Old 1930s Archaeology Film about Moundville

Late this afternoon, Mr. Donald B. Ball, a professional archaeology colleague in Louisville, Kentucky, sent me a hyperlink to an old black and white film about Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) archaeology at the Mississippian period Moundville site (1TU500) in Moundville, Alabama. I have been around things archaeological in nature for most of my life, but I had never seen this old film. It occurred to me that you might not have seen it either.  This really interesting film dates to 1937, and you may watch it by clicking on the white triangle below.

It has only about 200 views on the You Tube platform where it lives, which means only a very few people have seen it in recent times. It shows the Moundville site actually under excavation by CCC members in the 1930s, discusses the human mortuary remains, shows artifacts in situ, and ends with a close pictorial examination of Moundville ceramic vessels—some of which I had never before seen.  If you love Mississippian pottery, I think you will love this old film. It runs about 18 minutes in length, is well narrated, and covers a lot of ground. Some of the anthropological and archaeological opinions expressed in this old film would not hold up to academic scrutiny today, but time and understanding always march on together.

Please note that the film will appear to end about two-thirds of the way through it.  This is some sort of break or splice point in the film.  When it comes, just hang on for about a minute or so and keep watching.  The film will resume on its own.  Have fun watching the film!!!



See the New Website for the Oak Ridge Archaeological Research Institute

Good morning.  The Oak Ridge Archaeological Research Institute (ORARI) in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, has upgraded its website to a new and much better looking WordPress format. You may visit our new website by clicking on the safe link below, but before doing that, you really do need to read the rest of this blog post below the link and then come back up to here and click on the link when you are finished with the reading. Otherwise, you will miss a lot of important and interesting context. Here is the safe link to our new website, and please be sure to click on all of the buttons at the top of our main page so you do not miss anything:


Several important and attractive changes have been made to improve the website and make it more inviting to visitors. Here are a few of the changes and some related observations:

(1) The official logo image for ORARI has been changed.  The old logo image, the incised scene on the long-missing Madison Tablet, is now gone forever. Given the questionable origin of the Madison Tablet, the ORARI logo was changed to something more clearly and definitively associated with the prehistoric past in Tennessee. I grew up in Sumner County, Tennessee, and the new logo involves a well-known prehistoric archaeological site in Sumner County that is near and dear to my childhood heart. I put a lot of late night archaeological research, Exacto knife precision, pigment selection, and careful colorization effort into creating the new logo. The story behind its almost-from-scratch creation is provided in the form of a short but interesting archaeological essay under the Logo button on the new website. If you would like to read it, just click on the Logo button at the top of the page when you visit the new website.

(2) Some mighty strange coincidences happen in life. For example, I have a doppleganger who lives here in Oak Ridge.  I was standing in a checkout line at the Food City store here in Oak Ridge one day about 20 years ago. The woman standing right in front of me turned around suddenly, looked straight into my face from only 15 inches away, and said, “Well, aren’t you going to say hello?” I had never seen this lady before, so I asked how she knew me.  Then she said: “You must be kidding!!!  I worked for you for eight years at Oak Ridge National Laboratory.” Then there was that time at the Walgreens prescription counter. I stepped up to the counter for the first time, and the pharmacy technician said: “Why are you back here?  I told you your prescription would be ready in just a few minutes!!!”  I shrugged in startled disbelief—and told her that I had just arrived. Then she got upset and wanted to argue about it.

It had to happen—eventually. It was a Saturday here in Oak Ridge, and I was standing at the meat cooler in Kroger. I happened to glance across my right shoulder and saw a guy standing at the end of a grocery aisle about 30 feet away.  It was ME!!!  I kid you not!!!  He was an exact phenotypical carbon copy of me in all respects—like we were identical twins who had been separated at birth. Even his haircut was like mine—with the same part in it. His beard was the same.  He was even wearing clothing items that were exactly like ones I owned. It was so shocking that I just froze in place in bug-eyed amazement. To this day, I still do not know who this guy is or where he lives.

Why am I telling you this story? Well, my daughter, Ms. Leah C. Decker, has an equally amazing doppleganger. The WordPress Lodestar format that I used for the new ORARI website comes with a teal-shaded cover page photo of a young woman working at a computer station. My daughter has long, straight, blonde hair now and sometimes wears glasses. The young woman in the WordPress stock photograph looks exactly like my daughter (with glasses on) in profile view. I was planning on using a different cover photograph for the new ORARI website, but after thinking on it for a while, I decided to go with the Lodestar stock photograph because my daughter volunteers at ORARI in her spare time, helping out with computer issues, photography, and graphics. In addition, she sometimes serves as a volunteer archaeological field technician for ORARI. I love my daughter and enjoy watching her work. Whenever I go to the new ORARI website, it is nice to see “her” working for us on the cover page.

(3) The old ORARI website was drab and poorly illustrated—with only one old black and white photograph that was historical rather than archaeological. Otherwise, it was all words. Our new website is much better illustrated and more colorful with many paintings, photographs, drawings, and graphite rubbings. Some of these illustrations involve archaeological work ORARI is doing, and others are items associated with the unique history of Oak Ridge and Tennessee.  These illustrations are strategically placed throughout our various web pages. Each illustration has an interesting story associated with it. If you would like to know more about the various illustrations, just click on the Website Graphics Log button. Each illustration is presented again there along with its unique story.  If you love Tennessee archaeology and history, I think you will have fun reading these brief stories.

(4)  The Archaeology in Tennessee blog  is now five years old, and ORARI is four years old. Yes, it has been that long!!! Blog visitation and views have far exceeded my original expectations. I have sat here for all of those years writing blog posts; creating the ORARI organization from scratch; helping colleagues, friends, and strangers with Tennessee archaeology issues; peer reviewing colleague papers for publication; and doing all sorts of other useful things in support of Tennessee archaeology and history. A few weeks ago, it occurred to me that most of you have never seen the place where my work is done. Therefore, I took some office photographs for you. If you would like to see them, just click on the Office button at the top of the new ORARI website.  When you get there, please notice the large framed poster of the antlered American Plains Indian shaman by Frank Howell. I am not normally a believer in silly conspiracy theories or paranormal activity—but there is something really strange going on with that poster. Be sure and read our paranormal activity footnote at the end of the Website Graphics Log section.

As an addendum to that footnote herein, this was the only corner of the office where I could not get a decent, nongrainy photograph with my Canon SLR camera. It may just be the fact that this office is a poorly lighted and framed-reflective-glass nightmare. Perhaps I am just not the world’s best photographer. However, it is at least marginally possible that the shaman and weird paranormal activity in that corner of the office might have been at work on my camera.

(5) Humorous Confession Time: Many of my colleagues in American archaeology, especially in the world of CRM, believe the world of American business does not take American archaeologists seriously. Therefore, when not covered with dirt from a 2-meter square, we archaeologists must strive to always “look professional” and present to the business world a very serious public image that jibes with that of the typical be-suited CEO or corporate attorney. If we look like that and present an image like that, someday we archaeologists will receive the same level of high corporate respect other professionals receive in the business world.

As many of you know, I left American archaeology for a very long time to pursue a separate career as a corporate environmental scientist. When I worked for Science & Technology, Inc. and Battelle Memorial Institute (the world’s largest not-for-profit research organization), I took on that deadly serious private sector professional image. I was expected to do so and wanted to do so. I had to dress up every day in really nice dress clothing (like our dapper, bow-tie colleague Jeff Chapman has always done when not working in the field) and play that very serious corporate role with our many clients—and I did it very well and quite comfortably—and enjoyed it for many years. However, I must honestly say that my clients did not respect me and my colleagues because of the professional image we presented to them. They respected us because we were professional scientists who did an excellent job for them on their various projects.

I later worked for similar environmental organizations that did not require us to dress and behave that way. The respect factor did not change when we dressed down and behaved far more loosely and casually with our clients. The key factor in that sustained level of respect over time was not a matter of presenting a serious professional image. The respect was entirely a matter of who we were as people, our chosen professional discipline in science or engineering, and the high quality of the work we did for our clients.

Therefore, I do not share this notion that archaeologists, particularly CRM archaeologists, will someday receive the private sector respect they crave just because they present a professional image that rivals that of a corporate CEO or attorney. Based on my own experience and that of my environmental science and engineering colleagues, I think the whole notion of it is pure bullshit. If American archaeologists, particularly CRM archaeologists, do indeed suffer from some sort of Rodney Dangerfield Syndrome, the problem is not one of professional image. The problem is that few people in American business take archaeology itself seriously. (Been there.  Seen that.) No amount of professional image polish and presentation is going to change that sad fact. If we want corporate CEO or attorney-like respect as archaeologists, we need to find a way to make private sector businessmen and businesswomen fall in love with the ancient past, American archaeology itself, and the quality of the archaeological work we do for them. When they come to love those three things together, they will love and respect us too.

Let’s be honest here. At heart, really at heart, most American archaeologists are fundamentally tee-shirt and a-good-beer people. We do not behave like corporate attorneys because that is not who most of us are as people. If anything, we are likely to tell a few corporate attorney jokes over that good beer at our favorite bar. I live in and do most of my archaeology work in a tee-shirt and shorts—sometimes even in winter—both out in the field and in my office.  So what is my confession?

Well, go to the Staff button on the new ORARI website and click on it. Nice photograph of me, huh? I am wearing an expensive pinpoint Oxford dress shirt and a tie worthy of any shelf at Brooks Brothers. It is the kind of image many archaeologists feel we need to project to our business public to gain respect. The truth? In that photograph, from the waist down, I am wearing shorts, socks, and a beat-up pair of New Balance cross-training shoes. My daughter Leah was visiting at our house that day and had a few spare minutes to snap a photograph of me for the blog. I shot back to our master bedroom, threw on a shirt and tie I almost never were, and my daughter quickly snapped the picture. Who is that guy above my waist line in that photograph—the guy with the crisply starched and pressed shirt and the nice tie? Beats me man? I guess he is some archaeologist exhibiting his professional image. The authentic American archaeologist in that photograph is the guy below the waist line in shorts and grubby cross-training shoes.

(6) Most of the words on the new ORARI website are still the same as the ones on the old website. However, I did do some editing, clarifications, and other tweaking on them for the new ORARI website. We have a lot of new words in the Logo section and the Website Graphics Log section.  You might like to take a look at those.

I worked really hard on creating the new ORARI website.  It was done with the needs of the ORARI organization in mind, but it was also done with YOU in mind. By that I mean that I was trying to create a more interesting, aesthetically pleasing, and enjoyable place for you and the rest of the general public to visit—and maybe learn a few new things about Tennessee archaeology and history.

Much love to all of you and have a wonderful day.

Dick Jantz Weighs in on Amelia Earhart Mystery

Nikumaroro Island

Dr. Richard Jantz, Emeritus Professor of Anthropology at The University of Tennessee (Knoxville), has weighed in on the continuing saga known as “Whatever Happened to Amelia Earhart?” In addition to being one of my favorite professors of physical anthropology back in my student days long ago, Dick is a really nice guy and one of the best physical anthropologists in the United States today.

You may read all about Dr. Jantz and his recent work with the famous (but long lost) Nikumaroro human skeletal remains by clicking on the following safe link:

Dr. Jantz Weighs in on Amelia Earhart

Two Mystery Artifacts from 40DV434

My 1972 surface collection effort at the Hart site (40DV434) in Middle Tennessee contains two mystery artifacts I am a bit unsure about.  I was wondering if any of the readers who come to the Archaeology in Tennessee blog can more precisely identify these two artifacts. That should be fun. Some artifact description information and several photographs of the artifacts are provided for you below:

(1)  The first artifact is a small rim sherd from a ceramic vessel (Figures 1-4). I took some precise measurements of the sherd using the metric scale on my Mitotoyo digital calipers. Looking at this rim sherd in standard profile position, the very top of the lip is excurvate, and it curves gently inward toward the interior of the vessel. The exterior edge of the lip curves gently outwards and projects outwards 2.7 mm from the exterior body of the vessel. Still in profile position, this excurvate outward projection of the lip then curves down and inwards toward the exterior wall of the vessel. The vertical height of this exterior lip projection is 6.7 mm.  The exterior surface of the lip projection is smooth. The vessel wall thickness at the bottom of the sherd is 10.5 mm.

The interior surface of the sherd is even and quite smooth. The exterior surface of the vessel immediately below the lip bears some sort of curvilinear design impression. At first, I thought this might be some sort of curvilinear, complicated stamped design. However, the carved designs in the ancient wooden paddles used to stamp wet clay vessel surfaces (before firing) usually had very crisp and evenly spaced lines in the designs, which is not the case with this rim sherd.  Of course, I guess this could have been stamped with a very irregular and poorly made paddle design. Optionally, the exterior surface of this sherd could reflect cord marking or fabric marking.  The only problem I have with that is the parallel curved lines in the design and the absence of clear cord twists, knots, evidence of weaving, and so forth that one normally expects from ancient textile impressions in wet clay.  Another problem is the immediately-below-rim location of these impressions in the ancient ceramic vessel from which this sherd came.  Ancient potters had some “tight going” (for lack of a better term) in putting paddle and textile surface treatments in this specific area of a pottery vessel. This often makes it a bit harder to identify surface treatments for small sherds like this. A much larger sherd from the main body of this vessel would normally make pottery type identification much easier.

The sherd is really hard and in excellent condition. However, the tempering material is a major concern. I cannot determine what it is with certainty.  I am fairly certain it is not shell tempering. The paste contains no visible ground freshwater mussel shell or gastropod shell—and there are none of the numerous, tell-tale void spaces that are left behind when acidic soil dissolves the shell in pottery. No pieces of ground quartz, quartzite, or limestone are present, as one normally sees in Early Woodland and Middle Woodland period ceramics from Middle Tennessee. I am quite familiar with the sand-tempered Middle Woodland ceramics of East Tennessee, and I do not see anything in this sherd that clearly registers as sand tempering. A few small, but sparse, particles of gritty material are present, but I think these are natural inclusions within the clay paste. I see nothing in the paste that looks like ground up particles of ceramic material from old pottery vessels.

A Mississippian period component is known to be present at 40DV434. Because of the many straight stemmed pp/k’s in my 1972 surface collection from this site, we also know a substantial Early Woodland component is present at this site.  Most likely, this sherd is associated with one of those two prehistoric components. However, a very small number of Middle Woodland pp/k’s is also present in the surface collection sample.


Figure 1. Exterior of Vessel Lip and Surface Treatment on Sherd from 40DV434


Figure 2.  Closer View of Exterior Vessel Lip and Surface Treatment on Sherd from 40DV434


Figure 3.  Surface of the Excurvate Lip on Sherd from 40DV434


Figure 4.   Profile View of Sherd from 40DV434

(2)  The second artifact is made of either animal bone or deer antler (Figures 5-7). It is 34.8 mm long.  The diametric dimensions of its large end are 13.7 mm and 11.5 mm, and the diametric dimensions of the tapered end, right before the tapering begins, are 9.1 mm and 8.5 mm.

The main body of this artifact exhibits numerous, parallel, surface cut marks that are perpendicular to the long axis of the artifact. These are located near the large end of the artifact. The large end of this artifact was created by a cutting process that involved circumferential scoring, which was followed immediately by snapping the end off. The ring-shaped score area appears to have been rather crudely smoothed by abrasion after the end was snapped off. Numerous abrading tools made of dark red sandstone were found on this site.

An irregular concavity, either intentional or a natural bone marrow cavity, is present at the center of the large end on this artifact. The small tip on the other end of this artifact is rounded off, apparently from use wear. This tip exhibits one flat facet and two adjacent excurvate facets. The facets suggest it was used for pressure flaking during the knapping of chipped stone tools, mostly made from local Fort Payne chert. However, considering the amount of pressure required and the associated hand/wrist leverage necessary to flake chert in this manner, its use in knapping no doubt occurred when this was a much longer artifact—before the large end was ever scored and snapped.  This, of course, raises two obvious questions.  Why was the scoring and snapping done to create such a small artifact?  What was the subsequent use for such a small artifact?  No wear patterns on this artifact suggest a particular subsequent use. Perhaps this small artifact was simply a piece of waste material that was cut off from a larger length of bone or antler so the larger piece could be reshaped for some purpose.

I have seen artifacts exactly like this one in excavation reports for other Middle and Late Archaic sites in the Southeast and Ohio Valley. Once upon a time, I thought Lewis and Lewis (1961) had a description and photograph of this bone/antler artifact type in their famous report on the excavations at the Eva site in Benton County, Tennessee. A perusal of that report did not identify any description or photographs of such an artifact. I may have been thinking about William S. Webb’s report (Webb 1974) on the 1939 WPA excavations at the Indian Knoll site near Paradise, Kentucky. I do not have a handy copy of that report to consult here in my office. Therefore, I am reaching out to you (just for fun here at the blog) and to one of my archaeological colleagues who is far more familiar with bone and antler artifact assemblages from Middle and Late Archaic period archaeological sites in Tennessee and the southeast.


Figure 5.  Bone/Antler Artifact from 40DV434


Figure 6. Large End of Bone/Antler Artifact from 40DV434


Figure 7.  Faceted Small End of Bone/Antler Artifact from 40DV434

If you know what these two mystery artifacts are in more specific typological terms, please feel free to contact me. Just click on the “Contact” button at the top of this blog page and send me a message.


Lewis, Thomas M.N. and Madeline Kneberg Lewis 1961. Eva: An Archaic Site. The University of Tennessee Press. Knoxville, Tennessee.

Webb, William S., 1974. Indian Knoll. The University of Tennessee Press. Knoxville, Tennessee.

Photograph Credit: Leah Brown and Tracy Brown

Note: Leah Brown and I were just messing around for fun when we were taking these artifact photographs. Our main purpose was to keep the artifacts in sharp focus to assist with identification. We would do much better than this, particularly on the out-of-focus measurement scales, if we were taking photographs for a formal archaeological report. But hey.  This is social media where things are far less formal, so what you see is what you get.

First Face of America

Mexican Proboscideans

Just three days ago, the long-running PBS science series Nova presented one of the best documentaries on ancient man in the New World that I have ever seen.  It centers on the discovery of ancient Native American human remains deep in a Mexican cenote in 2007 and the later full interpretation of those remains.

No. This is not about human sacrifices by the Classic or Post-Classic period Mayans—far from it. These human remains turned out to be Paleo-Indian. If you love underwater archaeology, Clovis points, and the first peopling of the America’s, you are going to love this!!! That is all I am going to say about this excellent documentary because I do not want to spoil it for you.

This new documentary is available for viewing on the PBS website right now.  When you get there, just click on the white triangle. If you have a new computer, I would strongly recommend clicking on the full-screen option in the lower right corner of the PBS viewing screen for maximum cinematic effect—because the cinematography is worthy of a big screen movie at your local theater.

Sentimental old archaeological me has a confession to make here. I shed actual tears while watching this. I really did!!!  Please click on the following safe link for a truly fantastic adventure in American archaeology and physical anthropology:

First Face of America

Photograph Credit: Archaeology News Network (2014)

Open Enrollment for the 2018 Programs at the Center for American Archeology Begins Now

I just received an e-mail message from Kathryn Chapman, who is the Education Coordinator at the Center for American Archeology in Kampsville, Illinois. The open enrollment period has just begun for their 2018 programs.  You may read all about it and obtain enrollment information for yourself, a family member, or a friend at the following safe link:

Experience Archaeology in 2018

If you are looking for a summer field school, they have some of the best in the nation—a field school tradition with deep roots in American archaeology.

The Center for American Archeology is actually the new name for the old Center for Illinois Archeology, which was established by Dr. Stuart Struever, a professor of anthropology at Northwestern University.  Through the Center for Illinois Archeology, Dr. Struever led the famous excavations at the Koster site in Greene County, Illinois. You may read about Dr. Struever and his career at the following safe link.

Biography of Dr. Stuart Struever

Dr. Struever earned his Ph.D. in anthropology at the University of Chicago.  I am not sure what their policy is today, but anthropology students at that institution were taught to spell archaeology as archeology in the 20th century. James B. Griffin was a victim of this teaching anomaly and so was Stuart Struever, who apparently passed it on to the Center for Illinois Archeology and the Center for American Archeology.

I wholeheartedly encourage you to take advantage of the fine archaeological education opportunities at the Center for American Archeology. However, as an old professional archaeologist, I would very much discourage young folks from forming the unfortunate early habit of spelling archaeology as archeology. In my honest opinion, using that spelling is akin to having a bad case of the cooties, a legendary childhood folk disease of the early 1960s. Most American archaeologists spell the name of the discipline as archaeology, including the Society for American Archaeology. I strongly encourage young archaeology students to learn it that way and always use it that way throughout their career—unless they work for the U. S. National Park Service or another federal agency or federal agency project manager that spells it the alternative way. If you are interested in some historical background information on this difference in spellings, you may read all about it at the following safe link:

Archaeology vs. Archeology: Which Is the Correct Spelling?

Your Help Is Needed: Oppose United States Withdrawal from UNESCO


An Official UNESCO World Heritage Site in Tennessee

The Trump administration has its feet on yet another ill-advised pathway that could result in damage to significant cultural resources and environmental resources in the United States and around the world.  The current plan is to withdraw the United States from the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). This withdrawal is scheduled for late 2018.

On October 20, 2017, the Tennessee Council for Professional Archaeology (TCPA) sent out a formal press release to alert Tennesseans and the American people to the nature of this planned action and the potential adverse consequences that would occur as a result of it. This press release encourages Tennesseans and other Americans to contact their Congressional representatives to advocate for renewal of United States member status in UNESCO. It also asks people to personally support UNESCO efforts to “preserve archaeological, historical, cultural, and natural sites of global importance.” You may read the entire TCPA press release by clicking on the following safe link:

TCPA Press Release

The Oak Ridge Archaeological Research Institute (ORARI) is beginning its 2018 calendar year by responding positively to this TCPA request. We are sending formal letters to our Congressman (U.S. Representative Chuck Fleischmann) and to U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander and U.S. Senator Bob Corker.  We are kindly asking them to oppose the United States withdrawal from UNESCO and to persuade the Trump administration to renew United States member status in UNESCO.  You may read one of our letters by clicking on the following safe link:

Letter to Senator Alexander

One of the key missions of ORARI is to be a strong public advocate for professional archaeological research and the preservation of cultural resources (particularly National Register eligible or listed properties). In addition, Mr. Tracy C. Brown, President of ORARI, has spent a large portion of his professional career engaged in the investigation, clean up, protection, and preservation of environmental resources throughout the United States. As a result, he has far more than just a little affection for the overall work that UNESCO does here in the United States and around the world.

The Archaeology in Tennessee blog has numerous readers here in Tennessee and throughout the United States. ORARI gladly joins with the TCPA in urging you to contact, either personally or organizationally, your Congressional representatives in all 50 states to advocate for keeping and maintaining United States member status in UNESCO. You may easily obtain the contact information for your U.S. Representative and your two U.S. Senators by using the quick access tool at the following safe link:

Get Contact Information

Thank you very much for your concern and help in this effort.

Photograph Credit: placesinthehome.com