Rooks digs deep into history
Georgia Gwinnett College alumnus, former Marine and budding archaeologist Jim Rooks doesn’t have to think back very far to understand his passion for history.
His father, Terry Rooks, a former military man and leather smith, is a history buff who has shared that interest with his son. Through the years, Rooks’ father gave him historically inspired knife sheaths and colonial shot bags he had made, as well as a tomahawk and Brown Bess British musket he purchased.
Rooks was only seven or eight when his father brought the Civil War to life for him with a visit to Kennesaw Mountain battlefield.
“I absolutely fell in love with it,” Rooks said. “That’s when, as historians say, I caught the bug.”
Rooks graduated from North Gwinnett High School in Suwanee in 2001. He immediately entered the Marine Corps and spent more than five years on active duty, seeing combat in Africa and Iraq as an infantry sergeant.
By the time Rooks was ready to return to civilian life, the economy had taken a down turn. He found the jobs that were available required a college degree, so at age 29, he enrolled at GGC, a convenient 15 minutes from his Suwanee home.
At GGC, Rooks met his soon-to-be wife, Morgan O’Kelley Rooks. The couple left Georgia Gwinnett in 2012 so Rooks could accept a job offer in South Carolina. However, the job didn’t pan out, and almost one year later, Rooks and his wife returned to Georgia and he was back at GGC.
The couple married in 2014, and she left school for a job opportunity. He continued school and graduated in 2016 with a bachelor’s degree in history.
“My passion and hard focus was American colonial history, particularly colonial warfare,” he said.
After graduation, Rooks quickly found a way to put his love of history to work, spending a month last summer as part of the Georgia Archaeology Field School, a collaborative effort of several Georgia institutions including the University of Georgia (UGA).
As a member of a student team, Rooks worked 10-hour days at the Singer-Moye site, a state archaeological treasure in Stewart County, Ga. The site contains eight earthen mounds, including one more than 40 feet high. Research indicates that a Mississippian community existed there as early as 1100 A.D. Excavations have revealed building foundations, animal bones, ceramic fragments and other artifacts.
The team found thousands of pottery sherds with rectilinear patterns indicative of Mississippian Georgia. They also found lithics and bone fragments used for scraping animal hides and other tasks.
“The most interesting finds were pieces of clay figurines, a few beads and a shark’s tooth,” Rooks said, explaining that the tooth meant that the community at Singer-Moye engaged in coastal trade. Another intriguing find was an arrowhead from a much older time period.
“We were very much amateur archaeologists coming out of it,” Rooks said of the UGA program.
Rooks returned to the Georgia Gwinnett campus this past October to talk about his “amazing experience” at Singer-Moye with students in an American history class taught by Dr. Kathryn Gray-White, one of his favorite college professors.
Rooks, who attended college on the GI Bill, said he had several inspiring history faculty at GGC, such as Drs. Michael G. Gunther, Carey Shellman, Richard Rawls and Gray-White.
Now 35, Rooks is working with his father-in-law on small construction and restoration projects but will soon enroll at UGA to pursue a graduate degree in historic preservation. Rooks said he hopes to parlay the combination of his military service and college degrees into a government job, possibly with the National Parks Service or U.S. Department of Interior.
“Obviously, I’m very interested in archaeology and anthropology,” said Rooks. This May, he will travel to Mystic, Conn., to participate in a dig related to the Pequot Massacre of 1637 and the English retreat that followed.
“This dig will be a dream come true!”
Read more about the college, its student and alumni in GGC's Engage Magazine.