History of the Southeastern Archaeological Conference

View the sixty-year commemoration poster, "Southeast Archaeological Conference, 1938 - 1998" on the NPS's Southeast Archeological Center Website.

The Southeastern Archaeological Conference (SEAC) was founded in response to the tremendous increase in federally-funded archaeological work in the Southeast during the 1930s. As noted by Stephen Williams (1960), projects in Louisiana, Tennessee, Alabama, and Georgia especially were generating more archaeological data every six months than in the "several previous decades". SEAC was created to allow excavators to quickly share new data with each other and to standardize ceramic types. In the fall of 1937, James A. Ford and James B. Griffin sent their colleagues a six-page mimeographed letter proposing a "Conference on Pottery Nomenclature for the Southeastern United States".

In May 1938, 13 archaeologists met at the Ceramic Repository of the University of Michigan and agreed on the requirements for adequate pottery description and typology that "set the main course of ceramic typology in the Southeast". The report proposed future gatherings of a similar nature that were to be by invitation only to "those who are working in, or are immediately interested in, the problems of correlating Southeastern ceramics". Participants were asked to send other members their descriptions of proposed pottery types well in advance of the conference and to bring with them "representative material", so that discussion would focus on matters already familiar, "not the introduction of new facts or ideas". Thus, SEAC was originally conceived as a small working conference of individuals actively engaged in the study of Southeastern ceramics.

The first conference was so successful and the need to continue its work so urgent that Jesse D. Jennings chaired a second conference in November 1938 at the Central Archaeological Laboratory, Birmingham, Alabama. "Ceramic classification was again the major topic of discussion and a five-period correlation chart of ceramic sequences in eleven regions of the Southeast was constructed" (Williams 1960).

February 1939 saw the publication of the first Southeastern Archaeological Conference Newsletter, edited by William G. Haag, who served as editor until 1960 when he was succeeded by Stephen Williams. The first Newsletter contained pottery type definitions from the initial conference. Two conferences were also held in 1939, in Birmingham, Alabama, and at Ocmulgee National Monument, Macon, Georgia. Subsequent meetings were held annually, except for an interruption during World War II.

Starting in 1940 and continuing for many years, each conference meeting had a major theme, although the exchange of data about current research remained important. In 1941, the theme was centered on research in four areas: Early Horizons, Hopewellian Phase, Middle Mississippi pottery, and the Protohistoric Horizons. Later themes included projectile point typology (1951), and the archaeology of historic tribes (1952). Conference papers and research notes were published in the Newsletter.

As the number of archaeologists in the Southeast grew, so did attendance at the annual conference. For example, at the 1961 Ocmulgee conference there were 91 participants. That year also marked the beginning of the first annual meeting of the newly-founded Conference on Historic Archaeology, held the day before the Southeastern Conference.

In 1964, the SEAC Newsletter was supplemented by an annual Bulletin in which the conference proceedings were published, while less formal contributions were included in the Newsletter. The Bulletin was succeeded in 1982 by the biannual journal Southeastern Archaeology, which has become an outstanding regional journal. Attendance at the annual conference remained relatively constant during the 1960s and early 1970s, and it was not until the 1974 meeting that attendance greatly exceeded 100. During the 1980s membership and conference attendance increased dramatically, reflecting in part the increased research and employment opportunities in contract archaeology.

By spring 2002, membership in the Southeastern Archaeological Conference had reached 1020 and attendance at the annual conference typically exceeds 450. Thematic gatherings have given way to concurrent sessions spanning two and a half days. Southeastern Archaeology now typically publishes over 200 pages per year of articles and book reviews.

Despite its increased size, SEAC retains a strong sense of tradition and the annual conference is regarded as a truly special occasion by the membership. If you are not a member, please take advantage of the membership form on this web site. If you are a member, thank you for your support in making the Southeastern Archaeological Conference one of the premier regional organizations in America.