Practice Proper Attribution: Tennessee Archaeological Site Survey Record

by Tracy C. Brown

The main office of the Tennessee Division of Archaeology (in Nashville, Tennessee) is charged with overseeing and maintaining what TCA 11-6-110 refers to as the Tennessee Register of Archaeological Sites, otherwise known informally as the “state archaeological site survey files.”  Newly identified archaeological sites in Tennessee are documented on a long electronic form referred to formally as the Archaeological Site Survey Record.  Many of these completed forms for archaeological sites are associated with written Phase I survey reports, Phase II testing reports, and/or Phase III data recovery reports, as well as maps, sets of photographs, and packages of GIS data.  Any person who identifies a new archaeological site in Tennessee may complete and submit one of these survey forms to the Tennessee Division of Archaeology.  Professional archaeologists submit most of these forms, but some are submitted by private citizens (e.g., farmers who have found sites on their land), avocational archaeologists, independent researchers, Native American artifact collectors, and even a few site looters.   The Example of Additional Information page in the Archaeological Site Survey Record asks for the following key information:

Reporter:  Jane Doe, Your Company, Any Road, Suite 000, Anytown, Tennessee 00000, phone (000) 000-1002, email________________, October, 2001.

This post to the Archaeology in Tennessee blog is primarily concerned with these two above lines in the survey form and what archaeologists (and others) choose to do with them when writing assorted types of archaeological reports.

A couple of years ago, I was reading through a Phase I archaeological survey report that was prepared by one of the cultural resource management consulting firms here in the Southeast.  Deep into the report, I ran into some text the author had written about an archaeological site that I had first identified and recorded on a state Archaeological Site Survey Record form a few years previous to their survey.  The rest of the general discussion on that same page mentioned several other nearby archaeological sites that had been identified by other archaeologists in past surveys.  Three things stood out to me in that written discussion: (1) the archaeologists who identified the nearby sites were credited by name, (2) the crediting was written with what appeared to be a “my old archaeology buddy” tone, and (3) my name was totally missing from the discussion, even though it had been clearly present and in the proper location on the Archaeological Site Survey Record that had been prepared for that site.

My work at the site in question was not related to Section 106 or 110 compliance.  It was an archaeological site that I had known about since childhood, but it had never been formally recorded and reported.  Knowing this needed to be done, I voluntarily invested a large amount of personal time and energy in examining the history of this site, investigating it in the field, and preparing a highly detailed Archaeological Site Survey Record for it.  At that time, the site was located about 170 miles from my home, and a substantial amount of my personal, out-of-pocket funds ($1500+) were spent on hotel rooms, gasoline, meals, and other expenses specifically related to work at this site.  Furthermore, my site was much larger than the other sites, far more complex, and definitively eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places.  You can probably see by now why the lack of cited credit for my work was more than just a little bit of concern.

I am somewhat hesitant to speculate on the motives of the author(s) and will admit that their failure to cite me by name for past efforts at that archaeological site may have entailed no motives at all—meaning that it was a simple mistake and someone just forgot to include the attribution.  People do forget on occasion, and yours truly feels willing to give the authors the benefit of the doubt.  However, at least one other possibility comes to mind—and the prospect of it it troubles me some.

During the 1960s and 1970s, some artifact collectors and site looters in Tennessee would identify a new archaeological site, dig the living daylights out of it helter-skelter (particularly human burials), take home nearly every artifact of monetary value, and then (sometimes sooner but often years after the fact) report what they could “remember” about the site to the Tennessee Division of Archaeology on an earlier paper and pen version of the Archaeological Site Survey Record form.  In one of her few highly emotional and unthinking moments, my old, dear, and now deceased friend Dr. Patricia Cridlebaugh once remarked to me that she would “…rather see an archaeological site completely destroyed by a bulldozer than see a pothunter remove even one artifact from the site.”  Professional archaeologists do tend to react emotionally and very negatively to site looting of any kind.  However, at least some reliable information on a destroyed archaeological site is still better than absolutely none at all, and it is good that some of this after-the-fact information made it into the Tennessee Register of Archaeological Sites.

My primary concern is that some current southeastern archaeologists on Phase I survey missions may sift through the site survey files at the Tennessee Division of Archaeology, see the names of site reporters at the bottoms of completed Archaeological Site Survey Record forms, and just assume that any unfamiliar name (or any name that is not that of a long-time archaeological buddy) must be one of those old artifact collectors or site looters that filled out site survey forms—and then intentionally fail to credit that person’s work in writing because they believe doing so would give credence to looting.

The Archaeology in Tennessee blog wants to be crystal clear on this.  If such “failure to credit” is intentional, and this behavior does occur for the reason stated above, we consider it to be fundamentally unprofessional.  For one thing, an archaeologist cannot just assume that any unfamiliar name at the bottom of a state site survey form must certainly be that of an artifact collector or looter.  No archaeologist knows every other practicing archaeologist or archaeology graduate student in the United States.  It is equally certain that he or she does not know every site looter or artifact collector that might have visited the site in years past.  Standard organizational lists of names are not reliable clues as to whether the signatory was a professional archaeologist because every competent archaeologist is not a Registered Professional Archaeologist; every archaeologist does not reside on the membership list of the Society for American Archaeology, largely because of the high annual cost; and all archaeologists are not necessarily members of a state-level archaeological organization.

Moreover, as mentioned earlier, people other than professional archaeologists, artifact collectors, and looters complete and submit Archaeological Site Survey Record forms.  If farmer Jones has reported a site on his own property, you may rest assured that he would not enjoy being thought of as unethical by some archaeologist he has never even met.

Finally, and most importantly, archaeologists and other researchers always have a fundamental and abiding responsibility (and obligation) to give credit to the work of others (any others) by citation when preparing the results of their research for publication.

Therefore, when using the Archaeological Site Survey Record forms at the Tennessee Division of Archaeology and writing archaeological reports, we would kindly—but also very strongly—urge everyone to cite in writing ALL the names of the people who previously filled out Archaeological Site Survey Record forms for your sites of concern, rather than just gently elbow-nudging into print the names of your old and familiar archaeological buddies.  Proper citation is always the right thing to do, regardless of who provided the information.

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