After seven years as Florida's state archaeologist, a Sunshine State native has dug in at Phillips Academy.
Dr. Ryan J. Wheeler is the new director of the private school's Robert S. Peabody Museum of Archaeology on South Main Street.
Wheeler is the eighth director of the 111-year-old museum, one of the nation's major repositories of Native American archaeological collections. It has artifacts dating back 10,000 years.
Wheeler is a resident of Medford as his wife teaches at Tufts University. He was home with their baby boy for a year before he was hired. He started the job on July 10.
He said the Peabody position is somewhat similar to his former job. The Phillips Academy museum's mission is teaching students - not research - and teaching was also important at his Florida post.
Wheeler said he worked with students in Florida on various projects. He especially enjoyed helping them learn about a community's geographical history and what was formerly located on a community's land.
"That's what appealed to me about this job," he said. "Finding out history in a community is something I like."
In addition, Wheeler oversaw the design and construction of Miami Circle Park in downtown Miami. Now, there's public access to a nationally significant archaeological site that was saved from development. During the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, Wheeler also served as liaison to federal officials on behalf of the state's Historic Preservation Office.
He believes putting collections online is a good way to get people interested in the museum and is pleased that Phillips is interested in that trend.
"We don't have the funding for it, but people want to see what you have," Wheeler said. "I hope to do that."
Located on the PA campus at the intersection of South Main and Phillips streets, the museum — which almost closed in 2001 — is now more of an educational resource at the private high school. Phillips has transformed the once-shuttered museum building into a buzzing hive of activity. In 2008, Phillips Academy Board of Trustees unanimously approved a new strategic plan giving students significant access to its resources. More than 50 "lesson units" are now part of the curriculum and Wheeler is eager to be involved with those assignments, he said.
"Exploring history and learning about what was once here is very interesting to me," he said.
In fact, he's interested in learning what the Phillips Academy campus was like in the early 18th century and what it was used for. The academy opened in 1778, he said, and learning about its previous life would be this digger's dream.
"I think that would interest students as well," Wheeler said.
Dean of Studies John E. Rogers cited Wheeler's writings when he announced the appointment. Wheeler has authored or coauthored more than 30 articles in a number of journals, including "American Antiquity" and the "Southeastern Archaeology" and was editor of "The Florida Anthropologist." He is also a noted speaker, presenting his research to the annual assembly of the Society for American Archaeology, as well as to the Geological Society of America, Rogers said in a press release.
HISTORY IS PHONE CALL AWAY
Andover residents can visit the Robert S. Peabody Museum of Archaeology at Phillips Academy for free. Admission is by appointment only. Call 978-749-4490 to make an appointment.