Today Frank Schnell's intimate knowledge of the Chattahoochee River valley remains only in his writings and exhibits, and the cataloged artifacts he collected and stored.
Friends say the retired Columbus Museum archaeologist died Monday in Florida after falling from a ladder.
Schnell got a bachelor's and a master's degree from the University of Georgia and was working on a doctorate at Tulane University in Louisiana when he ditched the degree work to take a job at the museum in 1966.
Though his father had been an archaeologist's field assistant, Schnell told a reporter in 2001 that his true interest in archaeology began in 1955, when he was still in high school. That's when he went on a museum-sponsored excavation at the prehistoric Rood Indian Mounds, near Florence Marina on the river in Stewart County.
He was an expert on the Cemochechobee Mound complex near Fort Gaines, Ga., the subject of a book published by the University of Florida.
He retired as the museum's curator of archaeology in 2001 and moved to Florida, where he most recently was living in Bradenton.
"Frank knew more about the Chattahoochee River valley and the prehistoric people who lived here, and in my opinion about the people who live here, historically, than anybody else we've ever had," said local author Billy Winn. "He really knew the ground thoroughly.... He not only lived here; he loved the place, and he made it his business to find out the real facts, the real history, and the real culture of the people of this area, not the make-believe stuff. He had a hard head, and he could cast a cold eye on things, and that made him more effective when you really needed real information."