Archaeology Blogging: Two Things to Consider if You Want to Communicate with Me Here at the Blog

by Tracy C. Brown

I really enjoy hearing from the folks who visit and do reading on the Archaeology in Tennessee blog and the website for the Oak Ridge Archaeological Research Institute——for the most part. At both locations, readers have the option of making comments, which register themselves at the ends of particular blog articles or website pages. In addition, any person may click on the Contact Button at the top of any blog page or website page and use the e-mail address there to send a personal e-mail message to me. Sometimes, I will ask a person to contact me at my personal home e-mail address rather than at my work addresses. However, there are a couple of things I do not love—-very irritating things—–and you need to know about them.

(1) One reader left a comment at the end of the Regions of Focus page on the website for the Oak Ridge Archaeological Research Institute. I am not going to use his real name or handle name here, so I will just call him “Billy.” Here is his verbatim comment, which includes the original typographical errors:

Can you tie any specific Woodland or Mississippian cultures to Anderson County? I’m aware of the Owl Hollow and McFarland cultures that presumably built Old Stone Fort and on a larger scale, the Adena, Hopewell, and Fort Ancient cultures. I also have learned about the Mississippian Dallas Phase Chiaha Chiefdom, Omalico… ect… but I can’t find any documentation on any specific cultures in Anderson County. Any ideas would be appreciated.

That was a nice question, a reasonably knowledgeable question (not that it had to be), and one that I could answer to a certain extent—–with some important nuances that deserved discussion. I preferred to respond privately by e-mail rather than risk a long response that might overrun any WordPress character limitations on the length of comment responses. I also wanted to ask Billy a few private questions. Here is the comment message I sent to Billy in response the next day:

Hi Billy. Thanks for commenting. Please send me an e-mail message at the following address so we can exchange a few messages and discuss this in more detail:

[My personal home e-mail address was listed here.]

Thanks!!! Have a wonderful day!!!

Six days passed, and I did not hear a word from Billy. Some people are shy and skittish about communicating with archaeologists, so I sent another nice comment to Billy:

What is the problem Billy? Send me an e-mail message. I am a really nice person, and I don’t bite. Answering your request here in the comments is not as simple and straightforward as you might think for a variety of reasons involving nuances and holes in Woodland and Mississippian research for Anderson County. I will be looking forward to hearing from you.

Months have now passed. I have not heard a word from Billy at my home e-mail address or anywhere else——and suspect that I never will.

Please dear readers. If you indicate you want to communicate with me in a comment or by e-mail, then please do it.  Follow through!!!  Please do not leave me hanging out here on the edge of a cliff waiting forever to hear back from you, especially if I have spent my personal time doing some extra research on your behalf. It is really irritating—-and if you irritate me like this for months on end——-like Billy did——I may not respond at all if you finally do get in touch with me.

(2) Please do not send me any blog comments or e-mail messages that are designed (cleverly or not so cleverly) to trick me into revealing to you the specific locations of intact archaeological sites so you (or you and your buddies) can go loot them for artifacts. As a matter of personal and professional policy, I do not give out the specific locations of intact archaeological sites to anyone who is not a fellow professional archaeologist or a deeply trusted avocational archaeologist who does not dig for artifacts. Purely for archaeological purposes, I and other professional archaeologists will sometimes (on a need to know basis) reveal a site location to a deeply trusted avocational archaeologist such as John Dowd or the late H.C. “Buddy” Brehm because we know them well and they share concretely in our professional archaeological ethics. Anyone else:

Rubber biscuit: You go hungry—–bawe, bawe, bawe!!!

Most other professional archaeologists abide by the same policy to prevent the looting of archaeological sites.

We professional archaeologists have seen or anticipated just about every minor trick and complicated ruse in the book, across many years, when it comes to strangers who want to know the specific locations of archaeological sites. I and all other professional archaeologists are always on hyper-alert for any aspect of communication with us that even remotely smacks of a desire to know intact archaeological site locations—and we are especially suspicious of strangers—-meaning people we do not already know. By intact, I  mean existing archaeological sites that still have fully intact or partially intact archaeological deposits that need to be preserved.

If you are a stranger and you contact any professional archaeologist with any sort of suspicious-sounding messages or questions, you may not receive any response at all. If you sound suspicious, some professional archaeologists will just flat-out stonewall you——and never respond. Academic archaeologists at colleges and universities are often so busy that they only respond to inquiries from their students and a few other professional archaeologists they already know. Numerous professors receive hundreds of e-mail messages per day. They cannot respond to all of them every day. It is just impossible to do it. Sadly, a handful of professional archaeologists will not respond to inquiries from the public (or even other professional archaeologists) because of personal ego problems that keep them from interacting with people they wrongly regard as mere “stinkards” in this world. (Check the Natchez historical accounts). You know how it goes:

Ah-ah-ah!!! Do not expect any response from me. I am a truly important archaeologist. I am famous. I am too good to interact with you and other people like you. Please. Do not contact me. Do not touch my Holy body. I have not yet ascended into Heaven to sit at the right hand of God the Father.

Many professional archaeologists will just automatically assume that any stranger who  contacts them is an artifact collector or artifact dealer minion who is acting under cover and up to no good. (Been there. Seen that.) In fact, such professional archaeologists often make the knee-jerk assumption that a looter has just contacted them and quickly fire an insulting message straight back to the person who contacted them. (Been there. Seen that one too.) Sometimes that stranger turns out to be a totally innocent person or a professional archaeologist they have never met (Uh-oh!!! Pie on face——Three Stooges style).

Personally, I do not like professional archaeologists who make a priori negative assumptions about the strangers who contact them—-and then automatically fire back insulting messages at them. As a matter of policy, I try not to make such assumptions because they can easily be wrong.

Instead, I first seek further information from any stranger who has contacted me. I nicely ask deep and incisive questions of that person. Based on the answers received, I carefully call around and otherwise check out the person and his background to see if he is a safe person or some bad actor who is likely up to no good. You would be surprised at how easy it is to find the real goods on a person just by making a few telephone calls, sending out a few e-mail messages to the right people, or investigating people on-line (either through pay people search services or just personal investigation on the Internet). If a stranger contacts me, but refuses to answer my deep and incisive questions, that person is not going to get very far with me on anything. They will certainly not get any archaeological site locations.

But hey. I am a nice and friendly kind of guy, and I really do enjoy hearing from my readers.  Really!!! All I kindly ask is for you to be polite when you contact me, be straight-up with me in your message, and avoid ulterior motives——such as wanting to know the specific locations of intact archaeological sites. Have a happy day!!!!

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