New Series ‘American Treasures’ Investigates The History Behind Everyday Americans’ Unique Artifacts
As archaeology professors, Dr. Jason De León and Dr. Kirk French often receive inquiries from everyday Americans who think they possess items that may have historical significance. Jason and Kirk, friends who met during grad school, hit the road during their school break to investigate and examine these unique artifacts for AMERICAN TREASURES.
French and De León travel across the country in their trusty pickup truck to conduct hands-on research into each item, consulting with experts and historians to learn more about not only the item itself, but its historical and cultural context: what it is, where it came from, who made it, and why. On occasion, they also meet up with fellow archaeologists to learn more about important scientific research going on across America.
Artifacts investigated for AMERICAN TREASURES include a Colt revolver claimed to have belonged to famed outlaw John Wesley Hardin, a steam whistle claimed to have been salvaged from Pearl Harbor, a brass trumpet thought to be Louis Armstrong’s, and a safe thought to hold business papers of Al Capone. Locations include Houston, Texas; Los Alamos, New Mexico; Boston, Massachusetts; Nashville, Tennessee; New Orleans, Louisiana; St. Petersburg and Ft. Lauderdale, Florida.
Kirk French, PhD Anthropology (Penn State 2009), is a professor at Penn State whose specialty is Mesoamerican history and culture. His research focuses on Maya water management and developing a better understanding of the interplay between humans and their environments. Jason De León, PhD Anthropology (Penn State 2008), is a professor at the University of Michigan who teaches classes on cultural anthropology, the anthropology of Americana and the anthropology of rock and roll. He has conducted archaeological and ethnographic research in Mesoamerica and his work now focuses on globalization and human migration.
“As a professor, I constantly remind my students that ‘culture’ isn’t just something that you read about in textbooks or have to travel to distant lands to find,” said De León. “AMERICAN TREASURESis about exploring and understanding different aspects of American culture through people, their stories, and through artifacts.”
“A common misconception the public has of archaeologists is that we look for treasure; that someday, if we’re lucky, we’ll strike it rich,” said French. “Archaeologists do not look for treasure and we do not place monetary value on artifacts. AMERICAN TREASURES gives us the opportunity to set the record straight and to say, ‘No one owns history, it belongs to all of us; it’s our American past.’”
AMERICAN TREASURES is produced by Engel Entertainment for Discovery Channel. Bill Howard is executive producer for Discovery Channel; Steven Engel is executive producer and Anna Geddes is co-executive producer for Engel Entertainment.