Our Most Read Blog Post

When you start a blog, it is hard to envision which of your posts will become the most popular over time.  By most popular, I mean the posts read the most by visitors and those that are read by at least one person and usually more on just about every day that passes.  Although I have not done a specific count, it is pretty obvious what the most popular post is here at the Archaeology in Tennessee blog.

This blog gets visitors from all over the world—literally all over—and people peruse through a great many of our posts.  However, the most popular blog post is clearly the one about how to spell archaeology (archaeology vs. archeology).  On an almost daily basis, this blog is quite literally teaching the whole world how to spell “archaeology,” as well as some history behind the two spellings.  The confusion about this spelling is truly vast and on the minds of people everywhere.

It caught us totally by surprise—and we are more and more and more surprised by it with each passing day.  Go figure.

My Four Years of Archaeology at PORTS

It has occurred to me that some visitors to the Archaeology in Tennessee blog might be interested in knowing a little bit about the challenging and complex archaeological and cultural resource management (CRM) support work that some of my colleagues and I have been providing to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and their site-wide environmental contractor (Fluor-B&W Portsmouth LLC) over the past 4 years at the Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant (PORTS) in Piketon, Ohio.  For those of you who are unfamiliar with the historical development of nuclear energy in the United States, PORTS is an enormously large industrial facility constructed in the early 1950s to produce highly enriched uranium (U-235) for use in nuclear weapons during the Cold War between the United States and Soviet Union.

PORTS sits on a large federal reservation (3,777 acres) located on uplands along the Scioto River in the geographic heartland of Ohio Hopewell. You may read a more in-depth summary on PORTS at the first link below and visit the recently opened PORTS Virtual Museum at the second link:



I was assigned to provide cultural resources and environmental support to two massive site-wide environmental projects now underway at PORTS.  Initially, it was my duty to provide cultural resources technical assistance and advice to a very close and capable colleague of mine who provides direct oversight assistance to DOE for site-wide CRM at PORTS.  When my work began in 2010, an architectural inventory of PORTS had already been conducted and reported.  Although a limited archaeological survey of the PORTS reservation had been completed and reported in the mid-1990s, a number of undeveloped areas had never been surveyed for archaeological sites.  Therefore, one of the first orders of business was for DOE to conduct archival research and perform a series of archaeological surveys aimed at achieving comprehensive survey coverage of the large undeveloped areas on the reservation. Several different CRM consulting firms in Ohio were hired to do this work.  You may read the archaeological survey reports and other CRM documents completed thus far for the PORTS reservation by clicking on each one at the following link:


During my last 3 years of work, I was charged with integrating the past and real-time results of the many foregoing CRM surveys, inventories, and studies into various environmental compliance documents required under The April 13, 2010 Director’s Final Findings and Orders for Removal Action and Remedial Investigation and Feasibility Study and Remedial Design and Remedial Action, including the July 16, 2012 Modification thereto (DFF&O) agreed to by DOE and the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency.  Integrating this information into the compliance documents to address National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA) values (pursuant to DOE’s 1994 Secretarial Policy on NEPA) was also a part of my responsibilities.  In addition, I was involved in writing detailed archaeological survey summaries to support consultations with Native American tribes and other interested parties.

It is worth noting that, rather than using Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 (NHPA) and 36 CFR 800, the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980 (CERCLA) process was used.  As provided for in 36 CFR 800.3, an alternative review process can be used.  In this case, the applicable or relevant and appropriate requirements (ARARS) process promulgated under CERCLA was used, enabling a streamlined CRM effort that works directly with a CERCLA compliance model.  The ARARs approach provides for extensive public involvement, thorough alternatives analysis, and development and implementation of mitigation measures where adverse effects to historic properties will occur.  ARARs focus on the substance of NHPA rather than the iterative administrative efforts, yielding a beneficial result sooner and consistent with the cleanup decisions reached by the agencies involved.

Endangered Historic Places in East Tennessee

The East Tennessee Preservation Alliance has just issued its 2014 list of the most endangered historic places in East Tennessee.  You may see the list and read about these properties by clicking on the links below.  Please be advised that the best news story on these properties was published today by the Knoxville News-Sentinel, but this particular newspaper now keeps many of its best on-line newspaper articles behind a pay wall.  Therefore, you will only be able to read the full story if you are one of their subscribers.  Here are the links:




The Archaeology in Tennessee blog notes with some amazement that the infamous Brushy Mountain State Prison in Petros, Tennessee, is being considered for some form of adaptive reuse, most notably as a distillery that produces drinkable spirits.  If you have ever passed by this place while driving up or down the mountain, you know that it is a huge, stark, lonely, and foreboding-looking facility nestled among mountain peaks that fairly well counsel: “Okay.  You just busted out of the prison walls.  Now what?  Surely you are not going to try hiking  over my slopes to freedom.”

Arguably, the most famous inmate of this prison was James Earl Ray, who was convicted and given a life sentence for assassinating Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in April 1968.  He tried an escape in the 1970s and actually got outside the walls, but he was unable to surmount the obstacles posed by the mountain slopes and was captured a few days later.

Using the old prison for a distillery would both preserve the facility and put some sort of happier continuing historical face on a place with a very unhappy past.  Just speaking personally and knowing absolutely nothing about the detailed plans for the distillery, some part of me hopes that future bottles in liquor stores will not bear labels saying “Old Prison Brew No. 2″ or “Jimmy Earl’s Firewater.”

Long Lost Native American Artifact Collection Discovered

Mark Norton at the Tennessee Division of Archaeology has just sent out the announcement for the next meeting of the Old Stone Fort Archaeological Society.  You may read it by clicking on the following link:

March 2014 Meeting Announcement

The Archaeology in Tennessee blog would like to take this opportunity to congratulate one of our favorite archaeologists, Dr. Kevin E. Smith, for finding the long lost Otto Giers Collection of Native American artifacts.  Great job guy!!!  Great job!!!

Please try your best to attend this meeting and bring some of your friends with you.  This is a rare opportunity to see numerous photographs of fantastic Tennessee artifacts that have been seen by very few people over the past 100 years.

Finally, in light of this discovery, one has to ask a question too—and rightly so.  If this famous collection was cooling its heels in a federal artifact repository for nearly a century without anyone really knowing what it was or even that it was there, how many other famous, long lost artifacts and collections are sleeping in the bowels of other museums and institutions throughout the United States and in some foreign nations?  Might portions of the long lost Payne Collection be snoozing in one of these places?  Rather than excavating just archaeological sites, this recent work by Kevin Smith strongly suggests that we need to be excavating our museum basements and attics.

Are Archaeologists Honest with Themselves?

Sometimes you run into an amazing little post on another person’s blog and say, “Doggone it!  That’s really good!  Why didn’t I write that?”  The brief post I have in mind is entitled “Creative Juice: The Honest Man is Always a Child,” and it was written by Mr. Matt Appling on his amazing and deeply insightful The Church of No People blog.  Please click on the following link, give it a careful read, and come back to this post:



Most of the archaeologists I have ever known are truthful with others in the overt and conventional sense.  In a report or an oral presentation, if they say an Adena point was found at specified GIS coordinates on an archaeological site, one can take that fact to the bank.  However, for many decades, I have seriously wondered whether American archaeologists (and other people who have an interest in American archaeology) have the ability to be truly honest with themselves in the sense that Matt Appling discusses in his blog post—or do we instead whisper little untruths into our own ears about the importance of archaeology in American society to get our conscious selves through a mind-numbing day of finescreen sorting down in the archaeology lab?  Just to make it through to 5:00 p.m. Monday-Friday, do we pretend that the American people as a whole love what archaeologists do for a living, all the while knowing deep inside that if the public really loved archaeology it would make tons of funding available to archaeologists?  How many other untruths do we archaeologists salve ourselves with throughout any given day just to feel as if we are doing something truly useful—something our own culture really appreciates and values?

The key problem here is that the truth sometimes hurts, and people run from things that hurt.  Living a lie is often easier than facing the truth.  Indeed, the truth is sometimes just more than the human psyche can take emotionally, so we compartmentalize an inconvenient truth into a nice little wooden box, drive in nails to secure it, and store it away in some unlit warehouse with millions of other nondescript wooden boxes.  Remember that huge government warehouse at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark?  As long as the box is filed away there, we never have to face and deal with the inconvenient truths inside it.


In my undergraduate and graduate school days (40 years ago), I was known for asking very difficult questions in casual conversations about American archaeology—and people really disliked it.  Can you say:  “Tracy’s here!  Run for the doors!”  I was often accused of being “too negative.”  However, I asked those questions back then (and still do today) because we never solve problems in life by running from them.  Pretending that they do not exist is just a form of running away.  A really good house must be supported by a strong foundation.  The strongest foundation for any enterprise begins with building blocks of truth.  If we are ever to deal effectively with the many problems and concerns that exist in American archaeology today, we must pull out our claw hammers, open up our stored-away crates, and honestly face the many inconvenient truths that we have avoided for so many years.  Go read Matt’s post again—let us all do it.  Let us be like a child again and release the painful truths about American archaeology that lie within us.  No more running from the truth—turn around and face it with the childlike honesty that abides within each of us—even if it hurts.  Then find ways to address these painful truths.  Always build on a solid foundation of truth for the future.

Snow in the Secret City and a Death in the Family

The Archaeology in Tennessee blog would like to report that we have a phenomenal amount of snow on the ground in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.  It is approximately half past midnight, and the snow is still coming down hard.  My best estimate is that we have about 6 – 8 inches right now.  This will surely increase overnight and well into tomorrow morning.  We have not had this much snow and snow of this sustained intensity since the Great Blizzard of 1993.  It is a real winter wonderland here.

I am also sad to report that my wife’s mother (Lillian Sarten), who was in a local nursing home, died this evening at about 8:10 p.m., just as the snow storm started picking up.  Some of our best archaeological friends from decades past regularly visit this blog and know my wife Kathy very well—and some of you have even met her mom at various times over the years.  Kathy’s mom graciously offered up her spare avacado green refrigerator for use in the field crew kitchen at the Tellico Archaeological Project in the summer of 1977 when we were excavating the Middle Woodland component at the Icehouse Bottom site and assorted components at several other sites.

Historically, standup comedians have decried the mother-in-law as a tough old battle ax.  Lillian was nothing like that.  She was one of the nicest and kindest people who ever lived.  We loved each other very much and got along famously over the years.  We will all miss her very much.

The funeral arrangements have not been made or announced because her death occurred only a few hours ago and because the winter storm has everyone “hunkering down” at assorted safe, indoor locations.  However, she will be at the Click Funeral Home in Lenoir City, Tennessee, over the next few days if you would like to come by to pay your respects or send flowers.  The URL for the funeral home is as follows, and the final arrangements will no doubt be posted on their website soon:


You folks have a safe and happy evening!!!

New Ph.D.’s in Archaeology and Anthropology: A Disturbing Trend

The overall economy is still bad but slowly improving here in the United States, albeit more in some economic sectors than in others.  In addition, the federal government is putting increased pressure on colleges and universities to accommodate parents and students by limiting tuition cost increases, which in turn limits the number of annual dollars available to fund new faculty members, staff members, the physical plant, and various other aspects of higher education.  With these thoughts in mind, the Archaeology in Tennessee blog would like to call your attention to a very disturbing video presentation about folks with new Ph.D. degrees and their current prospects for finding tenure-track employment doing teaching and research at American colleges and universities.  This video piece was first aired tonight on the PBS News Hour:


The part about being buried in a cardboard box seemed to be especially morbid and disturbing.

At various on-line locations over the past year, assorted pundits in the field of career planning, development, and recruiting have painted anthropology and archaeology as fields of study for college freshmen to avoid like the plague if they ever hope to find a job after graduation.  Admittedly, some of this punditry was overplayed, and it conveniently ignored the need for a graduate degree, as well as certain sets of statistics suggesting that overall job prospects in out years are not really all that bad when you consider these fields as a whole.

What are your opinions about the contents of the above video, and is the trend discussed in this video likely to have any effect on you personally?  If so, how do you plan to cope?  If you are a new Ph. D. in anthropology or archaeology and your Plan A is a tenure track position at a college or university, do you have a strategic Plan B in mind to avoid the disasters set forth in the video?  Click on the “Leave a Reply” button at the top of this post and let us know.