Courtesy of the Chickasaw Nation. All rights reserved.
Meet our team of NAGPRA professionals
Meg Cook, Director of Archaeology Collections
Meg Cook received a B.A. from Southern Illinois University and spent a few years in the CRM world before pursuing an M.A. at Ole Miss. While in Mississippi, she met her husband, and the two have made the state their forever home. Beginning her time at MDAH in the historic objects collections, Meg identified problematic practices with the archaeology collections. In 2019 she began the management of those collections, and NAGPRA has been her priority. In her time as director of archaeology collections she has overseen the largest repatriation of Ancestors in Mississippi history, the use of state owned land for reburial sites, and the launch of a new MDAH NAGPRA website. Recently, Meg has committed to the Repatriate Mississippi Initiative, a collaborative effort to repatriate all Ancestors removed from the Mississippi soil.
“This work is incredibly meaningful to me. When I began my archaeological training, I never imagined I would be facilitating NAGPRA for MDAH, but now I could not imagine serving in any other role. Through personal interactions with Tribal members, I have learned so much about the cultures of Mississippi. Tribes today are still very connected to our state, and returning Ancestors has been the most rewarding experience of my professional career.” Meg leads the archaeology collections staff with fervor, resourcefulness, and ambition.
Cindy Gardner, Museum Division Director
Cindy Gardner began her career at MDAH in 1999 when she was hired as registrar for the Old Capitol Museum of Mississippi History. During her time at MDAH, she has served as field services curator, director of historic objects collection, project manager for the Two Mississippi Museums building and for the exhibits in the Museum of Mississippi History, and Two Mississippi Museums administrator. In 2019, she was named Museum Division director where she manages nine historic sites including Grand Village of the Natchez Indians and Winterville Mounds in addition to overseeing the 3D object collections and exhibits for MDAH.
Cindy’s work in collections helped set NAGPRA and the management of the archaeology collection as a priority for MDAH. Whether assisting archaeology collections staff with projects such as digital data organization for consultation and research, managing volunteers sewing muslin bags during the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown, or attending countless meetings, Cindy is committed to building partnerships with Tribal communities and meeting MDAH’s NAGPRA responsibilities. Cindy says "Learning more about archaeology and NAGPRA has made a profound impact on my work, and I am continually grateful to be able to provide support for such an enthusiastic group of dedicated professionals."
Cindy Carter-Davis, State Archaeologist
Cindy Carter-Davis, completed both her B.A. and M.A. in anthropology at the University of Southern Mississippi, with specialties in Southeastern archaeology and forensic anthropology. In December 2019, she was hired as the state archaeologist at MDAH. In addition to overseeing archaeological reviews under the Section 106 process and curating Section 106 project collections, she serves as the director of the Mississippi Archaeological Survey and works within the Historic Preservation Division to maintain Mississippi Landmark sites.
Cindy is thrilled to be tasked with preserving the archaeological resources of Mississippi and hopes to utilize her experience working with Tribal partners to build a greater understanding and collaboration between MDAH and Mississippi's Tribal descendant communities. We are grateful to collaborate with Cindy and the Historic Preservation Division as we work towards common goals.
Arianna Kitchens, Collections Manager
Arianna Kitchens was raised in Covington County, Mississippi, and is distinctive because of her ever-changing hair color. Arianna is a graduate of the University of Mississippi with a background in archaeology and classics. Since being hired in December of 2019, Arianna has been involved in many projects including the ongoing digitization of site documentation and overseeing public and internal outreach. Wordsmithing is her strongsuit, and she used this skill to create the land acknowledgement that now resides outside our workspace.
When asked about her favorite aspect of this work, she immediately responded “People. Everything that we do involves people, from cleaning artifacts and teaching the public to assisting Ancestors in returning to their journey. Every single individual in our care has their own story and, although I may never know them, the most important part of my job is respecting and honoring those stories. Every artifact housed at MDAH is a part of someone's story, whether it be a sherd from a cooking vessel or a chunky stone once gripped by an athlete hoping to win the game. Hands down, my absolute favorite part of this job is people, past and present, who have made the greatest impact on my life and continue to teach me that the world is so much bigger than just me and just my story.”
She has been spotlighted as a person of the day in Jackson Free Press, and used the platform to educate the public about her work. Arianna is full of initiative, and we are so grateful for her jovial nature and unending passion.
Jessica Walzer, Collections Manager
Jessica Walzer has called Mississippi home for many years. After completing her B.A. at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, she returned home and began working with MDAH in July 2019 when she was hired under contract to catalog NAGPRA collections transferred from the DeSoto County Historical Museum. Jessica’s initiative led to the submission of MDAH’s first NAGPRA Summary in Fall 2019. Jessica is committed to continuing the documentation of funerary objects and overseeing inventory updates. Recently, Jessica has created MDAH’s first fully virtual internship designed to educate students on the NAGPRA process.
When asked about this work, Jessica responded “I strongly believe in the work we are doing at MDAH, and I am proud be a part of this incredible team. I hope that we are righting some of the wrongs of the past and helping these people get home.” Jessica is consistently inquisitive and shares her amiable personality with everyone.
Robert Waren, NAGPRA Collections Manager
Robert Waren, from Brandon, Mississippi, is a graduate of the University of Mississippi with a background in archaeology. He began working at MDAH in January of 2020 under contract to help manage the relocation of collections into the new curation space. In October 2020, he was hired as NAGPRA collections manager thanks to grant funding awarded from the National NAGPRA Program in summer 2020. When offered the position, Robert stated that he is, “Most excited to get to work moving along this process that is greatly overdue in direct partnership with Tribal representatives.”
He is hard at work cataloging assemblages from Tunica and Coahoma Counties for consultation, transfer, and repatriation. Additionally, Robert oversaw the creation of a new organizational plan for collections storage based on areas of Tribal interest, rather than alphabetically by county. Through this process, he aims to constitute the same decolonizing initiatives that underpin our commitments to NAGPRA.
Robert offers a different perspective in our work, and brings a clever sense of humor to our office.
Dr. Ashley Stewart, Senior Bioarchaeologist
Ashley Stewart earned a B.A. in anthropology from Auburn University in 2010. After working in cultural resource management for two years, she enrolled at the University of Alabama and completed a M.A.in 2014 and in 2020, a Ph.D. Ashley is currently employed by Tennessee Valley Archaeological Research, has been conducting osteological inventory and assessment for MDAH since January 2020. One of her passions is public education and outreach, which she believes is vital – the more information people have access to, the more likely they are to understand the need for preservation, and the more likely they are to respect other cultures and ways of life.
When asked about working with MDAH’s NAGPRA collections, she had this to say: “I am honored that I have been given the opportunity to work with these Ancestors. I know that these are extraordinarily important and require great care and respect. Being entrusted with this task has also given me the opportunity to learn from MDAH’s Tribal partners, allowing me to better understand what is important to them and their Ancestors. Being a part of the repatriation process has taught me a great deal, and I am thankful to be a part of it.” Although Ashley works off site, she continues to be a valued member of the MDAH archaeology collections team.
Sarah Durham, Archaeological Collections Manager
In June 2021, the archaeology collections team welcomed Sarah Durham. Immediately she took the lead organizing our collections database so that access to NAGPRA catalog records will be readily available to our Tribal Partners on a virtual platform. These efforts will allow collections review to occur from a distance, if necessary, and will enhance accessibility for displaced Tribes. Hailing from Mississippi State University, Sarah has experience in the care of archaeological objects from her time at Travellers Rest Historic House Museum in Nashville, TN. She is committed to raising public awareness about archaeology and the ethical considerations of this work. Sarah’s dry wit has contributed to our team’s cohesion, and aptly earned her a nickname, "Salty Dawg," mostly due to her love of the book Salt: A World History. When asked why she decided to make a career in archaeology collections management, Sarah said, "Collections have, for a long time, been ignored. These objects were important to past peoples and continue to be a significant part of human history. Past treatment of archaeology collections is incredibly disrespectful and I aim to improve the ways in which all institutions manage their collections."