Photo courtesy Arianna Kitchens
Jackson resident Arianna Kitchens has served as archaeology collections manager for the Mississippi Department of Archives and History since December 2019. In her position, she is primarily responsible for maintaining MDAH's extensive archeology collections. Items are tied to Mississippi and are sourced from archeological contexts.
MDAH houses three collections—the archives collection, which features 2D items like documents and photographs; the historical object collection, which features the 3D objects such as a past Miss Mississippi crown; and the archeology collection, which serves primarily as a research collection featuring items discovered at historical sites.
"(The archeology collection) has everything from prehistoric artifacts to historic items like ceramics and nails," Kitchens says. "We have everything from animal bones to Native American artifacts and parts of housing.”
Kitchens is also responsible for participating in consultation with MDAH's tribal partners regarding public outreach for the archaeology collection, inventorying the collections currently housed at MDAH, and overseeing volunteers and interns.
Raised in Collins, Miss., Kitchens graduated as valedictorian from Collins High School and enrolled at Jones County Junior College, now simply known as Jones College, before going on to the University of Mississippi, where she received bachelor's degrees in anthropology with a concentration in archaeology and classics with a concentration in classical civilization in 2019.
"History has always been a big part of my and my family's lives, even while I was still in high school," Kitchens says. "I loved watching movies like 'Indiana Jones' and 'The Librarian' with my grandfather, James Norris, and used to help come up with history activities and lesson plans at school. A lot of people in my family had history as a hobby, but I took it a step further."
While attending JC, Kitchens started studying history and doing volunteer work with Hattiesburg archeologist Rita McCarty. She spent a semester helping to excavate World War I-era bread ovens at Camp Shelby in Hattiesburg that had become buried in abandoned or collapsed buildings and properties. When she enrolled at UM, she began working under Tony Boudreaux, director for the university's Center of Archeological Research. While there she conducted investigations at Rowan Oak, Miss., the Oxford-based home of William Faulkner, using geophysical and Phase-I surveys to search for vanished antebellum structures in the area and processing artifacts for preservation.
After graduating from UM, Kitchens began working for Visit Oxford and the Historic Properties Commission in Oxford. There, she was responsible for managing the historic home of Lucius Quintus Cincinnatus Lamar, a former Mississippi congressman who served as the United States Secretary of the Interior and as an associate justice of the United States Supreme Court. She also managed the Burns-Belfry Museum and Multicultural Center, both under the Historic Properties Commission in Oxford, from August 2018 until November 2019, when she took her current position with MDAH.
Kitchens had always been interested in MDAH because it dedicates its time to the history of Mississippi and to the state as a whole.
“The department’s priority right now is NAGPRA (the Native American Grave Protection and Repatriation Act) and the respectful return of Native American ancestors and objects,” Kitchen says.
As a federally funded institution, MDAH must report human remains and funerary objects currently in the organization’s care. These collections are added to a federal inventory, and Native American tribes or nations, or lineal descendants, may submit claims for their ancestors and cultural objects. MDAH, in consultation with their tribal partners, has embarked on a project to provide culturally appropriate housing materials (muslin) for those ancestors awaiting reburial.
Over the last year, MDAH has been working with Native American tribes and nations in the repatriation process. The first complete repatriation is scheduled for early 2021.
Kitchens met her boyfriend of eight years, Jarrod Davis, at Mississippi University for Women while they were both taking part in a three-week program called the Mississippi Governor's School. The two currently live in north Jackson.
To learn more about NAGPRA, visit here. To learn more about MDAH, visit mdah.