New Archaeology at Cahokia

Just in case you might have missed it elsewhere today, Annalee Newitz at the Ars Technica website has written a long and fascinating article on her recent professional excavation adventures at the Cahokia Mounds site in East St. Louis, Illinois.  This is not your usual archaeology-for-public-consumption babble.  This is new and really great!  You may read this excellent article, view its photographs, and watch its internal video presentations at the following safe link:

Finding North America’s Lost Medieval City

What does this have to do with Tennessee archaeology?  Well, for those of you who are not professional archaeologists, you might think of it like this.  Cahokia was the ancient New York City of the United States. During its time, it was arguably the most important center of Native American culture north of Mexico, and its ancient cultural and social impulses fanned out across Tennessee and most of the American South.  The Mississippian period (1,000 -1475 A.D.) inhabitants of the Middle Cumberland region in Middle Tennessee (the people who built the stone box cemeteries and platform mounds) knew about mighty Cahokia and shared in a large number of the major cultural impulses emanating from it, particularly those involving social organization, religion, and art. You cannot really, truly, and wholly understand Mississippian prehistory and archaeology in Tennessee without knowing it in the context of influences from Cahokia.

Our Favorite Quotation from Steve Jobs

Here at the Archaeology in Tennessee blog, I may occasionally say or do something with regard to Tennessee archaeology and American archaeology that will upset someone’s traditional apple cart. Indeed, some of you may think I am crazy because my words and deeds occasionally clash with what you believe and your understanding of the archaeological world—or your untested fantasies about it that you do not want to honestly face.

This brought to mind my favorite quote from the late Steve Jobs, and I subscribe to it. Indeed, famous anthropologist Margaret Mead once said something very similar. Here is the Steve Jobs quotation:

Here’s to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes… the ones who see things differently — they’re not fond of rules… You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them, but the only thing you can’t do is ignore them because they change things… they push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do.   ~ Steve Jobs (1955-2011)

Happy Thanksgiving

This is a Happy Thanksgiving card for the many nice folks who come to the Archaeology in Tennessee blog to read and comment on our main posts. Once upon a time, I worked in an art museum and gained a deep appreciation for painting and sculpture. My heart abides with the fascinating light of Vermeer and the seascapes of Frederick Church. However, odd as it might seem in contrast, I have always loved the folksy 20th century paintings of Norman Rockwell. Just a few years ago, a rather vicious art critic in New York City remarked that Rockwell’s art was not particularly good because it documents a delusional American past that never really existed anywhere in the United States as a matter of cultural and social reality. After reading his review, I looked up thoughtfully and commented to the air molecules above my head::

You must spend most of your time in New York City. I gather that you have rarely gotten out onto the American landscape and actually visited people in the small towns of the early and middle 20th century United States—now have you?

Today we know Rockwell painted at least some of his situational scenes from photographic snapshots he had taken—because the photographs have been found and can be directly compared to the paintings. What Rockwell actually captured in his many paintings, like those he did for the Saturday Evening Post, might not have always been observed life situations in small towns, but they did capture the pure essence, heart, mind, soul, and spirit of small town America and most of the American people. In my opinion, this is why his art was so well received in the small towns and backwoods areas of the United States, and it is the reason his art endures.

What does Norman Rockwell and his art have to do with this Happy Thanksgiving card to you?  Well, an old Chinese proverb says:

It is better to light one little candle than to curse the darkness.

On this particular Thanksgiving Day in 2016, more than anything else, I am thankful that light is always more powerful than the darkness that surrounds us. That light will inevitably win out over even the bleakest darkness we encounter in our lives here on Earth. That being the case, our Thanksgiving card to you is a short photographic essay using seven classic Norman Rockwell paintings.  Please think of each painting as a small candle lit in the midst of our current darkness.  Know who you are. Draw some hope from each candle, and never let any person steal your hope or your rights as an American citizen. Stand firm against all the clouds of darkness, and have a Happy Thanksgiving weekend.  (Please scroll down to see the paintings.)


Freedom of Speech


 Freedom of Worship


Freedom from Want



Do Unto Others as You Would Have Them Do Unto You


U.S. Marshals Escort Ruby Bridges to her First Grade Class in New Orleans


Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep

Gertrude Bell, Archaeology, and Iraq

These days we Tennesseans hear an awful lot about Iraq, its ISIS-occupied territories, and various atrocities that are committed on an almost daily basis. As professional archaeologists, we care about all of these atrocities, particularly the ones that involve the destruction of cultural resources and the looting of archaeological sites to finance ISIS operations. However, one thing we almost never hear is positive information about Iraq. That changes right now.

Most people do not know that a female archaeologist by the name of Gertrude Bell (1868 – 1926) [Figure 1] was instrumental in the official founding of the modern State of Iraq after World War I. She also established the famous Baghdad Archaeological Museum (known today as the National Museum of Iraq). Gertrude was a British archaeologist and adventurer. She was also multi-talented and led a real life that would make Lara Croft and Indiana Jones blush with envy. You may read a synopsis of her life and work in Wikipedia—bearing in mind that articles in Wikipedia sometimes contain one or more factual inaccuracies. If you are interested in probing deeper and with more accuracy into the life of Gertrude Bell, you may click on this Wikipedia article at the following safe link and review the reference items listed at the bottom of it:

The Life and Work of Archaeologist Gertrude Bell


Figure 1.  Photograph of Gertrude Bell

We also have an interesting and surprising Tennessee connection here.  Nashville resident and actress Nicole Kidman (Figure 2) has played the role of Gertrude Bell in a movie entitled Queen of the Desert. According to IMDb, this movie was filmed in 2015 and is scheduled for first release to American theaters in 2017.  The movie is based on an early biographical book entitled Gertrude Bell: Queen of the Desert and Shaper of Nations (Figure 3).


Figure 2.  Nicole Kidman Playing the Role of Gertrude Bell


Figure 3.  Early Book Cover on Gertrude Bell: Queen of the Desert, Shaper of Nations

As I have said in other places, some of the best archaeologists I have ever known are women archaeologists.  This article should be encouraging to female K-12 students and female undergraduate college students who are interested in becoming professional archaeologists or museum directors.  However, there is no reason to limit yourself to archaeology or museums alone. Why not try some nation building or something else fantastic along your own unique route in life?   If Gertrude could do it, so can you.  The Archaeology in Tennessee blog and the Oak Ridge Archaeological Research Institute  believe in your capacity for success.  Get out there in life and shoot for the stars!

Photograph Credits

Figure 1     The Daily Beast

Figure 2     Atlas Distribution Company

Figure 3     National Public Radio

Prehistoric Mortuary Practices in the Normandy Reservoir

by Tracy C. Brown

My M.A. thesis entitled Prehistoric Mortuary Patterning and Change in the Normandy Reservoir, Coffee County, Tennessee has just been scanned and uploaded to the TRACE System in the John C. Hodges Library at The University of Tennessee, Knoxville (UTK). If you are interested, you may easily read it on-line or download it to your computer from TRACE. You may do the same by simply using the following link here at the blog:

TCB Thesis

A total of 127 human burials dating from the Late Archaic Ledbetter phase through the Mississippian Banks phase were recovered from sites in the Normandy Reservoir, Coffee County, Tennessee, and three nearby sites located outside the reservoir area. Formal comparative analyses of mortuary attribute states were performed on phase-level burial samples. These analyses resulted in the isolation of mortuary patterning phenomena involving body disposal; the spatial organization of burials on sites and their integration with community patterns; and the locations of burials on functionally differentiated site types within local settlement systems. In turn, these patterning phenomena were assessed for their possible social implications. The generation of detailed data on mortuary behavior for each burial-yielding phase of the Normandy prehistoric sequence allowed the development of a diachronic perspective on stability and change in local mortuary practices.

To the best of my knowledge, this thesis is still the definitive diachronic study of human mortuary practices in the southeastern Highland Rim region of Middle Tennessee. It was written 34 years ago, and I still get calls from people who need a copy for their research—most recently a request from a researcher at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, Illinois.

I have a hard copy master here at the house that was given to me by my thesis service in 1982.  Unfortunately, it has little snippets of text loosely Scotch-taped to numerous pages, which precludes fast-feeding the document into a copier. The numerous foldout pages have to be copied one at a time on special copier settings, and they have to be folded. The slick reflective surfaces on the photographs renders them almost entirely black even on the lightest copier setting. The acid in the paper of my copy master has yellowed and degraded the quality of the paper, and although it was stored in a dry place on a book shelf, the steel paper clips in it still managed to rust and leave large, dark, ugly rust marks on the paper.

The first time this thesis was requested by a researcher, I had to cancel a whole afternoon of my life to copy and assemble it. After that, I dreaded the thought of getting more requests for it and knew it would either cost me more afternoons of personal copying at my office or cost a small fortune for copying and assembly by a commercial copying service.  Even TRACE indicated this thesis was a real bear for them to scan and upload to their system. The original PDF file was very large (96 MB), but they managed to compress it electronically into a 10-MB file. Therefore, I was really grateful when TRACE kindly made a decision to make my thesis available electronically on the Internet.

An Unexpected Death in the Tennessee Anthropology Family

Dr. Michael H. Logan has died. Mike was an Emeritus Professor of Anthropology at The University of Tennessee, Knoxville (UTK). He was one of my former cultural anthropology professors, a really nice guy, a good friend, a truly great teacher, and a really wonderful Friday afternoon beer buddy to many, many, many past anthropology students at UTK. Mike will be sorely missed by his many colleagues, friends, and former students. To this day our family cherishes the woven Mayan mat Mike and his wife gave us as a wedding present 37 years ago, and it is still prominently displayed on the wall in our upstairs library here at the house.  The obituary below was just forwarded to me a few minutes ago by archaeologist Donald B. Ball in Louisville, Kentucky.


Dr. Michael H. Logan passed away peacefully, surrounded by his loving family, on May 21, 2016. Born May 20, 1942 in Denver, Colorado, he was the son of Dorothy Dixon Logan and bandleader Warner “Happy” Logan. Dr. Logan received degrees in cultural anthropology from the University of Colorado (B.A.), San Diego State University (M.A.), and Pennsylvania State University (Ph.D.). He did extensive fieldwork in Mexico, Guatemala, Brazil, and India. He was known for his wide-ranging expertise in Plains Indian culture and art, as well as research focused on ethnobotanical and ethnomedical practices.

Dr. Logan authored and coauthored over 70 scholarly articles, book chapters, and reviews.  He also edited the journal, Reviews in Anthropology, as well as serving on several editorial boards. He served as a Professor of Anthropology at UT from 1976 to 2014. He loved classroom teaching and mentored thousands of students on a wide range of topics in cultural anthropology. For teaching excellence he received a dozen prestigious awards, including the National Alumni Outstanding Teaching Award in 1993 and the Cunningham Award in 2004. The UTK Department of Anthropology’s annual award for outstanding graduate student teaching is named in his honor. In addition, he received awards for curating and co-curating six exhibits at the McClung Museum of Natural History and Culture, focusing mostly on Plains Indian Art and American Indian beadwork.

Dr. Logan was preceded in death by his parents, his older brother Warner, and niece Diane. Survivors include his wife of 45 years Elizabeth Brown Logan, daughters Kristen Logan Clark (Patrick Clark) and Kay Marie Logan, and many other beloved family members and friends. He will be remembered for his love for life, humor, wealth of knowledge, and giving spirit. In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to the Tahosa Alumni Association (Camp Tahosa, Boy Scouts of America), P.O. Box 102938, Denver, Colorado 80250. A celebration-of-life gathering will be held on Wednesday, May 25th, from 3:00-5:00 p.m. at the McClung Museum of Natural History and Culture, located on the UTK campus at 1327 Circle Park Dr., Knoxville, Tennessee.

Hardly a Day Goes By…

Considering the fact that American archaeology is a pretty esoteric subject, we get a satisfyingly large number of visits and views each day here at the Archaeology in Tennessee blog. With no doubt, some of our visitors are professional archaeologists; some are college anthropology students; some are artifact collectors; some are public school teachers; some are public school students; and some are just ordinary people in their homes or at work. WordPress provides us with a daily statistical package that summarizes limited data on visitations and views.  It does not tell us who visits the blog, but it sometimes tells us the search term an unnamed person has input to an Internet search engine to arrive at our blog.  Hardly a day goes by without getting one or more searches and visits by people looking for information on the Archaeological Resources Protection Act of 1979 (ARPA).  Almost invariably, these people arrive at the first of our five main posts on this subject at the Archaeology in Tennessee blog.  That post is located at this link:

The Jimmy Carter Clause in ARPA (Part I)

We have no way of knowing, but we suspect most of our visitors who enter an “ARPA” search term are uninformed and confused artifact collectors. Now, why is that?  Well, a number of professional archaeologists visit or become members of artifact collector web forums such as Arrowheadology or just to read stories about interesting new artifacts that collectors have found and to keep up with the latest artifact collector news, opinions, and attitudes on varying subjects related to American archaeology.  Four of the major things I have noticed on my past visits to such forums are as follows:

(1)  Many artifact collectors, especially the casual collectors and novice collectors, have very little to zero knowledge of the various federal, state, and local statutes, regulations, and ordinances that apply to artifact collecting on federal, state, and county/city lands.

(2) Many (but by no means all) life-time artifact collectors have learned through some magazine article, news story, or grapevine of friends that collecting artifacts on federal, state, and local government lands and in government waters is illegal, but they do not understand the finer nuts and bolts of the laws and regulations that make it illegal.

(3)  Although ARPA has been in effect for 37 years, this federal statute and the regulations promulgated under it have just about all artifact collectors significantly confused in one way or another—so much so that many artifact collectors actually think ARPA gives them special permission to legally collect arrowheads on all federal lands.  Yikes!!!

(4)  As a result of Items 1-3 (above), artifact collectors often get together on-line and try to discussively figure out the implications of these statutes and regulations for their collecting activities.  Each person brings the little bit he knows (or thinks he knows) about these laws and regulations to the discussion along with all sorts of misinformation, disinformation, noninformation, and personally held notions about how the American legal system works, usually wrong notions. These discussions sometimes degenerate into bitter arguments about the true nature of the laws they discuss, or they hatch one or more items of homespun legal theory about why it is really all right to collect artifacts on government lands or why a collector will not be arrested or be charged with a crime if they do so.  Field implementation of such homespun legal theories can be bad news when artifact collectors get arrested on federal lands and find out that their operationalized legal theory was nothing more than a home-made cow pie.

Considering how long (26 – 110 years) most of the cultural resource protection statutes and regulations have been on the books at the federal, state, and county/city levels, I often wonder if this important legal information pertinent to artifact collecting is really trickling down to the people in the artifact collecting community, especially here in the eastern United States.  As a professional archaeologist, it has always been my understanding that the primary purpose of these laws is to protect and preserve the cultural resources on publicly owned lands so they can be studied at some appropriate time in the future.  One way you do that is to protect them from artifact collectors who might dig for artifacts or surface collect for artifacts on government lands or dive for artifacts in government waters.  Personally speaking, I really do suspect that a lot of important federal, state, and local legal information pertinent to illegal artifact collecting never trickles down to a very large number of artifact collectors.  Consequently, artifact collectors are always doing Internet searches to find legal information that can potentially clear up all of their confusion about the legality and illegality of artifact collecting on public lands—but if and when they find it on-line—they often do not understand it because it is written in the foreign language known as legalese.

This is the juncture where many of my  fellow professional archaeologists would likely step in and say to me:

You know damned well that every last artifact collector in the United States is aware of the fact that it is illegal to collect artifacts on government lands and in government waters.  They all know it is illegal; they all know it destroys the archaeological record; and they all just go ahead and do it anyway because not a single one of them has any respect whatsoever for the law or for preserving the in situ material culture remains of our past.

Fine.  Yes.  I do indeed understand that this has long been your position.  Some artifact collectors are indeed that brazen about their illegal collecting, and their faces often show up on the front pages of newspapers when they get caught.  However, outside of those few artifact collectors with brass balls, I am not personally convinced that the above statement in italics is anything more than a long-held blanket intuitive assumption in the professional archaeology community—an assumption that has never been seriously tested in empirical terms.  In doing so, I will say the following until some colleague in the professional archaeology community supplies me with comprehensive, solid, indisputable information or data to the contrary:

Based on what I have seen, heard, and read in all sorts of different artifact collecting-related media over several decades and in talking with various artifact collectors throughout that period of time, it is fairly clear to me that many people in the artifact collecting community are either ignorant of or very confused about most of the cultural resource protection laws and regulations on the books at all levels of government. Lots of people—and I do mean lots of people—are either not getting the word about illegal collecting on government lands, or they do not get enough clear legal information to deter them from collecting on public lands.  Some have  even asked me why federal, state, and local government agencies do not come directly to them and teach them the fine nuts and bolts of these laws and regulations so they can finally understand them and know what the law allows them to do and does not allow them to do—so they can obey the law, stay out of trouble, and protect cultural resources. A person has to specifically know what a law says and does before they can obey it—and most people want to know the finer points of those laws so they can understand why it is important to obey them.

One day a couple of years ago, an artifact collector asked me a very serious and quite unexpected question that took me completely aback with surprise because I had never really thought about the issue he brought up—at least in his stated terms:

Why is it you professional archaeologists do not come to us artifact collectors and educate us about all of these laws that forbid us to collect in various places and circumstances?  It sounds to me like all professional archaeologists want to do is intentionally keep us ignorant of the these laws and the finer points of these laws so we will accidentally disobey one of them out of ignorance.  This then gives you guys an opportunity to arrest us; plaster our faces all over the newspapers; put another notch in the wooden stock of your agency enforcement gun; and make a big media deal out of it to scare other artifact collectors into stopping even legal collecting.  Do you people want us to remain ignorant and break the cultural resource laws out of our ignorance just so you can catch us and use it to raise a big ruckus?

Quite frankly, I had never thought of this issue in those terms, so I thought about it some. If I were a federal or state professional archaeologist responsible for a large parcel of public land, might I intentionally fail to educate the local population in my geographic area about the finer details of cultural resource protection laws so unwary citizens living nearby outside of my government lands would be sure to bumble onto these lands out of complete ignorance to do looting of government archaeological sites?  A strategy like this would then give me an opportunity to watch carefully over time and eventually jump out from behind a huge boulder and say:  “Gotcha!!!  You are under arrest!!!  I have to read you your rights now.”  After delivering them to the local jail, I could then put my feet on my desk and say:

“Man!!!  That is the third looting arrest I have made this month.  This “keep the locals ignorant” strategy  of mine is really working.  If I can make another couple of arrests, and get a few convictions, I should be up for promotion in no time.”

Like I said.  I just thought about it for a bit because the guy had brought up this unusual question. Personally speaking, I have no earthly idea whether anyone in the professional archaeology community has ever intentionally done anything along those lines. Such a strategy sounds thoroughly immoral and unethical to me.  In good conscience, I could never intentionally lay an ignorance trap like that for ordinary, unlearned citizens and feel good about it in my church pew on Sunday morning.

In my opinion, detailed education of current and potential artifact collectors on the various laws and regulations that affect artifact collecting is the correct answer to stopping most illegal artifact looting on public lands.  It is never enough.  Let me repeat that loud and clear. It is never enough to just simply say that “artifact collecting on  ____X____ parcel of government land is against the law.”  Some people will take just those 12 words seriously, but some people will not. Some people will say: “Well, I am not familiar with the words in that law, but somehow I doubt it applies in any way to me or anything I might ever do.”  Many people adhere to the notion that all laws and regulations have loopholes that may be to their benefit—and they will somehow get lucky like winning the lottery.  Some people assume the legal penalties must be small because it is “just a little ole arrowhead.” Some people assume the agency has a law in place, but it is not really serious about enforcement. Artifact collectors and ordinary people often think diverse sorts of other things when you say nothing to them but: “It is against the law.”

Current and potential artifact collectors want and need to know the detailed, in-depth legal specifics (and all the legal thinking) behind this simple “against the law” statement, or they are not going to take it all that seriously.  That is why I went to great lengths to explain  (above in the blue link) about the so-called Jimmy Carter clause in ARPA.  When you go into that kind of depth, spell it all out in clearly understandable spades, and slam every single door of hope, people understand that you are dead serious and they need to avoid collecting artifacts on government lands and in government waters. It is never enough to just say it is illegal to do so.  You have to show them the finer points of the law and explain why it is illegal in detail.  If you do this and do it several times per year in your geographic area, I think you will see a significant reduction in looting on government lands. This will happen mostly because people who collect artifacts and people who might be wanting to start collecting artifacts are often simply ignorant of the laws that forbid collecting on public lands.  More than one time in my life, I have had to explain such laws to people I thought would have surely known better.  They did not.

How would you go about doing this?  If it were up to me alone, I would identify every last person in my geographic area of responsibility who is either a known artifact collector or a person who is interested in local archaeology. (I can already hear my professional archaeology colleagues whispering: “How in the hell are you going to do that?”) Lifetime and long-term artifact collectors are not all that hard to find.  It just requires  a little leg work. Potential new artifact collectors are people who already have an interest in archaeology and make that interest publicly known to their school teachers, relatives, friends, and acquaintances.  Finding all these people is not as hard as you might think—if you grew up with artifact collectors all around you as I did—and learned a few things in the process.  You just need to know the right questions to ask and who to ask.  It might take some time and effort, but it can be done effectively.  And above all else, you have to inquire discreetly with the honest understanding that you are not asking in order to get people into trouble with the law—and you had better be totally, 150 percent honest about that fact.

When everyone is identified, you buy some doughnuts and coffee (even a catered buffet dinner), invite all the folks you have identified to a public meeting, and offer everyone a free PowerPoint presentation on the finer points of cultural resource  laws and how they affect the collecting of artifacts.  Tell people your purpose is not to get anyone into trouble with the law.  Your sole purpose is to admit to the people who show up that archaeologists have done a really bad job (and I think we have) of explaining these laws to the public.  Tell them your sole purpose is to rectify that situation by thoroughly explaining these laws in detail; how they can affect artifact collecting; and how the invited people can avoid getting into trouble with the law—and thereby—actually enlist their help in the preservation and protection of archaeological sites on government lands.  To do this properly, you will first have to know the laws and regulations inside out (including the finer points of the law and how they apply to hypothetical situations), and you will have to have a really good and fully developed program to present.  For those people who do not show up, you can put your presentation into a loose-leaf booklet format and mail them a detailed copy, always written and illustrated in such straightforward, simple, and understandable terms that even a grandpappy groundhog could understand it.

One other thing, and this is really important. You do not give this presentation just one time; write a look at me article about public archaeology in the agency public relations magazine, and then just walk away feeling as if you have done your duty and it is all over. It is not all over by a long shot. There are dynamics here.  New artifact collectors and potential collectors move into your geographic area, and they move out of it.  People forget what your presentation said with the passage of time. Small kids grow up, get interested in archaeology, and start collecting artifacts. Laws are revised and amended. New regulations are promulgated.  All sorts of crucial things change with time.  You need to learn how to surf that change and keep the information in your program up-to-date and always in front of the local public as time passes.  You cannot and must not just present—and walk away.  I would aim at the very least at four public laws/regulations presentations per year in your geographic area, depending on its size.

Sure. I agree.  Such detailed public education about cultural resource laws and regulations will not end looting by a handful of the most brazen looters.  Nothing deters the guys with brass balls, a few of which may be dangerous people with criminal records gained in other corners of American society.  However, I do think this approach to artifact collector education would end a lot of the looting on government sites that is done every year out of sheer ignorance—and I personally believe that is an awful lot of the looting that actually happens on government lands in any given year.

If you think I am wrong about all this, please let me know.  You can leave a response to this post here, or you can send me an e-mail message on the above Contact tab.