Slipping Through the Crevices at Mound Bottom

This is another one of my folksy but true stories about good old times in Tennessee archaeology. It involves a trip I made to Mound Bottom in 1973. Mound Bottom is a large Mississippian Period site located on the Harpeth River in Cheatham County, Tennessee. It is now preserved within Harpeth River State Park. If you need some detailed background information on this site, you can read about it here: and here:

I was an undergraduate geology student at Austin Peay State University in 1973. One of my best friends, who lived on my floor in the Ellington Hall dormitory, was Paul Pitt. At that time Paul’s older brother and sister were graduate students on campus, and he introduced me to them. The Pitt family home was in Ashland City, Cheatham County, Tennessee. One of the many things I respected about the Pitt family was their deep interest in and firm dedication to the preservation of natural and cultural resources in Tennessee. Their operative mantra was to “take only pictures and leave only footprints.” Because we were all friends, the Pitt family invited me to accompany them on a Saturday excursion to Mound Bottom. In particular, they wanted to ascend to the top of May’s Mace Bluff and show me the large petroglyph of a Mississippian Period ceremonial mace that the ancient inhabitants of Mound Bottom had incised into a rock at the top of the trail. My eyes had viewed this famous petroglyph in photographs, books, and conservation magazines, but I had never actually seen the real thing. Naturally, I accepted this kind invitation from the Pitt family.

May’s Mace Bluff is a high stone cliff located on the other side of the Harpeth River and immediately north of Mound Bottom. Cedar Hill Road occupies the narrow space between the river and the base of the bluff. In 1973, a trailhead was present along the edge of the road at the base of the bluff.

We began our hike in the early afternoon at the trailhead, and all of us were soon huffing and puffing our way up the steep trail to the top of the bluff. When we arrived, the ancient mace petroglyph was waiting for us on the face of a huge limestone rock. Figure 1 is an image of this rock and the petroglyph incised into it. Under normal conditions at this location, the mace petroglyph is the same color as the background rock, but red coloration was added to this photograph to highlight the mace and the two iconographic motifs (possibly feathers) dangling from it.

Mace Petroglyph at Mound Bottom

Figure 1. Mace Petroglyph on May’s Mace Bluff

I stopped at the mace, examined it closely, and found myself drawn into deep thoughts about how it was incised, why it was there (and not somewhere else), and how it might have been integrated with the ancient Mississippian ceremonies and rituals at Mound Bottom. All of a sudden, I popped out of my intellectual trance and noticed something a little frightening. My hiking companions were nowhere in sight. Not knowing where they had gone or what to do, I yelled out, “Where are you guys?” A close-by voice, seemingly from out of nowhere, replied, “Tracy, we’re down here!!!” I thought, “Down here? What down here? We’re on the top edge of a rock cliff 46 m above Cedar Hill Road!”

Most of us have a few Halloween bugaboos living within us, and one of mine is a fear of heights. That voice was coming from somewhere just a few steps away, and it sounded as if it came from the cliff edge. I bit my lower lip and carefully moved my feet toward the high edge of the bluff. The edge of May’s Mace Bluff was crenulated with narrow crevices that ran roughly perpendicular to the edge of the bluff, crevices just barely wide enough to accommodate a slim human body. Through one of these crevices, I spied something that looked like a secure, traversable dirt and rock floor. I yelled out, “Are you guys down there on this floor-looking thing?” A voice replied, “Yes, watch your step and climb carefully down through the crevice.” Well, for some odd reason that escapes me, I was feeling really brave that day and slipped through that crevice into a truly amazing place. It was a long rock and dirt shelf that was inset into the top wall of May’s Mace Bluff―basically forming a high rockshelter.

Memories dim with time, and 1973 was a long time ago. To the best of my recollection, this rockshelter was approximately 3 m front to back, 12 m wide, and 2.5 m high. Having an archaeological frame of mind, my first inclination was to visually scan the dry floor of this shelter for signs of ancient human activity. No artifacts were apparent, not even one flake of worked chert. A perusal of the rock walls and ceiling revealed no evidence of ancient paintings or petroglyphs. However, because I was a junior-level geology student, one truly striking natural feature in this rockshelter caught and held my attention.

This natural feature was a long layer of rock in the back wall of the rockshelter. It was situated at about human eye level and was approximately 0.6 m thick. This layer was composed of numerous smaller layers that appeared to be about 6.5 cm thick, and these smaller layers had numerous vertical fractures in them. The overall color of these layers, as they appeared that day, might best be described as a dusty, dark indigo. Many of the observed surfaces were flat, and they exhibited a natural patina from many years of weathering. The observed rock was extremely finegrained and dense, looking as if a quick tap from a rock hammer would yield a conchoidal fracture, and it was nothing like the layers of bedrock immediately above and below it. After staring at it for a moment, I said, “My gosh guys. This layer of rock looks very much like the descriptions of bedded tabular chert I have read about in geology textbooks and reference sources. I bet this is a seam of Fort Payne chert.” Until that moment, I had never seen a bed of native tabular chert in the field.

As I stood on the floor of this rockshelter, the pot simmering on the back burner of my mind held the following words: “Will I be able to slip back through that crevice and get out of this rockshelter alive?” Two other things were boiling on the front burners:

1) Because this layer of dusty indigo material was about at eye level, fractured into good-sized chunks, and easily susceptible to simple removal by hand, I wondered if the inhabitants of Mound Bottom had occasionally quarried tabular Fort Payne chert at this location. Unfortunately, at that point in time, I had never taken an archaeology course and did not know the tell-tale signs of ancient chert quarrying activities. No signs of initial lithic reduction activities were observed in this high rockshelter. The Mound Bottom site was only a few meters from the base of the bluff, so lithic reduction activities on the rockshelter floor might not have been necessary in ancient times―just pull out a few tabular chunks of chert with the hands and take them home in a fiber-mesh bag―very simple.

2) The mace petroglyph was located only a few human steps away from the vertical crevice that provided access to this high rockshelter on May’s Mace Bluff. This petroglyph was obviously linked to Mississippian ideology, social structure, and ritual at the Mound Bottom site. Its specific location was clearly no random occurrence. Perhaps the mace petroglyph and this unusual rockshelter were functionally and ritually related? What might the nature of such a relationship have been?

Dr. Albert Einstein was in love with the utility of imagination in the conduct of scientific inquiry.  Consider the following statements (Great-Quotes 2013:1-3) by this physicist:

1) “The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination.”

2) “Imagination is more important than knowledge.  For knowledge is limited, whereas imagination embraces the entire world.”

3) “Your Imagination is your preview of life’s coming attractions.”

If it is not allowed to flow too rapidly or go too wild, causing it to outrun its evidential headlight beams, imagination can be quite useful for formulating testable hypotheses in American archaeology.

With regard to Mississippian ideology and cosmology, Carol Diaz-Granados (2011:92) has noted that “…the bilobed arrow and mace, being two of the major attributes of the Hawk Being (or “Birdman”), belong primarily to the Upper World realm of the cosmos.” According to Reilly and Garber (2007:5), most scholars of Mississippian iconography have come to recognize that the mace motif and the often accompanying severed head motif link the mythological Birdman with warfare.

The presence of the mace petroglyph on the high rim of May’s Mace Bluff was probably locative in nature, identifying the high points along the bluff rim as part of the actual Upper World or as a symbolic manifestation of that Upper World at Mound Bottom. If the mace petroglyph and close-by rockshelter on this high bluff were functionally related, the rockshelter may have been used as a theater stage (for lack of better terminology) where ritual activities and mythological narratives about the Upper World were reenacted for the benefit of people assembled below on the Mound Bottom site. Indeed, much like the story board sequence for a modern motion picture, these high-theater-stage activities may have been logistically coordinated to carefully fit in with and/or punctuate ritual activities underway in parallel on the large plaza below at Mound Bottom.

While poised high on May’s Mace Bluff in 1973, it occurred to me that the ancient vegetation distribution in Mound Bottom was probably very different from what we see today. Because of on-site firewood and construction imperatives, the Mound Bottom site and its immediate environs were most likely devoid or nearly devoid of tall trees. This means the site would have been more open in nature than it is today, and human visual lines of sight would not have been disrupted by curtains of trees, including trees along the banks of the Harpeth River and at the base of May’s Mace Bluff. Given the overriding importance of Mississippian ideology and ritual in the daily lives of the people at Mound Bottom, it is at least possible that unwanted vegetation growth on the face of May’s Mace Bluff was selectively (and very dangerously) pruned to support ritual activities of life and death importance to the Mound Bottom population—if some of those rituals did indeed require a clear visual line of sight from the Mound Bottom floor to the top of the bluff. If May’s Mace Bluff did have ritual significance, maintenance of this clear visual field would have been absolutely necessary to assure completion of the ritual experience for the Native American people on the valley floor. It should be noted that May’s Mace Bluff is located almost due north of the large plaza area at Mound Bottom, and it was potentially visible from this plaza, the main mound to its immediate west, and the smaller mounds surrounding it to the north, east, and south (O’Brien and Kuttruff 2011: 71-72).

It is now both possible and practical to begin testing this hypothesis in the laboratory and in the field.  The techniques and technical approaches necessary to initiate testing are commonly used in the preparation of Environmental Impact Statements (EIS) under the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA).  During preparation of an EIS, the potential impacts of a proposed action and its alternatives on the visual environment are assessed. This is often done in the laboratory where Geographic Information Systems (GIS) techniques and other approaches are used to support line-of-sight studies. These studies are used to determine whether a proposed action (e.g., construction and operation of a new industrial facility) and its alternatives would adversely affect the visual environment in areas of potential effect. These same GIS techniques and technological approaches could be used to assess the visibility of ritual and narrative reenactments in the rockshelter to ancient people standing on the ground surface at Mound Bottom. Such studies would have to account for average human eye level on the ground at Mound Bottom, how eight centuries of sedimentation in this tight bend of the Harpeth River may have elevated eye level at various locations, the visibility of the rockshelter from the mound tops, and its visibility from various other locations on the Mound Bottom site. If one were to select enough line-of-sight points on the ground surface, these techniques and approaches could be used to define spatial zones on the Mound Bottom site where ritual and narrative activities in the rockshelter would have been visible, obscured, or invisible.

Somewhat similarly, noise measurement and assessment techniques could be combined with GIS techniques to assess the relative audibility of various sounds (human voices at various levels, cane pipe music, drum sounds, rattle sounds, etc.) emanating from the rockshelter activities and traveling various distances to points on the ground surface below at Mound Bottom.

If it turns out that no good lines of sight existed between rockshelter activities and the floor of Mound Bottom during ancient times, the hypothesis would be negated. Sound-related results would be a little more problematic to the extent that sound might not have been an important aspect of any ritual or narrative activities conducted on the hypothetical rockshelter stage. However, if certain kinds of ancient sounds emanating from the rockshelter were clearly audible at certain areas on the ground surface and those areas coincided within positive on-site locations defined by the visibility data, it would lend credence to the hypothesis that the rockshelter functioned as a viable theater stage for reenacting activities of ritual and narrative importance that reflected the nature of the Upper World.

The Archaeology in Tennessee blog would like to end this post with a warning to artifact dealers and looters. This rockshelter at the top of May’s Mace Bluff is on state property. Unpermitted digging for artifacts on state property is illegal and punishable by a fine and/or imprisonment under Tennessee law. Violation of Tennessee archaeological resource protection statutes that prohibit illicit artifact collecting will get you into simultaneous trouble under the federal Archaeological Resources Protection Act of 1979. Can you say double-barreled shotgun? As clearly noted in the text above, no ancient Native American artifacts of any kind were visible anywhere in this rockshelter during my visit in 1973, not even a single flake of worked chert. Do you seriously think I would have written this post if there were any artifacts there, and I thought you could get to them?  There is no chance in this realm of existence.

I would also add that navigating the tight crevice we slipped through to enter this high-precipice rockshelter was very dangerous. While some professional archaeologists would love to see artifact dealers and looters planted in cemetery plots, I am a fairly nice professional archaeologist who wishes you no physical harm and knows that your wife, son, and daughter would love to see you arrive home safely every night. That being the case, my best advice to you is to stay away from these dangerous crevices.


Diaz-Grenados, Carol, 2011, “Early Manifestations of Mississippian Iconography in Middle Mississippi Valley Rock-Art.” In Visualizing the Sacred: Cosmic Visions, Regionalism, and the Art of the Mississippian World, edited by George E. Lankford, F. Kent Reilly III, and James F. Garber, 64-95. University of Texas Press, Austin.

Great-Quotes, 2013, “Quotes by Albert Einstein.”, pp. 1-3.  Accessed at:, October 13, 2014.

O’Brien, Michael J. and Carl Kuttruff, 2011, “The 1974 Excavations at Mound Bottom, A Palisaded Mississippian Center in Cheatham County, Tennessee.” Southeastern Archaeology 30: 70-86.

Reilly, F. Kent III and James F. Garber, 2007, “Introduction.” In Ancient Objects and Sacred Realms: Interpretations of Mississippian Iconography, edited by F. Kent Reilly III and James F. Garber, 1-7. University of Texas Press, Austin.

Even More Unwritten Rules in Professional Archaeology

The Mojourner Truth blog out in the Pacific Northwest has added even more unwritten rules in professional archaeology to our list.  You may access those by clicking on the following link:

Here on the Archaeology in Tennessee blog, you can view these new rules and all of the previously submitted unwritten rules by clicking on the following link:

Have fun!!!

PBS Antiques Roadshow Appraises Duck River Cache and Sandy

This was an interesting and surprising evening! While the rest of my family was at a concert, I prepared some food in the kitchen at home, plopped my bottom into a den chair, munched on dinner, and watched some television. After Erin Burnett had regaled me with assorted Ebola horrors on CNN, I did some quick channel surfing and landed on the Public Broadcasting System (PBS) channel where The Antiques Roadshow was already underway―from Knoxville, Tennessee. After watching a few minutes, the camera suddenly cut away to a program emcee standing in front of the Frank H. McClung Museum of Natural History & Culture at The University of Tennessee. The primary subject of concern was the museum’s permanent exhibit called Archaeology and the Native Peoples of Tennessee.

Once inside the museum, the emcee was accompanied by a professional art appraiser with knowledge of Native American artifacts and their monetary value. The focus was on the Sandy statue (Figure 1), a famous Mississippian Period artifact from the Sellars mound site near Lebanon, Tennessee, and the equally famous Duck River Cache (Figure 2) of Dover chert ceremonial objects from the Link Farm site in West Tennessee. Somewhat less interest was placed on a crudely executed female Mississippian statue that sits near Sandy in the exhibit.


Figure 1.  Sandy

 Duck River Cash

Figure 2.  Duck River Cache (Seever 1897:143)

The art appraiser examined Sandy and the Duck River Cache,  and he offered an appraised dollar value for each of them. As a matter of ethics, we professional archaeologists normally refrain from offering such appraisals to private individuals because they could contribute to commercial trafficking in artifacts, which has the ultimate effect of encouraging looting at archaeological sites. I would also say that most of us professional archaeologists do not keep up with current monetary valuations on artifacts because we do not need to know such things in the course of our daily work. No doubt being aware of this fact, the professional art appraiser was very careful to note that his appraisals for Sandy and the Duck River Cache were recommended valuations for insurance purposes only.

Lady Gaga’s new song Artpop says that she is in the entertainment business for the music and not the “bling” (flashy possessions). Similarly, we professional archaeologists are in our business for archaeological information and not the bling. Nonetheless, it was interesting and a bit fun to find out how valuable these artifacts are in crass monetary terms.

The Duck River Cache was formally appraised at $600,000 to $800,000. Considering the fact that the State of Tennessee bought these chipped stone artifacts from the University of Missouri for only $2,500 in 1947 (Peacock 1984:26), that is not a bad return on our state’s long-term investment in professional archaeology.

I thought the Duck River Cache would certainly be valued higher than Sandy, but you have to remember that Sandy has become a national celebrity since his appearance on a U.S. postage stamp. This star quality and his new status as an official state artifact has no doubt increased his value. For insurance purposes, Sandy was appraised at $800,000 to $1,200,000, which in my mind further raises the ancient Sellars artist to bonafide master sculptor status.

Now that PBS has brought Sandy and the Duck River Cache to the attention of both national and international television audiences via regular television transmissions, cable connections, and satellite hookups and placed a very high monetary value on these artifacts, we all trust that Dr. Jefferson Chapman (Museum Director) and his fine staff at the Frank H. McClung Museum of Natural History & Culture have implemented security measures sufficient to protect these famous artifacts from theft both now and in the years to come.


Peacock, Charles K., Duck River Cache: Tennessee’s Greatest Archaeological Find. Reprinted and updated by H.C. Brehm and Quentin R. Bass II in the Mini-Histories Series, 1984.

Seever, William J.,  “A Cache of Idols and Chipped Flint Instruments In Tennessee,” The Antiquarian, Volume 1, Part 6, June 1897.

The Search for the Madison Tablet

The Oak Ridge Archaeological Research Institute is continuing its search for the long lost Madison Tablet and several other long lost Native American artifacts that were discovered in Tennessee.  Please read the following revised and updated story about the Madison Tablet and help us find it.  You are our eyes and ears. It has to be out there somewhere in Tennessee, the United States, or some foreign country.  Please be on the lookout for it, and send us an e-mail message at or if you know its current whereabouts or have any leads.  Thanks!!

1.0 Introduction

Sometimes prehistoric Native American artifacts go missing and are never seen again for several decades or even a century. One good example that has been missing for about 90 years is the famous Castalian Springs Tablet, also known in the Tennessee archaeological literature as the Eagle Warrior stone (Smith and Miller 2009:73). It is a flat limestone slab with a depiction of the famous birdman mythological figure incised into its surface. This stone was found on the ground surface at the Castalian Springs mound site in Castalian Springs, Tennessee, in the late 1800s, and it dates to the Mississippian period (Myer 1894:11). In the late 20th century, a lesser known but equally important incised limestone slab known as the Madison Tablet was found at a large Mississippian village site on the east side of Nashville, Tennessee. This site was known as the Haysboro site in the 19th century, but by the 1960s it was known as the Maddox site (40DV17) [Parker 1980:5-6; Parker and Parker 1982].

The Madison Tablet disappeared from the realm of Tennessee archaeology in 1994 and has not been on exhibition or available for scientific examination for the past 20 years. Its current owner, location, and preservation status are unknown. This essay tells the story of the Madison Tablet, and it kindly asks the many readers of the Archaeology in Tennessee blog to assist with finding this long-missing Tennessee artifact.

2.0 Archaeological Context of the Madison Tablet

The Madison Tablet was found in situ within a human burial on 40DV17. A Nashville artifact collector by the name of Malcolm P. Parker discovered the tablet and curated it in his private collection from the moment it was found in autumn 1968 until the date of his death in 1993, a period of 25 years (Parker 1980:5-6; Parker and Parker 1982).

This burial was a flesh inhumation, and the deceased individual had been buried on their back in a fully extended position. The skeletal remains were fully articulated, and they rested on a single limestone slab that was long enough to accommodate the entire length of an adult male body. Perhaps most importantly, the cranium of this individual was found resting squarely on top of the Madison Tablet, which had been used as a sort of pillow for the head at the time of inhumation. A quartzite ear plug was found near the cranium. In the midsection of the remains lay a large rim sherd from a shell-tempered pot, and a metal knife with a bone handle was present in approximately the same location (Parker 1980:5-6; Parker and Parker 1982) . Mr. Parker earnestly believed that the knife was an intentional item of burial furniture, but most archaeologists in the Nashville area have long thought that this artifact was intrusive.  Suffice it to say that it has been a matter of some controversy.

Throughout his life, Malcolm Parker was an honest man and a church-going member of several Methodist congregations. In addition, he was a close relative of mine, and I knew him better than almost anyone because he was like a second father to me throughout his long life. I was 16 years old when the Madison Tablet was found, and upon first hearing about its discovery, I immediately requested an opportunity to go to 40DV17 and see the burial in which it was found. Mr. Parker took me straight to the site that afternoon to observe the still-open burial in which it was found. This opportunity to see the burial occurred within approximately 3 days after the tablet was discovered and removed from its burial context.

Mr. John Dowd, a highly respected avocational archaeologist and a member of the Southeastern Indian Antiquities Survey (SIAS), was a friend of Mr. Parker. A number of months after discovery of the Madison Tablet, he interviewed Mr. Parker and filled out a standard field burial form for this flesh inhumation, which he officially designated as Burial 1. A copy of this burial form and other detailed information about Burial 1 are on file in my home office, and Mr. Dowd’s original SIAS burial form is on file at the Tennessee Division of Archaeology in Nashville, Tennessee.

Today a large retail store and its parking lot sit on top of the burial zone where the Madison Tablet was found, and the surrounding area has been subject to heavy development over the past 60 years. Consequently, a very large portion of the Maddox site has been destroyed, and anything that might have escaped destruction has been heavily disturbed.

As may be seen from the foregoing information, the Madison Tablet is not one of those infamous artifacts that has been intentionally tagged with a false discovery story to dupe a succession of would-be artifact buyers into thinking it is a genuine Native American artifact when it is really just a fake. Indeed, Mr. Parker never attempted to sell the Madison Tablet during his own lifetime because he had a strict personal policy of never selling or trading any artifact he had personally found in Tennessee. Unequivocally, the Madison Tablet is an actual dirt find within a human burial on a well-known Mississippian archaeological site in the Middle Cumberland region.

3.0 Description of the Madison Tablet

The Madison Tablet is a slab of native Ordivician limestone, which is a common lithic raw material in the Nashville Basin. It is a hefty stone with an irregular shape. The Madison Tablet measures 35.5 cm (14 in) × 25.4 cm (10 in.) × 7.6 cm (3 in).

At the time of its discovery, the exterior surfaces of the tablet were stained with soil minerals, giving it a somewhat mottled yellowish red color. One broad face of the tablet showed evidence of smoothing and polishing with abrading stones, but this alteration of the surface was executed unevenly because of gentle undulations in the natural surface of the limestone slab.

The obverse surface of the Madison Tablet has intricate incised images on it. No incised images are known to be present on the reverse side.

From the date it was found in 1968 until Mr. Parker died in 1993, the Madison Tablet was never photographed. The only known image of the tablet and the iconography incised into its surface is a drawing he made prior to his death. This drawing is shown in Figure 1.



Figure 1. Madison Tablet

The original drawing and the size-reduced version (Figure 1) are a bit misleading and need some clarification. Malcolm Parker was an amateur artist who preferred to draw with wide-tipped instruments such as large-lead pencils and grease pencils. This explains why the lines are so wide and distinctive in his original drawing and to a lesser degree in the size-reduced version above. Consequently, the thicknesses of the lines on the original drawing and the one shown here do not accurately reflect the true widths of the incised lines on the Madison Tablet. The actual incised lines on the Madison Tablet tend to be mostly narrow and shallow like those on the Thruston Tablet, and many of them are faint.  Thus, Figure 1 is an idealized view of the overall lineation wherein all lines are portrayed as strong, wide, and distinct.

The irregularly smoothed and polished surface of the Madison tablet bears the incised images of a serpent, a lizard-like creature, and two possibly still-living herbaceous plants with long stems and narrow leaves. The lizard-like creature appears to have already removed the leaves from 14 plants, leaving only the stems, and it is weaving these stems into a lattice structure. The body of the serpent is partially obscured by the two still-living plants, but its head is poised above the tops of these plants, allowing it to observe the lizard-like creature and its lattice-building process. Two long, roughly parallel lines to the left of the lattice work appear (at first glance) to be a possible stream of water, but these lines most likely represent the rough top edge of the stone slab rather than an intentional element or motif in the overall engraved image.

4.0 Temporal Context of the Madison Tablet

The Madison Tablet was found in a human burial located among a number of stone box burials on 40DV17. This suggests that it dates to the Mississippian Period (A.D. 1000-1475) in the Middle Cumberland region (Smith and Miller 2009:38). Admittedly, the incised images on the Madison Tablet are atypical of Mississippian iconography, but one must remember that we still do not know all there is to know about regional Mississippian iconographic traditions (and certainly not those for flat stone media in the Middle Cumberland region). Another matter to consider is whether the local Mississippian culture required all incised themes to represent Mississippian mythological subject matter, using only widely known Mississippian iconographic elements and motifs. Would it have been socially and ideologically permissible to abandon standard Mississippian iconography and present an incised theme reflecting a matter of personal, site-level, or chiefdom-level significance?  If so, this might explain the deviation from typical Mississippian iconography.

Optionally, this portable tablet might date to some earlier prehistoric time period, meaning it was passed down through many generations as an important heirloom item to the Mississippian occupants of the Maddox site, or it could have been a much earlier artifact found during the Mississippian Period and curated on the site. Because a bone and metal knife was found in possible association with Burial 1, Mr. Parker believed the Madison Tablet was a Native American artifact dating to the early historic era.

At the moment, the Mississippian origin and temporal attribution for Burial 1 and the associated Madison Tablet are considered to be the most plausible.  However, the door must be left open to the possibility that the Madison Tablet could be a planted fake of 20th century origin.

5.0 Potential for Being a Fake Artifact

This section entertains the question of whether or not the Madison Tablet is a fake artifact.  Right now, the only argument in favor of this notion is the fact that the incised images on it do not “look Mississippian.” Then again, just because an Afrikaner does not “look African” is no sure indication that she was born outside of Africa. Consequently, if an archaeologist wishes to test whether the Madison Tablet is fake, he or she will need to go beyond mere appearances, look at the hard evidence already available In Section 2.0 and this section (including some not presented in this essay), develop even more hard evidence, and take a holistic look at the issue.

People who produce fake prehistoric incisings on limestone make some rather typical mistakes. For example, all of the engraved lines are distinct and easy to see. The incised lines tend to be of uniform thickness and depth. In addition, the lines often do not exhibit the same degree of staining and weathering as the natural surface of the limestone raw material.

As previously noted, the iconography incised into the obverse surface of the Madison Tablet consists of very narrow lines quite similar to those on the Thruston Tablet, including the presence of both distinct lines that are easy to see and long-ago faded lines that are difficult to see. Unlike recently faked limestone incisings, the lines on the Madison Tablet exhibit irregular widths and depths. Moreover, the exterior surfaces of this tablet have distinctive soil mineral staining, indicating that the Madison Tablet had been buried in soil for a long time. This staining is evident not just on its exterior surfaces, but also within all of the incised lines.

These observations about the lines were made informally in April 1969 when I had an opportunity to briefly view the Madison Tablet under excellent exterior lighting conditions. Unfortunately, these observations about the incised lines were made 45 years ago, and I was 16 years old at the time. Memories can fade with time, which is one very good reason why the Madison Tablet merits a closer examination today.

Could the Madison Tablet have been planted? A detail-oriented person who had seen the line variability on the Thruston Tablet might have gone to extraordinary lengths to forge similar lineation on the Madison Tablet. Subsequently, they could have planted the forged tablet in an already known Mississippian burial on the Maddox site, perhaps many decades prior to 1968. In other words, the Madison Tablet could have been planted like the Piltdown man cranium and mandible or the Bat Creek Stone. However, even this forge-and-plant scenario would present several problems. For example, replication of the subtle variability in lineation seen on the Thruston Tablet would have been a difficult, meticulous, and time-consuming task that would have probably exceeded the patience of most forgers. Furthermore, the quartzite ear plug found in situ near the cranium of the Burial 1 individual would pose a problem. It seems unlikely that a 19th century antiquarian or 20th century artifact collector would have sacrificed such a nice and valuable ornamental artifact in support of a mischievous archaeological hoax.

People who plant fake artifacts in the ground are usually pursuing some sort of scientific, financial, political, social, or religious agenda. As soon as the planted artifact is found and made public, the people who planted it shift into agenda overdrive and publicly shout about how the new find supports their agenda. As we all know now, a scientific agenda with social connotations was clearly at work in the famous Piltdown forgery. During the entire time since the Madison Tablet was found in 1968, a period of 46 years, not a single person in the Nashville area or outside of it has ever spoken up to link this artifact to any sort of prevailing cultural agenda. Indeed, the silence on this point has been deafening, again making it unlikely that the Madison Tablet was a planted fake.

Based on what we know (or think we know) at this time, if Cyrus Thomas, W.E. Myer, Gates P. Thruston, and P.E. Cox were here, I feel certain they would say that the Madison Tablet “bears all of the ancient tell-tale marks of authenticity,” and as a professional archaeologist who has actually seen the Madison Tablet, I would have to agree―at least tentatively—until the tablet can be closely examined one more time.

6.0 Legal Status of the Madison Tablet

It is important to note that the Madison Tablet has not been stolen from a private artifact collection or any museum collection. It was found on private property in 1968. Mr. Maddox was a local realtor who owned the 40DV17 property and was known to allow multiple artifact collectors to dig at will on his property. The Madison Tablet was found immediately after earthmoving had begun for a large retail store. The prevailing historical assumption has always been that Mr. Maddox still owned the 40DV17 property when the Madison Tablet was found. However, it is potentially possible that land ownership could have been transferred to the retailer or their holding company immediately prior to the beginning of earthmoving operations, meaning the Madison Tablet might have been found and unknowingly removed without retailer or holding company permission. A determination of who owned the property when earthmoving began would require in-depth research. The exact date when the Madison Tablet was found is unknown. Considering this variable, the passage of 46 years, and the uncertain disposition of old corporate construction records, such research might yield no clear answers as to who owned the property when the Madison Tablet was found―and most likely no one would even care about it today.

Excavation of the Madison Tablet occurred on private property and long before 1979, which means the current federal cultural resource management (CRM) statutes and regulations do not apply to this artifact. No federal or state laws pertinent to human burials or artifacts found in human burials apply to the Madison Tablet.  The Tennessee CRM statutes and regulations did not even exist when the Madison Tablet was found, which means none of them were violated by excavation and removal of the Madison Tablet. As a result, this is not an artifact that a federal or state agency could legally confiscate from its owner. In other words, the current owner of the Madison Tablet is not subject to arrest, prosecution, fines, or imprisonment by federal or state authorities. It is also highly unlikely that any private or public entity would ever want to confiscate the Madison Tablet—even if they could.  It has been privately owned for the past 46 years, and that is not likely to ever change.

7.0 Current Location of the Madison Tablet

In 1994, the Madison Tablet dropped out of sight―meaning off the archaeological radar screen and out of general public awareness. It has not been seen by anyone in the local avocational or professional archaeological communities in the past 20 years, meaning it has never shown up on display at any Nashville or Tennessee area artifact collector show. It is presumed that this artifact was sold to someone shortly after 1994, and it may have already changed hands a couple of times as a result of artifact trades or sales. If it was sold, the purchaser may have been an artifact dealer, artifact collector, or just an ordinary citizen who bought it as a piece of decorative art for their home or garden.

The best-case location scenario is one in which the Madison Tablet is owned by some artifact collector who knows the story of this artifact, appreciates its archaeological importance, takes good care of it, plans to keep it on Tennessee or United States soil, wants to know more about it, is not afraid of owning it, and is willing to let others know that he owns it—thereby sharing it with the general public.  Today almost all artifact collectors are adamant in their belief that every Native American artifact should be made available for public viewing and study.

Possible worst-case location scenarios abound. The following are just four of them:

A) The Madison Tablet is owned by a private citizen who has no earthly idea what it is. She bought it at a flea market, believing it was a cute piece of art done by some elementary school kids. It was taken home and now has a lovely place of its own in the Japanese rock garden behind the house.

B) A few years ago, the Figure 1 drawing of the Madison Tablet was shown to several artifact dealers who were asked to state whether they thought it was an authentic Native American artifact. Most were unwilling to express an opinion without seeing the actual limestone slab. However, a couple immediately expressed the opinion that it is obviously a fake artifact. They could tell because the incisings did not “look Native American.” If the Madison Tablet has come into contact with the wrong artifact dealer or appraiser, its last owner may have tossed it into the garbage bin―and if not―this fate may still be waiting for this tablet in the future.

C) The Madison Tablet may have been sold to an obscure artifact collector in Europe, the Middle East, or Japan, which quite likely means it has no chance of ever being studied. It is gone from Tennessee forever, and the owner may know nothing about it except that he was told Native Americans made it.

D) The Madison Tablet might be owned by a timid and very secretive artifact collector who sits in his house cowering in fear and wild imaginings about federal or state authorities beating a path toward his door to confiscate the Madison Tablet and his Chevy Tahoe―or he is afraid to let anyone know he has an artifact collection for fear that someone will break into his house and steal it. Therefore, he will just let time drift by quietly, he will die someday, his surviving wife or children will sell the collection, and the Madison Tablet will end up in the hands of another secretive collector, an artifact dealer who will immediately declare it to be garbage, or someone who will send it to a new owner in a foreign country. Consequently, no one here in the United States will ever be able to examine the Madison Tablet, and the full story it still has to tell will be lost forever, unless the current owner bravely steps forward and allows this artifact to be examined so its full story can be elucidated and told.

8.0 An Appeal for Your Help

The Madison Tablet is an important element in some long-term archaeological research I am doing, and I would very much like to find out who owns this incised limestone slab so I can get in touch with them and obtain permission to photograph it, take some measurements, examine it more closely, and make some notes on it. This is my sole purpose in attempting to find the stone. When I am finished, the owner can take it back home and do with it whatever he wishes.

If you own the Madison Tablet, please send me an e-mail message at or If you are an artifact collector, avocational archaeologist, museum employee, or professional archaeologist in Tennessee, another state, or elsewhere on planet Earth and you know who owns the Madison Tablet, please send me an e-mail message. If you are just an ordinary citizen out there on the American landscape and you have seen this artifact somewhere, like maybe as a decoration on the mantle above some average citizen’s fireplace, please send me an e-mail message. Your identity will be kept confidential if you wish.

Finally, just to cover all the bases, I know a little bit about how human beings think—well—some human beings. Someone out there will look at the Figure 1 drawing of the Madison Tablet and say, “Oh! I’ve seen that! My best friend Fran has one just like that!” No. Only one of these exists. If your best friend Fran has one, it is the one and the only one on planet Earth. Please trust me and send me that e-mail message. Thank you very much for your help!

9.0 References

Myer, William E., “An Old Shawnee Town in Tennessee.” The Archaeologist. 2(1): 6-13, 1894 (January).

Parker, Malcolm, The Shawnees in Tennessee. Nashville: Central Printing, 1980.

Parker, Malcolm and LaUna Parker, Letter to Tracy Brown (Subject: Excavation of a Human Burial at 40DV17), July 2, 1982.

Smith, Kevin E. and James V. Miller, Speaking with the Ancestors: Mississippian Stone Statuary of the Tennessee-Cumberland Region. Tuscaloosa: The University of Alabama Press, 2009.

Breakfast with A.R. Kelly

Today is the eve of Labor Day weekend. Labor Day is often referred to as the unofficial end of summer and beginning of autumn. The arrival of autumn means many professional archaeologists and their students have already submitted papers and are making plans to attend the annual meeting of the Southeastern Archaeological Conference (SEAC) in Greenville, South Carolina (November 12 -15, 2014). The newly arrived autumn sun angle and the upcoming SEAC meeting brought to mind a brief but humorous personal encounter with a famous American archaeologist at the 1976 SEAC meeting in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

The maple leaves were orange and the clouds above were white at The University of Tennessee (Knoxville) in November 1976. It was time to head out for the SEAC meeting. As is still the case today, undergraduate and graduate archaeology students were on limited personal budgets, and it was most economical to pool resources and travel to the meeting in small groups. Dave McMahan had a dark green Ford Torino that was in good working condition, and he graciously consented to let me (Tracy Brown) and Wayne Roberts tag along on his trip to Tuscaloosa. On this particular trip, Dave quickly discovered that I was harboring a dark personal secret, one Wayne had already discovered the hard way on a previous road trip to visit with James Cambron in Huntsville, Alabama. As Wayne so aptly put it, “Tracy’s bladder must be the size of a walnut.”

The 1976 SEAC meeting was held at the Ramada Inn in downtown Tuscaloosa, and it was very well attended, probably because of its central location in the southeast and some very important presentations on the meeting schedule. One of these was a hold-your-breath-and-wait summary presentation by Jeff Chapman on his recent Early Archaic excavations at Icehouse Bottom. Another was a highly anticipated summary presentation by distinguished southeastern archaeologist Dr. Arthur Randolph Kelly on his past excavations at the Ocmulgee National Monument in Macon, Georgia. For those of you who might not be familiar with the late A.R. Kelly and his work in southeastern archaeology, you can catch up by clicking on the following biographical sketch:

The Ramada Inn was crowded―to say the least. Multiple students were staying in small hotel rooms, and sleeping conditions reminded me of a ferret pile in a pet shop. My first night in one of those rooms was uncomfortable and almost sleepless, so I arose early in hopes of a peaceful, quiet, and lonely breakfast in the large hotel restaurant downstairs. It was not to be. I was stunned by the enormous crowd already gathered for breakfast. Every chair at every table was occupied, and the spaces between tables were chocked full of standing archaeologists who were sipping coffee, chomping on Danish rolls, and jabbering with their colleagues. The restaurant was hot and uncomfortable, clouds of tobacco smoke drifted through it, and the noise level was very high―almost deafening. I thought: “Oh great, no sleep and now no food.” Then a miracle dropped from the heavens.

The diners at one table stood up all at once and left, and just as quickly, a restaurant worker wiped down the table. I shot for that table and claimed it. Here was my opportunity for a peaceful, lone, quiet breakfast. I had been seated only a few seconds when I suddenly noticed someone towering over my table. Glancing up, I encountered an old man in blue jeans. He was plump in the middle and crowned with greasy strings of gray, shoulder-length hair. It was A. R. Kelly, and he needed a chair for breakfast just as badly as I had a few moments earlier. Without really asking, he just pulled out a chair, plopped his bottom into it, and started talking to me. I am not sure how long the conversation lasted, but I do recall being the first to leave the table after finishing breakfast.

Much to my surprise, later that day, other UTK archaeology students would walk up to me and say, “Wow!!! You were having breakfast with A.R. Kelly this morning!!! How did you ever swing that?” They also wanted to know what the two of us had talked about and what rare gems of old-days-in-archaeology knowledge he had deposited in my ears. I said little to nothing in response.

Recently, my old tripmate (Wayne Roberts) retired from his job as Head Archaeologist for the South Carolina Department of Transportation. On holidays and other occasions, Wayne and Carol come to the Knoxville area for a visit, and our family meets them for dinner and an evening of catching up. (Just like with Dave McMahan, our kids know him as “Uncle Wayne.”)  Wayne and I also have long talks about various things on the telephone.

This past winter, just as a snowstorm was blowing into the Columbia area, Wayne and I had one of those long telephone conversations. During that conversation, he reminded me of my famous breakfast with A. R. Kelly. Once again, I was asked to recall the details of my in-depth discussions with Dr. Kelly on that fateful morning in 1976. I explained to Wayne that our talk went something like the following throughout our entire breakfast together:

A.R. Kelly: I tjgh kltj ltpylkg the ployitgfr yropthmt lkwrtylm.

Tracy:  Uh-huh.

A.R. Kelly:  Wifllsldm cmhd jeoe kjfmn xnsn sgge weeks hdoplc xmnb.

Tracy: Really?

A.R. Kelly:  Tpol rkfldmnsb svvcdh dlfofi dhsgavc in the sbmfdl glglflksm nsbedb fjgklbllll.

Tracy:  Uh huh?

A.R. Kelly:  Kshsgd ftehkdl fljhdh akkieuet Ocmulgee wtfdndlsj hegbs yqwpmz 1938.

Tracy:  You don’t mean it? Well, I’ll be.

A.R. Kelly:  Well, kslshb cnvfd djbwfs frefkl fhhppl on the kdxmbb vsggs ls jdgvwt shjdkcnn.

Tracy:  Wow.

A.R. Kelly:  In about pldjrp utn gklsm cbbr uyds eow msbxvv cckllr xmszn Lamar.

Tracy:  I have to go now Dr. Kelly. Have a nice day.

A.R. Kelly was a rather quiet and soft-spoken person, and in his early morning grogginess, he was apparently unaware that the intense noise in the restaurant was drowning out nearly every word he said. I could not even hear myself talk in that place, so I wonder to this day if he was able to hear even the little bit that I said. However, I did learn an important lesson from my breakfast with A.R. Kelly, and it has paid off in spades over the years. If you ever need to have a really serious and meaningful conversation with someone, never do it in a noisy place. Pick some place comfortable and quiet.

Have a safe and happy Labor Day weekend!!!

A Final Note on Our Most Recent Series of Posts and Some Related Matters

The Archaeology in Tennessee blog understands that the four preceding posts on the Jimmy Carter Clause and the Archaeological Resources Protection Act of 1979 (ARPA) may leave some artifact collectors in Tennessee and throughout the United States feeling hurt and angry. We hope you will realize that any sense of hurt and anger you feel is coming directly from the federal government rather than us here at the blog. It was not our intent to make you feel bad. We were just attempting to explain and clarify an element of the law that gets many artifact collectors confused. We here at the blog would like to say that we have nothing personal against most artifact collectors and avocational archaeologists. Some of the nicest and kindest people we have ever known were and are artifact collectors and avocational archaeologists.  We further understand that artifact collecting was once a time-honored American hobby that was generally accepted in the same vein as mom, the American flag, and apple pie.  As some have pointed out, the Boy Scouts of America once offered a merit badge for assembling a small collection of Native American artifacts. We also understand that it must be very difficult to live in a time when the government, a number of professional archaeologists, and many Native Americans tend to view all artifact collecting as immoral and sometimes criminal behavior.

During the 1960s and very early 1970s, professional archaeologists were nearly nonexistent in the Nashville area. If a kid was interested in archaeology, the only way he or she had to pursue their interest was reading books and talking to local artifact collectors and avocational archaeologists. The owner of this blog was one of those Nashville area kids. His early interest in archaeology was sparked by a close relative (Mr. Malcolm Parker) who lived in Nashville. When our owner was about 8 years old, Mr. Parker gave him a small canvas board with prehistoric artifacts glued to it. This board was probably a Christmas gift. The mounted artifacts were mostly whole projectile points/knives, haftable endscrapers, and ancient beads―some made out of human teeth. The 8-year-old kid had no appreciation for the board of artifacts, soon tore it all to pieces, and managed to lose all of the artifacts. Only Jesus knows where they are now—probably spread helter-skelter all over the ground of the old neighborhood back home in Gallatin, Tennessee. However, Mr. Parker persisted in his influence, and a strong interest in archaeology was indeed sparked within the kid at a later point in time. In one way or another, it would be fair to say that the kid grew up with artifact collectors and avocational archaeologists all around him. As a result, he learned a lot about prehistoric artifacts, artifact collectors, artifact-collecting practices, and avocational archaeology. Interestingly, the kid never had any real desire to be an artifact collector―perhaps predictable from the experience of that 8-year-old kid and his ill-fated canvas board. He wanted to grow up and be a real archaeologist.

We do not harbor a universal hatred for all artifact collectors here at the Archaeology in Tennessee blog. We enjoy talking to artifact collectors, viewing their artifacts, and listening closely to any insights or information they might have that will help us with our own archaeological research projects. Unfortunately, it is very hard these days to find artifact collectors who are willing to sit down and chat with us professional archaeologists because of the huge war that has been going on between professional archaeologists and artifact collectors for the past 50 years. Many artifact collectors are afraid to interact with professional archaeologists because they are concerned about a perceived potential for fines, prison, or having their collections confiscated. A few artifact collectors today hate professional archaeologists with what Khan in Star Trek II called a “perfect hatred.” They are perfectly happy to talk with a professional archaeologist if the archaeologist will cede 100 percent approval of artifact collecting, even in its most irresponsible forms, and if the archaeologist is willing to sit silently and suffer heated verbal abuse for all of the perceived hurt archaeologists have inflicted on their hobby. Unfortunately, it has been our experience over the past 40 years that this small handful of hate-filled artifact collectors has been created by a similarly small handful of professional archaeologists who harbor equally vicious hatred for all artifact collectors. Those two extremist groups shout at each other so loudly that the artifact collectors and professional archaeologists who want to talk about their collections and our archaeology rarely get a peaceful and safe moment to do it. 

It should also be said that we here at the Archaeology in Tennessee blog do not consider ourselves to be policemen or park rangers. Over the past 53 years, neither the blog owner nor anyone in his household has ever “taken down” or been a participant in “taking down” an artifact collector who was breaking federal laws or regulations. We would hasten to add that he has never witnessed such criminal behavior in others and has only rarely heard about it as a matter of second-hand or third-hand gossip. The truth of the matter is that most everyday professional archaeologists are too busy with their research to focus on such things and pretty much leave such enforcement to the federal and state authorities officially charged with that responsibility.

Like most professional archaeologists, we here at the Archaeology in Tennessee blog do not officially approve of irresponsible artifact collecting―and a lot of it is irresponsible in nature―because irresponsible is easy and relaxing. In addition, while everyone loves a really nice artifact, we are not artifact focused here at the blog, which means we do not get a heated rush from holding a 10,000-year-old artifact in our hands, and we are not focused on art appreciation and the rescuing of artifacts for “art’s sake.” If a 9-inch Clovis point gets washed into the Tennessee River and is never seen again, no one around here is going to be in tears about it because that is not our focus. Instead, we are interested primarily in the 3-dimensional relationships that exist among artifacts, features, postmolds, hearths, and other such things within intact archaeological deposits and what those relationships can tell us about the prehistoric technologies, social organization, and ideology of the people who lived at an ancient archaeological site or at many sites in a river or stream valley. We are interested in the history of American archaeology itself, the current working conditions and state of affairs in the archaeological discipline, elucidating prehistory, and exploring the nature of past human behavior. The strong commitment to art appreciation per se that pervades the artifact-collecting community today is just not our bag.

Some artifact collectors do not like the content of certain posts on this blog. In our honest opinion, it is usually the artifact collectors who are gripped by hatred for professional archaeologists that go bananas over some of our posts that appear to portray artifact collectors in a negative light. As Art Linkletter used to remark, “Kids say the darndest things.” Because our blog owner was raised around artifact collectors, he knows from experience that they too “say and do some of the darndest things,” and those things are at times entertaining or tragic. However, virtually everything we might say about artifact collectors in our posts is something we have actually seen or experienced firsthand. For example, with regard to our post entitled Archaeological Advice Column, we have both read about and actually had conversations with a few artifact collectors who appeared to think that each archaeological site contains an endless supply of museum-grade artifacts, as if they are being reproduced biologically under the ground surface. The point we were making is that most things in this world really do have an endpoint. If you do not go to the grocery store and you keep on eating, the refrigerator will indeed go empty one day, and some artifact collectors need to tune into the basic fact that an archaeological site can be stripped of its meaning by collecting it to death over time. On a final note, some anger-oriented artifact collectors enjoy spewing hatred and verbal abuse at us. Malcolm Parker’s dad repeated a phrase to him numerous times as he was growing up, “Never go looking for trouble with people, but if someone gets on your back―get’em off.”  His son repeated  that maxim over the years, and we adopted it here at the blog.

On the flip side, we will be the first to say that professional archaeologists also “say and do some of the darndest things,” and they too can be quite entertaining and tragic. We are not inclined to circle the wagons about such things. A great many of the things we and other professional archaeologists do not like about the weird little world of professional archaeology (and it is indeed a weird little world) are subject to being addressed and discussed in our blog posts and the comment threads under them. Some of what we say may upset or disturb some professional archaeologists―or even occasionally drive one of them a little bit nuts. American archaeology is a discipline with deep-seated problems and issues (many of them moral and social issues), and it is a discipline that hides from those problems and pretends that they do not exist. It is always much easier to run from those problems than it is to turn around, face them square-on, study them, and implement changes that solve them. During the coming years, we are going to be discussing those tough problems in our blog posts. We suspect that some extremist archaeologists may become as emotionally ripped about our discussions on professional archaeology as some extremist artifact collectors are about some of our posts on irresponsible artifact collecting. Always, as is the case with artifact collectors, we try very hard to avoid naming names when discussing controversial or potentially upsetting subjects, and we have no desire whatsoever to intentionally defame other living archaeologists or make libelous statements that would hurt their reputations or careers.

We do intend to be a positive voice―but also an independent voice―in Tennessee archaeology and American archaeology. The owner of this blog is very close to retirement, most of his work is done in a high-paying field other than archaeology, he does not have any grant funding (and does not desire any), the limited amount of private sector archaeological work he does is funded out of his own pockets, he is already largely isolated socially from most other professional archaeologists (but not all), and he is heavily oriented towards electronic self-publishing. Why are we saying this? We do recall how a number of angry old men in professional archaeology tried to destroy the career of the late Lewis Binford by stripping him of his grant funding. American archaeology can be a really nasty and heartless place sometimes―it should not be―but it is. You know that, and we know that. We guess this is just our way of saying that the famous phrase that once floated around many academic anthropology departments in the old days, “I will see to it that you never work in American archaeology ever again” does not impress anyone here at the blog or have any real meaning to us―and is not likely to ever do so.

Ted Koppel and Sam Donaldson at ABC News probably said it best, and we tend to believe in a version of it here at the Archaeology in Tennessee blog. Roughly paraphrased, they said, “If the people on both sides of an issue write to us and tell us that we are biased toward the other side, then we know we are doing something right.” Similarly, if both artifact collectors and professional archaeologists are a little unhappy from time to time about what we are doing here at the blog, then we know we are doing something right.

Finally, we realize that some of the language in the four preceding posts on the Jimmy Carter Clause in ARPA may ruffle the feathers of some artifact collectors. For example, some might be put off by the phrase “nail their hides to the wall.” We used that language for a reason. Watch this brief video clip from the movie Star Trek IV:

The phrase “nail their hides to the wall” was common in the local culture of Middle Tennessee when our blog owner was growing up in the 1950s and 1960s, and it was one of his dad’s favorite expressions. This colorful metaphor, as Spock might call it, was not used to offend a person, but rather to impress upon a person the intense gravity of an offense and the severity of the punishment that such an offense would likely attract. Using this phrase was our way of saying that the cultural resource management (CRM) staffs at federal agencies take the federal CRM statutes and regulations very seriously, and they are now oriented toward strong enforcement, meaning mercy might not be in the cards if a collector gets arrested on federal property. It is important for artifact collectors to know that and take it very seriously. We thought the colorful metaphor would help to better register that fact in the minds of collectors.

The Jimmy Carter Clause in ARPA – Part IV: The “Less than 100 Years Old” Argument

We here at the Archaeology in Tennessee blog do not claim to be licensed attorneys, and the text of this blog post should not be taken or construed as legal counsel. If you need such counsel, please contact a licensed attorney in your state or U.S. territory.  With that said, the owner of this blog has spent a great deal of the past 26 years working on federal contract projects that involved compliance with the many federal statutes and regulations applicable to protection of the environment in the United States. More than five of those years were spent as the lead Environmental Compliance Specialist for Battelle Memorial Institute (Oak Ridge), a federal prime contractor for the U.S. Department of Energy. Collectively, the texts of these environmental statutes and regulations are voluminous, complex, and highly detailed―much more so than the current federal cultural resource management statutes and regulations. Multiple volumes of these environmental laws and regulations easily fill several shelves in a bookcase. Over the years, our blog owner has found that certain general principles and interpretive rules of thumb apply to the content of virtually all federal statutes and regulations, regardless of the subject matter that they address. Therefore, with his input, the blog feels reasonably qualified to offer some thoughts on the Jimmy Carter Clause and the confusion surrounding it within the artifact collector community.  This post is provided as a public service of the Oak Ridge Archaeological Research Institute.

This one is going to be short and to the point.  Section 3 of the Archaeological Resources Protection Act of 1979 (ARPA) states the following:

(1) The term “archaeological resource” means any material remains of past human life or activities which are of archaeological interest, as determined under the uniform regulations promulgated pursuant to this Act. Such regulations containing such determination shall include, but not be limited to: pottery, basketry, bottles, weapons, weapon projectiles, tools, structures or portions of structures, pit houses, rock paintings, rock carvings, intaglios, graves, human skeletal materials, or any portion or piece of any of the foregoing items. Nonfossilized and fossilized paleontological specimens, or any portion or piece thereof, shall not be considered archaeological resources, under the regulations under this paragraph, unless found in an archaeological context. No item shall be treated as an archaeological resource under regulations under this paragraph unless such item is at least 100 years of age. [Section 3 (a)]

Some artifact collectors have been known to state something along the lines of the following:

“Regardless of the Jimmy Carter Clause, Section 3 of ARPA says I can legally keep any artifacts I find on federal lands or in federal waters as long as they are less than 100 years old.  They can’t touch me as long as the artifacts I collect are that recent.”

Just like in the previous three main posts, ARPA contains no exemption language that turns off the applicability of other federal statutes and regulations to collector activities on federal lands and in federal waters. Federal agencies can still nail artifact collector hides to the wall using the other applicable federal statutes and regulations that deal with trespassing, stealing federal property, etc.  An artifact less than 100 years old that is collected on federal property is still federal property, regardless of ARPA.