MSU Alumnus Don Weir – The artifacts of a career devoted to archaeology

As a kid, Don Weir followed his dad — an amateur archaeologist working with University of Michigan in the 1930s — around archaeological sites, collecting arrowheads and attending meetings. Looking back, it was a unique way to grow up, surrounded by people unearthing and analyzing artifacts. But as a kid who has many other important interests, meetings and digs weren’t Weir’s favorite. 

That was until he came to Michigan State University in 1968 as part of an archaeology work study with the MSU Museum followed by a 10-week archaeological field school in in Northern Michigan directed by Charles Cleland, Ph.D., with field director William Lovis, Ph.D. Both of the individuals played an important role in mentoring him to be a future professional archaeologist. 

“Doing my first field season with them in 1969 did it,” he said. “That’s when I decided what I wanted to do: be a full-time archaeologist.”

Caption: Don Weir (right) at a field site in Kentucky in 1970. 

After graduating from MSU in 1970, Weir worked for Gilbert/Commonwealth Associates as a full-time archaeologist, then decided to continue his education returning to MSU.

Caption: Don Weir graduates from MSU in 1970. 

“In ‘76, I worked full time and went to graduate school full time with two kids, it was interesting at best,” he mused. 

He graduated in 1979 with his M.A. from MSU and continued his work with Gilbert/Commonwealth Associates, an architectural and engineering firm. In 1988, he began his own cultural resources management company, Commonwealth Cultural Resources Group with Dr. Donna Roper.

Cultural resources management (CRM) is part of the National Historic Preservation Act and the National Environmental Policy Act. Both require companies that are either licensed, permitted or funded by the federal government to take into consideration their impacts on archaeological and historic sites. 

“CRM is important because It’s the one mechanism we have to save archaeological sites from being destroyed during construction,” he said.

For example, Weir worked with the City of Detroit during the building of the People Mover in the 1980s. He’s also worked to evaluate and preserve sites during multistate pipeline projects and in national forests. 

“It’s a viable career, and I’ve lectured at Michigan State several times to archaeology students,” he said. “There are viable alternatives to getting a Ph.D. and being a professor someplace. There are jobs at federal and state agencies and private firms, like mine.” 

Whether sharing through lectures or meeting with students one-on-one, Weir wants to share his story with the next generation of archaeologists, so they understand the breadth of opportunities they have in the field. 

“In fact, I just met with an MSU graduate student, and we had a 2-hour conversation about what his options might be outside of the academy.

Weir has a passion for the next generation, and in addition to giving of his time, he has also given to MSU through funding scholarships. The first is the Archaeology Alumni and Friends Fund.

“Those funds are to bring in guest speakers into the department so that undergraduates and graduates have a chance to learn from outside experts,” he said.

Most recently, Weir and his son, Andy Weir, have set up the Commonwealth Heritage Group Diversity Scholarship Award in Archaeology at MSU for undergraduate and graduate students who are or who have been enrolled in archaeology courses offered by the Department of Anthropology. 

“Diversity is a big issue in archaeology and anthropology, especially in archaeology,” he said. “When I went into the profession, it was 90% white male, and it’s now probably 60% female, 40% male, but still 90% white. So I want to encourage diversity in the profession, and I think the profession lacks that, and it will be to the betterment of society, and it’s important to have diversity in archaeology especially with indigenous archaeologists.” 

“We appreciate Don’s support of our department and support of our students,” said Todd Fenton, Ph.D., and chair of the MSU Department of Anthropology. “He has given generously of his time to talk with our students and by providing funding to support their education and development.” 

Through Weir’s company, which he ran until 2017 when he retired, he is proud to have hired MSU graduates and mentored young archaeology professionals.

“I’ve mentored a lot of those young professionals in the company to be able to function in the business world in addition to the world of archaeology,” he said.

Weir has also been an advocate for archaeology, visiting state and federal representatives to share how policy impacts the field. This year, he visited Washington D.C. to share about Biden’s infrastructure bill.

“I talked with our senators, representatives and their staff about how important it is that infrastructure projects are done in a way to protect historical and archaeological resources,” he said. 

In October 2021, Weir received the Distinguished Career Award from the Michigan Archaeological Conference (MAC) which recognizes archaeologists who have demonstrated excellence and contributed significantly and regularly to the advancement of Midwestern archaeology. 

“Throughout his career Don has mentored many students and employees through professional development opportunities, and he has shared his knowledge and passion for stewardship of the past at universities, professional organizations, government agencies, and other nonacademic organizations,” said Janet Brashler, MAC president. “He continues to support students through scholarships and always has a kind word for students and colleagues. We are pleased to acknowledge Don for his contributions to Midwest archaeology by awarding him the Distinguished Career Award.”

Caption: Don Weir (right) receives the Distinguished Career Award presented by Janet Brashler (right), MAC president. 

This award is the highest one made by MAC and honors someone with a lifetime commitment to Midwestern archaeology and achievement in areas such as research, publication, collection and site preservation, program development, and education.

“The award was really special because I received it in East Lansing where I studied for my career,” Weir said. “It’s an organization that is strictly an archaeological organization, historically they are primarily academics in it, so it was special to be recognized by that group.”  

Weir has received multiple awards for his contributions to the field. He was awarded the 2010 McGimsey-Davis Distinguished Service Award by the Register of Professional Archaeologists, the 2017 ACRA Lifetime Achievement Award by the American Cultural Resources Association, and the 2018 Lifetime Achievement Award from the Michigan Historic Preservation Network.

As evidenced by widespread recognition in the field, Weir has had a far-reaching impact on the field of archaeology. He has been looking back on his legacy and reflecting on his achievements. 

“I’m really proud of starting and running one of the largest and most successful CRM companies in the country,” he said. “I’m also proud that we’re able to do that and also do excellent work. Also, that I’ve given back to the profession: I’ve also encouraged my employees to be active professionally and provided professional development opportunities for them.”

12.03.21