The Tennessee Archaeological Research Laboratory

A number of years ago, I was working on a large, federally licensed project in a southern state that borders on the Gulf of Mexico.  My assignment was to lead, oversee, and ensure project compliance with the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 (NHPA), its implementing regulations in 36 CFR 800, and any other applicable cultural resource management (CRM) statutes and regulations.  The need to do a Phase I intensive archaeological survey arose during the very early planning phase of this project, and it required the identification and hiring of a CRM firm to do the survey. 

When making a decision to hire a CRM firm, the primary question one asks deep down inside is:  “Who can I trust?”  Who can I trust to be friendly and treat me right?   Who can I trust to have the most up-to-date technology that serves my needs?  Who can I trust to hang tight with me if the going gets rough?  Who can I trust to perform careful fieldwork?  Who can I trust to do top quality laboratory work?  Who can I trust to prepare a project report that is: written in excellent English (with quality graphics), thorough in nature, fully compliant with SHPO requirements, and capable of gaining rapid SHPO concurrence?  Who can I trust to complete the project on schedule and within budget?  For this particular project, after a thorough review of several proposals, I decided to hire the The Tennessee Archaeological Research Laboratory (TARL) at the University of Tennessee (UTK) in Knoxville, Tennessee.  All of my trustworthiness criteria were met during the ensuing project work, and it turned out to be one of the best and happiest work-related choices that I have ever made.    

Prior to this project, I had never met Dr. Boyce Driskell, who is the Director of TARL, and I had never worked for or with TARL in any previous capacity.  During our first project-related meeting, Boyce turned out to be a kind and friendly person who immediately put me at ease about the project and our prospects for success.  It was clear to me that he was customer-oriented and that he was very much of a mind to be a team member on the project.  In other words, it was not just my project.  It was our project.    I was recently in touch with Boyce, and he was nice enough to send me a copy of the new capabilities brochure that he has just completed for TARL.  You can view it by clicking on the following PDF file:

UT-TARL Capabilities Statement 2013

After our first meeting, Boyce gave me a tour of the TARL facilities, which turned out to be very much of a pleasant surprise.  Rather than being located on the main campus of The University of Tennessee, TARL has a dedicated core staff of archaeologists located in a good-sized building on Middlebrook Pike in Knoxville, Tennessee. This building contains offices; a conference room; several different archaeological laboratory areas dedicated to GIS systems, general artifact processing, ceramics analysis, zooarchaeology, paleoethnobotany, soils analysis, and human osteology; and a large amount of shelf space dedicated to the collection and curation of archaeological remains.  The two most impressive things to me were the scientific diversity of the facilities and the presence of numerous staff members seriously and busily engaged in various aspects of archaeological laboratory work.  It became immediately clear to me that no archaeological project would be too big or too small for this organization to handle successfully.  In addition, on my tour, I had the distinct pleasure of meeting Dr. Kandace Hollenbach (Laboratory Manager and Lead Paleoethnobotanist); Dr. Sarah Sherwood (Geoarchaeologist), who is now at the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee; and Mr. Michael Angst (Senior Archaeologist).  It was also a pleasure and welcome surprise to meet up again with Mr. Howard Haygood, a long-time staff archaeologist at TARL and a fellow anthropology student of mine going way back to the 1970s.

In addition to its own dedicated facilities and capabilities, TARL also has access to the highly knowledgeable staff members and extensive archaeological collections at the UTK Department of Anthropology and the on-campus Frank H. McClung Museum.  If needed and applicable to a real technical challenge, TARL also has potential access to world class scientific expertise and equipment that no other CRM organization in the United States can claim.  The University of Tennessee and Battelle Memorial Institute (the world’s largest nonprofit research and development organization) teamed up many years ago to form the UT-Battelle organization. UT-Battelle is the prime contractor to the U.S. Department of Energy for the management and day-to-day operation of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), which is the largest and most scientifically prestigious national laboratory in the United States.  How prestigious is that?  Just consider that the younger, current day equivalents (in their own fields) of these three former ORNL staff members are doing research at ORNL today:

With regard to the pioneering work of Clifford Shull in neutron science, Oak Ridge National Laboratory and its High Flux Isotope Reactor are already benefitting archaeological research today, as shown in this brief article:


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