Sayre’s Law

This has been a really annoying weekend of enlightened cynicism about anthropology and archaeology for me.  The truth of the matter is that I have always had a love-hate relationship with anthropology and archaeology in the United States. I love the subject matter of anthropology and archaeology, but I hate the people environment.  Yes, it could be “just me,” but other people inside the discipline and outside of it have expressed the same thing to me over the years with regard to the anthropologists and archaeologists they have known. One such person who resided outside the discipline once expressed to me the feeling that most anthropologists and archaeologists are the way they are because they are “Godless idolaters who have never seen the inside of a church.” (LOL).

I think the standard anthropological and archaeological response to my previous statement and theirs, after the “screw you” part, would be that the people environment is like this in all academic and professional disciplines, so it is not just anthropology and archaeology.  Based on my own personal experience from working in other disciplines for the past 32 years, I honestly have to say that this is not true. The interpersonal pettiness and drama that I (and many others) have observed in American anthropology and archaeology for the past 41 years is almost completely absent in the environmental science, job training, technical editing and writing, and engineering fields.  Put that in your ancient elbow pipes and smoke it!!!

My cynical and rather depressing weekend brought to mind a famous law—Sayre’s Law. The version of Sayre’s Law stated below (with a bracketed item of my own included within it) is my favorite version, which is always accompanied in my mind with a choral item to underline it:

“Academic politics [in anthropology and archaeology] is the most vicious and bitter form of politics, because the stakes are so low.”

You can read more about Sayre’s Law and other historical versions of it at the following link:’s_law

The question in my mind has always been: “Why is it this way?”  Is it because stress levels are high and the stakes really are so low?  Do American anthropology and archaeology naturally attract curmudgeonly people who find it hard to get along with other people? Is it because working conditions are so bad and resources are so small that people become overly competitive and territorial—and end up devouring each other?  Do anthropology and archaeology people tend to have hypersensitive personalities?  Are most anthropologists and archaeologists Godless idolaters with small hearts and little conventional moral fiber? During my years at The University of Tennessee (Knoxville), I knew only one archaeology graduate student who ever darkened the door of a church with their shadow.  You know:  “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”  Maybe that outsider I mentioned earlier was right?  Because of the subject matter they deal with, do anthropologists and archaeologists view their fellow human beings as mere animals with whom they are locked in a deadly Darwinian struggle to survive—so anything goes and may only the strongest survive? One anthropology professor once remarked to a friend of mine that “the primary purpose of graduate school in anthropology is not to educate students.  Its primary purpose is to weed out the weak.” (Note to Self:  Stay as far away from that person as possible…oh wait…I already did.)  Personally, I think that sort of thinking is reprehensible and deserves several Hell levels below Dante’s lowest one. If I were an academic professor with students, I would make them work hard, but I would also think of them, love them, encourage them, and interact with them as if they were my own children.  Weed out the weak indeed.  What a crock of bullshit!!!

Sure.  You may disagree.  I understand that.  Nonetheless, I know that I am right about this. I have just seen too much strange and tragic stuff over the years—not stuff happening to me personally—but happening to other people I have known and loved in anthropology and archaeology. I am out of hypotheses, so I will ask you? What is the damned deal with anthropologists and archaeologists: their coldness, their social distance, their irritableness, their personal conceit, their selfishness, their intense territoriality, their uncommunicativeness, their uncooperativeness, their pettiness, their temperamental natures, their viciousness, their inability to get along with others, their inability to offer apologies or accept them, their heartless behaviors, and their tendency to hold grudges that last for decades?  And yes, being caught up in archaeology and anthropology, I too have sometimes been that way myself—but I also know that it was just plain wrong for me to be that way.

I know ahead of time that no one will respond to this post.  Why?  Most rank and file people in American anthropology and archaeology would be too frightened to respond with anything approaching honesty because they know that what I have said above is true.  But I have to ask the question.  If there is almost none of this sort of behavior in environmental science where I work, in engineering (I work regularly with engineers), and some other fields and professions, why must it be like this in anthropology and archaeology?  Why do anthropologists and archaeologists choose to create, live, and work under a cloud of fear—and why do they tolerate its existence?  Any really smart person like John Adams, Samuel Adams, or John Hancock would kick it in the ass and get rid of it because that is no way for any human being to live or work day-in and day-out.  Someone needs to break free and lead a revolution.  I am too old and tired to do it—but I do sincerely hope some young person or a large group of young people in American anthropology and archaeology will one day say “enough is enough” and lead that revolution.  The nation and the world need a kinder, gentler, and more reasonable American anthropology and archaeology in the 21si century—one that is willing and able to look at its own warts and do something about them.  I am preaching to myself here too.  In American anthropology and archaeology in the 21st century—against the grain should be a way of life from this moment forward:

Important American History Issue: Just in Case You Missed This Elsewhere

My mother, who was born in rural Sumner County, Tennessee, in 1910 and later lived in Gallatin, Tennessee, was very close to the American Civil War. At least one (and I think maybe two) of her uncles had fought as infantrymen on the battlefield for the Confederate States of America (CSA). One sustained a bad head wound, was rendered unconscious by it, fell on the battlefield, and later awoke in situ and very thirsty.  Liquid was flowing past his mouth from uphill, and he assumed that he had fallen at the edge of a small stream. He  began to reach out his tongue to pull some into his mouth only to quickly discover that it was flowing blood from numerous fallen soldiers farther up the hill.  He later survived his head wound, placed my mother on his knee when he was an old man, and told her about this and other battlefield experiences during the war.

I mention this because the American Civil War was still a bitterly remembered experience in Sumner County minds and hearts—even as late as the early 1970s.  In summer 1971, I did some volunteer work for the old southern dowagers (now long dead) who helped maintain The Trousdale Place (home of Clark Chapter 13, United Daughters of the Confederacy) in Gallatin, Tennessee. They too had male family members (like Julius Trousdale) who had directly imparted their CSA soldiering experiences to them.  We conversed quite a bit while I was helping out that summer, and fondly remembering their own childhood talks with their long departed relatives, the old ladies still referred to black Americans as “dawkies,” Dawkie was the word darkey pronounced with a Middle Tennessee Southern drawl. During our conversations, it was always dawkie this and dawkie that—and then do you know what that doggone dawkie did?  Dawkies played a central role in just about every conversation, unconsciously emphasizing the importance of the slavery question in the context of the American Civil War. Being a flower child of the 1960s, all this dawkie stuff (even the word itself) sounded pretty ancient and quite weird to me—even though I was a great lover of American history. Indeed, the American Civil War itself was still referred to by many locals as the War Between the States or the War of Northern Aggression—all to express the shared opinion of the common people that the American South was totally righteous in its warfare against the Union and the Yankee states were totally unrighteous in their pursuit of war against the CSA.

I know. I know. I know. That all sounds so old news to younger folks today in Tennessee, and it seems so yesterday and so inapplicable to present day 2015. Unfortunately, sorry to say, it is actually very current and quite applicable in many parts of the United States today—particularly in Texas.

For most of the past decade, I have supported a grassroots organization in Texas that has been fighting a bitter political war with the Texas State Board of Education (SBOE), which has a majority of Tea Party conservative types (or worse) on it. Unlike here in Tennessee, the Texas SBOE is a state government organization with elected members and enormous power over the curriculum and textbook content in Texas public schools. In fact, Texas public school systems buy so many textbooks that the textbook publishers often print a Texas textbook with Texas SBOE content as a “prototype edition” and then rubber stamp the final edition for sales in the other 49 states.  Were you aware of that?

The Texas SBOE has tried to rewrite the Texas curriculum and the related textbooks so they downplay and question biological evolution.  Charles Darwin is a hated man down Texas way.  The Texas SBOE has tried to make Senator Joseph McCarthy into an American hero like George Washington. Moses of Holy Bible fame is now defined as an American founding father in Texas. (Yes, you read that correctly.)  The Texas SBOE has been highly critical of global warming, the big bang, and other current day scientific issues. It has attempted to strongly downplay the importance of all minority groups in American history. The list goes on and on.  And last, but not least, the Texas SBOE insists that Texas public school students be taught that slavery was not the primary cause of the American Civil War—but rather—only a minor one.  Clearly, historical and scientific revisionism are main courses on the plates of many Texas SBOE members.

Professors at major Texas universities and numerous well-educated Texans, to put it mildly, are furious with these people on the Texas SBOE—and have been at war with them for many years now—because those who are put in charge of Texas public education work constantly at every turn to undermine the education of Texas public school students in the name of educating them.  Public education in Texas has turned into a total zoo that often catches the attention of the national news media.

Current and former conservative members on the Texas SBOE have persisted in their strong belief that slavery had almost nothing to do with the American Civil War—and any insistence to the contrary must not be taken seriously because it is obviously manufactured by Jesus-hating liberals who want to defile Texas school children with their lies about American history and thereby destroy our nation. Unfortunately for them, a very forceful video about the role of slavery in starting the American Civil War has recently shown some potential for stopping them dead cold in their tracks because it comes directly from a U.S. Army Colonel who is Department Head and Professor of History at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York—which is far from being a Jesus-hating liberal organization. Just in case you might have missed it elsewhere, I thought you nice folks who read the articles here at the Archaeology in Tennessee blog might like to see this short but stunning video presentation. Just click on the URL below to start the presentation:

Some Quick Notes on Tennessee Archaeology

When an average citizen, avocational archaeologist, or artifact collector mentions something new about Tennessee archaeology that you have never heard, do you quickly grab the nearest piece of paper and pen to jot it down for future reference? The Archaeology in Tennessee blog thinks this is a wise and wonderful thing to do. As noted in a recent post to this blog, I have been in my home office sorting through some archaeology files that are 30-40 years old. One of those old files contained some of my Tennessee archaeology notes that were quickly jotted down during a casual conversation with a knowledgeable Nashville area artifact collector 30+ years ago. I have decided to share these notes with you just for fun. However, instead of offering you the jotted notes per se, which are a bit cryptic, I will offer up my best interpretation of what the notes say.

Quick Notation No. 1

Guy Stack, a famous Tennessee artifact collector in the middle 20th century, died while he was still in office as President of the Tennessee Archaeological Society. After he died his enormous artifact collection was sold in two separate portions. Mr. Malcolm Parker, a well-known artifact collector in Nashville, Tennessee, was retained to appraise the Stack collection prior to the sale. However, before he could appraise Portion No. 1, it was suddenly sold to a Mr. Fowler at the Period Furniture Company in Nashville, Tennessee. Mr. Parker appraised Portion No. 2 of the Stack collection, and it was sold to Mr. Porter Womack (now deceased), who lived in Sumner County, operated a large farm, and worked for many years as a high official in county government.

The Stack collection contained a sculpted statue made of either sandstone or steatite. It was a representation of an ancient Native American individual (male or female). This statue consisted of the ancient person’s head, shoulders, and trunk down to the waist level. It was 1 foot in height and about 6 inches wide. However, the most interesting aspect of this statue was its eyes. The pupils of the eyes were represented by imbedded European trade beads. These glass beads were either red or green in color, and they were somewhat cylindrical in shape, looking like an old wooden barrel. The surfaces of these glass beads had a dull, frosted texture. The statue was found in a farmer’s field along Yellow Creek in the Pond Creek community of Cheatham County, Tennessee.

In the early 1980s, I obtained some more information about this statue and followed up on it with a brief article written by the editor at The Ashland City Times newspaper in Ashland City, Cheatham County, Tennessee.

Archaeologist Seeks Local Info

A University of Tennessee archaeologist is asking for information from residents in the Pond Creek community about an ancient statuette once found in that area by a local farmer.

The statuette, a bust carved in the form of a man or woman and containing glass trade beads as eyes, was purchased from a farmer in the Pond Creek community in early 1963 by a collector [Guy Stack], says archaeologist Tracy Charles Brown.

He originally was trying to find more information about the archaeological site that had yielded what was known as the “Pond Creek Stones.”

The collector purchased the statuette after seeing it atop a wellhouse. It was about 1 foot tall and about six inches wide, Brown says. The collector died soon after he purchased the statuette, and it was sold with a large portion of the remainder of his collection. Brown says no one is sure where the statuette is, and no known photos are available.

He’s asking residents who may have seen or heard about the statuette to provide information for research he is doing on ancient objects such as steel knives, glass trade beads, and brass bells that date back to the Mississippian Period (A.D. 800-1600).

Most finds relating to this type of research have been done by families and farmers living in the area.

Brown asks that anyone remembering anything about the object, including when and where it was found and who found it, to contact him via this newspaper.

The archaeologist also is looking for any available photographs or precise descriptions of the artifact. He says even snapshots which accidentally include the statuette are valuable to the research.

And, he is looking for anyone who has found any other possible examples of those prehistoric items such as trade beads or steel knives.

Anyone with information should call The Ashland City Times at 792-4230 between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday, or write the newspaper at P.O. Box 158, Ashland City, Tenn. 37015. All information will be kept strictly confidential.

Quick Notation No. 2

This little archaeological event occurred in Allen County, Kentucky, in the middle 1930s. Allen County is located just across the state line from Sumner County, Tennessee. It involved a man by the name of Carl Hix. He and another man were pursuing a groundhog that ran for cover under a fairly large rock. The two men moved the rock by hand in hopes of getting the groundhog. A Native American burial was found under the rock. The buried individual was accompanied by a ceramic vessel with strap handles. It also contained a river cane basket that had been mashed flat. Disgusted with the condition of the basket, the men threw it into the Barren River. An iron tomahawk accompanied the ceramic vessel and basket in this human burial.

Quick Notation No. 3

The Haysboro site, which is called the Maddox site today, was a large site occupied during the Mississippian Period. It also has a substantial historical-era component. Fifteen to 20 feet away from something (not sure what?), a container of musket caps was dug out from 3 feet underground. David Parrish found a steel knife on this site.

Despite the fact that professional archaeologists have never found historic-era Euroamerican artifacts in situ in an undisturbed Mississippian Period burial in the Middle Cumberland region of Middle Tennessee, anecdotal stories about historic-era artifacts found in local Mississippian site contexts have persisted for many decades.  Considering the fact that the Mississippian Period was essentially over with and done in the Middle Cumberland region by about A.D. 1450-1475 and the fact that the once large Mississippian population in the region had vacated the land, it is hard to know what to do with these persistent stories.

Why We Write

During World War II, famous Hollywood director Frank Capra made a series of American propaganda movies entitled Why We Fight. This post addresses Why We Write, and more specifically, why I write here at the Archaeology in Tennessee blog. 

Be the truth known, I was created to work as a professional writer or journalist. My English teacher identified it without question during my freshman year in high school, but Gallatin Senior High School in Gallatin, Tennessee, pushed its students to concentrate their energies on science and mathematics so we could become technological warriors on the front lines of battle against the Soviet Union.  As a result of that, I was set on the road to a career in science, in my case American archaeology and environmental science.  Nonetheless, the impulse to write and write well was always within me, and it has helped me more than you might imagine throughout my scientific career. For example, when I joined the full-time scientific workforce in 1982, my employers quickly tagged me as the “guy in the office who can write really, really, really well and clean up the writing of our other employees.”  It put me in high demand, and companies were willing to pay big bucks for the guy who could do the science, write like Steinbeck, and edit like the people at Alfred A. Knopf.  Consequently, despite the science, the impulse to write has always found expression in my life in one way or another.

A friend of mine in North Carolina, Pastor John Pavlovitz, has a new post about writers and writing on his Christian faith blogI have reblogged it below for my readers because it is on target about my own impulse to write about archaeology and related matters on the Archaeology in Tennessee blog.  If you are interested in that at all, then hang on every word in John’s article.

Thank You for Bleeding: A Letter to Writers


John Pavlovitz

There’s something all writers know, something that those who don’t write will never truly understand:

To write, is to bleed.

The act of regularly opening yourself up in full view of an army of strangers is choosing to be exposed; to consent to have one’s unprotected innards trespassed upon and rooted through. This vulnerability comes at a great personal price, one that is never really ever repaid. The writer is always in the red.

Though the discipline of writing is one that usually begins in solitude, its evolution is quite the opposite. In the quiet places one bravely breaks open the contents of his or her heart and chooses to share them publicly, not knowing the reception they will receive after they leave the safety of secret. Once outside of the protected confines of one’s head, their every syllable is scrutinized and dissected, parsed and poured over.

Most writers tend to be a confounding collection of paradoxes, having enough vanity to believe their words are worth reading, yet wildly insecure in the offering. They fiercely covet silence but find intoxication in the crowd’s embrace. They are at once bodily prophetic and startlingly fragile. They are hopelessly compelled to create, while fully terrified in the process.

Writing itself is a delicate, volatile mix of sweat and magic. At times the creative process is arduous work and at other times it is an effortless dance. Some days the words are hard-won in bloody battle and others they are easily received, gift-wrapped from the heavens.

Yet no matter how many times they craft something beautiful or meaningful or valuable, most writers live with the ever-present fear that this will be the last time it ever happens. They spend their days feeling like an unworthy lover, certain that their beloved Muse will leave them at any moment, never to return. To write, is to hope the best words are still within you, but to feel without a doubt that they have surely passed.

The writer’s medium is a palette of simple words and yet these words are not come by simply. In every waking moment (and often in dreams and in nightmares), the creative soul searches incessantly for language to speak of things and ideas and feelings where words largely fail all of us. And yet with that deck stacked well against them, the writer continues to flail and fret and wrestle, hoping at the end of it all to have something worthy of the fight; something to say that is worth hearing.

My heroes have always been the poets, the ones who find the rhyme and the song in this life. They take the massive, grand, unwieldy things of the world and make them small enough to hold in one’s hand, and yet they unearth in the most intimate, ordinary moments, treasures of stunning grandeur to be revered.

Most writers don’t write because they must have something to say, but because they have something that they must say. To be silent would be to be disobedient. It is not a choice made, but a burden carried, a calling embraced.

To those who write and create, those who labor in the scalding, urgent crucible of the heart and who dare to speak so that others may hear more clearly, thank you.

Thank you for every new battle you fight with a blank page or an empty screen.

Thank you for risking criticism and condemnation and misunderstanding and attack.

Thank you for overcoming the voices from within and without that tell you to stop.

Thank you for the way you narrate the days we walk through so that we are more attentive or grateful or present in them.

Thank you for bringing clarity, for mending wounds, for lighting dark places, for inciting laughter, for inviting justice.

Thank you for sitting in the secret again, and for once more baring yourself so that others might see themselves more fully.

Most of all, thank you for bleeding.

A Resurrection of Long-Buried Archaeology Files

The passage of time erases memories of things that happened long ago. Several weeks ago, I was searching through my well-ordered files in the upstairs office at my home to find an old archaeological report that was filed away many years ago. My office is fairly large, but it contains a rather extraordinary number of varied and interesting items. Each item has its own special place of residence within my office, but free space is at a premium. (Yes, you would have fun in this room if you were to ever visit me.) Because of these many items and the limited space, my office was necessarily a wreck when I finally found the document. Did I say “a wreck”? No, it looked as if a bomb had been detonated in my office. My time has been occupied by many things lately, and the time to clean up the mess in my office came late last night. One of my file drawers is in a hard-to-access location at floor level in a closet, and pulling out those files is difficult, so difficult that I rarely open that drawer. I had somehow managed to mess up the metal frame that holds the hanging file folders in that drawer. After fixing it, I looked hard at the old, yellowed papers in the files and asked the magic question, “Can I get rid of some of this stuff?” Of course, that prompted me to start looking carefully through the old files to see if anything was really worth keeping, and I found things that had not crossed my eyes in decades―things I thought were lost long ago.

A bunch of old term papers I had written for my college anthropology and archaeology classes turned up in these files. Out of curiosity I flipped through the papers just to see what was there and happened to notice things my professors had written on them nearly 40 years ago. Most students back in those days tended to write 10-page term papers just to get an assignment done quickly and turned in so they could simply get it off their plate and make it to the Friday afternoon beer bust. My approach was a lot different―researching thoroughly, brooding at length over the parameters and ideas necessary to the topic, focusing on details, and toiling hard over my Royal typewriter to produce highly detailed term papers that were often 25-30 pages long. It is a wonder my professors did not kill me for forcing them to read so much when they still had 67 more student papers to read before bedtime.

Dr. Geraldine Gesell, my professor for a course in Roman Art & Archaeology, wanted to submit my undergraduate term paper entitled The Pella Mosaics: A Functional Approach for publication in a classical archaeology journal. I just told her, “Thank you—but no.”  That was a mistake on my part. Never turn down an opportunity to publish a term paper.

For a graduate course in cultural anthropology that was taught by Dr. Michael Logan, I wrote a paper entitled The Cultural Ecology of Mormon Polygyny. Here is what Mike wrote at the end of that 30-page term paper:

A+. This paper is of publishable quality and is one of the best student papers I have read in years. (See me winter for suggested revisions/partic. the last section.)

My response to publishing that paper was: “Thank you Mike—but no.”  Again, never turn down an opportunity to publish a term paper.  I did not get into any sort of trouble with faculty for these turn downs, but it would have been better to get my name in print whenever possible.

Both my happiest and unhappiest term paper experiences came with a single term paper in a graduate seminar called Method and Theory in Archaeology. This seminar was taught by my professor and fellow postage stamp collector Dr. Gerald F. Schroedl. We all sat around a long, rectangular table in that seminar, and it always seemed as if everyone (including me) around that table had a gloom and doom look on their face―like please get me a beer and a beach―anything but this seminar—and there was a good reason for it too. I could take a couple of pages to explain it here in detail, but Gerald summed it up quite briefly and beautifully in a moment I will never forget as long as I live. He stood up at the end of the table and was holding a new book on archaeological method and theory. It was thick enough to weigh about 10 lbs., and it was written by a famous British archaeologist who was deeply into method and theory in the late 1970s. Gerald opened up the book and orally read a short paragraph to the class. At the end of his reading, he looked up very seriously at everyone gathered around the table, smiled, and said: “Anybody here know what in the Hell this guy is trying to say?” Best I could tell, no one did—including me—hence all of the glum faces that arrived every morning at the seminar table.

It was not Gerald’s teaching. Gerald was an excellent teacher. The subject matter itself and the way it was written were the problems. Many years later, after I became a professional technical editor, the crux of the matter became clear to me. Many of the people who write articles and books on archaeological method and theory are very poor writers who have hazy, partially formed thoughts they cannot express with sufficient simplicity and clarity to be understood. This is also true of many people who write mathematics textbooks. In addition, within the method and theory ranks, it has always seemed to me that there is a high premium on writing tortured, incomprehensible text designed to dazzle outside colleagues with complexity and impenetrability. For example, I once heard a female archaeology student say the following with intense seriousness:

“Wow!!! I must have read this method and theory paragraph 10 times, and I still have no idea what this author is saying. He must be one of the smartest people who ever lived!!!”

My response: “No, baby. He is not one of the smartest people who ever lived.” Take my word for it. Better still, take the word of my friend Mr. Clemens:


The purpose of writing is to communicate clearly and coherently with the reader. If an author writes on archaeological method and theory and does so in a way that is neither clear nor understandable to a well-educated reader, then that author is not communicating. His thinking and writing are a waste of his time, and reading it is a waste of time for the reader. Today, whenever a person drops a written piece of archaeological method and theory in front of me, I take a quick look at it to determine whether it is another insufferable tome written by an archaeological illiterate lacking talent for simplicity and clarity. If it is, this is my invariable response: “It is obvious to me that this person has nothing to say, so I am not going to waste my time trying to decipher this piece of garbage.”

A huge part of a person’s grade in Gerald’s seminar rested on writing an original term paper on a personally selected topic in archaeological method and theory. Coming up with a topic alone was sheer torture because in my mind it had to be a topic that I could write about coherently, sensibly, and clearly. Given the usual murkiness of archaeological method and theory reference sources, writing it was going to be no easy matter. I felt anxious about it for most of that quarter, and the pieces of what I was going to write were not falling into place easily or quickly in my mind as they usually did with other writing assignments. In fact, for most of the quarter, I felt severely under the gun like Daffy Duck did in his award-winning cartoon short where gangsters kidnap him, wrongly believing that he has laid a golden egg. They try to force him at gunpoint to lay a golden egg for them. After a grueling, soul-grinding effort infused with great fear and much sweating, Daffy actually lays a golden egg at the end of the film and says with great relief,” Well, whatdaya know???!!!” Then a gangster sticks a gun on Daffy’s bill, points into a large room with empty egg cartons piled high to the ceiling, and says, “Fill’em!!!”

Toward the end of the autumn academic quarter, I accompanied a close friend to Columbus, Ohio, for a Thanksgiving celebration, and this gave me an opportunity to spend several days in the campus library at The Ohio State University. The reference sources on their shelves afforded me an interesting topic, and the pieces finally started falling into place. I began writing the paper soon afterwards and had only a little bit left to write the evening before it was due. That evening turned into an all-nighter for me as even more pieces fell into place while I was writing. By dawn, every cell in my body was absolutely worn out, as were those of my apartment mates who had stayed up all night with their end-of-the-quarter assignments. The title of the finished term paper was A Logico-Deductive Minimizing Approach to the Use of Ethnographic Analogy in the Interpretation of Specific Aspects of Great Basin Prehistory. Feeling half dazed, I walked slowly over to the seminar room in South Stadium Hall, deposited the paper in Gerald’s hands, and hoped it would pass muster.

Soon afterwards, Gerald returned the graded term papers, and everyone in the room tensed up. My paper was written clearly and coherently—something I knew for sure—but I was most afraid that my thoughts and ideas would not be understood and well received. On the last page of my term paper, Gerald had written the following:

Tracy – Well thought, well organized, well written paper. Paper A. I am disappointed that you didn’t contribute more to our class discussions. The paper makes it obvious that you could have made a substantial contribution. Class participation B. Course A.

With driving worry, deep thought, and great effort across an entire academic quarter, I had somehow laid the golden egg. (Yes, I did not say much in classes back in those days. I was a shy kid—painfully shy. Nowadays, as often evidenced on this blog, the professor might be unable to stop me from talking in a seminar.) I will close with a short sermon for undergraduate students and new graduate students in American archaeology.

Term papers are not professor-devised instruments of torture to be shed quickly and with as few pages as possible so you can make it to the beer bust on time. Term papers are essential learning experiences that teach you how to research, think, and write. If you are planning to be a professional archaeologist one day, most of your future is going to be all about researching, thinking, and writing in detail. You must learn to do all three with excellence. Start work on your term papers early in the semester, and do your research thoroughly. Do not just slop a bunch of quick thoughts onto paper and leave it at that. Think deeply. Brood over the nuts and bolts of your term paper, and do it long and hard, looking at your content from every angle. Be detailed because archaeology is all about precision and details. Roll it all over many times in your mind throughout the semester. Never prepare a term paper just to get by with a respectable “C” or an honorable “B.” No “C” is ever respectable in undergraduate academia. A “B” in a graduate school course should be a rare event.

Finally, learn how to write term papers with excellence. Take those college English courses seriously and concentrate hard on them. Take some extra ones beyond the required few, particularly courses that focus on English vocabulary, grammar, syntax, and writing skills. You must make it a high priority to think clearly and write clearly in American archaeology. Clear thoughts should translate into clear text on paper. As one of my favorite writers (a Princeton University alumnus) says: “It is not cleanliness that is next to Godliness. Clarity in writing is next to Godliness.” Never be one of the fog-bound method and theory illiterati in American archaeology. Never be like Lewis Binford, a famous American archaeologist whose writing was so poor and incoherent that his wife had to be on constant standby to clean it up so his readers could understand it. (That is what Sally Binford actually said in her infamous published interview back in the 1980s. I read the original text of the interview.) Yes, it is all hard work, but if you will just focus on it and do it, it will pay off in spades for many decades to come. The students picked to receive Graduate Research Assistantships in archaeology, and all of the money that comes with them, are often the best writers in the department.

H.C. “Buddy” Brehm and Cave of the Medallions

Sometimes it seems as if life is about the inadvertent accumulation of assorted junk in the drawers, cabinets, closets, attics, and garages of our homes. One member of our household has been cleaning out these spaces and sorting through the accumulated junk to identify throwaways and keepers.  Sometimes I am required to issue a ruling on whether certain items should be kept or thrown away.

Three such items landed on the desk in my upstairs library this evening: an old receipt for picture framing, a hand-written cover letter from Dave McMahan in Alaska (accompanied by a small vial of crude oil from the famous Exxon Valdez oil spill where Dave had to do shoreline CRM for the cleanup effort), and an empty envelope that once contained a letter from my old and dear friend H.C. “Buddy” Brehm.  I will keep the letter from Dave—and I will especially keep the old envelope from Buddy Brehm and put it in a scrapbook one day.

Buddy Brehm was a very special person and one of the nicest, kindest, and most helpful men who ever lived.  He had a passion for Tennessee archaeology that surpassed anything I ever saw in my college years at The University of Tennessee (Knoxville). Buddy lived at 5311 Indiana Avenue in Nashville.  Although he worked at a blue collar job on assorted shifts, he devoted much of his free time to archaeological work. His base of operations was a small, concrete-block outbuilding in the backyard of his home. Basically, he had converted it into a combination office, library, and archaeology laboratory.  I visited him at his home office only one time, but I was impressed by his conversion of this outbuilding for archaeological purposes.  His Nashville area archaeological work through the Southeastern Indian Antiquities Survey, Inc.  (SIAS) is now legendary and well documented, so there is no need to go into any of that here.

Buddy was always enthusiastic about anything archaeological in nature, and he assisted me and Dave McMahan with some archaeological work at the Cave of the Medallions near Smyrna, Tennessee, in the early 1980s.  Between 1955 and 1962, some person(s) had entered this small cave and applied colorful paintings of ancient bison and human figures to the walls and ceiling of this cave with black and red paints. Dave and I worked the purely archaeological angle on these paintings, confirmed that no prehistoric artifacts were present in the soil of the cave floor, determined that the paintings were fakes, and performed some research to frame the period of time when the paintings were applied to the walls and ceiling of the cave. One key question that intrigued us was: “Who did these cave paintings?”  Dave and I were living in Knoxville at the time and could only come to the Nashville area to deal with this cave in short spurts, usually incidental to visiting our family members in the area.  We knew that tracking down the cave-painting artists would be difficult and would require some significant and extended research (including personal interviews) in the Nashville-Murfreesboro-Smyrna area. Because Buddy lived in the area, he was really interested in that question, fired up to do the research, and ready to chase down the elusive artists, so we encouraged Buddy to run with it to the best of his ability.

In the meantime, Dave went off to do archaeology in Alaska, and I lost total interest in Tennessee archaeology and archaeology in general—and dropped completely out of the archaeological realm.  A couple of years passed by, and I just assumed that Buddy had abandoned his chase to find the cave artists just as I had left archaeology far behind. I was wrong. Buddy had been diligently chasing the artists down for a couple of years in his spare time. To the best of my recollection, I received a letter from Buddy in 1984, and it said that he was almost certain he had identified the person(s) who did the paintings in the Cave of the Medallions. I think that letter arrived in the old envelope that was placed on my desk this evening. Buddy did not name the artists in his letter, but he did ask me to call him by telephone so we could talk about it. He apparently did not want to name the identified artists on paper in his letter for fear of potential legal ramifications.  Because I had left archaeology far behind, I no longer had any interest in the subject and did not immediately call Buddy—a matter that I really do regret today.

My last contact with Buddy was a telephone call that I made to his home years later.  Some part of me was getting interested in Tennessee archaeology again, and I may have been calling to follow up on that old letter about the cave paintings. I expected the friend that I had known for years to pick up the telephone in his usual happy mood, but it was not to be.  Buddy was already very, very sick and going into kidney failure. He was clearly too sick to talk archaeology and remember factual details from a small project done years before that moment, so we just exchanged some small talk about his health condition and a few related matters. He was only strong enough to talk for a few minutes.  Buddy was gone forever soon after that.

It was my understanding that Buddy was donating some of his archaeology files to the Tennessee Division of Archaeology in Nashville. If this was actually done  after his death, he may have included the names of the cave-painting artists he had identified in those files somewhere. If anyone at the Tennessee Division of Archaeology (like Suzanne Hoyal) is ever interested in looking through what Buddy donated, there may be an old file folder marked as “Cave of the Medallions” or just “Cave Paintings.”  The names of the artists he had identified would most likely be in those files.

I really miss Buddy Brehm, and this old envelope that showed up on my desk this evening makes me miss him even more. Those of us who knew Buddy are a lot older now than we were back then.  A number of his old SIAS friends have died over the years, and I am not at all sure how many people who called Buddy friend and actually interacted with him face-to-face in his active years are still alive.  I am one of those people.  The only others I know about for sure are John Dowd, Charlie Faulkner, Kevin Smith, Mack Pritchard, Joe Benthall, Dave McMahan, Sam Smith, and  John Broster. For those of you who never met Buddy or never had a chance to work with him, you missed out on knowing a wonderful person with a real passion for Tennessee archaeology.  He was one of a kind. So, when you pick up a copy of one of his old Mini-Histories booklets or a journal article with his name on the “by line,” please pick it up with reverence for a person who (out of his own pocket and the goodness of his heart) contributed much to the archaeology of the Nashville area at a time when little professional archaeology (in the modern sense) had ever been done in that region. Buddy was not an artifact collector. He was a largely self-taught avocational archaeologist of the highest caliber, and I would even go so far as to include him with the likes of Glenn Black and Ellison Orr.

If you ever want to visit the Cave of the Medallions and take in some well-done Faux Lascaux, the paintings are most likely still there. In the early 1980s, the bison painting on the ceiling near the entrance was still in excellent condition, but the second bison painting on the right cave wall was eroding some and might not be as visible today. The human figure paintings and a couple of other painted images are relatively small compared to the bison paintings, and they are located on the lower left wall near the second bison painting. Most people who enter this cave miss those because you have to squat down to see them.

The location of the Cave of the Medallions and some of its history are presented  in Thomas Barr’s famous book entitled Caves of Tennessee, which is available on the shelves of many public libraries in Tennessee.  Under Tennessee state law, you will need landowner permission to visit the Cave of the Medallions, and if the owner does allow you access, please do not visit this cave after dark. In 1981, the trail to this cave was not easy to see in places, even in daylight, and it went through a minefield of small, circular, open, and quite deep limestone solution cavities. Falling into one of these cavities would be like falling into an early 19th century water well, and your survival would be in significant doubt. You can see these solution cavities easily in daylight and avoid a life-threatening accident.

Please be advised that these cave paintings are more than 50 years old now, and they technically qualify as cultural resources—meaning that even though they are fakes—they are now officially an interesting and valuable portion of the unique history of this cave.  Do not touch these paintings or mess around with them in any way. Use your eyes only, and let your only souvenir be a few photographs of the paintings and cave interior. In addition, please bear in mind that all Tennessee caves and their contents (including these fake cave paintings) are officially protected under Tennessee state law.  You can read up on the Tennessee cave laws and the associated criminal penalties at the following link:

Removal of the Nathan Bedford Forrest Bust

The Archaeology in Tennessee blog has taken notice of the fact that today is Nathan Bedford Forrest Day in Tennessee.  In addition, the arrival of this date just happens to coincide with the current statewide debate on removal of the famous Nathan Bedford Forrest bust from its location of display in the Tennessee State Capitol Building in Nashville, Tennessee.  As all of you know, we here at the blog are never afraid to take up any controversial topic of archaeological or historical importance in Tennessee, and this particular issue is no different. Therefore, the Archaeology in Tennessee blog herein offers its formal recommendation to the Tennessee Historical Commission and other responsible parties in Tennessee state government to permanently remove the bust of Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest from the Tennessee State Capitol Building and relocate it to an appropriate Tennessee museum where it can be seated in perpetuity within the context of a display on Civil War history in Tennessee.  This would be the most appropriate time in Tennessee history to do so because we are now in the final year of the 150-year anniversary of the American Civil War, and General Forrest has been best known over the years for his military contributions in that war, in particular his very early and innovative contributions to what would later become known in the 20th century as blitzkrieg warfare.  In this regard, General Forrest was nearly a century ahead of his time.  The basic elements of his genius were on full display in the resounding American defeat of the Iraqi Republican Guard and its Soviet T-72 Tanks at the Battle of 73 Easting in the 1991 Gulf War. This battle has been hailed as the last great tank battle of the 20th century.

Like most of the people in our nation, we were deeply saddened by the vicious murders of the Emanual 9 in their Bible study session at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church in Charleston, South Carolina. The owner of this blog watched the emotional and moving eulogy offered by President Obama from the pulpit of this church. Moved by similar articulate oratory, our owner contributed money to the campaign of Barack Obama for President of the United States in 2008, actively campaigned for him in 2008, and voted for him again in 2012. Shortly after his first inauguration, we began to clearly and unequivocally notice the arising of national and regional racial sentiments against black Americans—sentiments that many of our citizens had deluded themselves into believing were dead and buried. Because we are persistent news and current events hounds here at the blog, it was our personal evaluation that the ugly fangs of racism against black Americans were becoming more open, evident, and emboldened across the past seven years in various segments of American society. Unfortunately, while the church murders in Charleston were shocking, we here at the Archaeology in Tennessee blog were not at all surprised, and we believe it was almost predictable from the poor race relations environment that had been emerging over the preceding seven years. Obviously, American racists (who had been driven underground by four decades of ambient social sanctions against racism) thought a black President was so dangerous that they were compelled to come out of hiding and attempt to save America from the clear and present danger presented  by dark melanocytes in The White House. In particular, whether you agree with us or not, we have long sensed that much of this burgeoning racism was associated with the Republican Party and even more so with those societal and cultural elements that normally support the Republican Party.

Abraham Lincoln and his Republican Party did put an end to slavery with the Civil War. They deserve great historical credit for that. The Democrat Party and its so-called Solid South were indeed chief proponents of Jim Crow oppression from the end of the Civil War to the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement in the middle 20th century.  American Democrats deserve a historical blistering for participating in such injustice. However, for those of us who know American history, we are also keenly aware of the fact that breakaway Democrats led the way in siding with and supporting the Civil Rights Movement and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in the key decade of the 1960s. This massive flight of national Democrats to the cause of civil rights left behind a very large and lingering cabal of still viciously racist Democrats in the American South and other states, including here in Tennessee. These people felt extremely angry and betrayed by their party.  In 1968, Richard M. Nixon and his Republican Party saw these disaffected, formerly Democrat racists as a grand opportunity to expand the voting base of the Republican Party.  Therefore, for all intents and purposes, Nixon Republicans yelled out to these numerous disaffected racists, “Hey y’all!  We heard you folks kinda got abandoned by your Democrat Party.  Why don’t y’all come on over to our Republican Party.  We got a hot shower for you.  We got fantastic food, agreeable conversation, and a nice warm bed where you can lay yourselves down forever, feel safe, and vote for the Republican Party for many years to come.”  One of my racist relatives in Nashville joined this great mass of disaffected southern racists and did just that, and he felt right at home for the rest of his life in the Republican Party—feeling certain in his heart that his fellow Republicans must surely dislike black people just as much as he did.

The owner of this blog is no longer a Democrat and now considers himself to be what political scientists call an Independent Swing Voter in elections.  However, and this writer wants to be crystal clear on this, whenever a person mentions the word “racist” and the word “politics” in the same sentence in front of me, a flashing neon light is automatically tripped on inside my mind—and it always blinks, “Republican, Republican, Republican…”  I think the leaders of the Republican Party in Tennessee and outside of Tennessee do not sufficiently appreciate how many young, white Americans see that same flashing light in their own minds and think poorly of the Republican Party because of it. In the political party now known jokingly as the “party of old white people,” this flashing mental image does not bode well for Republican electoral chances nationwide in 2016, especially in a nation where demographics indicate peoples of color will soon outnumber white people. New statistics released just this past week indicate that this long-predicted demographic sea change has finally just occurred in California, and it is coming to your state or a state near you across the next 30 years.

What is the relevance of racism against black people and Republican politics to Nathan Bedford Forrest and his bust in the Tennessee State Capitol Building?  Plenty!!!  Tennessee K-12 school teachers often do not have the full story in hand when they teach students about Tennessee history.  To the best of my recollection in the Sumner County Schools of the 1960s, I was actually taught that Nathan Bedford Forrest was the founder of the Ku Klux Klan in Pulaski, Tennessee, right after the Civil War. For many years after my 8th grade Tennessee history class and from many different quarters nationally throughout my 62 years, I have repeatedly heard it said that Nathan Bedford Forrest was the founder of  the Ku Klux Klan. In short, it always ends up as this stark, compact, and troubling dualism: “The Ku Klux Klan was founded in Tennessee, and Nathan Bedford Forest was its founder.”  Ouch!!!!  Of course, the truth of the matter is a bit more murky historically.  Many historians insist that Forrest was not the key founder of the Ku Klux Klan. Some have pegged him historically as the first Grand Wizard (Supreme Leader) of the Ku Klux Klan, while others disagree on that, and still others have seen him only as an early and active member of the Klan.  What is the historical truth?  We quite frankly do not know for certain.  However, we do know what the advertising moguls on Madison Avenue in New York City know, and it is summed up in an old advertising adage: “It does not matter what the truth is. Perception is everything.”  Regardless of what the finegrained historical truth may be, we here at the blog believe there is a nationwide perception that Nathan Bedford Forrest was the principal founder of the Ku Klux Klan in the United States. From a race relations standpoint, this means Nathan Bedford Forrest is a rotting albatross hanging like a necklace on the classic Tennessee Volunteer. It is our own unique and even more troubling version of the Confederate flag on Capitol Hill in Columbia, South Carolina.

Out of love and respect for the Emanual 9 and the many millions of black Americans and black Tennesseans who have been oppressed and marginalized in our society since the first slave ship arrived on American shores, it is high time to remove the Nathan Bedford Forrest bust from the Tennessee State Capitol Building.  From the standpoint of national perception, we think this would be an excellent move to repair a portion of Tennessee’s race relations reputation on the American stage.  A cleaned up reputation and a proper public repentance are always positives when one is trying to recruit new business and industry from up north, out west, and overseas.

Finally, with the 2016 elections coming, many people in our nation already know Tennessee is one of four American states (along with Texas, Kansas, and Oklahoma) perceived to be the very reddest Republican states in the United States of America. That was stating it kindly and respectfully.  Those same people would grumble that Tennessee is widely perceived to be a red state run by many (but not all) state-level Republican politicians who are regarded as “right-wing extremist nutjobs beholden to the Tea Party.” Considering the Republican Party’s historical reputation for welcoming disaffected southern racists with open arms, the high emotions associated with the racially motivated murders at the AME church in Charleston, and the Ku Klux Klan-related reputation of Nathan Bedford Forrest, any legislative or procedural efforts by Tennessee Tea Party Republicans (or other radical elements) to block removal of the Nathan Bedford Forrest bust from the Tennessee State Capitol Building will be picked up as a national political football—and it will be suicide for Republican hopes in the 2016 elections. Donald Trump’s recent, unfortunate, and highly controversial comments on racial and ethnic issues underline that danger. Politically, the best thing Tennessee Republicans can do for themselves is to get squarely behind removal of the Nathan Bedford Forrest bust—and do so quickly with vigor and unity.