of anthropology at the University of Louisville, co-authored the book, “The American Southeast at the End of the Ice Age,” with Tune.

“Dr. Tune applies his skills in stone tool analysis and remote sensing to investigate adaptations and archaeological landscapes of pre-contact Indigenous populations of the American Southeast,” Smallwood said. “He has also become a leading voice advocating for the critical evaluation of proposed early sites.

“He is an accomplished researcher, as well as excellent teacher and mentor. I look forward to following his career as director of the Center of Archaeological Research at Ole Miss.”

At Fort Lewis College, Tune directs the Hunter-Gather Research Collaborative and Lab, which studies hunter-gatherer behaviors during the Pleistocene-Holocene transition period. The lab gives students opportunities to develop projects using traditional archaeological methods along with cutting-edge data acquisition methods, such as drone-mounted remote sensing.

Tune is enthusiastic about bringing these methodologies to students at Ole Miss. He said he is fortunate to be named director of the CAR because of the “work and dedication that previous archaeologists at the center have done.”

“Moving forward, I’d like to see the center expand to focus on the entire Southeast and North America more broadly where we’re asking archaeological questions related to human responses to environmental change,” he said. “I want to help students get training not just with the tools and the concepts that we use, but also to train them to think about why archaeology matters and why it’s significant in 2023.

“Most people think archaeology is just about the past. We’re working with chapters of human history that have already been written, but if we are to ever have a better understanding of where we are going, we have to understand where we came from.”