A Belated and Sad Shock

Doggone it.  I hardly know what to say.  Sometimes we get so wrapped up in our family lives and jobs that we lose touch with people we knew and loved many years ago.  Every once in a while, a memory of a person I knew long ago will trot through my mind.  Being a master Internet researcher, I will usually look that person up online to see what I can find out about them—and maybe get in touch.  As I sat here at my PC a few nights ago, a memory of one unique individual came to mind, and I looked him up on the worldwide web.  The search engine did its crawl and returned—much to my surprise and shock—an obituary.  It may be old news to you, but it is very new and sad to me.  Therefore, I am posting this for any stray person out there who might have missed the initial message three years ago.  Our old Tennessee archaeological friend Harley Lanham passed away on Wednesday, April 15, 2009.

I first met Harley in the Department of Anthropology at the The University of Tennessee, Knoxville (UTK) around 1974-1975.  He was a recent veteran of the Viet-Nam War when I first met him, and to the best of my recollection he told me that he lived in Oak Ridge where his dad had a roofing business.  He loved motorcycles, and his first name was some indication of that affection.  Harley was a unique individual to say the least, and he stood out in any crowd.  He was 6 feet tall, had dark brown hair and a sturdy build, wore glasses, sported some heavy 5:00 o’clock shadow (fashionable now), preferred going shirtless in summer, loved wearing jeans, wrapped his head with a bandana, and always had on a sturdy pair of motorcycle boots.  Most conspicuously, at that time at least, he wore a fairly large hunting knife on his belt and carried it with him just about everywhere he went.   My best guess is that Harley beat both Crocodile Dundee and Rambo to the celebrity punch by about 11 years.  While he may not have been a movie celebrity, I would have to say that Harley was a true celebrity among the archaeology crowd in Knoxville for many years.

One can say this about few people in this world, but I can say it about Harley.  I never heard anyone say anything bad or mean about Harley.  Harley was friendly and helpful to just about everyone who knew him.  He received his B.A. degree in anthropology at UTK.  However, more so than academic work, he seemed to like field and laboratory work.  He must have done them very well because he was almost never without an archaeological job in those days when CRM jobs were not nearly as plentiful as they are today.  If memory serves, he even tried his hand at cooking for the field crew on the Owl Hollow Archaeological Project in 1975.  I was not a member of that crew, but leaks drifted out—dare I say legends—about plenty of hot sauce in the cooking that summer.  People would then follow up immediately with, “But Harley was really a pretty good cook.”  It must have been true because I had some friends on that crew, and they all came back looking well fed.

I left UTK in 1982 and lost touch with Harley.  On rare occasions, I would come to Knoxville and run into Harley quite by accident on the Cumberland Avenue strip.  We would chat for a short while, and he would tell me about some archaeological project where he had been doing fieldwork.  I had the impression that he was doing a lot of related traveling because at one point, if I remember correctly, he mentioned that he was doing excavations in Hawaii.  That must have been fun!!!

My last encounter with Harley was not in person but on the Internet.  As some of you may know, the magazine Archaeology is headquartered at Boston University, and I was perusing their website one evening about 4 years ago when I ran into an article on CRM archaeology in the United States, which is pretty much a rarity for that publication.  Much to my surprise and delight, it had two photographs, and one showed Harley. It had apparently been taken at the end of a long day in the field because Harley was dressed in his usual jeans, and they were soiled with the day’s work.  For some reason, I felt a little sad that evening because he looked so much older, he was obviously tired from a long day of work, and it looked to me as if he might not be feeling well.  Those were my thoughts at the time.  This was just about a year before his death.  The article is here if you would like to read it:


Harley’s obituary is here:


I will close by saying a few syrupy but true things.  Harley Lanham was a good man.  Those who were closest to him can tell you that for sure.  He served his country well in a foreign war at an unfortunate time in history when that service was not appreciated.  His service to American archaeology was much longer, and I know that many people who do CRM archaeology for a living feel unappreciated at times.  We should all appreciate Harley’s long period of service and his dedication to field archaeology.  His kind of focus and dedication is rare.  Those of us who knew him and loved him will never forget him.

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