After leading me through the maze of bookshelves and cataloguing drawers and into his office in the downtown Charlotte Capers building, archeologist Jayur Mehta motioned me to sit down and began rummaging through opaque rectangular boxes in a corner. Once he found the one he was looking for, he beckoned me to them, smiling.
"This is the best part of the job," he said, revealing two clay pots molded in the likeness of a turtle and frog. Mehta, 26, spends his days organizing collections and reviewing archeological reports for the Mississippi Department of Archives and History.
"Early on I thought, 'Oh I'm going to do something in Peru or India,' (but) I just stuck to the Southeast," Mehta says of his archeological work. "I kept meeting cool people and finding neat things that I just didn't expect to find. … Slowly I'm learning that the material culture down here is really exciting."
Before Mehta settled on the archaeology career path, his parents had predestined him for medicine. They even moved the family from Gujarat, India, to Charlotte, N.C., in hopes of giving Mehta more resources to become a doctor. When he was a sophomore biology student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, he saw a job posting to develop film for the archeology lab. The dream changed.
"I took the job, and I was looking at all these great pictures and all this cool archeology stuff, and I was like, 'Man, I really enjoy doing this,'" Mehta says. "So I went that way, and stuck with it."
Away from his archaeology work, Mehta has been getting familiar with his surroundings since he arrived in August 2007. Although he has only lived in Jackson for six months, he is quickly meeting people who love the city and share his desire to bring more to it.
"I see a lot of promise for Jackson, and I'm meeting a lot of people who have the opportunity to do something good," he says.
Mehta hopes to convince a local radio station to broadcast a classical Indian music program, spinning some tunes with fellow music lovers for a half hour on Sundays. His mother recently returned from a trip to India with a sitar, and Mehta has been practicing playing it in his spare time.
"I'm OK; I'm in the early stages," he says of his skill with the instrument.
Mehta eventually wants to get his doctorate and teach archeology in a university setting. "Teaching students in the field is the best thing," Mehta says of his dream. "I think kids really respond to being shown how to do things. … When you can show someone those things, it's good."