Western Carolina University’s Ben Steere, assistant professor of anthropology and co-director of Cherokee Studies Programs, is recipient of the Principal Chief Leon D. Jones Award for Archaeological Excellence, presented by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.
The award is given for outstanding service to the tribe in the endeavors of archaeology and historic preservation by the Tribal Historic Preservation Office, and was recently presented to him in ceremonies at the Cherokee Archaeology Symposium, held in Cherokee.
Steere has conducted extensive research over the past five years on Cherokee towns and mounds, and has mapped locations. He also has examined the native people’s evolving household construction, as well as trade patterns and lifestyles.
Prior to the late 19th century, the mountain valleys of the region were marked by dozens of platform mounds and townhouses built by the Cherokee and their ancestors. The work that earned Steere the award is ongoing.
Archaeologists working in Western North Carolina and the Eastern Band share a common concern about the need for an improved and expanded understanding of the archaeology of the Cherokee heartland, Steere said. “Ours is a collaborative effort with the Eastern Band,” he said. “The field work, documentation and research is looking into their birthright, their history, and we have to remember that extends well beyond the Qualla Boundary. You have to respect the sites, the current landowners, and build bridges that benefit collective knowledge.”
The collaboration is representative of a broader movement he refers to as indigenous archaeology, which is research done with, by and for an indigenous community. “Conducting projects while respecting traditional Cherokee beliefs about the treatment of sacred places, graves and ceremonial objects leads to better understanding and contributes to the preservation of Cherokee culture,” he said.
Steere obtained his doctoral degree in anthropology from the University of Georgia in 2011. He joined the WCU faculty in 2015 and also serves on the Southeastern Archaeological Conference Public Outreach Committee.
The award also recognizes teaching from a Cherokee perspective. “We’re looking forward to an upcoming summer field school in archaeology on the Qualla Boundary,” Steere said. “This will continue our community-based research and strengthen the WCU and Eastern Band ties even further.”