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Waring Lab Director Thrives on Public Outreach

When Henrietta Waring gave $1 million to the University of West Georgia in 1995 in memory of her late husband, Antonio J. Waring, Jr., the gift funded the Antonio J. Waring, Jr. Anthropology Endowment and distinguished the University of West Georgia as one of the very few universities in the country that can claim an endowed undergraduate anthropology program.

Dr. Thomas Foster

Dr. Thomas Foster

The endowment and a second gift made possible an endowed professorship, a thriving Antonio J. Waring Archaeology Laboratory, the Waring Distinguished Lecture Series, and funding for an undergraduate program at the Department of Anthropology.

Located on campus, the Waring Laboratory is the only facility of its type in Georgia and is specifically designed to meet both academic needs and federal standards for the curation of prehistoric and historic archaeological collections. The two-level, 10,000-square-foot structure is climate-controlled, so both temperature and humidity are maintained at appropriate levels for its collections.  The Waring Laboratory curates nationally important collections from all over the southeast.

Dr. Thomas Foster accepted an endowed professorship of anthropology and the job of director of the Waring Lab this summer.

Foster, who began his college years studying banking at Georgia State University, took an astronomy class and then an anthropology course and found his calling. His specialty and his passion is the study of Creek and Southeastern Native Indians, how they lived, and the impact of Europeans upon their culture.

A strong advocate for public outreach, Foster will be a guest lecturer at the Columbus Museum in Columbus, Georgia on October 23 and a speaker to the Friends of MacIntosh Reserve in Carrollton, Georgia on October 30. He helped developed a major exhibit at the Columbus Museum that featured one of his ongoing projects, the Apalachicola Ecosystems Project, the heritage of the Chattahoochee River region, and the colonial settlement of the area and its native people. 

He has published extensively on this research also.  His most recent book entitled the "Archaeology of Lower Muskogee Creek Indians, 1715-1836" from the University of Alabama Press synthesizes the archaeological knowledge of the Historic Creek Indians from eastern Alabama and western Georgia. 

“When we study what people did in the past it helps to understand how to have sustainable economies now,” said Foster. “I am interested in how people adapt to social and economic conditions over time.”

Foster moved to Carrollton with his wife and two children after teaching at Northern Kentucky University. A native of Georgia, he earned his bachelor’s degree at UGA and his master’s and doctorate at Pennsylvania State University.

Foster said the endowed Waring Lab and undergraduate anthropology program fits into his ideals of community service, public outreach and academic integrity.  

"The Department of Anthropology and the Waring Laboratory have an outstanding reputation throughout the region," said Foster.

Foster thrives on public speaking and on his role as an ambassador for education, archaeology, and research.  An outspoken person when it comes to the importance of heritage preservation, he is a frequent invited speaker and has given speeches at the capital in Montgomery, AL, national scientific organizations, and at numerous archaeological association functions and museums.

He has begun a series of projects where project members are involved in public speaking, hands-on public activities and development of museum exhibits. He also has a proposal submitted to the GPB radio station on campus to begin a weekly radio show.

“Scientific research should be communicated to the public,” said Foster. “If the public is engaged, then they will be more likely to support research and preserve cultural resources. I am combating site destruction through public education and outreach.”

His enthusiasm for a cracked piece of pottery is evident when he explains that even Native Indians left behind their trash thousands of years ago. That trash is a lesson in how the Indians lived and how they died.

The laboratory staff, UWG students and community volunteers work in the lab, in schools, at community events and with K-12 students at the mock excavation site adjacent to the lab. From arrowheads to animal skulls, the lab has collected, researched and documented thousands of artifacts for the federal and state governments and other organizations. 

“We are a major curator center in the state of Georgia for the state and the federal government,” said Foster. “The Anthropology Department has the largest endowment in the state; we’ve got the most realistic mock excavation site I’ve ever seen. The university is the best place to be if you want to study anthropology as an undergraduate.”

Antonio Waring, Jr., was a Savannah pediatrician who had been fascinated with archaeology since childhood. He retired from a successful medical practice in 1962 and devoted his full attention to the field for more than two decades.

Waring established relationships and worked with many of the Southeast’s leading professional archaeologists, including Professor Emeritus of Anthropology Dr. Lewis Larson, a long-time UWG faculty member.

Thanks to a $1 million gift and a $223,000 charitable remainder trust made by Henrietta Waring in memory of her husband, Antonio J. Waring, Jr., the university has an endowed undergraduate anthropology program, a unique archaeological laboratory and the new endowed Antonio J. Waring, Jr., Archaeology Professorship. An annual Waring Archaeological Open House for the community and the Waring Distinguished Lecturer Series are also made possible by the Waring gifts.


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