Award for Distinguished Scholarship
Associate Professor of Anthropology and Sociology
David Starbuck has learned that when you are an archaeologist and a professor, sooner or later people will compare you to Indiana Jones. And while he doesn’t often find himself trotting the globe in search of treasure while being pursued by nefarious rivals, his work has its share of thrills.
For more than three decades, Starbuck has been leading excavations throughout the northeastern United States, training hundreds of students in the techniques of archaeology. These excavations have shed light on the lives of the Canterbury Shakers as well as on late 18th century soldiers and officers of the battlefields of northern New York.
Working under a hot sun and moving heavy shovelfuls of dirt can be grueling, but Starbuck loves what he does.“I enjoy being outdoors, the thrill of discovery, and the opportunity to share it with people,” Starbuck explains. And share he does: Starbuck’s work has been featured on The History Channel, The Learning Channel, National Public Radio, and in National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, and Discover. He has also authored more than a dozen monographs and more than a hundred journal articles and papers.
Perhaps his greatest satisfaction comes from sharing his passion for archaeology with his students.“I wouldn’t want to do research all the time. I like connecting with students,” says Starbuck, who has taught at Plymouth State since 1993. “They are engaged, inquisitive, and want to be part of the research process.”
In addition to the excavations in New York and New Hampshire, Starbuck and his students have conducted archaeological and historical research on Loch Lomond, Scotland, where his mother’s ancestors lived. “That’s another kind of thrill, digging up your own ancestors’ artifacts,” Starbuck notes. “To be on my ancestors’ land with my students, and to try and understand what their lives were like, is very gratifying.”
Most recently, Starbuck has been digging closer to home: his family’s farm in the Adirondacks, which has been in the Starbuck family since the 1790s. “For years, I’ve wondered if there would ever be something worth digging up at the farm,” he says. A recent renovation project revealed a large dump containing numerous pairs of shoes, scraps of leather, glass bottles, and other artifacts, many of which are currently in the archaeology lab in Rounds Hall. With more renovations planned, Starbuck is excited to see what else he’ll dig up. It may not be the stuff of a blockbuster movie franchise, but that’s okay with him. “A lot of research can seem so distant from our own lives,” says Starbuck.
“But this is relevant to my own life, and that’s a cool thing.”