When Brad Erickson was in high school, he once built a computer just for fun because he enjoyed tinkering with things. Others noticed that even at an early age he enjoyed putting things together and taking them apart, studying the science of how things work. Years later, that love for digging deeper has taken Erickson halfway around the world.
“As a student at DCHS we saw a true passion for world history start to evolve,” said his mother Shannon Erickson. “I didn’t know at the time Brad would become an archeologist but I suspected that whatever career path he chose would involve either history or science or both.”
As a child, Brad recalls his parents fostering a love for exploration and hands-on learning. His family spent their summers hiking and exploring the woods where he lived. While visiting national parks around the country, he would get to see ancient North American sites like Bandelier National Park in New Mexico. One memory that sticks out to him is the repeated visits to the Chicago Field Museum and getting to “excavate” a dinosaur bone in the children’s exhibit.
“I usually don’t share this story because confusing archaeology with paleontology is the bane of an archaeologists existence,” Brad said. “We excavate material culture created by humans and not dinosaurs.”
After graduating from Daviess County High School in 2005, Brad studied at Centre College as a double major in history and religious studies. He completed his Master’s work at Duke Divinity School graduating in 2012. He is currently in his seventh and final year of Ph.D. work at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Even with all his success, Brad can remember two special teachers that stood out to him as he started his educational journey.
“Jill Mueller and Bill Guesche, both of whom I had as history teachers at DCHS, helped me foster a love for history and taught me to think critically about historical narratives,” Brad said.
Later, Brad began to travel extensively and while at Centre College spent a semester studying in England and backpacking through Europe with friends. He was exposed to the history that he had only read about in books. Perhaps this is when the foundation of his career began to take shape.
His specialty in archaeology is 3D imaging of material culture. On the two excavations where he currently works – -the Huqoq Excavation Project in the Galilee of Israel and the Ayn Gharandal Archaeological Project in southern Jordan — both are supervised on site by Brad. He also creates 3D models of what is uncovered using the process of photogrammetry.
“Photogrammetry is the production of three-dimensional data from two-dimensional records, such as photographs,” Brad said. “These 3D models can be used to generate measurements of objects, to educate students in the classroom, or to revisit a site if it was backfilled or destroyed.”
Brad incorporates 3D models with virtual reality to allow people to walk through and see what an active excavation is like.
“I loved puzzles growing up. My grandmother, Dottie Morrison, would frequently give my sister and me logic problems to solve,” Bradn said. “An archaeological site is very similar to a logic puzzle. Everything that you excavate at a site fits together with what surrounds it.”
Brad’s current goal is to complete his Ph.D. this upcoming school year and to begin applying for academic jobs this fall. Beyond his immediate goals, he hopes to further specialize in domestic archaeology. He loves the puzzles that excavations provide and also the atmosphere of being with like-minded individuals that have the same passion.
“Don’t get me wrong, I love excavating monumental buildings like Late-Roman synagogues, but I am most fascinated by how ancient people lived their day-to-day lives,” Brad said. “The best way to see how people lived in the ancient world is to excavate the houses in which they lived.”
He has always enjoyed a good story. According to him, whether reading, listening, or even telling one, a good story is something in which the audience can see themselves. Archaeology puts him in a position to tell a story of the past. As an archaeologist he gets the opportunity to excavate sites, document finds, and publish their excavations to paint a more holistic narrative of the past.
“When I dig, I view my job as adding to the historical narrative. My belief that we can better understand the present by knowing our past is what fuels my passion for archaeology,” Brad said.