In some circles, Frederick native Justin Dunnavant is thought to be the Godfather of Black archaeology.
At age 32, he’s the cofounder and president of the Society of Black Archaeologists. He graduated at age 15 from Gov. Thomas Johnson Excessive Faculty after skipping the eighth and twelfth grades. He has a doctorate and a grasp’s diploma from the College of Florida in anthropology and two bachelors levels from Howard College in historical past and anthropology. He has traveled the world as a Fulbright Scholar and speaks 5 languages, together with Arabic and Swahili.
“I inform individuals, I feel I’ve finished sufficient in my life to be comfortable,” Dunnavant stated in a telephone interview from Los Angeles, the place he’ll quickly be instructing archaeology at UCLA. “So, every little thing else is simply form of gravy on prime. My purpose is to proceed to encourage younger individuals to get into archaeology. I feel we do a foul job in participating and retaining younger individuals and getting them early on. There’s no assets and no option to seize their consideration.”
Archaeology was the right topic for Dunnavant. It paired his love of historical past together with his need to journey the world and discover.
It additionally offered a possibility.
“There have been few those who appeared like me doing archaeology,” Dunnavant stated, referring to his African-American heritage.
When Dunnavant was in second grade at Monocacy Elementary Faculty, his instructor referred to as in his mom, Sharlene, for a convention to inform her there wasn’t way more she might supply her son. He was too vivid. The instructor advisable Dunnavant instantly skip forward to 3rd grade. However the request was denied by the college, Sharlene stated.
Whereas his mates have been exterior skateboarding, Dunnavant was at house writing studies on the issues he realized at school. He would be a part of his mates on the skateboarding and social scene, but it surely was clear the place his priorities have been.
“Justin simply likes to spew info,” his mom stated.
His mates would tease him and name him a nerd, and Dunnavant would shoot again, “You’re illiterate.” He typically complained that his classmates wouldn’t let the lecturers educate. His thirst for data and understanding was fixed and deep.
When he entered highschool at age 12, after skipping eighth grade, there was some concern about how properly he would assimilate with older children. It was the identical when he enrolled at Howard College on a full scholarship at age 16.
However Sharlene was not frightened. Dunnavant had spent numerous time together with his two older brothers, Warren and Chase, and it was commonplace for him to be round older children who set an instance for him and saved him grounded.
“Justin goes to make a distinction on this world, and I don’t know what it’s,” Sharlene stated. “I inform him to be affected person and maintain doing what you’re doing. It’s all going to come back to you. God has a plan for this baby.”
Like most individuals, Dunnavant’s life has been utterly upended by the coronavirus pandemic. As a substitute of being out within the subject, mapping underwater shipwrecks as an archaeological advisor for the Smithsonian, he has been conducting most of his day-to-day enterprise just about over Zoom.
His journey schedule was as soon as so strong that Transportation Safety Administration brokers on the airport started to acknowledge him. However now it’s largely been lowered to shuttling between his present house base in Nashville, Tennessee, the place he’s doing post-doctorate analysis at Vanderbilt College, and Southern California, the place he can be completely dwelling in July.
In peculiar instances, Dunnavant can be spending most of his time on the Caribbean Island of St. Croix, the place a lot of his analysis on shipwrecks and the slave commerce are centered and the place he helps run a program that trains children to scuba dive and do archaeology.
“Justin by no means works a day in his life, as a result of he completely loves what he does,” his mom stated.
The digital world, fueled by the pandemic, has offered some unexpected advantages.
“The primary factor is, it has normalized Zoom,” Dunnavant stated. “That’s been notably good for our worldwide colleagues.”
When the protests and social unrest occurred throughout the summer season of 2020, Dunnavant stated each main archaeological group reached out to the Society of Black Archaeologists and expressed an curiosity in collaborating and dealing collectively.
In 2012, when Dunnavant and 4 of his analysis colleagues based the group, he stated there have been about 60 Black archaeologists that held doctorate levels.
That quantity has doubled over the previous 9 years, because the legacy grows with Dunnavant’s fingerprints throughout it.
“It’s been nice,” he stated. “Simply seeing that quantity develop and the connections which are rising from it’s wonderful. The truth that we’ve got colleagues that we’re speaking to in different nations, they usually expressed related views and are taken with collaborating, is large.”
Comply with Greg Swatek on Twitter: @greg_swatek