Questions Artifact Collectors Pose to Professional Archaeologists: Question No. 1

by Tracy C. Brown

Artifact collectors sometimes ask professional archaeologists various questions. In many instances, they receive either no answer at all, or they receive a terse answer that is vague and hard to understand.  I have never been an artifact collector. However, I grew up with artifact collectors in my life and later became a professional archaeologist. Therefore, I know both sides of the fence really well and feel sufficiently able to answer most of the questions artifact collectors might ask—or at least offer my own personal opinion.

Just like the so-called “half-breed” (half white man and half Native American) in the 19th century American West, I do not feel totally at home in the artifact collector world or in the professional archaeology world—and frequently feel some degree of rejection by both sides. What does that look like?

I am the only professional archaeologist who has been officially kicked off for life from both the Arrowheadology.com website and the Arrowheads.com website. In both places, I learned quickly that the artifact collectors there were Superman and I was kryptonite. They claimed I did not play well in their sandbox. However, I think having a professional archaeologist hanging around just made some of them feel really angry and uneasy. I now wear both rejections as a badge of highest honor. 

My first professional archaeology rejection came about one year after graduating from high school. It occurred in early June of 1972 at a time when I was trying hard to figure out what my university major would be and what kind of career I would like to pursue. I tried very nicely and politely to talk face-to-face with a Nashville area professional archaeologist about forging a future career in American archaeology. (Every young person making a life-changing decision likes to get tips from a pro.) Although we had never met previously and did not know each other at all, this archaeologist proceeded to treat me—just a teenage kid—like the worst pond scum that had ever lived. The cynicism, gruff treatment, and humiliation that were dished out to me angrily inside just three minutes are something I will never forget as long as I live.

That sting was incredibly painful, and it went very deep. I was to later learn through true stories from my close friends (both archaeologists and nonarchaeologists who knew archaeologists) and from my own personal experience that the realm of professional archaeology in the United States is home base for numerous difficult, toxic, mean-spirited people with nasty personalities and unkind personal dispositions——far more so than in any of the other professional disciplines in which I have worked over the past 45 years. This is why I have never been particularly fond of many other professional archaeologists (but not all) and why I almost never choose to hang out socially with most other archaeologists (but not all).

The new series here at the Archaeology in Tennessee blog is called Questions Artifact Collectors Pose to Professional Archaeologists. Each question in the series is numbered sequentially——beginning with Question No. 1 today. I sometimes must answer questions generally when there are actually many exceptions and subtle nuances that would take a whole day of writing to capture. Unfortunately, I do not have that kind of time.

Furthermore, I strongly suspect some artifact collectors and professional archaeologists will not wholly like or approve of some of my answers and opinions for various reasons—and will detect a bit of snark that is present in some of my answers. When you see that bit of snark, please remember that both sides pissed me off many years ago. Just consider it to be your side’s bad attitude reflected straight back onto you by the mirror of my writing.

I am sure some artifact collectors will object to what I write in some of my answers and how I portray artifact collector thoughts and attitudes. I would just like to remind you once again that I grew up with artifact collectors all around me, and I know the collector world very well. You will not be reading anything I have not observed personally or read about in the collector world over the past 45 years. You may say: 

Well, I am nothing like that, and I don’t think that way or have that attitude—or misperception. 

True. Exceptions do exist. In such cases, just be aware that I am not writing about you personally. However, I am writing about the many other artifact collectors who do think that way, do talk that way, and do have such attitudes and misperceptions. Please also try to remember that I am not very happy with the attitudes and behaviors of numerous fellow professional archaeologists. Therefore, it all balances out (more or less) after all is said and done.

Now, let us begin by answering Question No. 1. This is a question I have heard and read in various versions from numerous artifact collectors over the past 30 years.  Here is the question:

Question No. 1: Why don’t you professional archaeologists and museum directors pull out all of those great artifacts you have stored away in those hundreds or thousands of rectangular cardboard boxes on those ceiling-high steel shelves——and display them all so the American public can file through and see them?

Answer:

Many artifact collectors just assume that professional archaeologists are exactly like them in one very important respect. They think American archaeologists and the discipline of archaeology itself are all about locating and digging up fantastic artifacts of high monetary value. In their minds, they believe finding wonderful, museum-grade artifacts is the most important thing professional archaeologists do——-above all else. Because archaeologists have such great educations in archaeology, they must surely know all the right places to excavate first on an archaeological site so they will be certain to find and lay first claim to the very best museum-grade artifacts. In other words, they think American archaeology is all about getting the very best artifacts and getting to an archaeological site first to grab’em before anyone else can.

While that might look right in the context of an Indiana Jones movie, it is actually not right at all. Indiana Jones movies present a highly distorted and downright wrong view of what professional archaeologists do, how they do it, and why they do it. If you harbor the notion that you know a whole lot about archaeologists and American archaeology from watching Indiana Jones movies or watching “digger shows” on The Discovery Channel, you need to throw away everything you think you know about archaeologists and American archaeology——and start all over again from scratch.

Many artifact collectors think American archaeology is nothing but a “big artifact hunting game” professional archaeologists play. Moreover, archaeologists are so good at this game because their archaeology education in college consisted primarily of many in-classroom hours devoted to nothing else but teaching students where the best artifacts are located on sites, how to find the really great and most valuable artifacts first, and how to dig very carefully—so no artifact will get broken, which would reduce its monetary value. Their opponent in this huge game is the artifact dealer or collector, and whoever gets to an archaeological site first and grabs the largest number of high-quality artifacts wins the game. Right?

WRONG!!! DEAD WRONG!!!!

All those hundreds or thousands of rectangular cardboard boxes on ceiling-high steel shelves in anthropology department basements and huge museum storage rooms are not chocked full—almost to bursting—with eye-popping artifacts that would blow your socks off and make any artifact collector salivate with insatiable hunger. Truth is—if I were to show you what is really inside most of those hundreds or thousands of rectangular cardboard boxes on the ceiling-high steel shelves, the first words out of your artifact collector mouths would be:

You’ve got to be kidding!!!  Y’all find all this small crap—and actually keep it!!! You take the time to write little letters and numbers on every chert chip and sherd?  This is crazy!!! We thought all those rectangular boxes were stuffed full to bursting with fantastic artifacts! Boy, were we ever wrong!

ATTENTION ARTIFACT COLLECTORS!!!  ALL POINTS BULLETIN!!!

I want you artifact collectors out there—especially the novice collectors and those with hard-to-penetrate heads—to get this inside your brain cells—and never forget it—never ever forget it. Please? This is going to sound harsh, and it might hurt your feelings. It is not my intent to hurt your feelings. I am expressing this like a U.S. Marine Corps drill sergeant so you will never forget the main factual points I am about to make. Ready?

Professional archaeologists are not just like you, and you are not just like professional archaeologists. American archaeology is not at all a big game about who gets to the fantastic artifacts first—and grabs’em to take home.  We do not excavate archaeological sites in order to find the best quality, most fantastic, highly wonderful, blow-your-socks-off, museum-grade artifacts. We do not. Only artifact collectors do that. Only artifact collectors do that. Only artifact collectors do that. Got it?…………. Got it?…………………..Got it? …………………Good.

Professional archaeologists excavate archaeological sites to answer research questions that were laid out in a formal research design. They perform archaeological excavations to obtain information and data pertinent to answering those questions about the prehistoric and historic human past. Now, repeat after me: “Information and data.” One more time: “Information and data.” One more time: “Information and data.”  Got it?…..Got it?…….Got it?…..Good.

Artifact Collector Interlude

Artifact Collector: You archaeologists ain’t in it for the really big artifacts? I jist don’t understand that. I always looked at it kinda like this.

The university anthropology department’s archaeologist and helpers go out to the archaeological site. Because the archaeologist is real educated in archaeology, he knows the right places to dig first to find the blow-your-socks-off artifacts quicker than anyone else. Him and his helpers then starts a diggin’, and they find 15 really great artifacts right off the bat. They are worth $10,000 each. They take’m back to their lab, clean’m up real careful-like so they don’t git broke (cause broke artifacts ain’t worth nothin’), and then they sell them artifacts to a big museum for $150,000—and that hard cash keeps the anthropology department a goin’. You know: salaries, legal pads, paper clips, and the like. You seem to be a tellin’ me that American archaeology ain’t nothin’ like that at all?

And what is this “information and data” stuff?  I don’t understand that. How do you dig information and data out of the ground? Do you mean to tell me you can put a shovel in the ground and pull up the number “3” in your shovel?  That jist screws my head up sumpm’ awful.

Archaeologist: Correct. I am telling you American archaeology is not anything even remotely like what you are thinking it is. The information and data part is harder to explain, and I will do that for you in another blog post. So, for now, we go back to the subject of artifacts curated (permanently stored) in rectangular cardboard boxes.

Yes, we professional archaeologists excavate for information and data—not blow-your-socks-off artifacts. We excavate for information and data—and keep whatever tangible artifacts we happen to encounter along the way—also for information and data purposes. Most of it is small artifact crap you would never even dream of bringing inside the back door of your house and mounting in a picture frame to hang on your den wall.

Most of those rectangular cardboard boxes you may have seen stacked high to the ceiling in museums and departments of anthropology contain millions of pieces of chert flaking debris (cores, flat flakes, decortication flakes, shatter material, bifacial thinning flakes, etc. and some unbroken and badly broken unifacial and bifacial tools). Those boxes also contain millions of pottery sherds——most of them small sherds. They also contain lots of broken animal bone and some shell that was slightly worked (or most often) never worked—and all sorts of other small crap. Occasionally, one of those boxes might contain a few complete but rather average pp/k’s or other complete stone tools—or none at all.  You might even find a small pot, an elbow pipe, or some other decent artifacts in some boxes—but they are often few and far between. Some of those boxes contain charred bits of plant remains. Other boxes contain human bones that range from a few bits of surviving bone from one ancient human burial all the way up to a complete human skeleton from another burial—just human bones—no artifacts in those bone boxes.

About the only thing we usually do not save permanently is firecracked rock from prehistoric fire pits. We find a lot of it. It gets weighed in the lab (in kilograms), and it is then thrown into the nearest dumpster outside the lab.  There is too much of it, and it is way too heavy to safely store—and not all that useful in terms of providing important information and data.

Yes, we do process and analyze all of the foregoing small crap artifacts, which would be worthless to you, in our archaeology laboratories. Doing it is so utterly boring it will quite literally numb a human brain. If you have ever written tiny trinomial site numbers and catalogue data on thousands of chert flakes and small pottery sherds, you know what it is like. (Been there. Done that.) I have been brain-numb for weeks or months on end as a direct result of it. I have packed those rectangular boxes for final curation storage——-and know what is in most of them.

Please allow me to close with a friendly warning. Personally, I like most friendly artifact collectors—–but not all of them. I know most artifact collectors are honest people who never intentionally commit crimes. However, if the few worst people among you have ever gotten together over a beer on a Friday night and hatched a plan to break into a department of anthropology basement or museum storage room to steal several hundred of those tantalizing rectangular cardboard boxes, I would strongly advise against it. When you truck off with all those boxes and you start opening them up like gifts on Christmas morning, you are in for one hell of a huge disappointment. If the cops nab you, and they probably will, you will do a lot of lamentation, mumbling, and crying about the tons of chert chips and small pottery sherds (with little numbers written on them) as they drag you in handcuffs to the back seat of the squad car. Just think about all that danger and effort for all those little chert flakes and small pottery sherds you would never dream of picking up while surface hunting in a plowed field. Believe me. It is just not worth it!!!

Now Bubba? Do you understand about the hundreds or thousands of rectangular cardboard boxes on the ceiling-high steel shelves—and all the small crap artifacts inside most of them? There is no way the American public would want to file through a museum and see the small crap artifacts that fill most of those rectangular boxes. Do you understand?  I can’t hear you! Do you understand?  If not, maybe Lady Gaga can help you out:

Tennessee Archaeology Awareness Month 2020 Begins Tomorrow

by Tracy C. Brown

Tennessee Archaeology Awareness Month (TAAM) begins tomorrow (September 1, 2020) all across the state of Tennessee. That is the good news. The bad news is that most of the in-person archaeological activities and public demonstrations, like those held in September of past years, have been cancelled for September 2020 because of the  COVID-19 infection risk. I think that was a very wise decision. Those governmental organization and private archaeological/historical organization managers who made it deserve a public safety award. The overall TAAM celebration is sponsored each year by the venerable and excellent Tennessee Council for Professional Archaeology (TCPA), but numerous other governmental and private sector entities join in each September with their own special programmatic contributions to the overall celebration.

I am happy to report that the annual 30 Days of Archaeology Blogfest is still being held as part of the 2020 TAAM celebration. Each day in September, a professional archaeologist, archaeology student, museum worker, or guest author writes a major blogpost summarizing one of their archaeological  projects or highlighting some special archaeological or museological subject of interest. The blogposts are almost always fun and interesting to the maximum, and they are usually accompanied with maps, photographs, and/or video clips. You may click on the following safe link each of the 30 days in September 2020 to read the blogpost for that day:

30 Days of Archaeology Blogfest 2020

The first blogpost will be available tomorrow at around 10:00 a.m., and a new blogpost will be available at about the same time each day for the next 30 days. Once posted, all of the blogposts remain permanently available to the public on the TCPA website. Information relevant to each blogpost is usually posted on the TCPA Facebook page, and people can post comments on each blogpost there. You may click on the following safe link to go there:

Facebook Page for the TCPA

Have fun everyone!!!

Paleo-Indians: Famous 20th Century “Early Arrival Hypothesis” Wins Again!!!

by Tracy C. Brown

Wow!!! You may read a summary article about this new discovery by clicking on the safe link below:

Humans Reached the Americas 11,000 Years Earlier Than Previously Thought, Archaeologists Discover

You may read even deeper by taking a close look at the recent archaeological write-up in the journal Nature. If you do not have an on-line subscription to this famous scientific journal, you will need to go to the periodicals room of a large university library to find and read this particular issue. Most of the state university and large private university libraries in Tennessee should have a copy.

Archaeology Blogging: Two Things to Consider if You Want to Communicate with Me Here at the Blog

by Tracy C. Brown

I really enjoy hearing from the folks who visit and do reading on the Archaeology in Tennessee blog and the website for the Oak Ridge Archaeological Research Institute——for the most part. At both locations, readers have the option of making comments, which register themselves at the ends of particular blog articles or website pages. In addition, any person may click on the Contact Button at the top of any blog page or website page and use the e-mail address there to send a personal e-mail message to me. Sometimes, I will ask a person to contact me at my personal home e-mail address rather than at my work addresses. However, there are a couple of things I do not love—-very irritating things—–and you need to know about them.

(1) One reader left a comment at the end of the Regions of Focus page on the website for the Oak Ridge Archaeological Research Institute. I am not going to use his real name or handle name here, so I will just call him “Billy.” Here is his verbatim comment, which includes the original typographical errors:

Can you tie any specific Woodland or Mississippian cultures to Anderson County? I’m aware of the Owl Hollow and McFarland cultures that presumably built Old Stone Fort and on a larger scale, the Adena, Hopewell, and Fort Ancient cultures. I also have learned about the Mississippian Dallas Phase Chiaha Chiefdom, Omalico… ect… but I can’t find any documentation on any specific cultures in Anderson County. Any ideas would be appreciated.

That was a nice question, a reasonably knowledgeable question (not that it had to be), and one that I could answer to a certain extent—–with some important nuances that deserved discussion. I preferred to respond privately by e-mail rather than risk a long response that might overrun any WordPress character limitations on the length of comment responses. I also wanted to ask Billy a few private questions. Here is the comment message I sent to Billy in response the next day:

Hi Billy. Thanks for commenting. Please send me an e-mail message at the following address so we can exchange a few messages and discuss this in more detail:

[My personal home e-mail address was listed here.]

Thanks!!! Have a wonderful day!!!

Six days passed, and I did not hear a word from Billy. Some people are shy and skittish about communicating with archaeologists, so I sent another nice comment to Billy:

What is the problem Billy? Send me an e-mail message. I am a really nice person, and I don’t bite. Answering your request here in the comments is not as simple and straightforward as you might think for a variety of reasons involving nuances and holes in Woodland and Mississippian research for Anderson County. I will be looking forward to hearing from you.

Months have now passed. I have not heard a word from Billy at my home e-mail address or anywhere else——and suspect that I never will.

Please dear readers. If you indicate you want to communicate with me in a comment or by e-mail, then please do it.  Follow through!!!  Please do not leave me hanging out here on the edge of a cliff waiting forever to hear back from you, especially if I have spent my personal time doing some extra research on your behalf. It is really irritating—-and if you irritate me like this for months on end——-like Billy did——I may not respond at all if you finally do get in touch with me.

(2) Please do not send me any blog comments or e-mail messages that are designed (cleverly or not so cleverly) to trick me into revealing to you the specific locations of intact archaeological sites so you (or you and your buddies) can go loot them for artifacts. As a matter of personal and professional policy, I do not give out the specific locations of intact archaeological sites to anyone who is not a fellow professional archaeologist or a deeply trusted avocational archaeologist who does not dig for artifacts. Purely for archaeological purposes, I and other professional archaeologists will sometimes (on a need to know basis) reveal a site location to a deeply trusted avocational archaeologist such as John Dowd or the late H.C. “Buddy” Brehm because we know them well and they share concretely in our professional archaeological ethics. Anyone else:

Rubber biscuit: You go hungry—–bawe, bawe, bawe!!!

Most other professional archaeologists abide by the same policy to prevent the looting of archaeological sites.

We professional archaeologists have seen or anticipated just about every minor trick and complicated ruse in the book, across many years, when it comes to strangers who want to know the specific locations of archaeological sites. I and all other professional archaeologists are always on hyper-alert for any aspect of communication with us that even remotely smacks of a desire to know intact archaeological site locations—and we are especially suspicious of strangers—-meaning people we do not already know. By intact, I  mean existing archaeological sites that still have fully intact or partially intact archaeological deposits that need to be preserved.

If you are a stranger and you contact any professional archaeologist with any sort of suspicious-sounding messages or questions, you may not receive any response at all. If you sound suspicious, some professional archaeologists will just flat-out stonewall you——and never respond. Academic archaeologists at colleges and universities are often so busy that they only respond to inquiries from their students and a few other professional archaeologists they already know. Numerous professors receive hundreds of e-mail messages per day. They cannot respond to all of them every day. It is just impossible to do it. Sadly, a handful of professional archaeologists will not respond to inquiries from the public (or even other professional archaeologists) because of personal ego problems that keep them from interacting with people they wrongly regard as mere “stinkards” in this world. (Check the Natchez historical accounts). You know how it goes:

Ah-ah-ah!!! Do not expect any response from me. I am a truly important archaeologist. I am famous. I am too good to interact with you and other people like you. Please. Do not contact me. Do not touch my Holy body. I have not yet ascended into Heaven to sit at the right hand of God the Father.

Many professional archaeologists will just automatically assume that any stranger who  contacts them is an artifact collector or artifact dealer minion who is acting under cover and up to no good. (Been there. Seen that.) In fact, such professional archaeologists often make the knee-jerk assumption that a looter has just contacted them and quickly fire an insulting message straight back to the person who contacted them. (Been there. Seen that one too.) Sometimes that stranger turns out to be a totally innocent person or a professional archaeologist they have never met (Uh-oh!!! Pie on face——Three Stooges style).

Personally, I do not like professional archaeologists who make a priori negative assumptions about the strangers who contact them—-and then automatically fire back insulting messages at them. As a matter of policy, I try not to make such assumptions because they can easily be wrong.

Instead, I first seek further information from any stranger who has contacted me. I nicely ask deep and incisive questions of that person. Based on the answers received, I carefully call around and otherwise check out the person and his background to see if he is a safe person or some bad actor who is likely up to no good. You would be surprised at how easy it is to find the real goods on a person just by making a few telephone calls, sending out a few e-mail messages to the right people, or investigating people on-line (either through pay people search services or just personal investigation on the Internet). If a stranger contacts me, but refuses to answer my deep and incisive questions, that person is not going to get very far with me on anything. They will certainly not get any archaeological site locations.

But hey. I am a nice and friendly kind of guy, and I really do enjoy hearing from my readers.  Really!!! All I kindly ask is for you to be polite when you contact me, be straight-up with me in your message, and avoid ulterior motives——such as wanting to know the specific locations of intact archaeological sites. Have a happy day!!!!

Which One Came First in Tennessee: The American Indian or the Flint?

Uh-h-h-h-h-h-h-h-h-h-h? Okay. Without getting into the famous terminological argument of flint vs. chert, the first flint (as you call it) arrived in Tennessee through purely natural geological processes many, many, many, many millions of years before the first American Indian (or Native American) arrived in Tennessee circa 11,000 B.C. (13,000 years ago).

Anything older than about 13,000 years ago crosses the line into a debate that began in the middle of the 20th century. When this debate began, it was called the Early Arrival Hypothesis vs. the Late Arrival Hypothesis. I have no idea what the Paleo-Indian archaeologists call that debate now—about 70 years later. However, the approximate 11,000 B.C. date (or thereabouts) is the earliest first arrival date that is definitively known for Tennessee. The actual earliest arrival date for Tennessee is still an open question with no firmly decided upon answer. My heart has always been with the Early Arrival Hypothesis, but the hard evidence has always been—at least in my mind—a bit sparse, threadbare, and questionable to one degree or another.

I guess you can tell that Paleo-Indian archaeology in Tennessee or anywhere else is not one of my favorite subjects that I spend a lot of personal time studying or pondering. If anyone has more up-to-date Paleo-Indian information for Tennessee, please provide it in the comments.

The World Famous William M. Bass III Collection of Native American Skeletal Remains from South Dakota Is Heading Home to the High Plains

Yesterday afternoon, I received an e-mail message containing a bit of shocking news from a fellow archaeologist. He was passing on a message from an old friend of ours, Dr. Tony Cavender, who is an Emeritus Professor of Cultural Anthropology at East Tennessee State University in Johnson City, Tennessee. The William M. Bass III Collection of Native American human skeletal remains, which has been housed by the Department of Anthropology at The University of Tennessee, Knoxville (UTK) for the past 50 years, is leaving for the Northern High Plains in Spring 2020.

Two Native American tribes (Arikara and Mandan) will be happy to receive and rebury the skeletal remains of their ancestors. I understand why this needs to happen. However, strictly from a general scientific standpoint and my personal scientific viewpoint, it is kind of sad to see them go.

It was one of the largest Native American skeletal collections in the United States, and this collection was a tremendous nationally and internationally recognized scientific resource. Thousands of undergraduate and graduate students in physical anthropology and American archaeology cut their baby teeth in anthropological learning via this wonderful collection. Dr. Bass used elements of it to teach me and many other archaeology students the fine art of identifying and siding human skeletal remains—particularly badly fragmented remains. In addition, we learned how to determine age at time of death, sex, and stature. We also learned how to identify paleopathological lesions and how to perform standard anthropometric measurements on crania and other complete bones in this collection.

I would also like to add the fact—and it is a fact—that Dr. Bass (a.k.a. Dr. Death) taught us to always treat these Native American remains with gentleness and respect because the bones of each person represented the ancient loved ones of our Native American friends and neighbors. In other words, each set of human skeletal remains represented a flesh and blood person who was deeply loved and cared for by the members of their families and tribes. Long ago, tears and heartfelt human grief were associated with the death and burial of each person.

Therefore, no weird college student horseplay or careless shenanigans were ever allowed or tolerated with the elements of this skeletal collection or any other human skeletal collections in the Department of Anthropology at UTK or at the on-campus Frank H. McClung Museum of Natural History & Culture. Any shenanigans, horseplay, or failures of respect with these collections would have incurred a certain student death sentence from Dr. Death——all students understood that——and they also understood that no college student on Earth had ever tasted true death until they had experienced it at the hands of Dr. Death. Needless to say, the collections remained safe, and no students died. Dr. Bass made sure the skeletal collections at UTK were appropriately curated and cared for at all times.

You may read a short news article from the Cable News Network (CNN) about the impending departure of the William M. Bass III Collection from UTK. Please click on the following safe link:

2,000 Native American Remains, Which Sat at a University for 50 Years, Will Soon Go Home

Easy Access List——Questions Artifact Collectors Pose to Professional Archaeologists

Math

How Archaeology Is Like a Math Test

We get numerous visitors and views at the Archaeology in Tennessee blog each day of the year.  However, I have noticed that very few visitors ever read our 13 blog articles (thus far—and more to come) in our ongoing series of articles entitled Questions Artifact Collectors Pose to Professional Archaeologists. Over my past six decades, most artifact collectors and other citizens I have ever known hope for an opportunity to pose a few questions to professional archaeologists, and they hope even more to obtain a longer and better answer than what they often get. I had hoped this series of blog articles would answer some of the common questions artifact collectors and ordinary citizens on the street often ask. Perhaps you found it hard to navigate from one question to another on this blog.  If that was so, I kindly apologize and have a solution to the problem.

It occurred to me that I could make such navigation much easier for you by creating a list of the questions, stating the main subject matter of each question, and leaving you the proper hyperlinks to click on——and go immediately to whichever questions interest you. I have done that for you in the list below. Have fun—and if you think of any new questions you would like to ask, you may click on the Leave a Reply button to the left under the title of each blog article and leave a comment containing your question. You may also send a question to me by e-mail.  Just click on the Contact Button at the tops of our blog pages. Here is the list of questions and the safe hyperlinks to click:

 

Question No. 1

Archaeologists, How They Work, and Their Rectangular Artifact Curation Boxes

 

 

Question No. 2

Misunderstandings and Weird Interactions Between Professional Archaeologists and Artifact Collectors

 

 

Question No. 3

Why Archaeologists Write So Much!!!

 

 

Question No. 4

An Endless Supply of Artifacts for Artifact Collectors

 

 

Question No. 5

The Importance or Unimportance of Artifact Rescue

 

 

Question No. 6

Artifact Collector Suggestion on How to Seek Vengeance Against Professional Archaeologists

 

 

Question No. 7

How the Word “Looting” Is Actually Defined in American Archaeology

 

 

Question No. 8

A Legendary Archaeology Book

 

 

Question No. 9

Archaeology, Artifact Collecting, and Playing Social Roles

 

 

Question No. 10

Famous Archaeologists’ Con Game to Steal Artifacts from Artifact Collectors and Citizens

 

 

Question No. 11

A Few Thoughts on On-Line Artifact Collector and Treasure Hunting Forums

 

 

Question No. 12

Why Your Artifact Collector Buddy Was Arrested

 

 

Question No. 13

Some Basics on Understanding Federal/State Laws and Regulations Affecting Artifact Collecting

 

 

Question No. 14

“We Artifact Collectors are Better Quality Human Beings Than You Archaeologists: You Archaeologists Hide Most of Your Great Artifacts from the Public—but We Artifact Collectors Put our Artifacts on Display for the Public to File Through and View. Nya-Nya-Nya-Nya…..Nya.”

Next Question to be Addressed—TBA

 

An Unusual Circumstance in the History of Tennessee Archaeology

by Tracy C. Brown

Brown and Chapman II

(Left) Graduate Student Tracy Brown and (Right) Dr. Jefferson Chapman at 40MR23 in the Summer of 1977

The Archaeology in Tennessee blog presents this reminiscent blog article and the accompanying photograph as its official contribution to Tennessee Archaeology Awareness Month for September 2019.

Do you have one or more favorite subjects in Tennessee archaeology or American archaeology? I sure do. The history of Tennessee archaeology is one of my favorite subjects. To be quite honest, I never expected to have any sort of appreciable, front-and-center recognition for my small role in that history. However, on that count,  a strange circumstance and fickle fate caught me by total surprise one day between 10 and 15 years ago.

On that particular day, I was in the midst of performing archaeological research here in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, and it suddenly became necessary for me to examine some items on file in the archaeology laboratory at the Frank H. McClung Museum of Natural History & Culture on the main campus of The University of Tennessee, Knoxville (UTK). When I arrived at the museum, the laboratory double-doors were locked, as they always are, even when multiple people are working inside. Therefore, elsewhere in the building, it was necessary to find a museum employee who already knew me to gain quick entrance into the laboratory.

I proceeded into the laboratory, face moving forward, and continued on my business of finding and examining files. After being there quite a while, I happened to turn my head back toward the entrance doors and—much to my surprise—there it was! Someone at the museum had used a plot printer to print out a huge (4-ft X 2-ft), poster-size version of the above photograph showing Dr. Jefferson Chapman and me examining a large sherd of prehistoric pottery. This photograph was tacked to the back side of one of the laboratory entrance doors, and it remained there for many years. Dr. Chapman soon entered the laboratory that day, and I just had to ask the obvious question. Out of the thousands of 1960s, 1970s, and early 1980s photographs taken during the Tellico Archaeological Project, why did the museum feel compelled to pick out that one photograph, blow it up to poster size, and tack it to a laboratory entrance door?

According to Dr. Chapman’s response, they were looking through the old Tellico Archaeological Project photographs for some university public relations event, and they suddenly noticed something important—and even a bit shocking. The field photographs for the Tellico Archaeological Project contained no clear, outward visual indication that UTK archaeologists or UTK student archaeologists were wearing or wielding anything clearly showing that UTK personnel were part of the Tellico Archaeological Project. For example, no UTK archaeologist or UTK student archaeologist appeared to have been photographed wearing a UTK tee-shirt or sweat shirt while doing archaeological fieldwork on the project. After looking through all of those old Tellico archaeology photographs, I was the only person who just happened—quite by fickle fate—to be wearing a University of Tennessee tee-shirt when doing Tellico archaeological fieldwork—and at the exact same moment when an official visitor to the site needed to take an archaeological photograph.

Solely for the history of Tennessee archaeology, let us take a closer look at the above photograph and its contents. This photograph was taken in June 1977, during the Tellico Archaeological Project. The Department of Anthropology at UTK was conducting excavations for the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) that summer. Our first excavations of the season were conducted (as shown in the photograph) in the Middle Woodland component at the Icehouse Bottom site (40MR23) near Vonore, Tennessee. Dr. Chapman was the Principal Investigator that summer, and Ms. Patricia Cridlebaugh was his Field Director.

The main channel of the Little Tennessee River was located approximately 31 meters to the right of the location where Dr. Chapman is standing in this photograph, and our waterscreens were operating only a few meters to the right of where Dr. Chapman is standing. I was working at the waterscreens in the late morning when an official photographer (probably from TVA, the National Park Service, or National Geographic Society) arrived at 40MR23 and wanted to photograph what we were finding. Because I was working close by, Dr. Chapman quickly asked me to come over and be part of the shot. In the photograph, Dr. Chapman and I are holding a large ceramic sherd from one of the 5-foot excavation squares in the background. It was most likely a sherd of sand-tempered Connestee series pottery dating to the Middle Woodland period. (In the old days, southeastern archaeologists used the English system of measurement rather than the metric system, and the standard southeastern excavation square measured 5 feet X 5 feet).

Now, we take a close look at the objects and people in the background of this old photograph. Please take a look at the instrument with the white legs? That was our analog transit, which was used to take horizontal and vertical measurements on our site and to maintain 3-dimentional spatial controls on our excavation work and what we were finding. The digital Total Station most archaeologists use today either did not exist in 1977, or it existed only as a very early version that was far too expensive for UTK to purchase. (Personally, I suspect Total Stations did not even exist at that time.) One of the quirks of the old analog transits involved summer heat. The instrument would get so hot under a blazing sun that it required manual recalibration several times per day to maintain the consistency and accuracy of the field measurements taken with it.

Summer of 1977 was my happiest, ever before and ever after, site excavation work in Tennessee archaeology—with one very important exception. The excavation units at 40MR23 had poison ivy growing at the ground surface on top of them. Its roots extended straight down into the soil about 46 to 71 cm. Apparently, I was the only person on the site who was allergic to poison ivy, and as a  direct result of troweling down squares, I was soon taking steroid injections and prescription pills to deal with a major-league breakout from skin contact with the poison ivy roots. All of those poison ivy block chemicals young archaeologists slather on today to prevent breakouts did not exist way back in 1977. Neither did many of the modern UV-ray blockers, which protect skin from sunburn and skin cancer.

Those thick, gray and yellow, parallel lines far in the background of this photograph are limestone rip-rap and hay-covered soil to prevent soil erosion. They are associated with Fort Loudoun, which was under archaeological excavation by Dr. Karl Kuttruff and his large field crew. Fort Loudoun was a British colonial fort built and occupied by colonial militia from South Carolina in the middle 18th century.

The one thing that rendered these 1977 Tellico excavations so much fun was the unique collection of people on our field crew. We all got along fabulously with each other, and as Patricia Cridlebaugh noted in the Acknowledgements section of her final written report on our Middle Woodland excavations at 40MR23:

My deepest appreciation goes to my field crew who daily performed professionally; often gave more than required, and worked, lived, and played together in unity and good harmony despite an oppressively hot, dry summer. To always have a crew comprised of Bob Asreen, Tracy Brown, Mona Butler, Judy Canonico, David Denny, Leslie Hickerson, Vera Mefford, S. H. Roderick, and Kathy Sarten would be the ideal. Each crew member possessed at least one skill at which he [or she] excelled; however, since a crew runs on its stomach, Sarten’s excellent culinary skills deserve special mention. Also, a very special thanks goes to Judy Canonico who worked harder than the rest of us even though she did so for room and board only.

The people (left to right) in the background of this old photograph are Vera Mefford (a UTK archaeology student wearing her authentic pith helmet), David Denny (a tall UTK archaeology graduate student who had a wonderful sense of humor), Judy Canonico (with her signature white head bandana and navy blue overalls), and probably Bob Asreen (standing next to Judy on her right and slightly behind my shirt sleeve). Patricia Cridlebaugh, Leslie Hickerson, and Mona Butler are working in excavation units somewhere farther to the right and behind me in the photograph.

Ms. Sarten and Mr. Roderick were stationed at our archaeology field camp and its archaeology field laboratory, located far away by road from 40MR23, on Highway 72S, right next to the Carson Island Baptist Church. It was an Evangelical church camp with individual wooden cabins. Each cabin (and its interior overhead wasp nests) could sleep eight archaeologists in bunk beds. The camp also had a separate, wooden kitchen building with a large, screened-in dining area and another large, separate wooden building that served as our archaeological field laboratory. Our camp also had two widely separated concrete block restroom/shower buildings, each associated with the all-male and all-female cabins. The male cabins were distributed in a straight linear pattern along an old fence line on the north side of the camp. All but one of the female cabins were distributed in a long arc behind the kitchen/dining building. The camp cook occupied a more isolated cabin right next to the kitchen/dining building.

With the possible exception of a tiny office in the field laboratory building, our Tellico field camp facilities had no air conditioning. During one week of the 1977 field season, the temperatures (not the heat index) climbed to 100 degrees F. or more—and stayed there for several consecutive days. On one day, which was a regular fieldwork day for us, we had a recorded temperature of 107 degrees F. That was the summer Elvis Presley died. At the end of that long, hot day in the field, we sat around the tables in the dining area—baking in the late afternoon heat—eyes glazed over—staring blankly into the distance—and listening to the latest radio news reports on the death of The King of Rock and Roll. (Think archaeological zombies and The Walking Dead.)

Tennessee archaeology and American archaeology students need to know something important. On some of your worst days, I know many of you quietly mumble the following question beneath your breath like so many other college archaeology students have done in the past:

Is there some sort of worthwhile life out there for me after being an archaeology student?

The members of our 1977 Tellico archaeology field crew pretty much proved that there is, but you have to be smart, focus down, and work hard to make it come true. Our Tellico camp cook (Ms. Kathy Sarten) and I got married (for 40 years now), and we both had long and successful environmental science careers in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. Judy Canonico went on to earn a B.S. degree in nursing and worked successfully in the healthcare field. Together, Vera Mefford and her husband (David Mefford—now deceased) started their own corporate consulting company and successfully provided values-based management and employee evaluation/improvement training to major corporations and small businesses. Mona Butler went off to The University of Texas at Austin (UTA) to get an M.A. degree in anthropology—but soon switched over to the law school at UTA. After earning her J.D. degree, she went on to become a highly successful attorney for the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington, D.C. and the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency in Langley, Virginia. David Denny moved back to his native Virginia and became a successful businessman.

Patricia Cridlebaugh, who was a very close and dear friend of ours long after 1977 at Tellico, went on to become the first-ever woman to earn a Ph.D. degree in anthropology (archaeology concentration) at UTK. She worked happily in southeastern archaeology for a number of years, but unfortunately, “Pitty Pat” (a nickname Leslie Hickerson loved), died young from colon cancer in the very early 1990s—leaving behind her beloved dachshund named Bentley and our mutual close friends who lived near her in South Carolina—Wayne Roberts and Carol Roberts. Even now, after 30 years have passed, we all have days when we feel a bit hollow inside over losing Patricia—and would do just about anything to see her alive again. Patricia was a very special person, and those of us who knew her loved her.

Dr. Jefferson Chapman moved on to become a Research Associate Professor of anthropology at UTK, and he later became the Director of the Frank H. McClung Museum of Natural History & Culture. Under his long, wise, and dynamic leadership, the museum improved by leaps and bounds and turned into one of our nation’s best university museums. He retired in September 2019. Whoever succeeds him (be it a man or woman) will have some mighty big shoes to fill.

Unfortunately, we lost track of Leslie Hickerson, Bob Asreen, S.H. Roderick, and their accomplishments across several decades, but they were all outstanding folks,  and I feel certain they were successful in whatever they chose to do in life. Mr. Roderick no doubt retained the same placid face and stiff upper lip for which he was so famous among the members of our field crew.

Historical Lessons Learned:

(1) If you are doing archaeological fieldwork for your university, college, museum, or CRM firm and you feel that you will one day need to use fieldwork photographs for historical, marketing, public relations, or other significant purposes, make sure at least one or more members of your field crew are photographed wearing one of your university, college, museum, or corporate T-shirts on site during the excavations. Future historians of Tennessee archaeology and American archaeology will be glad you did, and that tee-shirt may even be a major clue a future archaeological historian can use to solve a problem in their research. Needless to say, it would be better if the people on your field crews are not photographed wearing tee-shirts or other clothing representative of other universities, colleges, museums, or CRM firms.

(2) Students who are new to Tennessee archaeology are sometimes unaware of the fact that they and their actions are actually creating history and creating (or adding to) Historic period archaeological components. We Tellico archaeology folks contributed our own part to the Historic period component at our archaeology field camp. Our old field camp is still completely above the high water line of Tellico Lake, but all of the wooden cabins and other buildings, which in retrospect were so near and dear to us, were torn down decades ago. The field camp soon became enshrouded with massive vegetation growth. In the early 1990s, Kathy and I picked our way through some of that vegetation to see if any archaeological surface features from our old field camp still existed. All we could find was the poured concrete floor of the screened-in dining room. The vegetation was too thick to search for the concrete floors of our laboratory building and the two restroom/shower buildings. Our cabins had wooden floors poised on corner piers of rock or concrete blocks.

The members of our many Tellico archaeology field crews are now old men and women in their middle 60s and 70s—and probably a few in their 80s or dead. A couple of years ago, I kindly asked Dr. Chapman to look through the official Tellico archaeology photographs to see if he had any candid shots of the kitchen/dining building and candid shots of people in our Tellico archaeology field camp. He could not find any.  Apparently, no one ever bothered to create an official historical/archaeological record (with photographs) for our Tellico archaeology field camp. That is not surprising. When we, as young people, were working, living, and playing there, it seemed so very “ho-hum” current and unimportant.

Now that 43 years have passed us by, Tellico archaeology is seen as a major part of the so-called Second Golden Age of Tennessee Archaeology. Our old Tellico archaeology field camp, and even the nearby Carson house, which housed the Toqua field crew at one time and the Fort Loudoun field crew, are now unique and important aspects of the history of Tennessee archaeology.

All Tennessee archaeologists and historians—you and I—and especially our young folks—need to be more cognizant of the fact that we are not just passing through Tennessee history. We and our activities are creating Tennessee history and laying down new archaeological components or new portions of already existing archaeological components. In the present, we should be recording and photographing what we are doing for posterity—like we should have been doing at our Tellico archaeology field camp.

For example, do we have exterior and interior photographs and recorded information on the West End Avenue building (in Nashville) that housed the Tennessee Division of  Archaeology Office in 1972? What do we know about that office building? Was it state-owned or just rented by the state? Does the building still exist? Do we have its floor plan? Do we know which rooms were the offices of Mack Pritchard and John Broster? I know that would have sounded so very unimportant in 1972—and perhaps even now to some. However, I can guarantee you a Tennessee archaeological historian or historical archaeologist in the year 2210 will be willing to give her eye teeth for those simple bits of information.

We who live in the historical and archaeological present need to be more mindful of recording the seemingly unimportant historical and archaeological details of the present as a gift to future Tennesseans. What seems so current, “ho-hum,” and unimportant today will be important to someone in the future.

Photograph Credit: Frank H. McClung Museum of Natural History & Culture, Tellico Archaeological Project, Tennessee Valley Authority, and whoever else took official photographs for the Tellico Archaeological Project in 1977.

Tennessee Archaeology Awareness Month 2019

September is officially Tennessee Archaeology Awareness Month (TAAM) in the Volunteer State. That month is upon us already—what a fast summer it was—and the month long celebration of Tennessee archaeology is already in full swing. My favorite aspect of the TAAM celebration is the blogfest where a Tennessee archaeologist or guest archaeology writer posts a new blog piece on Tennessee archaeology for each day in September. That is 30 blog posts plus an occasional bonus post that spills over into early October. You may visit the 2019 TAAM blogspot by clicking on the following safe link:

2019 TAAM Blogfest

Just to whet your archaeological appetite for the blogfest, Dr. Kevin  E. Smith at Middle Tennessee State University has just posted an update on his archaeological research at the Noel Cemetery in Nashville—a large Mississippian period site with huge mortuary significance. This blog piece is really excellent, and it involves some classic gumshoe archaeological detective work. You will love reading it!!!

Some additional information on TAAM 2019 and its associated activities is available at the Facebook page of the Tennessee Council for Professional Archaeology (TCPA):

TCPA Facebook Page

One of those activities is a huge archaeological celebration being held at Pickett State Park in Pickett County this weekend (September 7, 2019). If you are interested in sandstone bluff shelter archaeology in Tennessee, you will want to attend this celebration and tour the new archaeology museum located near the main office for the park. This museum is in a former ranger residence house. I have yet to visit this museum, but from reading various snippets about it here and there, it sounds like a fun place to go and learn a few new things about Tennessee archaeology.

Beware: More on the Madison Tablet

Our past article entitled The Continuing Search for the Madison Tablet has been permanently deleted from the Archaeology in Tennessee blog. It now rests in oblivion. If any of you kind visitors or regular readers have ever downloaded a copy of this article to your personal computer, laptop, electronic tablet, smart phone, etc., I would kindly encourage you to destroy your copy.  I need you to do that so no person can ever find your copy and misuse it for supporting science denial, creation science/intelligent design (like that stupid Bible museum in Kentucky), or any other unscrupulous or nefarious purposes.  Just remember that I legally own the copyright to that article, and if I see you replicating (all or any part of it), using, misusing, or abusing it in any context without my written permission, you are going to court.

This message is for all artifact collectors and museums all across the United States and in foreign nations. If any person ever uses or attempts to use that article as “written proof” that the Madison Tablet is an authentic, prehistoric American Indian artifact, you need to walk away immediately and inform your fellow artifact collectors and museum personnel about the scam that someone is trying to unload on you. In the text of that article, it plainly says that the Madison Tablet may be a fake artifact. Neither is it a replica of any other prehistoric or historic artifact that has ever been deemed an authentic American Indian artifact.

We now believe that this incised limestone slab is at best some sort of weird garden rock or item of folk art that was made sometime in the 20th century—perhaps as part of a public school art class. Furthermore, it was most likely associated with one of the past Caucasian families that lived on the site where it was found during the Historic period (A.D. 1765 – 2019) in the Nashville area.