Thomas Emerson to retire

February 6, 2018
Media Contact: Angie Patton
For Immediate Release

Dr. Thomas E. EmersonIllinois State Archaeological Survey Director and Illinois’ First State Archaeologist Announces Retirement

Dr. Thomas E. Emerson, director of the Illinois State Archaeological Survey (ISAS) and Illinois’ first State Archaeologist, announced he will be retiring at the end of December 2018. Dr. Emerson’s career has spanned over 45 years in cultural resource management and he has been director of ISAS since 1994.

Dr. Emerson began his archaeology career in 1971, participating in the salvage of the Orendorf site in central Illinois. After a short stint in South Dakota surveying the Missouri Breaks and excavating the Crow Creek massacre site, he returned to Illinois. In 1978–1981 he was a site director on the Illinois Department of Transportation’s FAI 270 project. From 1984–1994 Emerson was Chief Archaeologist at the newly formed Illinois Historic Preservation Agency. At IHPA, he carried out state and federal review and compliance, managed the archaeological resources on state lands, and was the primary author of the Human Skeletal Remains Protection Act (20 ILCS 3440), the Archaeological and Paleontological Resources Protection Act (20 ILCS 3435), and accompanying regulations. In 1994, he became the director of the Illinois Transportation Archaeological Research Program, which transitioned into the Illinois State Archaeological Survey in 2010. In 2013, he was named the first Illinois State Archaeologist by then Governor Pat Quinn.

During his tenure as director of ISAS he earned numerous prestigious awards as both the architect and director of an outstanding transportation archaeology and cultural resource management program that achieved national prominence. In 2010, ISAS was awarded the Exemplary Human Environment Initiative award by the Federal Highway Administration. The award was for the Project Notification System Section 106 Tribal Consultation that provides information to tribes with an interest in lands affected by Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) projects. In 2011, the Federal Highway Administration awarded ISAS the Environmental Excellence Award for Excellence in Cultural and Historical Resources: New Mississippi River Bridge Project. The award recognized ISAS and IDOT’s deep commitment to preserving heritage sites while efficiently improving the nation’s infrastructure. The New Mississippi River Bridge Project, now called the Stan Musial Veterans Memorial Bridge, was the largest excavation in the United States from 2008–2012. In 2015, Emerson and ISAS’ East St. Louis Archaeological Project were recognized as one of the 10 most important international archaeological discoveries and received the Chinese Academy of Science’s Field Discovery Award. 

Dr. Emerson is a champion of publishing archaeological research and his contributions to writing and publishing research are unparalleled in Midcontinental archaeology. His articles have been featured inAmerican AntiquityMidcontinental Journal of ArchaeologyIllinois ArchaeologyJournal of Archaeological ScienceProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States, Cambridge Archaeological Review, and Journal of Field Archaeology to name a few. He has served as volume editor for the MCJA (eight years) and Illinois Archaeology (13 years) journals. In addition, he founded and served as editor for 10 publication series and published nearly 20 authored and edited volumes and about 150 book chapters and articles. He is currently deeply involved in documenting and preparing for publication the East St. Louis Archaeological Project discoveries.

Dr. Emerson earned numerous awards from peers and professional organizations recognizing his outstanding work, research, and contributions to Illinois archaeology:

2016 Society for American Archaeology’s Award for Excellence in Cultural Resource Management. Presented for Research at the SAA Annual meeting, April 8, Orlando, FL.

2014 Midwest Archaeological Conference Distinguished Career Award. Presented at the Midwest Archaeological Conference 58th Annual meeting, October 2–4, Champaign IL.

2014 Illinois Archaeology Career Achievement Award. Presented by the Illinois Archaeological Survey at the 58th Annual Meeting, October 2, Champaign, IL.

2014 Charles R. McGimsey III – Hester A. Davis Distinguished Service Award. Presented by the Register of Professional Archaeologists at the Society of American Archaeology meetings, Austin, TX, April 25.

2001 Department of Anthropology nominee for the Chancellor Academic Professional’s Excellence Award.

1997 Distinguished Service Award. Department of Anthropology, UIUC.

1996 Charles J. Bareis Distinguished Service Award presented by the Illinois Archaeological Survey for “accomplishments that are extraordinary in every sense of the word and are of a positive and lasting quality". Awarded for organizing a four-year effort to save the Grand Village of the Illinois from destruction by development.

“Tom Emerson has shown extraordinary dedication to and passion for archaeology in Illinois,” said Prairie Research Institute executive director Mark Ryan. “He’s shepherded the Illinois State Archaeological Survey through many ups and downs and can retire knowing that he has positioned the organization to continue to ably serve the state of Illinois for many years into the future.”

For a full review of Dr. Emerson’s contributions to midcontinental archaeology see “Thomas E. Emerson and the Development of Illinois Archaeology” by John A. Walthall and Timothy R. Pauketat in Cahokia and Beyond: Essays in honor of Thomas E. Emerson, edited by John A. Walthall and David J. Nolan, Illinois Archaeology 28(1&2) 1–52.