Your Help Is Needed: Oppose United States Withdrawal from UNESCO


An Official UNESCO World Heritage Site in Tennessee

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

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

TCPA Press Release

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

Letter to Senator Alexander

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

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

Get Contact Information

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

Photograph Credit:


The Continuing Search for the Madison Tablet

by Tracy C. Brown

The Oak Ridge Archaeological Research Institute (ORARI) is continuing its search for the long lost Madison Tablet and several other long lost Native American artifacts that were discovered in Tennessee.  Please read the following revised and updated story for 2017 about the Madison Tablet and help us find it.  You are our eyes and ears. It has to be out there somewhere in Tennessee, the United States, or some foreign country.  Please be on the lookout for it, and send us an e-mail message at if you know its current whereabouts or have any leads.

1.0     Introduction

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

The Madison Tablet disappeared from the realm of Tennessee archaeology in 1993 and has not been on exhibition or available for scientific examination for the past 24 years. Its current owner, location, curation, and preservation status are unknown. This essay tells the story of the Madison Tablet, and it kindly asks the many readers of the Archaeology in Tennessee blog to assist with finding this long-missing Tennessee artifact.

2.0     Discovery of the Madison Tablet

The Madison Tablet was discovered on a large area of land that was known as the Haysboro site in the 19th century. However, by the late 1960s, it was known by Nashville area artifact collectors as the Maddox site [Parker 1980:5-6; Parker and Parker 1982]. Today its Smithsonian Institution trinomial site designation is 40DV17.

Site 40DV17 was a large Mississippian village site. The Madison Tablet was found in situ within a human burial on this site. This burial was located within a cluster of stone box burials. A Nashville artifact collector by the name of Malcolm P. Parker discovered the Madison Tablet and curated it in his private Native American artifact collection from the moment it was found in autumn 1968 until the date of his death in 1993, a period of 25 years.

3.0    Archaeological Context of the Madison Tablet

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

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

I was 15 years old when the Madison Tablet was found, and upon first hearing about its discovery, I immediately requested an opportunity to go to 40DV17 and see the in situ burial in which it was found. Mr. Parker took me straight to the site that afternoon to observe the still-open burial in which it was found. This opportunity to see the burial occurred within approximately 3 days after the tablet was discovered and removed from its burial context.

Throughout his life, Malcolm Parker was an honest man and a church-going member of several Methodist congregations. In addition, he was a close relative of mine, and I knew him better than almost anyone because he was like a second father to me throughout his long life. He sometimes got very excited about his archaeological discoveries, and in the midst of his excitement, he could exaggerate when telling stories about them. Given the fact that he had no professional training in American archaeology, geology, or geomorphology, he was sometimes prone to misreading and misinterpreting contextual details in the field. Nonetheless, he was a profoundly honest person who did not intentionally deal in lies, deceit, or trickery—and he hated artifact fakery and archaeological hoaxes. Indeed, he was one of the earliest people in Tennessee to write a published journal article decrying the faking of prehistoric artifacts. This article was published in an early edition of the Tennessee Archaeologist (Parker 1949: 33-34).

Today a large-box retail store and its parking lot sit on top of the burial zone where the Madison Tablet was found, and the surrounding area has been subject to heavy commercial development over the past 60 years. Consequently, a very large portion of the Maddox site has been destroyed, and the rest of its once intact archaeological deposits have been disturbed to varying degrees.

As may be seen from the foregoing discussion, the Madison Tablet is not an artifact that was intentionally tagged with a false discovery story to dupe a succession of would-be artifact buyers into thinking it is a genuine Native American artifact. Indeed, Mr. Parker never attempted to trade or sell the Madison Tablet during his own lifetime because he had a strict policy of never selling or trading any artifact he had personally found in the fields of Tennessee. Unequivocally, the Madison Tablet is an actual dirt find within an ancient human burial on a well-known Mississippian period archaeological site in the Middle Cumberland region. The circumstances surrounding its discovery and its in situ archaeological context were documented shortly after it was found.

4.0     Description of the Madison Tablet

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

At the time of its discovery, the exterior surfaces of the tablet were stained with soil minerals, giving it a somewhat mottled yellowish red color. One broad face of the tablet (obverse side) showed distinct evidence of smoothing and polishing, but this alteration of the surface was localized and executed unevenly because of gentle undulations in the natural surface of the limestone slab.  This smoothing and polishing does not look like the smoothing and polishing one would expect from a modern power tool. Instead, it looks exactly like the patinated, smoothed, and polished areas one normally sees on the bit ends of Dover chert hoe blades and chisels. In two words, this localized, polished appearance  is distinctively prehistoric in nature.

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

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

Madison Tablet

Figure 1. Freehand Drawing of the Madison Tablet

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

The incised surface of the Madison Tablet bears the images of a serpent, an apparent lizard-like creature, and two possibly still-living herbaceous plants with long stems and narrow leaves. The lizard-like creature appears to have already removed the leaves from 14 plants, leaving only the stems, and it is weaving these stems into a lattice structure. The body of the serpent is partially obscured by the two still-living plants. The head  of the serpent is poised above the tops of these plants, allowing it to observe the lizard-like creature and its lattice-building process. The body of the serpent rests in an extended position at the bottom of the stone, and it is decorated with alternating half-diamond shapes, one set empty and one set shaded with cross-hatch incising. Two long, roughly parallel vertical lines to the left of the lattice work appear (at first glance) to be a possible stream of water.  However, these lines are most likely the rough left edge of the stone slab rather than an intentional element or motif in the overall incised images.

5.0     Temporal Context of the Madison Tablet

The Madison Tablet was found in a human burial located among a number of Mississippian period stone box burials on 40DV17. This suggests that it dates to the Mississippian Period (A.D. 1000-1475) in the Middle Cumberland region (Smith and Miller 2009:38).

The incised images on the Madison Tablet are atypical of Mississippian iconography, but one must remember that we still do not know all there is to know about regional Mississippian iconography traditions (and certainly not those for flat, stone slab media in the Middle Cumberland region). Another matter to consider is whether the local Mississippian culture required all incised themes on in-burial petroglyph stones to represent Mississippian mythological subject matter that uses only widely known Mississippian iconographic elements and motifs. Would it have been socially and ideologically permissible to abandon standard Mississippian iconography on such stones and present an incised theme reflecting a matter of personal, site-level, or chiefdom-level significance? If so, this might explain the observed deviation from typical Mississippian iconography.

Alternatively, this portable stone tablet might date to some earlier prehistoric time period, meaning it was passed down through many ancient generations as an important heirloom item to one or more Mississippian occupants of the Maddox site. Optionally, it could have been a much earlier artifact that was found by someone during the Mississippian period and curated on 40DV17. Because a bone and metal knife was found in possible association with Burial 1, Mr. Parker always believed the Madison Tablet was a rare Native American artifact dating to the early Historic period in the Nashville area.

At the moment, strictly as a matter of in situ archaeological context, the Mississippian origin and temporal attribution for Burial 1 and the associated Madison Tablet are considered to be the most plausible.  This is based on the Mississippian burial cluster location where the incised stone was found and the fact that it was found on a large Mississippian site. Nonetheless, because of the troubling Mississippian iconography issue and the unusual presence of a Historic period artifact in Burial 1, the door must be left open to the possibility that the Madison Tablet may be a fake artifact that was created in the early or middle 20th century and then planted on the Maddox site for some unwary archaeologist or artifact collector to eventually find.

6.0     Potential for Being a Fake Artifact

This section entertains the question of whether or not the Madison Tablet is a fake artifact.  Right now, the only argument in favor of it being a faked artifact is the fact that the incised images on the stone slab do not look Mississippian. Then again, just because a Caucasian fashion model, such as Behati Prinsloo, does not look African is no sure indication that she was born outside of Africa. As the old saying goes, looks can be deceiving. Consequently, if some future archaeologist wishes to test whether the Madison Tablet is a fake artifact, he or she will need to go beyond mere appearances; closely examine the actual petroglyph stone (once it is found); develop even more hard evidence; take a look at the hard evidence already presented in Section 2.0 of this paper and in this section (Section 5.0) [including some evidence not presented in this paper], and then take a holistic, objective look at the authenticity of the Madison Tablet.

As previously noted, the incised images on the Madison Tablet do not look Mississippian. Several years ago, Dr. Charles H. Faulkner, Professor Emeritus of anthropology at The University of Tennessee, Knoxville, examined the Parker drawing of the Madison Tablet and indicated that the incised images do not look Mississippian.  However, based on his extensive experience with rock art and cave art in eastern North America, he hastened to add that every element and motif shown on the Madison Tablet exists in American Indian rock and cave art at various times in the prehistory of eastern North America. Based on that fact alone, Dr. Faulkner was unwilling to definitively tag the Madison Tablet as a fake artifact, although he did suggest that it could be fake because of the Mississippian iconography issue.

People who produce fake prehistoric incisings on limestone make some rather typical mistakes. For example, all of the engraved lines on their fake images are distinct and equally easy to see.  The incised lines tend to be of uniform thickness and depth. In addition, the interiors of the lines often do not exhibit the same degree of staining and weathering as that on the natural surface of the limestone raw material. In other words, the incised lines look uniformly white and chalky against a naturally weathered gray or gray-blue background.

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

These observations about the incised lines were made informally in April 1969 when I had an opportunity to briefly view the Madison Tablet under excellent exterior lighting conditions (daylight). Unfortunately, these observations about the incised lines were made 48 years ago, and I was only 16 years old at the time. Memories can fade with time, which is one very good reason why the Madison Tablet merits a closer examination today by a professional archaeologist.

Could the Madison Tablet have been an intentionally planted fake artifact? A highly detail-oriented artifact faker who had seen the line variability on the Thruston Tablet might have gone to extraordinary lengths to forge similar lineation on the Madison Tablet. Subsequently, they could have planted the forged tablet in an already known Mississippian burial on the Maddox site, perhaps many decades prior to 1968. In other words, the Madison Tablet could have been planted like the Piltdown man cranium and mandible or the Bat Creek Stone.

However, even this fake-and-plant scenario presents several problems. For example, replication of the subtle variability in lineation seen on the Thruston Tablet would have been an extremely difficult, meticulous, and time-consuming task that would have probably far exceeded the time and patience of most artifact fakers. Furthermore, the quartzite ear plug found in situ near the cranium of the Burial 1 individual would pose yet another problem. It seems unlikely that a 19th century antiquarian or 20th century artifact collector would have sacrificed such a nice, valuable ornamental artifact in support of a mischievous archaeological hoax.

People who plant fake artifacts in the ground are usually pursuing some sort of scientific, financial, political, social, or religious agenda. As soon as the planted artifact is found and the story is made public, the people who planted it shift into personal agenda overdrive and publicly demonstrate how the new archaeological find supports their agenda. As we all know now, a scientific agenda with 19th century British social connotations was clearly at work in the famous Piltdown affair. During the entire time between discovery of the Madison tablet and Mr. Parker’s death, not a single person in the Nashville area or outside of it spoke up to link the Madison Tablet to any sort of scientific, financial, political, social, or religious agenda. In fact, for a full 25 years, the public silence on this point was deafening, again making it unlikely that the Madison Tablet was a planted fake artifact.

Fourteen years after the death of Mr. Parker, a 2007 article on the Madison Tablet and other similar incised stones from the Nashville area was published in the The Tennessean, which is the major daily newspaper for the Nashville area. After its publication, a few modern occultists and fantastic archaeology buffs who inhabit the Internet tried to link the Madison Tablet to reptilian aliens piloting UFOs and other such nonsense. However, these were all people living in faraway places that would not have been involved in a decades old archaeological hoax that originated in the Nashville area.

As a professional archaeologist who has actually seen the Madison Tablet close-up, albeit a very long time ago, I would have to say that the Madison Tablet is not a fake prehistoric artifact. However, until the Madison Tablet can be closely examined one more time, this should be viewed as a highly tentative conclusion.

7.0     Legal Status of the Madison Tablet

It is important to note that the Madison Tablet has not been stolen from a private artifact collection or any museum collection. It was found on private property in 1968. Mr. Maddox was a local real estate broker who owned the 40DV17 property and was known to allow multiple artifact collectors to dig at will on his property. The Madison Tablet was found immediately after earth moving had begun for a large-box retail store. The prevailing historical assumption has always been that Mr. Maddox still owned the 40DV17 property when the Madison Tablet was found. However, it is potentially possible that land ownership could have been transferred to the retailer or their holding company immediately prior to the beginning of earth moving operations, meaning the Madison Tablet might have been found and unknowingly removed without retailer or holding company permission. A determination of who owned the property when earth moving began would require in-depth research. The exact date when the Madison Tablet was found is unknown, except that it was discovered in Autumn 1968. Considering this variable, the passage of 49 years, and the uncertain disposition of old corporate construction records, such research might yield no clear answers as to who owned the property when the Madison Tablet was found―and most likely no one would even care about it today.

Excavation of the Madison Tablet occurred on private property and long before 1979, which means the current federal cultural resource management (CRM) statutes and regulations, such as the federal Archaeological Resources Protection Act of 1979, do not apply to this artifact. No federal or state laws pertinent to human burials or artifacts found in human burials apply to the Madison Tablet.  The Tennessee CRM statutes and regulations did not even exist when the Madison Tablet was found, which means none of them were violated by excavation and removal of the Madison Tablet. As a result, this is not an artifact that a federal or state agency could legally confiscate from its owner. In other words, the current owner of the Madison Tablet is not subject to arrest, prosecution, fines, or imprisonment by federal or state authorities. It is also highly unlikely that any private or public entity would ever want to confiscate the Madison Tablet—even if they could.  It has been privately owned for the past 49 years, and that is not likely to ever change.

8.0     Current Location of the Madison Tablet

By late 1993 or early 1994, the Madison Tablet had dropped off the archaeological radar screen in the Nashville area and out of public awareness. It has not been seen by anyone in the local avocational or professional archaeological communities in the past 24 years, meaning no professional archaeologist has ever examined it and it has never shown up on display at any Nashville or Tennessee area artifact collector show.

It is presumed that this artifact was sold to someone in 1993 or shortly thereafter, and it may have already changed hands a couple of times as a result of artifact collector trades or sales. If it was sold, the purchaser may have been an artifact dealer, artifact collector, or just an ordinary citizen who bought it as a piece of decorative art for their home or garden.

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

Sad to say, potential worst-case location scenarios abound. The following are just four of them:

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

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

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

(D) The Madison Tablet might be owned by a timid and very secretive artifact collector who sits in his house with wild imaginings and fear about federal or state authorities beating a path to his door to confiscate the Madison Tablet and his Chevy Tahoe under the Archaeological Resources Protection Act of 1979―or he is afraid to let anyone know he has an artifact collection for fear that someone will break into his house and steal it. Therefore, he will just let time drift by quietly, he will die someday, his surviving wife or children will sell the collection, and the Madison Tablet will end up in the hands of another secretive collector, an artifact dealer who will immediately declare it to be fake, or someone who will send it to a new owner in a foreign country such as Japan. Consequently, no one here in the United States will ever be able to examine the Madison Tablet, and the full story it still has to tell will be lost forever, unless the current owner bravely steps forward and allows this artifact to be examined so its full story can finally be elucidated and told.

9.0     An Appeal for Your Help

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

The last possible known owner of the Madison Tablet, immediately after Malcolm Parker died, was a Nashville area artifact collector who was a friend of Mr. Parker in 1993. Shortly after Mr. Parker’s death in that year, it is believed that the Madison Tablet and the other items in the Parker Collection of Tennessee artifacts were gifted to this man by Mrs. Parker.  This man was Mr. Danny Lea, a congenial welder and family man about 45 years of age who lived near Mr. and Mrs. Parker in the Stratford High School neighborhood. This neighborhood is in the Inglewood suburb of East Nashville.

Numerous attempts to find and contact Mr. Lea have been made over the past 10 years—all without any success. The present whereabouts of Mr. Lea and the members of his immediate family are unknown to me at this time. It is possible that Mr. Lea has an unlisted telephone number, or perhaps he and his family have moved out of Nashville to another town in Tennessee or even to another state. If anyone who reads this paper knows Mr. Danny Lea (or members of his family), knows where they live, or knows how I may get in touch with any of them, please contact me by e-mail at (Just click on the blue link at the top of this paper.)  If you so desire, your personal identity will be kept in the strictest of secrecy.

If you happen to own the Madison Tablet, please send me an e-mail message at (Just click on the blue link at the top of this paper.) If you are an artifact collector, avocational archaeologist, museum employee, or professional archaeologist in Tennessee, another state, or elsewhere on planet Earth, and you know who owns the Madison Tablet, please send me an e-mail message. If you are just an ordinary citizen out there on the American landscape and you have seen this artifact somewhere, like maybe as a decorative item on the mantle above some average citizen’s fireplace, please send me an e-mail message. If you so desire, your identity will be kept in the strictest of secrecy.

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

What is that you just said?  “I know who owns it, but I just don’t want to get involved.” Two things:

(A)   If I keep your name secret, as promised, you are not going to be involved. No adverse consequences should come your way.

(B)   Every moment you refuse to help hurts the prehistory, archaeology, and history of Tennessee. It really does. If you are an artifact collector and you really respect the prehistoric heritage of Tennessee, as so many of you claim to do, do you really want to be personally responsible for such harm?

Give that some thought, and please help me with this.  All you have to do is get in contact with me at the above email address.

9.0     References

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

Parker, Malcolm 1949. “Counterfeiting of Indian Artifacts,” Tennessee Archaeologist. 5(2), 33-34.

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

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

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

Do You Want to Frame Your Tennessee Archaeology Awareness Month Poster?

If so, do I ever have a deal for you??!!! During September of each year, the Tennessee Council for Professional Archaeology (TCPA) creates an official poster (suitable for framing) for Tennessee Archaeology Awareness Month. I went over to Hobby Lobby in Oak Ridge yesterday to see if I could get my 2015 Tennessee Archaeology Awareness Month poster (Figure 1) framed. It was the poster showing The Ancestor (formerly named “Sandy”)] from the Sellars Mound site near Lebanon, Tennessee. I thought the framing job would surely cost $100 or more because custom framing in frame shops is really expensive these days. Hobby Lobby did my poster for an amazing price—only $66.50. I took the poster over at lunch time, and they finished the framing job before 5:00 p.m.

TCPA 2015 PosterFigure 1.  Tennessee Archaeologist Awareness Month Poster for 2015

They have a 50 percent off sale going right now on their standard, already made picture frames of various sizes. The cost of the frame I selected was regularly $60—but I got it for only $30. The $66.50 final price tag included the frame and glass, dry-mounting the poster to foam board, border matting (burgundy with a black interior in my case), putting it all together, attaching a sturdy wire hanging system on the back, all of the labor, and the Tennessee and local sales taxes.

I gotta tell you folks.  The resulting framed poster is so beautiful you could get an orgasm from just looking at it.  Tomorrow is my birthday (65 and officially old), and my beloved gave the framing job to me as a birthday gift. So, if you have a TCPA Archaeology Awareness Month poster that has been lying around unframed, and you would like to frame it, either as a Christmas gift for someone or just for your lonesome, make a run down to your local Hobby Lobby store and “git her done.”  I doubt you could beat this price anywhere else.

Many thanks to the TCPA for creating the 2015 poster with The Ancestor on it and for creating all of the other Tennessee Archaeology Awareness Month posters.  Great job guys!!!

And Hobby Lobby—this paragraph is just for you. Personally, I still do not like the fact that you deny your female employees contraception for religious reasons in your employee benefit plans, and I like it even less that the U.S. Supreme Court supported you in doing it. Your illegal importation of Middle Eastern antiquities was certainly a black eye on the family business—and almost no one in the American professional archaeology community liked what you did. Nonetheless, you have redeemed a little bit of yourself with this framing deal at your Hobby Lobby stores. But just remember—many of us out here on the American landscape are keeping a very close eye on you guys from now on.

Photograph Credit: Tennessee Council for Professional Archaeology

An Important Note on the Christmas Time History of Oak Ridge

Christmas at Oak Ridge Post Office in 1944

Christmas Mailing at the Oak Ridge Post Office in 1944

It is Christmas season in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, and I have been cleaning up my office at the Oak Ridge Archaeological Research Institute (ORARI).  A couple of months ago, I ate lunch at the historic Jefferson Fountain, which is located on Jefferson Circle. As I was getting into the ORARI archaeology van to leave, a nice man by the name of Lloyd E. Stokes stepped up to the van and introduced himself. Lloyd is affiliated with the Oak Ridge Heritage & Preservation Association. He had not yet heard about ORARI, and was surprised and very happy to find an archaeologist living and actively doing research in the Oak Ridge-Anderson County area.  He gave me his business card and a copy of a nice new publication entitled the Manhattan Project Secret City Pocket Guide, which is a synoptic guide to the history of Oak Ridge during World War II.  As I was finishing up my cleaning job this evening, I ran into this publication once again, thumbed through it, and saw an interesting human behavioral item relevant to one of the earliest Christmas times in Oak Ridge. Before presenting this item, a little background information is necessary for you to understand it.

I grew up in the Central Basin Physiographic Province of Middle Tennessee. This province consists of the Inner Basin and the Outer Basin. The Inner Basin is well known for isolated ecosystems that are referred to as cedar glades. Cedar glades are both small and large areas of land where eastern red cedar trees (Juniperus virginiana) grow in large numbers (Figure 1). The soil in these areas has a high calcium content, and Ordovician limestone bedrock is usually exposed on the ground surface or located under the ground surface at shallow depths.  In the botanical realm, red cedar trees are often referred to as calcifers because they require a lot of calcium from the soil to thrive.


Figure 1.  Eastern Red Cedar Christmas Trees

Red cedar trees are also very common along rural fence rows in the Central Basin and in the adjacent Highland Rim Physiographic Province, which is underlain by geologically later limestone formations.  Song birds eat the seeds on the red cedar trees, fly off to perch on local barbed wire fences, and sometimes defecate whole seeds that are still viable along the fence rows.  These seeds sprout and populate the fence rows with long lines of red cedar trees.  Red cedar trees also grow individually and in small groups in open land that has sufficient calcium and other nutrients for their growth.

The City of Oak Ridge is located in the Ridge and Valley Physiographic Province of East Tennessee.  Many Tennessee citizens are not aware of this fact, but Oak Ridge has protected cedar glade areas within its geographic limits.  In addition, red cedar trees in this area grow along rural fence lines and in many open areas where the underlying bedrock is either limestone or dolomite. The young red cedar trees in the Central Basin and Highland Rim Physiographic Provinces have a deep, rich, heavy, evergreen aroma that diffuses throughout the air inside a warm home, and this aroma is the very essence of Christmas. Unfortunately, and I know this from personal experience, the red cedar trees that grow in the Ridge and Valley Physiographic Province are far less aromatic than those in the Central Basin and Highland Rim. Just speculating, this may be a result of some subtle ecological difference between these physiographic provinces.

In the 19th century, the red cedar became the traditional pioneer Christmas tree in Middle Tennessee and here in East Tennessee. This is not at all surprising because of their natural abundance.  The young red cedar trees were often just the right size and shape for a wonderful household Christmas tree. They were easy to cut, easy to transport by hand—and that evergreen aroma—oh my goodness!!!  Even well into the 20th century, they were the Christmas tree of choice at my home in Gallatin, Tennessee, and at my grandmother’s house on top of the Highland Rim near Bethpage, Tennessee.  I dare say that they had been the continuous historical Christmas tree of choice ever since the Brown and Durham families first arrived in that area of Tennessee in the early 19th century.

Oak Ridge and its massive government facilities under the Manhattan Project were built—more or less—all at one time between 1943 and 1945. They were constructed on a combination of government-confiscated farmlands and associated woodland areas. The “streets” and other areas of early Oak Ridge were often referred to as seas of mud because so many areas were stripped of vegetation and subject to massive earthmoving as part of the local construction efforts. National security concerns were paramount and constant because of the war effort, and the government security apparatus was clamped down tightly on the local residents to prevent the release of Top Secret information and to maintain a rigid sense of social order within the new community.  It was quite literally a Secret City surrounded by a security fence. The 75,000 residents were people who had emigrated in from all parts of the United States, including many parts of Tennessee.

With all of the foregoing as background information for you, here is the small Christmas item, left over from the World War II era, that was reprinted in the recent Manhattan Project Secret City Pocket Guide. Notice the stern tone of the U.S. Army intelligence officer who wrote this item to the citizens of Oak Ridge.  I feel certain that Ebenezer Scrooge could not have done it better—and yes—he is talking about naturally growing red cedar trees of a certain small size and shape that were still alive and located within the Oak Ridge security fence.  Get a load of this:


Cutting of Christmas trees within the limits of the reservation is strictly prohibited.  Methods and means are in effect to apprehend offenders and severe reprimand may result.

Efforts are being made to have a supply of trees for sale in the near future at a nominal price and full cooperation is expected.

That is truly dismal wording for Christmas time, when lightheartedness and joy were the normal civilian fare outside of the security fence in Knoxville and the other surrounding towns.  I still wonder how many small spruces, pines, and firs the U.S. Army was able to bring in and sell to the early residents of Oak Ridge.  If you consider one Christmas tree for each family of four, it would have required 18,750 Christmas trees—but actually—far fewer may have been needed. A great many of the first civilian residents were young, single people just out of high school or college. Many others were single officers and enlisted personnel in the U.S. Army. These folks lived in small or large groups in dormitories, barracks, and other group-living environments that would have required only one Christmas tree.

One thing seems certain though. If the cutting of free-growing red cedar trees had not been curtailed by this general order at Christmas time, the protected cedar glades in Oak Ridge might not exist today. Currently, one of the best local cedar glades is located between Fairbanks Road and Laboratory Road in downtown Oak Ridge. It is signed and posted as a protected area, and it has a nice walking trail within it. In the World War II era, this cedar glade was located right behind the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Headquarters, which was referred to by local residents as “The Castle.” It was the administrative headquarters for the entire nationwide Manhattan Project.

Photograph Credits: James E. Westcott and North Carolina State Extension

Stone Box Burials in Faraway Places

Earlier in the week, I took my son to a scheduled appointment and sat in a small lobby with a wicker basket nearly full of magazines. Peering into the basket, I spotted an interesting-looking magazine called Country. It contained a small article on the tiny vacation destination of Helen, Georgia. Helen is a village of about 500 people, and its major tourist draw is its architectural expression as a typical Alpine village in the Bavarian Alps of Germany. It looked like a fun place to visit, so I later searched for more information about it on-line. Lo and behold, a short article on Helen in Wikipedia clued me into the presence of a prehistoric Native American mound—a Mississippian period platform mound that just happens to have a German-style gazebo planted squarely on top of it (Figure 1).  I was more than a little surprised to learn that the large Mississippian component on this archaeological site [Nacoochee Mound site (9WH3)] has a few stone box burials somewhat similar to some of the Mississippian stone box burials found in the Middle Cumberland region of Tennessee.


Figure 1.  Platform Mound on the Nacoochee Mound Site in Helen, Georgia

The principal mode of Mississippian burial in the Middle Cumberland region was the “body-fitted” stone box burial wherein the interred individuals are usually lying on their backs in a fully extended position. Occasionally, square to slightly rectangular stone boxes containing partially flexed or tightly flexed individuals are also found in this region of Tennessee.  That was true at the Hart site (40DV434) in Nashville. A few stone box burials have also been found in the Chattanooga area of Tennessee. Some archaeologists in the Tennessee past have tried to tie these burials to the small Yuchi tribe of Native Americans who lived in that area of the state in early historic times. Mississippian stone box burials are also found in Central and Western Kentucky, Southern Illinois, Southwestern Indiana, and some parts of Eastern Missouri.

I feel sure that occasional Mississippian stone box burials, occurring either singly or in extremely small numbers are found on Mississippian archaeological sites in locations outside of the foregoing areas.  The stone box burials at 9WH3 are an example of this. However, the stone box burials on the outer rim of the Mississippian world at 9WH3 are the farthest away ones that I have ever encountered. These stone boxes are few in number, and they appear to be larger and less well constructed than the body-fitted stone box burials in the Middle Cumberland region. The articulated individuals are buried in extended or flexed positions. Other stone boxes appear to contain bundles of mixed bones from different individuals, possibly ritually defleshed individuals from charnel houses.

If you would like to read in more detail about the stone box burials and other archaeological findings at 9WH3, you may do so by clicking on the following safe links:

The Nacoochee Mound in Georgia

Nacoochee Revisited: The 2004 Project

Tennessee Archaeology Awareness Month 2017

September is Tennessee Archaeology Awareness Month in Tennessee. Each year at this time, and throughout the month, a wide variety of fun and interesting archaeological activities are underway. The Tennessee public is always invited to join in, participate, and have a good time.

My favorite part of the festivities is the month-long Tennessee Archaeology Blogfest, wherein each day a Tennessee archaeologist, archaeology graduate student, or archaeology undergraduate student posts an interesting and well-illustrated blog article on some aspect of Tennessee archaeology.

I had planned to co-author and post an article for the blogfest entitled Sage Advice from a Tennessee Archaeological Field Cook. My wife, Kathy J. Brown, was the Head Field Cook (and a part-time Field Laboratory Technician) for the Tellico Archaeological Project from 1975 to 1977. Many of the younger folks in Tennessee archaeology today like to read or hear folksy stories about the old days in Tennessee archaeology and what it was like to work on a huge, multi-year archaeological project like Tellico, which involved a residential field camp, field kitchen, and excavations at numerous archaeological sites. We were going to provide excellent field kitchen advice (just in case any of the young folks ever need to do a huge project like this and operate a field kitchen for 60+ archaeologists), and we were going to include some humorous field kitchen anecdotes along the way.  We had kindly asked Dr. Jefferson Chapman to find some candid field kitchen photographs from Tellico days, but it appears that none are available at this time—at least none that we can get in time to put together a blogfest article. (Jeff did try hard, and we much appreciated his effort). Therefore, Kathy and I have decided to shelve the blog article until next September 2018. That should give us enough time to check with old Tellico field personnel (if we can find them) to see if they have any candid field kitchen and cooking photographs taken at the Tellico Field Camp in the 1970s.

Tennessee Archaeology Awareness Month is sponsored each year by the Tennessee Council for Professional Archaeology, and their personnel do a wonderful job of organizing the event and supporting it throughout the month.  If you would like to keep up with the various events and festivities, including the Tennessee Archaeology Blogfest, you may do so by clicking on the safe links below.  The introductory blogfest article will be posted tomorrow, so be sure and tune in for it and all the interesting daily blog articles that will come after it.

TCPA Facebook Page

TCPA Web Page

Addressing Some Recent Criticism of our Eclipse Day Article

Here at the Archaeology in Tennessee blog, I rarely get any criticisms of the main articles written for the blog—and if a criticism does come this way—it never shows up as a written comment beneath the piece in question. It usually shows up as a private comment to me by e-mail or telephone. Our eclipse day post entitled NASA Canon of Solar Eclipses for Archaeologists generated a small amount of that discreet private criticism. I am taking some time to address it herein so my readers will understand why I said some of the things I said.  Here is my statement that drew all of the criticism:

Mel Gibson tried to capture such an important moment in his poorly done and culturally insensitive 2006 movie entitled “Apocalypto.” One of the settings in this motion picture is an imaginary Mayan city in Mesoamerica at the time of European first contact.

The factors in this statement that drew the criticism were the phrases “poorly done and culturally insensitive” and “imaginary Mayan city.”  The criticisms came from folks who know quite a bit about American archaeology.  They wondered why I would ever say such derogatory things about this movie because they thought it was a wonderful movie.

The movie Apocalypto was released to American theaters in 2006, which is going on 12 years ago. It was attended by many ordinary Americans and by many archaeologists, including archaeologists like me who have undergraduate and graduate training in Mesoamerican archaeology. Even we archaeologists know that movie makers take some artistic license with prehistory and history in the story lines of motion pictures, such that one rarely sees complete prehistoric or historic realism and accuracy in a movie. Given even that basic understanding going-in, the movie Apocalypto drew a firestorm of public criticism and outrage from archaeologists, particularly those who specialize in Mayanist archaeology.

This criticism and outrage came for many reasons. For example, the prehistoric and historic cultural timelines in the movie were mish-mashed to give the false impression that the height of Classic Mayan culture, which actually ended circa 800 A.D., was somehow still fully underway at the time of first European contact.  The Aztec practice of massive human sacrifice, as related to us by the first Spanish conquistadors in Mexico, was conflated with Mayan culture to give the false impression that the ancient Maya and their historic-era Mayan descendants were just as bloodthirsty in their religious ceremonies. Finally, the Mayan people are portrayed as depraved, heartless, heathen savages more worthy of the streets of Sodom and Gomorrah than the streets of ancient Tikal—and to make it all worse—in a manner that failed to take sufficient and accurate stock of a long, rich, and highly detailed Mayan cultural tapestry dominated by great lineal rulers, craftsmen, astronomers, mathematicians, artists, scribes, and so forth. In short, many of the people who know the most about Mayan prehistory and history were royally pissed by what Mel Gibson had done in this movie—and they let everyone know it in the news media back in double-ought six.

If you would like to read a just a small sample of the many detailed criticisms of Apocalypto from 12 years ago, you may do so by clicking on the following safe links:

‘Apocalypto’ A Distorted view of Maya History

“Apocalypto” Tortures the Facts, Expert Says

Is “Apocalypto” Pornography?

Mel Gibson’s “Apocalypto”: A Critical Analysis

Finally, as mentioned to my critics, I enjoyed the movie Apocalypto too, primarily because one rarely sees anything even quasi-archaeological about North America, Central America, and their indigenous cultures in modern movies. Just like everyone else, I was anxious to see how Mel Gibson would portray Mayan people and culture in this movie—and my feet pitter-pattered into it with no illusions about the degree of artistic license movie makers can take with prehistory and history. Nonetheless, throughout Apocalypto, I was more than just a little overwhelmed by the relentless violence and cruelty, and the archaeologist within me was biting his lip far more than just once or twice at the assorted archaeological and cultural nonrealities that were filling my eyes. Therefore, the phraseology in my eclipse post was a brief attempt, en passant, to capture all of the past negative archaeological bluster that surrounded the release of this controversial motion picture.