Cully and Lois Dowdle Cobb


Cobb Institute of Archaeology


Institute Directors

E. Jerry Vardaman, 1974–1981

John H. Peterson, 1982–1988

Joe D. Seger, 1988–present

The Cobb Institute of Archaeology at Mississippi State University
was founded in the early 1970's through a series of generous gifts from its founders, MSU alumnus Cully A. Cobb and his wife Lois Dowdle Cobb. A first contribution of just over $1,000,000 in stocks for endowment support was made in June, 1971, and a pledge of an additional $500,000 to provide for the construction of a building was given in a letter to Mississippi State University President William L. Giles in July of 1972. Ground-breaking for the Institute building took place on April 14, 1973. The facility was erected in 1974 and dedicated in October 1975. Unfortunately Cully Cobb passed away before construction of the building was completed. However, his will provided an additional bequest for Institute support.

The mission of the Cobb Institute at Mississippi State University is to provide sponsorship and support for research, outreach and instructional programs related "to the Middle Eastern origins of Western Civilization and to the Indians of the South, particularly in Mississippi." Its efforts are to be directed to "the specific purposes of archaeological research, study, travel, excavations and explorations, publications and reports, and other similar uses or purposes." (Letter from Cully A. Cobb to President William Giles July 24, 1972)

Archaeologists affiliated with the Institute accordingly focus on excavations in the Middle East and in the southeastern United States. They are involved in the full range of archaeological work, including basic research, field excavations, laboratory analysis and report preparation, as well as cultural resource management and public archaeology. The Institute works with businesses, municipalities, and state, federal and international agencies to assist them in complying with antiquities regulations and with cultural resource and environmental laws. The Cobb Institute is an independent research and service unit of the College of Arts & Sciences at Mississippi State University. Its Senior Research Staff, including its Director, enjoy formal cross-affiliations with the Religion and Anthropology programs of the Departments of Philosophy and Religion and of Sociology, Anthropology and Social Work. Interdisciplinary associations are also maintained with other campus units. In practice these have included the Departments of Art, Foreign Languages, Geosciences and History of the College of Arts and Sciences, the School of Architecture and Colleges of Forest Resources and Engineering.

External Advisory Board
On February 27, 2006, several distinguished scholar/administrators from across the nation agreed to serve on the newly formed Board of External Advisors for the Cobb Institute. Each Board member serves a term for up to three years after which they will be replaced by a new member. The Board's purpose is to provide counsel and advice to the Cobb Institute's Internal Governance Committee with respect to opportunities and challenges that the Institute's infrastructure and programs provide for the university community and for the general public. At present, the Board is composed of the following individuals:

Dr. Jack Bennett
CEO of Archeology Assessments, Inc., Nashville, Arkansas

Dr. Jeffrey Clark
Director, Archaeology Technology Laboratory, Department of Sociology and Anthropology, North Dakota State University, Fargo, North Dakota

Dr. Bruce Smith
Curator of North American Archaeology, Department of Anthropology, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.

Dr. Lynne Sullivan
Curation and Collections Specialist, McClung Museum, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Tennessee

Dr. James Wiseman
Director of the Center for Archaeological Studies, Department of Archaeology, Boston University, Boston, Massachusetts

Dr. Melinda Zeder
Director of the Archaeobiology Program, Department of Anthropology, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.

From left to right, Dr. Jeffrey Clark, Dr. Jack Bennett, Dr. Lynne Sullivan, Dr. James Wiseman, and Dean Philip Oldham. Not shown, Dr. Bruce Smith and Dr. Melinda Zeder.

The main Cobb Institute building is located at the corner of Lee Boulevard and Hardy Road on the Mississippi State University campus. It is a three-floor, 21,756 square-foot facility designed specifically for archaeological research and education. Originally, adjacent to its foyer was a Founder's Room containing furnishings and memorabilia from the Cobb family home. This space served as a setting for hosting formal functions by campus groups. In 2011 the room was refurbished as a classroom space with memorabilia and furnishings moved to the foyer and other locations. In addition the building contains 12 offices, two additional classrooms, an office workroom, a library, the 2,209 square-foot Lois Dowdle Cobb Museum of Archaeology, a storage vault, and a 1,536 square-foot collections storage area. Laboratory facilities in the building total 4,453 square-feet and are supported by a conservation lab, and a comparative collections area for ceramic and lithic analysis.

The Lois Dowdle Cobb Museum of Archaeology primarily displays exhibits of artifacts from the two major areas of the Institute's research: the ancient Middle East and the southeastern United States. During the academic term the museum is open to the public on week days. Its artifact collections also include materials from other areas of the world. These are displayed in the "Virtual Museum" section on the Institute's web site.

The Institute's library was renamed in 2002 the E. J. Vardaman Reading Room" in honor of the Institute's first director. It holds a collection of approximately 2000 volumes of books and periodicals.The major part of these relate to Middle Eastern history and archaeology. There is also a modest collection of materials related to North American Indians and archaeology in the southeastern U.S.

In addition to its main building, the Institute also manages a separate 6,000 square-foot curation facility located on Buckner Lane on the university south campus which serves for storage and analysis of archaeological research collections and records. This facility houses all U.S. Corps of Engineers' collections from excavations in Mississippi related to development of the Tombigbee Waterway as well as materials from other state and regional sites. The curation building includes several additional offices and laboratory spaces. Its large storage area has special environmental controls and security systems.

For more than a quarter of a century the Cobb Institute at Mississippi State University has pursued its founding mission to provide sponsorship and support for archaeological research in the countries of the Middle East and North America. While Cobb sponsored investigations in the Middle East have brought a new dimension of research activity to the Mississippi State campus, its North American research work has continued and enhanced existing programs that were pioneered and developed during the 1960's by members of its Anthropology faculty.

Middle Eastern Archaeology
The first Cobb Institute sponsored excavation in the Middle East was conducted at the Roman Nabataean site of Elusa in southern Israel in 1980. This was a one season effort in association with the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. For MSU students and faculty, and for friends in the region, this provided a first introduction to Middle East work. Associated research served as the basis for a Master's thesis in Geography and Geology titled The Elusa Oikumene completed by Jack D. Elliott, Jr in 1981. This was published by the Cobb Institute in 1982 as the first of its Occasional Papers.

Since 1983, the Institute has been the major sponsor of the Lahav Research Project and its ongoing program of archaeological investigations at Tell Halif, near Kibbutz Lahav in southern Israel. Along with Mississippi State University, a consortium of other American academic institutions supports the Lahav Project. In the most recent field seasons, these institutions included Emory University, Miami University of Ohio, Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, California State University at Los Angeles, Gustavus Adolphus College, and Rhodes College. Each of the project's seasons of field work included a Field School program operated by the MSU Department of Philosophy and Religion and the College of Arts & Sciences.

The Lahav Project was organized in 1975 and through 2002 has completed three major phases of excavation effort involving eleven seasons of field research. These efforts revealed fifteen separate occupation phases at the site, including major settlements from the Chalcolithic and Early Bronze Periods (3500 to 2300 B.C.) and from the Israelite period of the Iron II Age (900 to 700 B.C.). Significant finds also have been recovered from the Late Bronze Age (1550 to 1200 B.C.) when the site largely was under Egyptian influence, and from the Late Roman/Byzantine era (A.D. 100 to 600) when the region was the scene of Jewish and Christian resettlement after the Roman destruction of Jerusalem.

Preliminary reports on the Lahav Project work have appeared regularly in the Israel Exploration Journal, Revue Biblique, and The Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research (ASOR). Researchers have published numerous other articles on special aspects of the research. Detailed excavation reports from each season have been filed with the Israel Antiquities Authority and with ASOR's Committee on Archaeological Policy. Work on the project's series of final excavation report volumes is well under way.

In addition to its direct sponsorship of excavations the Cobb Institute has also supported faculty and student participation in other Middle Eastern and Eastern Mediterranean projects. These include the efforts at Ain Ghazal in Jordan, at Caesarea Maritima in Israel, and at ancient Marion and elsewhere on Cyprus. The Institute has also provided logistical support for the ASOR Joint Project at Tell el-Hesi in Israel, and for the publication efforts of the Expedition to et-Tell/Ai in the Palestinian West Bank. Cobb researchers are also directly engaged in publication efforts related to the Drew / McCormick / Harvard excavations at Tell Balatah / Shechem and to the Hebrew Union College excavations at Tell Gezer.

At present, the Cobb Institute remains engaged in Phase IV of Lahav Research Project work which is proceeding under the sponsorship of Emory University. At the same time work continues on publication efforts related to earlier Phases I -III materials. Meanwhile a new series of investigations in southern Israel have been initiated at Khirbet Summeily by James W. Hardin with Jeffrey Blakely of the University of Wisconsin. This is part of continuing research of the Tell el-Hesi Joint Archaeological Project. The small village site at Summeily dates to the early Iron Age between 1100 and 800 BC. It is located about 3km northwest of Tell el-Hesi on the ancient border between the Philistia and Judah. A first summer excavation season at Khirbet Summeily took place in 2011 and a second in 2012 During this same period Nicholas Herrmann and MSU students have continued work in Greece studying osteological remains recovered by the Mitrou Archaeological Project.along with human burials from the Tragana Agia Triada Mycenaean chamber tombs located approximately 3 km from the site of Mitrou.

North American Archaeology
The North American archaeology program centers on the southeastern U.S. and especially Mississippi. MSU's involvement in local archaeology began through efforts of the Anthropology faculty in the 1960s, and grew significantly during the construction of the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway in the 1970s. Several major archaeological survey projects, funded under contracts from the National Park Service, were carried out along the 100-mile stretch of the waterway north of Aliceville, Alabama. These recorded 450 archaeological sites dated from 9000 B.C. to A.D.1900.

Archaeologists from MSU have also been involved in several large-scale excavation projects in connection with subsequent waterway development. These were supported through funding of over $600,000 by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the National Park Service. An example of the research results obtained from these projects comes from the Sanders site in Clay County, which was excavated in 1988. The site, dating from the Late Gulf Formation period (850-400 B.C.), was a small shell midden that contained pieces of over 62 different pots. Many of these were elaborately decorated with incised lines and punctations.

In 1986, with $500,000 in funding provided by the Mobile District Corps of Engineers, the university built the Cobb Institute Curation facility. It currently holds all materials and records deriving from the Mississippi portion of the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway archaeological projects along with other major local and regional research collections. This laboratory meets federal curation standards, and can accept additional collections.

Along with its contract work, the Cobb Institute's research program in Mississippi archaeology is also incorporated in archaeological field school programs operated by the Department of Anthropology and Middle Eastern Cultures. These serve to train students in mapping, archaeological survey, and excavation. Most recently Field Schools were held at sites on the Mississippi State campus, in the nearby Tombigbee National Forest in connection with the U.S. Forest Service, at sites around Starkville on private lands and along the right of ways for the new Highways 82 and 25 by-pass system under contracts with the Mississippi Department of Transportation and at Lyons Bluff, a large prehistoric mound and village site located on private land along Line Creek to the east of Starkville.

At present the Cobb Institute continues to be engaged in a number of major North American research efforts. Among these is the project at Lyons Bluff which includes an ongoing schedule of field work along with a program involving the restudy of materials excavated at the site in the 1960s. In addition artifact analysis and report preparation continues on materials from several MDOT project sites along the by-pass system around Starkville and on materials from excavations at a 17th/18th century A.D. Chickasaw village at the North Mississippi Medical Center in Tupelo, MS. Research is also underway on a environmental archaeology study of land snails from Native American sites around Starkville with National Science Foundation support , and on a joint project with the University of Mississippi involving restudy of National Park Service collections of Chickasaw artifacts recovered by Moreau Chamber in 1937, and Jesse Jennings and Albert Spaulding between 1939 and 1941, with funding by the National Endowment for the Humanities. Cobb Institute researchers are also engaged in the analysis of animal and human osteological material. Current research is focused on osteological data from Tell Halif in Israel, and from Lyon's Bluff and other regional sites. The latter research focuses on developing understanding of economic relationships between Mississippian mound groups and farmsteads.