J. (James M.) Heilman received the Ohio Archaeological Council’s prestigious Board of Directors Award at the OAC’s Fall meeting in November. Although he was not able to accept the award in person, Lynn Simonelli, President of the OAC, accepted it on his behalf. The Board of Directors Award recognizes individuals that have made a significant contribution to the advancement of archaeology in Ohio.
J. served as Curator of Anthropology for the Dayton Museum of Natural History (later the Boonshoft Museum of Discovery) from 1969 until 2000. Throughout his years of service, he made significant contributions to archaeological research, preservation, public education, and the development of cooperative relationships with American Indians.
Heilman directed archaeological investigations at several sites in Darke, Greene, Miami, Montgomery, and Preble counties. His most notable work focused on the Incinerator Site, later to become famous as SunWatch Village. Between 1969 and 1992, he directed the investigation of SunWatch, which, due largely due to his efforts, was preserved by the City of Dayton and ultimately recognized as a National Historic Landmark in 1990. In addition, he led the effort to develop a world-class interpretation center for the site, which opened in 1991. He pioneered the use of archaeoastronomy in the interpretation of SunWatch Village with a paper he co-authored in 1979. Heilman’s work at SunWatch has made an enormous contribution to our understanding of life in Ohio during the Late Prehistoric Period (c. AD 1000-1650). His research provided the archaeological data for that understanding, while the re-creation of the ancient village, museum exhibits, and interpretive programs developed under his direction shared that information with a wide audience. The museum and its research and education programs continue as a legacy of Heilman’s pioneering vision.
Heilman was recognized in 1985 with the Public Education and Awareness Award from the Ohio Historic Preservation Office and the Ohio Historical Society. In 1989, the Ohio Arts Council / Ohio Humanities Council selected his work at SunWatch as their most exemplary project.
In 1989, SunWatch Village formalized an Indian Advisory Committee that had been working informally with the SunWatch team since 1972. The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, or NAGPRA, would not be signed into law until 1990, so Heilman was a pioneer in acknowledging the special interests of American Indians in research conducted on and educational programming concerning ancient Ohio’s sites.
J. has been an inspiration to a generation of archaeologists and SunWatch Village is his most enduring legacy.