Can Artifact Collectors and Archaeologists Find a Way to Get Along and Collaborate More?

That is a very good question.  The Oak Ridge Archaeological Research Institute has just launched a new blogging project aimed at helping to answer that question.  If you are an artifact collector or a professional archaeologist in Tennessee or elsewhere in the United States, your participation in the blogging project is both needed and welcomed.  You may read all about it at the following link:

Foreign archaeologists who were trained in American universities on United States soil and are familiar with the issues that have divided the professional archaeology and artifact collector camps in this country for decades are welcome to join in the discussion, especially if you have picked up knowledge and ideas studying and working overseas that might be helpful for forging better professional-collector relationships here in the United States.  We hold out great hope that our archaeology blogging friend Doug Rocks-Macqueen will join in the discussions as his time allows.

Update on the Oak Ridge Archaeological Research Institute

Planning for retirement is usually defined as saving money.  However, if you are a wise person, you realize there is much more to it than just saving money.  You have to plan out what you want to do in retirement and how you want to do it. Too many people fail to do that, come home on the last day of work, sit down, and stay sitting down throughout most days until they die—which usually happens early because they are doing nothing but sitting down.  I refuse to be a part of that picture and have continued to lay the groundwork for my pet retirement project, the Oak Ridge Archaeological Research institute (ORARI).

The ORARI organization now has its own office with a sign on the door, which just happens to be my upstairs office and library at home in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.  We have our own official logo now.  We have our own official letterhead stationary too—quite attractive I might add.  Although we do not view ourselves as a commercial business, we now have official business cards with our logo and full contact information on them. Last but not least, we have created our own separate website for ORARI, and it is now up and running on-line at the following link:

Taking the example set by our friends at the Tennessee Council for Professional Archaeology (TCPA) website, we used a WordPress blog theme (The Motif Theme) as the computer platform for our website.  That has all worked out great so far except for the fact that I have been unable to figure out how to “turn off” the commenting functions on certain web pages so it does not look like a blog platform.  I know this is possible because my daughter and I actually did it together one day with another WordPress blog.  I just forgot how to do it, so I am waiting for her to come in from the Chattanooga area and bail me out one day soon. Kids know everything about computers…well…she does anyway. My little healthcare adventures of late gave me the time to finish getting most of the ORARI foundation and framework in place and ready to go, which only goes to show that bad things sometimes yield positive results.

We sincerely hope you have a toleration for deep purple, which is the primary logo color for ORARI.  Why deep purple?  You just had to ask didn’t you?  For one thing, purple is a rarely used color in the archaeological public square, which makes us unique in that regard.  We also have a sentimental reason. The late Dr. James X. Corgan was my geology professor at Austin Peay State University and a life-long friend of mine.  (And now for a descent into the Dark Ages.)  From 1971 to 1973, I took notes in his geology classes with a Flair fiber point pen. (Most of you just said, “A what?”)  My note taking was almost always done with a Flair pen containing deep purple ink, usually with Jim Corgan lecturing right in front of me—a front-row sitter in class.  I miss Dr. Corgan very much, and the color purple makes me feel like he is still here and still hovering over at least some of the things I am doing these days  Finally, red ochre is not uncommon on Archaic Period archaeological sites in Tennessee.  The Hart site (40DV434) had its share of red ochre, but the really big pigment star on that site was deep purple ochre. Way back circa 1972, that was the first time I had ever seen deep purple ochre on an archaeological site, and it made quite an impression on me—the Purple Flair Pen Guy. The few times I ever visited the Hart site, it seemed as if it were everywhere. The Middle and Late Archaic Period inhabitants of this site apparently knew where they could obtain deep purple ochre in large amounts, and they appeared to have done just that.  If anyone knows where they were getting it in the ancient Nashville area, Highland Rim, or Cumberland Plateau, please drop me an e-mail message and let me know where this ancient resource was being mined.  I would really like to know.

The photograph on the main page of the ORARI website is a U.S. Department of Energy stock photograph from World War II in Oak Ridge. The end of the war has just been announced in August 1945, and the locals have amassed somewhere here in Oak Ridge to whoop it up and celebrate. Ed Wescott, the famous U.S. Army Corps of Engineers photographer assigned to live here and document the goings on in Oak Ridge during the war days, took this old photograph.  I know black and white looks horrible with purple.  You would be surprised at how well color photographs go with the ORARI purple.  The real problem for ORARI is that nearly every photograph taken in Oak Ridge during the war years was a black and white photograph.  It seems that Ed rarely got any color film.  You can forget old archaeology photographs taken in Oak Ridge and Anderson County.  Not that much archaeology has ever been done in Oak Ridge and Anderson County, and most of the really interesting old photographs from the WPA archaeological work in the Norris Basin were taken with  black and white camera film.  Oh my gosh!!!  Some of you just asked, “What is film?”  I know I am getting old for sure now!!!

Last of all, just in case you might be wondering, the Archaeology in Tennessee blog is not going to be an official part of the ORARI organization.  It will be operated as a separate and independent entity, as expressed in our policy statement.

Well.  That is the story on ORARI for now.  The stitches come out of my head Friday of next week. Wish me luck and pray that I do not bleed purple blood while they are doing it.  You guys have a nice weekend out there!!!

Skin Cancer Surgery Done

I was fortunate this time.  The skin cancer surgery lasted about 2.5 hours, and the microscopy indicated that they got it all.  The bad news is that I have a 3 or 4-inch incision on my head that was sewn together in a large, loaf-like hump with black thread.  It looks like a huge, swollen caterpillar.  The thing is ugly as sin and will probably leave a permanent scar that will make me look like a veteran Caribbean pirate.  I am thinking about buying a black eye patch, like the one worn by the old Hathaway Shirt Man, to complete the pirate mystique.  “Har maties!!!   Trowels me old profile down good, and I’ll purse you all some dark rum.”

Take care of yourselves in the sun kiddies—or you too may one day get the pirate mystique on your noggins!!!  Ooh!!!  And it is starting to hurt.   Time to break into the pain medicine.

Tennessee Archaeology and Skin Cancer

Summer is nearly upon us, the Earth is moving closer to the sun each day, and it is the prime season of the year for field archaeology in Tennessee. All but a very tiny amount of my field archaeology experience was obtained on warm weather projects under sunny skies. Much of this experience came in the middle 1970s. This was a time in American history when sun tans were in maximum vogue; people were California-style sun worshipers; men often went about town with no shirt on to soak up rays; women sunned themselves nearly every weekend to achieve a cosmetic condition known as the perfect tan; sunburns (even severe ones) were so common people did not think much about them; and almost no one wore sunscreen. I was a member of that sun-soaked Baby Boomer generation and failed to think about my own sun exposure in terms of future consequences. That was a really big mistake for me and other members of my generation, and the reward for many of us was skin cancer. This post to the Archaeology in Tennessee blog is written in the sincere hope that you young, up-and-coming generations of archaeologists in Tennessee (and elsewhere) will listen carefully to what I have to say here and protect yourselves from the rays of the sun while doing field archaeology. This post may scare the bejeezers out of you. Make no mistake about it. This is exactly my intent in hopes that you will muster enough good sense to protect yourselves from the sun better than I did during my hot summers in the grid squares. This subject is especially timely for me because tomorrow I am scheduled to undergo my second round of surgery since 2011 for skin cancer on my face.

Most exposure-related cancers take about 25-30 years to show up in the form of a tumor. I was out in the sun quite a lot as a child and got severe sunburns a couple of times during my K-12 years. My initial intense exposure to the sun (day-in and day-out for an extended period of time) was the 1976 summer archaeological field season on the Tellico Archaeological Project. Unlike today’s archaeological field schools, which stay in the field for only five or six weeks, we were out in the sun for the entire summer. My whole summer was spent working on the Tommotley site, which was the third largest of the Overhill Cherokee towns in the Little Tennessee River Basin. Tommotley had no shade trees, except along the edge of the river where the waterscreen pump hummed all day. All of the archaeological work was done out in the direct rays of the sun. I wore a straw hat with a wide brim a big part of the time, and I worked in a Tennessee tee-shirt and khaki pants to avoid sunburn. No sunscreen was used, and to the best of my recollection, high SPF sunscreens like the ones we have today were not widely available. In fact, it was often just the opposite. One of the key emphases in the grand American mystique of the perfect tan was special lotion that acted to intensify solar tanning effects on the skin. Thank you Hawaiian Tropic! Fortunately, I never used any of that special lotion. Nonetheless, my first bout with skin cancer arose on the left side of my nose in about 2007. That was 31 years after my first field season at Tellico, which was nearly perfect clinical timing.

My skin cancer first presented itself as a tiny, round spot on the left side of my nose. It was smaller than the head of a straight pin and did not look at all unusual. It occasionally leaked a tiny bit of water or a drop of blood. However, this was off and on rather than a constant thing, and it was rather unobtrusive in the overall scheme of my life―so I dismissed it for several years. Finally, I scheduled an appointment with a dermatologist for a general examination and happened to remember this weird but occasional thing that happened on my nose. They did a biopsy, and it was a type of skin cancer. This is when I learned that certain types of skin cancer can be sneaky like the iceberg that got the HMS Titanic. The presentation can be very small on the skin surface (like my tiny vent hole), but the bulk portion of the tumor can be spread out much wider under the epidermis as a mass that looks like a cluster of pearls when it is opened up with a scalpel. Such tumors do not usually spread to other areas of the body, but they do grow slowly outwards from their in situ position.

They scheduled me for surgery right away.  I thought this surgery was going to be quick and simple. They would dig out a little area no bigger than the head of a pin, it would all be done in about 20 minutes, and I would be on my way back to work with one of those little round Band-Aids on my nose. Instead, it turned into a grueling 8-hour ordeal, which I am expecting again tomorrow.

This sort of surgery is done with a local anesthetic that numbs the area around the cancer and some of your face. Consequently, you are awake and fully conscious of all the weird medical things they are doing to you, and it is not pleasant at all. It is like going to the universally dreaded, but usually never seen, Dentist from Hell. Periodically, the anesthetic wears off during the surgery, and they have to numb the surgical area again. They had to do it several times for me, and it was no fun because it hurts when it starts wearing off.

In my particular case, under the healthy epidermis, the tumor had eaten up a good-sized portion of the bottom left half of my nose. One of the problems with this kind of skin cancer surgery is that the surgeon really does not know the full extent of the problem until he gets inside. As it turned out, I had gotten into surgery just in the barest nick of time to avoid significant and permanently detrimental physical and cosmetic effects on my nose.

You might think this surgery involves simply cutting out the tumor in a single step, but there is a lot more to it. They have to do a little cutting, and then they take tissue samples to examine under a microscope to see if cancer cells are still there. So you lie there for a long period of time with your skin wide open and bloody while they process the slides and examine the tissue. If cancer cells are still there, they come back and cut more. And they do it over and over and over and over and over and over again, however many times it takes, until no more cancer cells are seen on the slides. To make it all worse, they are simultaneously doing similar surgery on two or three other people, so you are not just waiting on the slides and the microscope. You are waiting for the surgeon to get back to you from his other surgical patients. After about six hours of this ordeal, I finally heard those blessed words, “Well, Mr. Brown, we finally got all of the cancer.” I breathed a sigh of relief and thought, “Thank you Lord. It’s all over. I can go home now because I am exhausted mentally, emotionally, and physically.” And I was indeed just plain worn out. Then the next horrifying words came from the surgeon:

We have run into a problem. We had to cut deeply to get all the cancer. The tissue that is left cannot regenerate properly in such a way as to leave you with a normal-looking nose. Therefore, we are going to have to find another place on your body to get healthy tissue, cut it out, and use it to fill in the trench we made in your nose.

I gasped in horror!!! The surgeon then decided to remove fresh facial tissue from one of those two natural grooves that run from my nose down to the sides of my mouth. (Go look at our state artifact Sandy for the anatomy.)  After even more anesthetic rounds, they had to cut slowly and carefully to avoid significant scarring and move tissue up to my nose―a little bit at a time. As they were cutting, I could feel waterfalls of blood rushing from my face down to my mouth, which is a really crazy-making feeling. This went on for over an hour, and it was grueling. When that cutting was finished, I had to lie there for another hour while they stitched up all of the cuts they had made on my face. This was not a simple case of stitching. It was slow, careful, and painstaking, with tiny stitches like those in early 1800s quilt work. This took another hour, and being fully conscious the whole time, I could sense all the stitching going on, even if I could not feel the pain from the curved needle as it and the thread went in and out. They then put on a bandage that covered nearly half of my face. I would not see how it looked until a couple of days later when the bandage came off. The remnants of all the cutting and stitching looked like something out of a horror movie. It took several weeks to heal up. I was unable to wash my hair or take a shower the whole time. It was truly the skin cancer gift that just kept on giving.

My advice to every Field Director, Field Assistant, and young archaeologist in Tennessee is to take the prospect of skin cancer from archaeology-related sun exposure very seriously. I can guarantee you do not want to go through the ordeals with skin cancer that I am going through. My skin cancers so far have not been the life-threatening kind, but malignant melanoma is a very real possibility for anyone who has undergone long-term sun exposure across many years. It is aggressive, and it spreads quickly, setting up tumors in other parts of the body―and it is every bit as much a killer as Jack the Ripper. One of my friends who took annual vacation trips with his wife to Hawaii came down with a case of melanoma in recent years. Fortunately, it did not spread, and he is still alive. You might not be the lucky one.

Here are some closing thoughts about protecting yourself from sun exposure while doing field archaeology. This is not medical advice because I am not a medical doctor, but I think it is still pretty good advice from an old archaeologist who has seen a lot of life:

1) Use a really good hat or cap that shields your face from the direct rays of the sun as much as possible.

2) Do not be stupid with sunscreen. I define stupid with sunscreen as anything SPF 40 or below. With the skin cancer problems I have had, I would personally use nothing less than 100 percent sunblock products or as close to it as I could find on the retail shelf. Some brands are better quality than others. Check Consumer Reports. They have most likely done a study to identify the best ones.

3) Nearly everyone forgets to put sunscreen on their nose and ears. Put sunscreen on your nose and ears, and never forget it. Skin cancer on the nose leads to bad things. Put it on the other parts of your face too, but keep it away from your eyes. You also need to be aware that sweat rolling down from your forehead can carry sunscreen into your eyes. It stings. Wear a headband to keep sweat and sunscreen out of your eyes as much as possible.  Use sunscreen on your face even when you are wearing a hat or cap.  My wide-brim hat alone was not enough to protect my face.

4) Spread on your sunscreen an hour or so before you arrive in the field each day. Sunscreen does not work well until it has a chance to soak into your skin some. Give it that chance for the best protection. Follow the directions on the bottle.

5) I think bikini tops and going shirtless are a really bad idea in field archaeology. While I know you have to strike a reasonable and healthy balance between keeping cool under a hot sun and avoiding skin cancer, the upper portion of your body is prime cultivation ground for skin cancer in most people. I would wear a tee-shirt made of thin cloth and periodically lift it for a minute or so across the day to let the wind cool off your skin directly. A damp  tee will also help to keep you cool if you can spare the water.

6) I have always thought shorts are a bad idea in field archaeology.  They expose the skin on your legs to the sun all day, and sweaty legs can ruin an excavation surface. I know most of you young archaeologists out there love to wear shorts during excavation work, and they do keep you cool. Some people wore shorts in the old days too. Interestingly, looking back across four decades, I cannot recall a single Field Director or Field Assistant who wore shorts. I will not advise you to wear pants, but if you insist on shorts, be sure to put plenty of sunscreen all over your legs.

7) Take advantage of shade trees and take breaks in the shade if you can. I know this will vary from site to site. Some sites may have no shade at all. A break tent or canopy is a good idea if the project can afford it.

8) I would like to end this list by commending Dr. Tanya Peres Lemons and Dr. Kevin E. Smith at Middle Tennessee State University for their frequent use of man-made shading devices on their archaeological projects. In addition to preventing rapid drying of the soil, which makes it harder to see and photograph feature outlines, it provides much needed shade for their archaeology students on hot summer days in Tennessee.  Blessings to both of you.

This blog has many readers outside of Tennessee and around the world. I can guarantee you one thing. You have never really lived until you have done archaeological excavations on a sunny, hot, steamy, late July day in Tennessee.  It will make any man or woman beg for mercy.

For my first skin cancer surgery, I had good, employer-provided health insurance with a major carrier.  Unfortunately, historically speaking, many field archaeologists who work for CRM consulting companies across the United States have had no health insurance at all.  The cost of my surgery, including doctor fees and follow-up, was between $3,000 and $4,000. Actuaries, those masters of statistical mathematics at insurance companies, had set the deductible on my policy at just the right place to get out of paying for most of my medical bills.  Fortunately, my employer at the time, one of the nicest and most competent men I have ever known, stepped in without my asking and graciously volunteered to pay for a great deal of my medical bills.  For that, I am forever grateful. My major point here is that even small skin cancers that are not immediately life threatening can be expensive to treat.  This is one more good reason for you to avoid getting skin cancer by taking appropriate precautions on your own early in your life.  On down the line, you may not have a health insurance policy, your deductible may be sky high if you do, or your employer might not be nearly as kind and generous as mine happened to be.

Personally, I would hope that all CRM companies could one day find a way to purchase health insurance for their employees, but insurance premiums are already extremely high and going up by huge percentages every year.  One 2015 Obamacare health insurance carrier is asking for a more than 56 percent increase in monthly premiums for 2016.  You read that correctly!  I saw it in a news article yesterday, and it was no mistake. Recently, a person who closely follows the healthcare industry remarked that health care is quickly becoming something the American middle class will no longer be able to afford, and we are on the doorstep of that very moment right now.  Those of you who vote can thank your local Republican politician who is OWNED by the big insurance companies and large pharmaceutical companies.

Busting a Myth about Ancient Arrowhead Production in Tennessee

The Archaeology in Tennessee blog is devoting a portion of its 2015 posts to public archaeology outreach in Tennessee. Our goal is to deliver interesting and memorable archaeological information, both small and great, to the ordinary citizen of Tennessee. This particular post is devoted to dispelling an archaeological folk myth that has been circulating in Tennessee for a very long time. Although we do not know exactly how long, it may have been circulating for more than 100-150 years.

Wise old grandfathers, public school teachers, citizens with excellent college educations, and just ordinary folks in Tennessee have been telling generations of children that ancient Native Americans had a very special, water-based technology for making arrowheads. Arrowheads are usually referred to as projectile points/knives (pp/k) by professional archaeologists in Tennessee. Interestingly, most of the prehistoric arrowheads found in Tennessee were never used on arrows. They were used as the tips on atlatl darts or as hafted knife blades. The atlatl was a unique spear-throwing device used in hunting and warfare by ancient Native Americans in Tennessee prior to the Mississippian Period (A.D. 700-1600). Hafted knife blades were often resharpened so many times they became mere nubs, leaving the illusion that they were once the tips of atlatl darts. The term arrowhead is used throughout this post because most Tennesseans are familiar with this often incorrectly used term, and they have developed a visual template of one in their minds. For those who have never seen a Native American arrowhead, some examples are shown in Figure 1.

Tennessee Arrowheads

Figure 1.  Prehistoric Flint Arrowheads Found in Tennessee

What was this very special technology ancient Native Americans were using to make arrowheads? Well, the story goes something like the following:

The ancient American Indians made arrowheads out of flint rocks, usually picked up in stream beds. An Indian brave who wanted to make an arrowhead would go down to the creek and pick out a roughly spherical hunk of chert. He would then take it back to his camp and build a roaring, superhot fire. The hunk of chert was then inserted into the fire until it got red hot and glowing. Then he would quickly run down to the creek or spring to fetch some ice-cold water. Next, the Indian man would fish the red-hot chert out of the fire and use a plant straw to apply cold drops of water to the hot flint. When a big drop of cold water hit the hot hunk of flint, the extreme difference in temperatures would cause the hunk of flint to break into large pieces. The American Indian man would then select a broken piece of flint nice enough to make an arrowhead. After doing that, and while it was still red hot, he continued applying cold drops of water in strategic places on the broken piece of flint, and the difference in heat would cause tiny flakes of flint to pop off the piece. This process would continue until the cold drops of water had popped off enough flakes to create a really nice and perfectly shaped Indian arrowhead.

This old story sounds delightful to kids, and on the surface, it appears to be intuitively plausible to the average adult. However, this story is pure fiction. It is a very old folk myth that has been passed down carelessly from one generation to the next by well-meaning―but quite ignorant—people who knew virtually nothing about prehistoric arrowhead-making in the United States. Prehistoric arrowheads were not made like this. As a practical matter, it quite simply does not work. Furthermore, American archaeologists know for certain how ancient Native Americans actually made their arrowheads, and it had nothing to do with dripping cold water onto hot flint. In fact, historic-era Native Americans, such as the famous Native American man named Ishi in California, were still making arrowheads in the true, ancient, time-honored ways during the late 1800s and early 1900s.  You can read more about Ishi at this link:

Unfortunately, the citizens of Tennessee (and other states) have been misled for generations by all sorts of pure nonsense, false ideas, and fraudulent stories about prehistoric Native Americans, their artifacts, and the archaeology of Tennessee. In his new book entitled Chiefdom on the Cumberland: The History and Evolution of Middle Tennessee Archaeology, professional archaeologist Donald B. Ball (2015:183-184) has touched briefly on this persistent and terribly misleading mythology:

It would be a pleasure to believe that the “myths” of the region’s prehistoric past have been laid to rest and the advance of scholarly archaeology has replaced the folk tales and unmitigated romanticism of a prior century. Such is not the case. Recurrent tales of ancient pygmies and giants in Middle Tennessee remain alive and well in the realms of contemporary Internet “new age” and counterculture science (cf. Corliss 1978; Pilapil 1991; Williams 1991:273). Other beliefs concerning the inhabitants of the region likewise appear to remain well engrained in the “folk” mindset. At various times since the late 1960s, the author has been inundated with “authoritative” comments from well-intentioned folks regarding “skinning rocks” and “bird points.” Several individuals have explained in great detail how Native Americans made “arrow heads” by heating chert to red hot temperature and then carefully dripping water from a straw onto the glowing rock (though admittedly none of these informants had ever personally tried doing this). Vendors at flea markets have adamantly maintained that they or a trusted friend personally found the “thunderbird effigies” or carefully crafted flint fishhooks they were selling.

Several [artifact] collectors have remarked with a straight face and the greatest sincerity that some of the sites they had visited were ancient Indian battlegrounds “because all of the arrowheads were found pointing in the same direction” although one must wonder why this is the case in that most fields have likely been plowed for well over a century. In one instance, a gentleman spoke in almost mystical terms of a large quartz crystal recovered from a site in Franklin County (south-central), Tennessee. According to him, when correctly held to the rays of the sun the image of an “Indian princess” could be clearly seen. Another gentleman was firmly convinced that his house burned because he had unleashed an ancient curse when he knowingly disturbed an Indian burial and removed some of the bones. While many (though certainly not all) of the myths surrounding long vanished races of giants and pygmies in Middle Tennessee have largely disappeared into the dust of the past, a new generation of folklore has arisen in their place. The myth is not dead; like the Phoenix of old, it has merely been reborn and risen anew.

How were ancient Native American arrowheads actually made? They were made through a combination of percussion flaking and pressure flaking. In percussion flaking, a rounded rock hammerstone was used to break a raw chunk of flint into large pieces. Large antler percussion tools were often used to hammer off smaller flakes of flint. More refined flint working was done by using tough antler or bone tools to remove small flakes by applying hand pressure to the flint.

Intuitively, a person might think percussion and pressure flaking would be very difficult to control when hitting a brittle piece of rock like flint. Would hitting it not just shatter the flint into a million random pieces like breaking glass? No―not exactly. Good quality chert was pretty easy to work in ancient times. Some flint flakes did zoom randomly through the air, but an ancient flint knapper had an amazing amount of control over his flint raw material during the knapping process. Like anything else in life, the ability to make an ancient arrowhead from flint required some talent, knowledge, and frequent practice.

Over the past 150 years, archaeologists have learned in great detail how ancient Native Americans and other ancient peoples around the world made arrowheads. If you would like to know how arrowheads were really made in ancient Tennessee, please watch the following short video clip. It shows a British flint knapper making an arrowhead from a raw chunk of flint. Just click on the following video link—and be sure to read our safety warning below the video link:


Flint knapping poses a significant safety risk to the person doing the knapping and people standing, sitting, or kneeling near the knapper. Flakes can fly through the air in any random direction and hit any of these people. These flakes are sharp as broken glass. Knapping can easily lacerate hands, arms, and other exposed body parts, turning them into a bloody mess. Safe flint knapping requires technical knowledge of the knapping process, basic safety knowledge, and physical safety measures such as wearing safety-grade eye protection devices and using leather pads and appropriate clothing to protect your hands, arms, and legs from severe cuts.

If you have never done flint knapping, please do not try it on your own at home. Get in touch with an expert flint knapper who lives in your area. This person can most likely teach you the principles of flint knapping and the safety precautions that go with it. Although some modern knappers do not use eye protection, we here at the Archaeology in Tennessee blog believe standard eye protection measures are a must in flint knapping. You might not be able to do it with the Red Rider B-B gun you got for Christmas, but you really can shoot your eye out while knapping flint.


Ball, Donald B. 2015.  Chiefdom on the Cumberland: The History and Evolution of Middle Tennessee Archaeology.  Tuscaloosa: Borgo Publishing.

Corliss, William R. 1978. Ancient Man: A Handbook of Puzzling Artifacts. Sourcebook Project.  Glen Arm, Maryland.

Piiapil, Virgilio R. 1991.  Was There a Prehistoric Migration of the Philippine Aetas to America?  Epigraphic Society Occasional Papers 20:150.

Williams, Stephen 1991.  Fantastic Archaeology: The Wild Side of North American Archaeology. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Celebrate the Fairvue Plantation and Isaac Franklin?

Several years ago, The Tennessean newspaper in Nashville ran a story about a planned celebration of the old Fairvue Plantation in Sumner County, Tennessee. Best I can recall, the item I read made little mention of the early 19th century man who owned the old Fairvue Plantation. However, it seemed to me that one could not separate the plantation from the principal man associated with it in Tennessee history. In my mind, the two necessarily went hand in hand, and it was hard for me to envision how it was possible to celebrate one without simultaneously celebrating the other. This disturbed me enough to write a reply to the newspaper article, which is shown in a revised and edited form below. You may think or feel differently about this, and you are entitled to your thoughts and feelings. This is what I thought and the way I felt about it at the time.

As a professional archaeologist and a sometimes historian in relation to it, I have mixed feelings about celebrating the history of the old Fairvue Plantation in Sumner County, Tennessee. I think it would be more appropriate to leave out words such as celebrate. The phrases “telling the history of Fairvue” or “telling the story of Fairvue” would be better. In addition, I do not think the historical telling of this story should be sanitized to remove or gloss over the evil that once resided within it and its 19th century owner (Isaac Franklin).

When I was growing up in Gallatin, Tennessee, in the 1950s and 1960s, an inherited memory of the American Civil War (1861-1865) was still an active force in Sumner County. As in the book Gone with the Wind, many of the local citizens seemed to feel that an ancient culture and way of life to which they were entitled had been ripped from them by the awful and unjustified actions of President Abraham Lincoln. Then Martin Luther King, Jr. was suddenly on the scene in the 1960s and taking actions that destroyed even those few broken remnants of the Old South that had been salvaged, however imperfectly, under Jim Crow. Among the wealthy old dowagers of Sumner County and their spouses (long dead), there seemed to be a powerful impetus to attempt a resurrection of the Old South and its culture in Sumner County by purchasing broken down antebellum homes, restoring them, and implementing snobby tea parties at 4:00 p.m. on weekdays.  Naturally, I had nothing against restoring the old homes, but I thought the assorted attempts to recreate what was regarded as the precious social graces of an elite class of people from a lost time were more than a little disgusting, especially when one considered the economic behaviors and practices that funded tea time in 1845.

As I look back on the history of the old Fairvue Plantation, the baseline truth of the matter is that Isaac Franklin was a reprehensible human being. He was not just a slave owner but also―above all else―one of the Old South’s most important slave brokers and traders. He worked at the very pinnacle of this disgusting industry in Natchez, Mississippi, and he was a broker in human misery.

The life of Isaac Franklin deserves no celebration whatsoever. He made a place for himself in American history, but it should be remembered always as a dark, sinister, and evil place, unless we are willing to again embrace the low-life behaviors that won him his fortune, which I doubt many would want to do today. Isaac Franklin may have been a man created by his own time in history, but in the total sweep of human history, the things he did were evil. I think he needs to be judged by American history on the basis of the evil he did. No beautiful mansions, thoroughbred race tracks, grand acreages, or afternoon tea times should act as a pleasing curtain to hide the historical actions of this man from future generations. As the neighborhoods of Ferguson and Baltimore burn, we need to remember that the original historical remains of the old Fairvue Plantation were in some measure built and maintained with money from the sale of human beings into slavery, and the negative fallout from the institution of slavery still haunts us to this very day.

Photograph of Archaeology in Tennessee Blog Owner

The Archaeology in Tennessee blog has been operating for almost 3 years now, and it occurred to me one day that most of my readers have never met me in person and have never seen a photograph of me—not that you would want to do so.  The trouble is that I have seen photographs of most of you at one time or another in assorted contexts, and I thought it only fair that you should get a view of me.  I do not have snakes for hair, but there is still some risk that a glimpse of me might turn you to stone.  A photograph of me, taken just a few days ago, is up on my Linked-In  profile.  It shows the Environmental Scientist/Professional Archaeologist/Professional Technical Editor and Science Writer in his natural environment—the office—in this case my upstairs office at home—but my work office often looks much the same.  The URL is as follows:

Nice to meet you all!!!