116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
MOUNT VERNON — Archaeologist and historian Leah Rogers has been awarded a lifetime achievement award from the State Historical Society of Iowa.
Rogers, of Mount Vernon, won the 2022 Petersen-Harlan Lifetime Achievement Award for her work to uncover clues to Iowa’s past during her career spanning four decades.
During her career, Rogers has written or contributed to nearly 200 reports — about one in 11 — in the Historic Architectural Database maintained by the State Historic Preservation Office of Iowa.
Her name is on more than 240 reports in the National Archaeological Database maintained by Arizona State University. She also has prepared nearly 100 nominations for the National Register of Historic Places.
“An astounding number of resources bear the fingerprints of Leah Rogers’ conscientious, curiosity-driven research,” State Historical Society of Iowa Administrator Susan Kloewer said. “Her trustworthy work will serve future generations of researchers from Iowa and across the country.”
Rogers, who has a terminal case of cancer, knew from friends the award was coming and told The Gazette it “means a great deal” to her.
"It's nice to be remembered while you're still alive, let's put it that way, and to be honored for something while you're here rather than posthumously,“ Rogers said, adding she wasn’t aware of some of the statistics about her career.
Rogers, who grew up in Missouri, said she always wanted to be an archaeologist.
“It was something that always fascinated me,” Rogers said. “I grew up reading National Geographic and always liked the articles they did on the archaeology.”
She got into anthropology because she was interested in historic sites archaeology and staying in the United States.
Rogers graduated from the University of Missouri-Columbia with a degree in anthropology in 1978.
She then got a masters in anthropology from Michigan State University in 1985. While in graduate school, she did archaeological digs in Iowa, Indiana, Mississippi, New York, New Jersey and Virginia.
The project in Mississippi was where Rogers met her husband, who also was an archaeologist. He passed away six years ago.
“We just worked on a variety of sites until we finally settled in Iowa working for private companies,” Rogers said.
After receiving her master’s degree, Rogers worked with archaeology firms in Decorah and Carbondale, Ill. She then began working on her own as a consultant, conducting archaeological and historic investigations for federal, state and local governmental organizations, as well as private clients.
Rogers joined Tallgrass Archaeology in Iowa City in 2001 and has served as principal investigator since 2016.
Rogers has also taught workshops for young Iowans, developed youth summer camps and led community-based archaeological surveys across Iowa, including Wickiup Hill Learning Center and the Abbe Creek School. She also has worked with several Indigenous nations in Iowa.
She said the hope is to have young people “follow in our footsteps” and pursue archaeology as a career.
“The idea behind doing field schools with younger kids is to get them interested in it and kind of spark their enthusiasm about it, as well as to work with the teachers who are teaching them about cultural history,” Rogers said.
She said it’s becoming a niche career that has work but is lacking people to hire.
“I know we're not alone in that right now, but this has been coming for a while and it's kind of becoming almost critical at this point,” Rogers said.
And that’s important, Rogers said, because if sites aren’t recorded before they’re destroyed, there’s no knowledge about the site, what it meant and the people who lived there.
For anyone interested in a career in archaeology, Rogers said it’s a way to contribute to the knowledge, culture and history of the region.
Rogers will be honored during an awards ceremony at the start of the Preserve Iowa Summit scheduled to run from June 2 to June 4 in Mason City.
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