Category Archives: Uncategorized

Note for the Owner of the Madison Tablet

After taking a closer look at the field circumstances under which the Madison Tablet (Figure 1) was found and after obtaining a better understanding of the person who found it in the field—and their now known inability to properly interpret what they were seeing in the field, I have concluded, beyond any reasonable doubt of my own, that the Madison Tablet is not a prehistoric or Historic period American Indian artifact. It is most likely an odd-looking piece of 20th century folk art, a piece of personal art created by a rather untalented student in a high school or college art class, or a decorative garden rock. In fact, for many years, a gardening and nursery business was located at the curb of Gallatin Road in a location very near to the large archaeological site where the Madison Tablet was found.

Madison Tablet

Figure 1. Freehand Drawing of the Madison Tablet

(Tablet Measurements are 14 in. x 10 in. x 3 in.)

As previously noted on this blog, the incisings on the Madison Tablet do not contain any of the typical artistic motifs and themes associated with traditional Mississippian period art in Tennessee or the American Southeast. In other words, the Madison Tablet does not fit in with the now well-understood canon of Mississippian period artistic styles and related mythologies. I now feel certain that my fellow professional archaeology colleagues here in Tennessee and elsewhere would agree with my revised assessment of the Madison Tablet. Indeed, I strongly suspect that my colleagues, bless their hearts, have been snickering and joking behind my back about what an idiot I was to even entertain the possibility that the Madison Tablet might be a piece of prehistoric art. Fair enough!!! This change of my mind is the primary reason why the Madison Tablet and the images incised on it were no longer used as the logo for the Oak Ridge Archaeological Research Institute after May 2018.

The Madison Tablet was found in 1968 at a time when massive earthmoving was underway on a portion of a large Mississippian period archaeological site in preparation for construction of a “big box” Zayre’s discount store, quite similar to K-Mart and Wal-Mart stores. This earthmoving had most likely impacted the human burial wherein the Madison Tablet was found. Given the presence of a Historic period component associated with the occupation of an old house on the site, such soil disturbance would easily explain the presence of the oddball artifacts found in the grave, including a complete broken-off rim from a Mississippian period ceramic vessel and a dinner table knife with a bone handle. Both the Madison Tablet and these other artifacts were likely redeposited in this human burial from some nearby location by the operation of large earthmoving equipment such as bulldozers and backhoes.

Finally, I feel fairly certain that the current owner of the Madison Tablet has seen my assorted metropolitan newspaper and social media pleas for the past 12 years—all pleas for him to get in touch with me and provide me with an opportunity to closely examine this tablet. For some unknown reason, this person has perpetually sat on their bottom and never gotten in touch with me—and so have his artifact collector friends who know he owns it. That refusal was certainly within their rights to do. I have no idea what their motives were, and I refuse to speculate any further on that matter.

For the current owner of the Madison Tablet, whoever you are, I have just one crystal clear message for you this afternoon. Here it is:

One thing all professional scientists know is that our understandings of various objects, phenomena, and processes change over time as we obtain more information and data——and revise our perspectives in light of it. This is normal in the world of science. My recently revised understanding of the Madison Tablet has hereby officially removed it from its former status as a quite possibly authentic prehistoric American Indian artifact. As a result of this change in status, the Madison Tablet that you bought from the late Danny Lea or someone else for $1,000, $2,000, $5,000, or $10,000 is now officially worth maybe—just maybe if you are lucky—$2.98, meaning just shy of three dollars. As the old saying goes, “Karma can be a real bitch!!!” Life is just like that sometimes.

I will close with a brief warning to the current owner of the Madison Tablet and all other artifact collectors who read this message. If the owner of the Madison Tablet tries to sell you this tablet as an authentic prehistoric American Indian artifact from a Mississippian period site in Tennessee, he will be committing a felony crime called fraud——-that is if he has read this blog article first. Any artifact collector who reads this message and is stupid enough to buy the Madison Tablet, or trade an authentic artifact for it, will lose a huge bundle of money or trade value for nothing. I know how much responsible artifact collectors try to avoid prehistoric artifacts that are not authentic. The Madison Tablet is now officially one that you definitely need to avoid.

Archaeology and the Oxford Comma


Most people have never heard of the term Oxford comma. Some of you know what it is when you see it, even if you do not know its name. Others of you never learned about it at all because your English teachers just gave up on you and your ability to remember where to insert it in a sentence.

I remember when that happened. It was circa 1971 here in Tennessee. That was the year Tennessee K-12 English teachers ripped the clothes off their bodies with their bear hands in great frustration because only three out of every forty students in a classroom could remember where to put it in a sentence. Standing there naked in front of their English classes, they and the English textbook writers got together and said:

Just forget that comma and leave it out.

Personally, I have always had a love affair with the Oxford comma. Whenever I am editing some fellow scientist’s work, which I have done very often across many years, it goes something like this with me:

Happy!!! Bouncy!!!  Happy!!!  Bouncy!!!  Happy!!!  Happy!!!  Bouncy!!! Bouncy!!! Blood Curdling Scream!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Not one of them again!!!!!!!!!  He left out the Oxford comma!!!!!!!!!!

(Editing is not just a job for me.  It is a highly emotional experience.)

What is the Oxford comma?  When you are writing a sentence and you string three or more items together in a series, the Oxford comma is inserted immediately before the coordinating conjunction  (and, but, or, nor, for, so, etc.)  Here is a good example:

John bought grapes, oranges, pineapples, cherries, and apples.

That last comma right before the “and” is the Oxford comma. That is indeed its official name in the realm of English literature and grammar. Anyone who writes scientific journal articles, reports, work plans, procedures, book chapters, and books should always use the Oxford comma to ensure their writing is crystal clear.

Really bad things can happen, and people can even get killed, if you do not use the Oxford comma regularly and correctly in your archaeological writing or any other scientific writing, especially in writing engineering manuals, ES&H plans, and industrial procedures.

How does omitting the Oxford comma screw things up? Check it out by clicking on the following safe link:

The Oxford Comma: A Science Writing Must-Have

Failure to use the Oxford comma in your writing can be extremely expensive. If you do not believe me, take a look at the horror stories in the article at the following safe link:

The Single Commas That Cost Companies Millions of Dollars

If you do not use the Oxford comma regularly in your archaeological writing, you need to start doing it. A famous old saw says:

Cleanliness is next to godliness.

My favorite Princeton University alumnus, an English major and fellow writer who detests opaque scientific writing, had something different to say:

Clarity in writing is next to godliness.

Some American archaeologists aspire to becoming gods in their discipline. Please do not ask me why—because I do not know. When I was in college studying anthropology and archaeology in the 1970s, the reigning god of American archaeology was Lewis R. Binford at the University of New Mexico. (Young archaeologists tell me there is no reigning god in American archaeology today.) Binford was a poor writer. He became a god by creative thinking and hiding his poor writing from his fellow archaeologists and the American public. His first wife (Sally Binford) cleaned up all of his messes on paper before they were issued as final documents. If you want to obtain god-like status in American archaeology and do it the right way, reach for clarity by using the Oxford comma regularly in your archaeological writing.

Warning: Field Archaeology and Blood-Sucking Arachnids

It is springtime in Tennessee!!! Actually, as far as the weather is concerned, spring came in early February here in East Tennessee. Spring, summer, and early autumn (the warm months of the year) are the most important times for doing field archaeology in Tennessee and throughout much of the southeastern United States. Summer has traditionally been the highest activity period for field archaeology. Field archaeology is associated with numerous environment, safety, and health (ES&H) issues. One of those issues involves blood-sucking arachnids and the transmission of dangerous and debilitating diseases.

The folks at Georgia Outdoor News have just published a really interesting and up-to-date article on this subject. It is a must read item for anyone planning to do field archaeology in overgrown fields or woodland/forest environmental settings. You may read this excellent and timely article by clicking on the following safe link:

Danger of Life-Changing Illness from Tick Bite

This article is not just for professional archaeologists. It is for any young person who has enrolled in their first archaeology field school class. If you are one of the many Tennesseans who likes to participate in the major archaeological site tours (really hikes) led by archaeologists at the Tennessee Division of Archaeology or an archaeologist at one of our colleges or universities in Tennessee, the above article is for you too. Indeed, it is for anyone who has ES&H concerns and associated plans for warm weather outdoor activities in Tennessee or any other state where these little blood suckers live.

An Unusual Bifacial End Scraper from 40DV434


This is a complete and very unusual bifacial end scraper in the overall shape of an elongate trapezoid―with the small end of the trapezoid being the base of the end scraper at its proximal end.

It may have been knapped from the broken-off distal end of a very thin, narrow, lanceolate pp/k of indeterminate type, time period, and date. The tip end of this broken-off distal pp/k forms the base (proximal end) of the end scraper.

The proximal end of the end scraper is a long, narrow, thin stem that is slightly expanded on one of its lateral edges and straight on the other lateral edge. The stem is 7.5 mm in length. Moving toward the distal end of this end scraper, along both lateral edges, the stem ends with opposing half notches in each lateral edge. Two opposing full notches (one on each side) are located just beyond the half notches, meaning this scraping implement required a long stem and double notches for secure hafting.

Still moving toward the distal end, the lateral edges of this implement continue expanding outward toward the wide bit end of the end scraper. This bit end is gently excurvate, and it has a vertical slope of approximately 45°. A small nick is present on one lateral edge of this end scraper, and another one is present near the center of the scraping edge. The sloped scraping edge is smooth from wear. This small end scraper [33 mm long × 22.3 mm wide (bit end)] is remarkably thin (6.5 mm maximum thickness).

The prehistoric time period and prehistoric cultural association for this end scraper is unknown. Site 40DV434 is a multi-component site. The most intensive occupations of this site occurred during the Middle Archaic and Late Archaic periods. Only one radiocarbon date is available for the Archaic period occupation at this site. This date was obtained from a human bone collagen sample (Burial 57), which yielded a date of 6601 – 6280 cal BP (Deter-Wolf and Straub 2019:26).

An interesting question arises here. What type of prehistoric scraping task(s) would require so strong a haft for such a small and delicate scraping implement?

Quite frankly, I have never seen such a small and delicate bifacial end scraper with double hafting like this one. Any criticism of the above text is welcome, especially with regard to the notion of it being knapped from the broken off distal end of a thin pp/k. I know I am on thin ice about that—more intuition than any hard evidence observable on the artifact. What do you think? Comments are open.


Deter-Wolf, Aaron and Leslie Straub 2019. Archaic Shell-Bearing Site Investigations in the Middle Cumberland River Valley. In The Cumberland River Archaic of Middle Tennessee, edited by Tanya M. Peres and Aaron Deter-Wolf, 15-41. University of Florida Press, Gainesville, Florida.

Some Archaeological Ramblings: “No. I Do Not, and How Big is Yours?”

by Tracy C. Brown

Golly!  Am I ever glad to be retired—finally. If I had known 46 years ago what I know now, it is highly unlikely that I would have ever pursued an education and a career in American archaeology. Most likely, I would have settled for a B.S. degree in geology and maybe an M.A. in education—and set my eyes toward finding a steady, reliable career as a journalist, church pastor, environmental geologist, or high school earth science teacher. Fortunately, just in the nick of time, I bailed out of archaeology for many years, beginning in 1982, and later had a 27-year run as an environmental scientist doing work on well-funded federal environmental projects. The work was relatively steady, and I was paid very well for what I did—with wonderful fringe benefits.  It was great!!!

As a teeny bopper (wet behind the ears) way back in 1971-1972, I had a true passion for the subject matter of American archaeology—and I still do. However, I never dreamed that so many other factors would intervene on my early plans to be a professional archaeologist. For example, I did not know it would be so very hard to one day get a job with the title Assistant Professor in the department of anthropology at an American college or university. Yes, if you want to do that today, a Ph.D. in anthropology from Harvard University, the University of Michigan, University of California (Berkeley), or some other such stratospheric place really is your best option if that is what you want to do. The colleges and universities that can afford to pay you really well in terms of salary and benefits look first to hire new professors from just such places.

No. Suicide is not an option for you if you have a new Ph.D. from some lesser university, and you cannot find a job as an Assistant Professor. No one should ever sacrifice their life because of anything to do with American archaeology. Far better and happier things to do for a living—and play—are out there on the American landscape. Go find them. I did——and I did not have to get more college degrees to do it.

Furthermore, so long ago, I had no idea that a time would come when so many archaeologists could not find steady jobs, or they would have to live like American nomads as CRM archaeologists. You know how it goes—a three-month CRM job in Ohio and another six-month job with another CRM company in Louisiana—forever and ever on the road—and just how will you get that U.S. mail forwarded to the six different places you will live in next year. It goes on and on like that with low pay until you either die fairly young like my old friend Harley Lanham did, or you quit and do something else happier, easier, and more profitable. If you try to start an archaeology blog, forum, website, or Facebook page on-line, CRM archaeologists really wish this on you deep down inside:

M-a-a-a-a-a-n. I don’t wanna read stuff like this. Why don’t you turn it into an open-jobs-in-archaeology bulletin board? I need work m-a-a-a-a-a-n. My trowel’s gonna rust before I find my next short-term job.

Then—for me—came the totally unexpected or not-well-thought-out things. They might come your way too. Therefore, if you are thinking about a career in archaeology, please listen closely while I tell you about some of them. You might want to consider such things as part of your own life planning.

Archaeological fieldwork? I was an excellent and highly dependable fieldwork guy who was not a slacker and always went the extra mile to help my fellow excavators in the field. My fellow fieldworkers and I always got along very well and happily with each other in the field——no interpersonal drama——no trouble at all——no complaints. However, much to my surprise, I was one of those people who discovered along the way that I neither liked nor enjoyed doing archaeological fieldwork. If you are a young person and are thinking about a future career as a professional archaeologist, I strongly suggest that you take an archaeological field school course as early as possible, preferably in your freshman year of college, if they will allow you to do it that early in your anthropology curriculum. If you find out that you do not enjoy doing field archaeology, then run away fast. Do not waste your college money on more archaeology courses. Try out some other aspect of anthropology or switch to another college major that shows potential for a happy work life.

Then there was coping daily with a chronic disease I never really expected to have—but later understood had been present for a very long time. I will not write anymore about that disease and the coping here, but I may do so someday in another blog post.

I have a hyper-sensitivity to poison ivy. The poison ivy, often present on archaeological sites, made it clear that archaeological fieldwork was no place for me. I had to get injections and take pills for the big breakout caused by poison ivy roots in my excavation squares at the Icehouse Bottom site (40MR23) in 1977.

Dr. Terry Ferguson’s horror story football hand, courtesy of Big South Fork archaeology and poison ivy, was about all I needed to see beyond that experience at 40MR23. Terry lived right next door to me at one time in west Knoxville. I was lying on the sofa in my living room one weekend afternoon when he came over to show me his super-swelled hand. It looked just like an NFL-regulation football wrapped in Caucasian skin. I had never seen anything like that before that precious moment, and I have never seen anything like it since that moment.

The late archaeologist Bob Pace, a friend of mine for many years, was doing a Phase I survey for my company on the proposed site for the Spallation Neutron Source on the Oak Ridge Reservation in summer 1997. I was the archaeologist on staff at my environmental services company, and my boss ordered me to go out and supervise Bob and his field assistant. At one point in the survey, Bob tried to climb up a short cliff by grabbing onto huge, thick, old-age poison ivy vines with super-large leaves. I tried to keep him from doing it——all the while frantically thinking:

Bob!!!  What in the hell are you doing!!! You’re gonna get Ferguson Hand. Oh my God!!! I may have to see another Ferguson hand!!!

Bob told me later that he was one of that wonderful group of nonallergic people who never get poison ivy breakouts. I am not sure that I really believed him—and kindly asked him to avoid coming too close and asked him not to hand me anything. The oil in poison ivy spreads on the same model as radioactive contamination.

One day I paid a visit to my medical doctor, Dr. Tom Jenkins, in Oak Ridge. I was there for something simple like renewing a prescription. It was warm weather, and I was wearing shorts that day. For no apparent reason, Tom looked down at my knees. He wanted me to stand up and then lie down—and he then examined my legs and knees in various manipulated positions. He then said:

Yep. You have definitely got it. No doubt about it. Well, I’ll tell you one thing for sure. With this particular biomechanical syndrome, you sure as hell better not take any job that requires you to work bent down on your knees a lot—like laying flooring. You’ll be one physically messed up man in your later years.

Field archaeology is a down-on-your-knees job. Fortunately, I was long out of most field archaeology by that time and working an environmental office job here in Oak Ridge. Getting out of hard-core field archaeology (long ago) had been the right medical thing for me to do.

As some of you know, I am the President of a small organization called the Oak Ridge Archaeological Research Institute (ORARI). Retired scientists here in Oak Ridge create small businesses or small organizations like mine, often working out of their homes, to extend their scientific research or engineering efforts into their retirement years. ORARI allows me to do some of that now that I am an old guy. The ORARI website is at the following safe link:

With the possible exception of construction work, I have long suspected that American archaeology is the only field of endeavor where nearly everyone is sniffing around more or less constantly for their next archaeology job. It also may be the only field of endeavor where people measure themselves against other people in the discipline according to the criterion of penis size.

Yes, American archaeology is the only discipline I know of where both the male and female practitioners have a penis. Both male and female archaeologists participate in this tried-and-true penis measurement exercise——so sorry to say. I have worked with all sorts of other people in all sorts of different scientific disciplines across my long scientific career here in Oak Ridge. I have never seen any of this penis size stuff going on with my nonarchaeology colleagues——never.  What do I mean by this?

Every few days, a person who has never visited the Archaeology in Tennessee blog or the ORARI website shows up for their first visit. (My WordPress statistical packages tell me so by where certain people head to first). The first place they head to is any clickable tab that indicates or suggests active archaeological projects. Why there? Such visitors are archaeologists wondering if I might have a current or upcoming archaeology project that is hiring new people——and they need a job——often desperately.

The next tab these same people head for is the “My Profile” tab to see if I am anyone important in American archaeology——all the while wondering if their archaeological penis is bigger than my archaeological penis. After reading my short biographical sketch, they immediately bypass the links to my archaeology resume, my environmental science resume, and my Linked In page——and head straight to my publications list. You see. In American archaeology, the importance or unimportance of a person is judged by the size of their archaeological penis. The archaeological penis is a person’s publications list. He or she who has the largest number of archaeological publications——with the highest project complexity and the best quality reports——published in the most highfalutin places——has the biggest archaeological penis. Just like the pubescent kid caught masturbating by his mom, each of these archaeologists would quickly say:

Oh…….uh…….I was just looking to see if you have published something really interesting that might be useful for my research.

Sure you were. That is what they all say, but you are not fooling me. I have been around American archaeology and American archaeologists far too long across my lifetime. I know how you think and the things you most value. Archaeological penis size is one of those things you most value. You use the results from the Archaeological Penis Comparison Test (APCT) to feel good about yourself and to give yourself a little pat on the back when your archaeological penis turns out to be bigger than that of another archaeologist. If another archaeologist has an archaeological penis that is big enough, and you are not deeply jealous of it, you might even say to yourself:

Hey! I might need to get to know this person a little better.  He might be useful to me someday.

Ah-h-h-h-h!!! Now we have come to another repetition of that key word——useful. Unfortunately——today——many so-called archaeological friendships, if you can call them that, are based on one-way human usefulness. That highlights the other thing I know about numerous professional archaeologists. They tend to be takers and users who suck a person dry for information and data pertinent to their own research, while being extra careful to give little back in return if you need something from them for your own research. Then, when the person is sucked dry like a candle fly under a spider, they will throw him or her away like a piece of trash. One would sincerely hope that human relationships (professional or otherwise) could be based on something better, less shallow. and more virtuous than that kind of behavior.

But hey, you guys know me from my past writings, and some of you know me personally. You also know that I have had a longstanding love—hate relationship with many things in American archaeology, so none of this should be surprising to you. I strongly suspect that many archaeologists have their own unique and quite personal love—hate relationships with many things in American archaeology. However, unlike me, you are careful to keep it clammed up inside of you for fear that even the slightest open expression of it might cost you your next job in American archaeology——and maybe your entire future career in American archaeology.

I wish it were not so for you, but that happens because American archaeology has so few practitioners—and nearly everyone knows everyone else in at least some capacity——-be it small or large. Furthermore, the small size of the archaeology discipline creates what amounts to a perverse system of classic European feudalism/manorialism in professional relationships where finite research territories are laid out and practitioners play the roles of  lords, vassals, and serfs. The Ph.D. archaeologists are the lords over their research territories, which are often vigorously defended in low-down ways. The M.A. archaeologists are their vassals. The vast numbers of so-called “common people” with B.A. degrees (or less) in archaeology are the serfs, often unkindly and disrespectfully referred to by the lords and vassals as mere “dig bums.”

I have never liked the term “dig bum” and see nothing funny or endearing about it. Its use is disgusting——plain and simple——like the n-word. I love, respect, and appreciate every kind-hearted person with a B.A. degree (or less) who does professional work on archaeological sites. Perhaps that is because I grew up as a poor kid in a rundown urban neighborhood on the wrong side of the railroad tracks. Every fiber of my being revolts at the existence of this Medieval social system in American archaeology in these post-modern times—and because of that (among other things)——I chose long ago to have zero part in it. My fundamental mindset is egalitarian in nature. I do not respect or bow down to college degrees or professional titles——nor do I expect their holders to bow down to me. I appreciate people for whom they are (the content of their characters)——not by what title they hold or what college degrees they possess.

I appreciate individual freedom and independence. I value the ability to speak out independently and publicly about archaeological issues that concern me. I do not like being tied down by another person’s sense of their own importance or some overpowering personal agenda they might be pushing. Up until a few years ago, I spent my entire life worrying about all of the weird interpersonal and social crap that goes on in American archaeology——and sometimes hating myself for putting up with it——and I reached a point where I refused to do that anymore. I have decided to just relax and be comfortable being me. If you do not like that, as my close friend Dr. Patricia Cridlebaugh used to say, “…then that’s just tough darts on you.”

Just to quickly help you out and reassure you, neither the Archaeology in Tennessee blog nor ORARI has any open archaeology jobs——so you may kindly move on down the road until you find one. I feel sure a good one is out there somewhere, and it was made just for you. I wish you the very best of luck in finding it. If I can be of any reasonable help to you sometime, please let me know. Just click on the “Contact” tab in the black strip above if you would like to get in touch with me.

Finally, I can reassure you that your archaeological penis is far bigger than mine——no reason for you to even do the APCT with your publications list and mine. I do not care how big or how small your archaeological penis is. Archaeological penis size and today’s Medieval archaeological subculture of selfish taking and using are just not my thing. If I like you personally and you ever need a real archaeology friend based on something more genuine, loving, and profound than simply taking what you can and using people, you know where to find me.

Questions Artifact Collectors Pose to Professional Archaeologists: Question No. 13

Question No. 13:

You professional archaeologists jaw bone a lot about federal statues and regulations that are designed to adversely impact us artifact collectors and our collecting. In easy language I can understand, can you define what you archaeologists mean when you use the words “statue” and “regulation”?  I always thought the federal government had one centralized place where all federal law is made. Then once a law is made, it automatically applies to all men, women, children, and organizations across the entire United States. Is that right?


No. Federal law is highly complex, multi-layered, sometimes applicable to persons in one place but not in another place, and hard for a lot of people to understand. Off the top of my head, I am going to offer you some basic information about the federal legal system, mention a little bit about related state law, and throw in some archaeological information along the way. I will do that in easy language (best I can), but you will have to learn some new words along the way. My presentation is in a listing format. Here goes:

(1) First things first—the word statue. Among artifact collectors and everyday citizens, I see this word quite often in written or oral discussions about federal law and artifact collecting. The on-line Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines the word “statue” as follows:

…a three-dimensional representation usually of a person, animal, or mythical being that is produced by sculpturing, modeling, or casting.

The Statue of Liberty is just what the name says—a statue. The official Tennessee State Artifact named The Ancestor is also a statue. The word statue has nothing to do with the law. The legal word you need to use instead is statute, which is something quite different entirely from a statue. Look closely and notice that third letter “t” in the word. In the American legal system, the word statute refers to a law created by a legislative body. Statute is just a fancy word that is synonymous with the simple word law. Got it?

(2) At the federal level of government, a final statute is a law passed by vote in both the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate (U.S. Congress) and then signed into law by the President of the United States. The written text of a statute refers to itself as “the Act.” The overall process of voting on a proposed statute in the U.S. Congress and having the president sign it into law is called “enactment.”  Statutes are enacted.

A whole bunch of people on the street think federal statutes are short little statements of law like this ancient Jewish law from the 10 commandments in the Holy Bible. You know:

Thou shalt not kill.

Then—all done. Right?  Wrong!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Do you seriously think the federal government does anything that simple, short, and inexpensive?

In truth, the official text of most federal statutes is long, complex, and broken down into assorted sections and subsections identified by unique numbers and letters that constitute an outline of the statute. The text of each statute is written in that famous attorney language called legalese, which is often hard to understand if you do not know certain Latin terminology and are not accustomed to reading it. Because these statutes tend to be so long, they usually begin with a formal table of contents to ease reader navigation through the text. The Archaeological Resources Protection Act of 1979 is a perfect example of a typical federal statute.

(3) What is a federal regulation? Federal regulations are different from statutes. Basically, a federal regulation is an administrative rule that is made by a specific federal agency to officially implement the requirements of a statute and ease management of the implementation process by employees of the federal government. The enactment of a statute is one thing, but implementing the terms of a statute within the federal government is quite another matter.

You might think of it like an exercise bicycle that comes to your house in a box—but you have to assemble all the parts yourself. The original engineering specifications for the bicycle are the statute. The makers of the bicycle parts have to meet those specifications according to a set and sequence of manufacturing rules inside a factory. The rules the factory workers must follow and the assembly instructions you must follow on that piece of paper in the bicycle box are the regulations.

The text of each statute contains within it a formal statement that legally delegates to a specific federal agency (e.g., U.S. Department of the Interior) the authority to implement the statute and create the new regulations necessary to implement, administer, and enforce the requirements of the statute. The formal word the federal government uses for the process of making new regulations, reviewing them, revising them, and issuing them in their final form is—get ready for a big new word—promulgation. Here is the proper language to use when  working with new statutes and regulations:

New federal statutes are enacted, but new federal regulations are promulgated.

Now, here is the most important thing to remember about all federal regulations. Because a statute (passed by the U.S. Congress and signed by the President of the United States) gives a federal agency the formal authority to create new regulations, these new regulations carry the full weight and authority of law—and they are legally enforcible by law enforcement officers and the federal courts—just like statutes. Using an automobile analogy, federal regulations are not the weak Cooper Mini of the legal world. They are just as important in the federal legal realm as the Rolls Royce statute. Federal regulations are also the law. The federal regulations promulgated by all federal agencies are available online in the Code of Federal Regulations, which you can easily Google. A particular set of federal regulations is cited according to the following alphanumeric format: 36 CFR 800. In this set, 36 is the number of the “momma” federal agency responsible for this set of federal regulations—the U.S. National Park Service. The CFR is a simple abbreviation for the Code of Federal Regulations. Number 800 is the part number that begins this set of regulations. This part has the title Protection of Historic Properties.

In summary, federal regulations usually have a “momma” statute that authorized their creation. A “momma” statute authorizes a specific federal agency to promulgate and administer a set of federal regulations. These regulations are the law too—just like statutes. Many different federal agencies promulgate their own very different sets of regulations.  Got it?  This where you say:

Wow!!! That must be a whole lot of different regulations covering all sorts of different stuff!!!

You are quite correct. If federal regulations were large steel bolts, there would probably be enough of them to sink a huge freight ship.

(4) All federal statutes and regulations are not created in one centralized place—and then they automatically apply to every man, woman, child, and organization in the United States. It is not that simple. Federal statutes are created on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., but the President of the United States usually signs off on them at the White House.

Federal regulations are written by federal employees with subject matter expertise and federal agency attorneys at widely distributed federal agency offices in Washington, D.C. and sometimes in other parts of the nation. It all depends on where the federal expertise is located for a certain type of regulation. Federal employees in different federal agency offices around the nation may help with drafting, reviewing, and revising regulations to be administered by their particular federal agency.

The applicability of a statute or regulation to a man, woman, child, or organization often depends on the specific subject matter and content of a statute or regulation. Some criminal statutes—like those covering theft of federal property—apply to everyone (with “sticky fingers”). No person or organization, anywhere in the nation, is authorized to steal federal property.

Other federal statutes and regulations are more specific. For example, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act of 1984 (RCRA) and the regulations promulgated under it apply to persons and organizations who generate, store, treat, and dispose of certain quantities of solid waste. The formal regulatory definition of solid waste includes everyday garbage and solid and liquid hazardous waste and mixed waste. Mixed waste is solid or liquid hazardous waste mixed in with low-level radioactive waste. As long as artifact collectors are not doing something incredibly weird with their artifacts and artifact collecting, the RCRA statute and the regulations promulgated under it would not apply to them. Just in case you wanted to know, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is the primary “momma” agency for the RCRA regulations. A federal agency that regulates radioactive materials may serve as a second “momma” for the mixed waste regulations. Sometimes two or more federal agency mommas are better than just one.

Therefore, some federal statutes and regulations may apply to everyone. These are often referred to as overarching statutes and regulations. Others may apply only to certain persons and/or organizations, depending on the specific contents of certain statues and regulations—and what some limited number of people or organizations are doing.

(5) Why did I write Items No. 1 through No. 4 (above)? Well, it has been my experience that both artifact collectors and archaeology students (graduate and undergraduate) have a really hard time learning about the federal legal system, how it is structured, and the nuts and bolts of how it works. Worst of all, I have had some really Close Encounters of the Truly Weird Kind (CETWK) with artifact collectors. 

One night a few years ago, I had a really tense encounter with an angry and highly agitated artifact collector who did not (and apparently could not) understand how federal statutes and regulations work and to whom they apply. He seemed to think that a big central law building exists in Washington, D.C. All federal statutes and regulations are created in that one building. They apply equally to every federal agency in the nation, every organization, and every person—no matter what their specific circumstances might be and no matter what the specific contents of the statutes and regulations say.

For example, let us say that the U.S. Congress and the President of the United States enact a federal statute pertinent to some important issue with cattle grazing that involves only the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) on five large tracts of BLM land out West. The BLM then promulgates a set of regulations to implement the new statute. Of course, BLM is the “momma” federal agency for these new regulations. This highly agitated artifact collector was insisting that every other federal agency, organization, and person across the entire United States was equally affected by that BLM-specific statute and the regulations promulgated under it—and every American individual and organization had to get busy and obey them.

Even if a nice, retired African-American man named Zach, who was allergic to beef and had nothing to do with cattle, was sitting quietly on his front porch in Dothan, Alabama, he had to get busy and comply with that BLM statute and the regulations under it. Why? Just like I said, this angry, highly agitated artifact collector apparently thought all federal statutes and regulations emerge from one building in Washington, D.C., and they all apply equally to everyone in the nation. No matter what the circumstances, Zach has to get busy and obey them. TVA has to obey them. Artifact collectors in Georgia have to obey them. Your teenage daughter in Massachusetts has to obey them—even though none of these agencies or persons ever has anything to do with those five large tracts of BLM land out West.

Bullshit!!!!! If you are not in any way grazing or supporting the grazing of cattle on those five tracts of BLM land out West, then that statute and the BLM regulations promulgated under it do not apply to you. If the BLM promulgates its own cultural resource management regulations for those five huge tracts of BLM land out West, that does not mean that those same BLM regulations apply to cultural resources on TVA lands here in the East. BLM is a separate federal agency from TVA, and it has no statutory or regulatory authority over cultural resources on TVA lands. TVA manages its own cultural resources.

I think American artifact collectors—such as this agitated guy—would like to convince themselves that the federal legal system is very simple, easy to understand, and all encompassing. They want to believe that all federal statutes and regulations come from one central place. They apply equally to everyone—in the same way as a simple Biblical law such as: “Thou shalt not kill.” Thataway (as my dad used to say), artifact collectors at least have some hope of quickly and easily determining whether they are violating some federal statute or regulation pertinent to their artifact collecting. Unfortunately, for most artifact collectors, that is just plain not true. The federal legal system is highly complicated and difficult to navigate for the average man or woman on the street—including any artifact collector who is not an attorney.

(6) Let us cover one last but very important thing. This is the interface of federal laws with state laws. How many of you have ever heard of the Supremacy Clause in the U.S. Constitution?  It reads as follows:

Article 4, Clause 2. This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding.    

Lovely that. Can you say “crash and burn”?  When the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that gay marriage is legal, numerous states rushed to enact state-level anti-gay marriage laws to nullify the high court ruling. These efforts were sponsored by Republican state legislators who knew most of their constituents were dumber than potato peels in a trash can. These legislators full-well knew that the Supremacy Clause makes it illegal to countermand or nullify a federal law, treaty, regulation, or court ruling with a state law, state regulation, or state court ruling. They went ahead and did it anyway to fool their ignorant constituents and make it look like they were doing something important, effective, and wonderful——when they were actually doing no such thing. You know:

Ah!!!!! Honey child. I tried so very hard to protect you from those gay blades with that new state law, but somehow it just wasn’t in the cards. Knowin’ how hard I worked for you, you’ll be sure to support me come election time. Now won’t you honey child?

With regard to the federal statutes and regulations that apply to artifact collecting, the Supremacy Clause in the U.S. Constitution makes it illegal to enact a state law, promulgate a state regulation, or issue a state court ruling to nullify one of these federal laws or regulations. A state entity may go ahead and do so without any state official getting arrested. However, any such state action is doomed to crash and burn in the federal court system.

However, it is legal for a state legislature to do one really interesting thing with a requirement in federal law. For example, with regard to ARPA, no state can nullify or overturn the ARPA statute and its regulations, in whole or in part, because of the Supremacy Clause in the U.S. Constitution. However, it is legal for a state legislature to enact a state law and for a state agency to promulgate state regulations under it that make assorted aspects of ARPA apply more stringently at the state-level of law. In other words, if a particular clause in ARPA calls for an artifact collector to be kicked hard in the butt one time for some offense, the State of Tennessee can enact a more stringent state law and promulgate state regulations under it that require five kicks in the butt for the exact same offense at the state level of government. Ouch!!! To the best of my knowledge that has not occurred so far here in Tennessee, but it can happen if a state legislature, a governor, and a state agency responsible for cultural resources want it to happen.

Another thing to remember is the double jeopardy clause in the U.S. Constitution (Bill of Rights). This is the famous amendment that says a person, once acquitted of a federal crime, cannot be tried again for the exact same offense by a federal court. That is true at the federal level. However, the American legal system has multiple, vertically tiered judicial jurisdictions. This means a person who kills someone in a federal building in Tennessee can be acquitted of that murder in a federal court, but that same person can be tried again at the state level of jurisdiction for the exact same crime in a state court of law because murder is illegal at the state level of jurisdiction in Tennessee. The American legal system calls this dual sovereignty. The same principle applies to any federal cultural resource protection statutes or regulations that exist at the federal level—but also exist in state statutes and regulations. You might be acquitted of an offense in a federal court room, but if the State of Tennessee has statutes or regulations that forbid that exact same crime, you could technically be nailed good for the exact same offense in a state court. Ouch again!!!  To the best of my knowledge, that rarely ever happens—but it can happen.

Finally, if you take out your digger shovel and dig deeply into the bowels of the ARPA statute, you will see some very interesting clauses stating that a person can be prosecuted under ARPA for violating a state cultural resources protection statute or regulation. For example, if you are caught removing artifacts illegally from state-owned land in your state, you can technically be prosecuted for that offense under the federal ARPA statute. A now nationally famous artifact collector by the name of Art Gerber, who is now deceased, found that out the hard way. He was prosecuted successfully under ARPA for the violation of state cultural resource laws that applied to the removal of artifacts from a prehistoric mound on private land owned by the General Electric Corporation (GE) in Indiana. You may read about that in depth, from the professional archaeologist’s perspective, by clicking on the following safe link:

Residual Effects of Grave Desecrations: The GE Mound Case

As you might guess, I agree with the professional archaeology perspective on this famous federal court case.

Many American artifact collectors hold to a wholly different perspective on The GE Mound Case. If you are interested in that alternative perspective, you may want to check out the following two items:

The GE Mound Case by Jim Fisher

Buy and Read the Book Entitled: “The GE Mound Case: The Archaeological Disaster and Criminal Persecution of Artifact Collector Art Gerber”

There is no typographical error in that second item (above). The American artifact collector community contends that Art Gerber was not prosecuted in a federal court. To this very day, collectors maintain that the federal government applied federal law in a twisted manner to unfairly persecute Art Gerber for his role in the events that led up to The GE Mound Case.

I hope this clears up some of the confusion American artifact collectors have about the American legal system and how it works. As always, if you insist on collecting artifacts, please be sure that you do so in total compliance with all of the federal, state, and local statutes, regulations, and ordinances that are applicable to your collecting activities. These statutes, regulations, and ordinances are not designed to make artifact collectors feel miserable or angry. They are designed to protect nonrenewable cultural resources from destruction and to conserve them for future generations of Tennesseans and Americans. I know many of you artifact collectors out there are also game hunters. You know what the word conservation means and how important it is to your game hunting activities. You would never kill off the last male and female elk in Tennessee. So, why would you kill off our last remaining archaeological sites?  Yes, I know:

‘Cause I wants me a really great artifact!!! Besides, if I killed off them last two Tennessee elks, I’d jist go a Elk huntin’ in West Virginia. Bwa-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a!!!!!!!

Responsible artifact collectors.  All of you know a few artifact collectors who are just like that guy. Why do you tolerate them?  Why do you keep them as your friends? Inquiring professional archaeologists would really like to know. Comments are open.

Message for the Person Asking Where the Thruston Tablet Was Found

The Thruston Tablet was found at some unknown location along Rocky Creek in Sumner County, Tennessee. The exact year in which it was found is unknown. In the year 1870, the state government of Tennessee sliced off that portion of Sumner County, along with pieces of land from other nearby Tennessee counties, and combined these lands to create a new Tennessee county called Trousdale County. Therefore, today the location where the Thruston Tablet was found is in Trousdale County, Tennessee.

Questions Artifact Collectors Pose to Professional Archaeologists: Question No. 12

by Tracy C. Brown

Question No. 12:

I have a good buddy who was recently collecting prehistoric artifacts in a creek bed on federal property. He was moving gradually along the creek bed, picking up artifacts from the bottom of the creek, and putting them into a Home Depot bucket he had sitting beside him in the creek. A federal law enforcement officer arrested my buddy right there near the creek. I do not see how it was legal for that officer to make an arrest like that because my buddy never took the artifacts out of his Home Depot bucket in the creek—and he never took the artifacts in that bucket outside of the federal property boundary line. If he never took the artifacts home with him, I do not understand how they could have arrested him. Are there any laws that allow an arrest like that?


I would have to know all the details of the case to fully answer this question for you. However, a couple of very obvious legal issues come to mind.

First of all, under the Archaeological Resources Protection Act of 1979 (ARPA), it is not just illegal for your buddy to collect artifacts on federal property and take them home with him.  It is illegal for him to even “attempt” to collect artifacts on federal property. Section (6) (a) of the ARPA statute reads as follows:

(a) No person may excavate, remove, damage, or otherwise alter or deface or attempt to excavate, remove, damage, or otherwise alter or deface any archaeological resource located on public lands or Indian lands unless such activity is pursuant to a permit issued under section 4 of this Act, a permit referred to in section 4(h)(2) of this Act, or the exemption contained in section 4(g)(1) of this Act.

The law enforcement officer who arrested your collector buddy probably saw the Home Depot bucket and the artifacts in it as evidence of a clear attempt to remove artifacts from federal property.  What else would your buddy have been doing with the artifacts in that bucket?  Surely he was not planning to sit on the bucket in the creek and wait for bluebirds to hatch from each artifact?

All prehistoric and historic artifacts on federal lands are considered to be official federal property—just like a federally owned lawn mower or pickup truck. It is illegal to steal items of federal property by taking them outside of the federal property boundary. Theft of federal property is a crime. Yes, as you said, your buddy did not remove the artifacts in the Home Depot bucket from the creek and take them outside of the federal property boundary on the way to his house.

Nonetheless, attempted theft on federal land is also a federal crime. There is that old bugaboo word again—–attempted. It works the same way in your home town. Two guys break into the back door of an electronics store at 3:00 a.m. When the police arrive, the two guys doing the breaking and entering (itself a crime) are moving their first item (a big screen TV) toward the back door. What are the policemen going to do? Are they going to yell out:

Hey you! If you freeze right there and do not pass GO with that T.V., we will give you $200 for not passing GO and avoid charging you with attempted theft—and you can both go home for a good night’s sleep.

Of course not!!!  They are going to put the two guys in handcuffs, read them their Miranda rights, and charge them with breaking and entering and attempted theft. Your buddy’s Home Depot bucket with the artifacts in it was evidence of attempted theft of federal property from the creek—-the artifacts—-just like those two guys moving the big screen TV toward the back door of the electronics store.

Artifact collectors may get together and hatch all sorts of stupid, homemade legal theories about collecting artifacts on federal land. Some do it before committing a federal crime, and some do it after committing a federal crime in an attempt to figure out why they were arrested. I have said this before, and I will say it again. Listen up artifact collectors and listen up good:

There is no home-hatched legal theory that allows you to collect artifacts on federal property, state property, or Indian lands without risk of arrest and prosecution. There are no special outs or legal loopholes that allow you to collect artifacts on such properties—not even the famous Jimmy Carter Clause in ARPA. The next time you hatch one of your homemade legal theories about artifact collecting on federal or state property—and try it out in the field—-you will be hanging yourself with your own rope.

Questions Artifact Collectors Pose to Professional Archaeologists: Question No. 11

by Tracy C. Brown

Question No. 11

Why don’t you professional archaeologists understand that on-line Indian artifact collector forums and treasure hunting forums are sacred safe spaces for us artifact collectors—and just stay the Hell away from them?


You are correct. They are indeed sacred safe spaces. I found that out the hard way many years ago. These days I only rarely have a desire to be a member of one of these on-line forums. However, if certain people with very thick skin are interested in what is currently happening in the artifact collector and treasure hunting communities, these forums are good places to learn about it. New artifact finds by collectors are described and shown in photographs on these forums.

I can offer a few other related thoughts and tips about theses forums that may be of interest to professional archaeologists, archaeology students, and the average person who is not an artifact collector or treasure hunter. This will be done in a listing format. Furthermore, I would like to emphasize that the list is general in nature and does not apply to any one forum in particular. From what I have seen on-line over the years, it appears to me that all such forums have much in common. Here is the list:

(1) You have to register, get a username, and obtain a password to fully access one of these forums. The people who own, operate, and moderate these forums like to have electronic life and death control over the forum members. The elements of registration are useful for that.

(2) These forums are classic echo chambers. They have rules for the members who make posts to the forums. They would say the purpose of these rules is to keep order on the forum—kind of like with Roberts Rules of Order. In my honest opinion, they serve a parallel subcurrent purpose. Just like with the Communist Party of the former Soviet Union, the rules are really designed to establish and nurture an ideological party-line with regard to artifact collecting; make sure all members will stay within the boundaries of the ideological party-line; limit any expressions of authentic truth (as opposed to party-line truth); stifle any dissent that does not mesh with the party-line ideology; and establish excuses to (figuratively speaking) fire a bullet into the brain of any member who violates party-line ideology.

(3) Since the year 1960, artifact collectors and artifact collecting have been under vicious and unrelenting assault by the professional archaeology community in the United States. Professional archaeologists (in consultation with federal and state legislators) have been instrumental in the enactment and promulgation of many cultural resource protection statutes and regulations with real biting teeth (fines and imprisonment). These statutes and regulations have adversely impacted artifact collecting in all 50 states. Moreover, the professional archaeology community rarely misses a news media opportunity or a face-to-face opportunity to point fingers at artifact collectors and tell them how bad and immoral they are for looting archaeological sites.

Artifact collectors on the receiving end of such stone throwing have a desire to seek shelter from the incoming missiles. The members of artifact-collecting and treasure-hunting forums view their favorite forum(s) as sacred safe spaces where they can meet with their own hobby kinsmen and be safely sheltered from the persistent verbal missiles thrown at them by professional archaeologists. Let me emphasize that one more time—–sacred safe spaces where they do not have to hear or tolerate criticism of what they do.

(4) If you are a professional archaeologist or archaeology student, and you would like to become a member of one of these artifact-collecting or treasure-hunting forums, I kindly recommend that you refrain from telling the other members of the forum that you are a professional archaeologist or archaeology student. If you do otherwise, the owners, moderators, and members of these forums may quietly flag you as a potential threat and watch you closely under a microscope, assuming that you have joined the forum with some evil motive designed to harm artifact collectors and/or their hobby. The best thing to do is just keep mum about your true identity; take on a good ole boy handle name; lurk on the forum; behave like one of the locals; and put on your best Forrest Gump impersonation if you choose to post anything on the forum. In other words, play dumb—or you will blow your cover.

(5) Never make any main post  or comment on a forum that is in any way, form, or fashion critical of artifact collectors, artifact collecting, or treasure hunting. Artifact collectors—even the ones who are dumber than dirt—have a very high personal view of themselves. Forum members tend to be highly sensitive, just like the Christian missionaries in a famous Tom Petty song:

…Missionaries walking backwards—touch’em and they bleed…

You do not have to verbally cold cock a forum member on-line to make him bleed. Just a very soft, slightly grazing whisper of breath across the shoulder will create a massive hemorrhage of bad feelings, and the forum members will jump on your ass like a duck on a June bug.

(6) Listen up professional archaeologists, archaeology graduate students, and archaeology undergraduate students. If you join one of these forums, just remember one very important thing. The artifact collectors and treasure hunters on these forums know everything about artifacts and archaeology—and you know nothing. Even if you have a Ph.D. and 60 years of experience in American archaeology, you still know nothing—and the artifact collectors know everything. This appears to be some sort of unwritten rule on these forums. Openly contest their collector truth with real archaeological  truth, and you may reap an earful of outrage.

(7) If you are a professional archaeologist, an archaeology graduate student, or an archaeology undergraduate student—you are pursuing some line of important archaeological research—and the forum members become aware that you are an archaeologist or archaeology student, certain kinds of questions are forbidden (as an unwritten rule). For example:

(A) Never request the contact information for another artifact collector who is not a member of the forum.

(B) Never ask who owns a particular artifact or type of artifact that is pertinent to your research.

If you inquire about such matters, the forum members automatically assume that some legality issue must surround the collector or artifact in question. Artifact collectors tend to view professional archaeologists as police officers who are—as the old 1930s Chicago gangsters used to say—“out to get me.” Forum members do not want to answer questions like these because they are afraid a fellow artifact collector will be arrested or one of his artifacts will be legally confiscated as a direct result of their answer. Ideologically, the worst thing an artifact collector can possibly do in this world is to betray the confidence, personal safety, or private property of another artifact collector. This unwritten rule is an almost Holy Bond. I repeat—Holy Bond.

Today intense anxiety and paranoia run wild in the artifact-collecting and treasure-hunting communities in the United States. Simple inquiries along the lines of those above—even if totally innocent and on the level—may be regarded as prima facie evidence that you are up to no good. Very often, certain kinds of legitimate archaeological research are indeed all about asking such key questions, tracking down the locations of certain types of artifacts, and trying to get in touch with their owners to examine and take notes on the artifacts of interest and their context—and take a few photographs of the artifacts. For some odd reason, many artifact collectors fail to understand the importance of the highly detailed information legitimate archaeological research requires.

Personally, as a result of this Holy Bond, I have found that using these artifact collector and treasure hunting forums as a tool to advance archaeological research is nearly worthless. Forum members are highly suspicious and not particularly open to answering the kinds of key questions that really can advance a legitimate archaeological research effort. If you pose one of those forbidden key questions on a forum, you will quite likely get stomped on like a cockroach!!!  Been there. Seen that. Got stomped.

(8) Artifact collecting is viewed as a sacred brotherhood (and sisterhood) on these forums—in my opinion a bit of a perverse brotherhood or sisterhood. You might be surprised at this, but a number of artifact collectors do not approve of digging for artifacts—and they will tell you so. They also have no problem saying it straight to a digger’s face. What is the perverse part? If a shovel digger or a bulldozer digger is criticized in any way, form, or fashion on a forum—by a noncollector—the collector members of the forum who dislike digging quickly run to the odd-man-out digger and surround him with a massive group hug of love, joy, protection, and support. This weird brotherhood of collectors is a lot like what President Donald J. Trump said in his 2016 election campaign:

[I could] stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody [and not] lose any voters.

(9) Beware of knee-jerk hotheads and bullies on these forums. Public school playgrounds have them and so do these artifact-collecting and treasure-hunting forums. Some artifact collectors just plain hate professional archaeologists—some with an almost perfect hatred. In my honest opinion, those few people tend to be the hotheads and bullies on these forums. If you are a professional archaeologist or archaeology student—and you do or say something they perceive to be incorrect, off-color, or offensive—and it does not take very much—the hotheads and bullies will come after you with a passionate, single-minded, and enduring vengeance for every hurt artifact collectors have ever felt at the hands of professional archaeologists for the past 60 years.

If you are a professional archaeologist or archaeology student—and they know that—they will show you zero mercy. Worst of all and oddest of all, when one of these hotheads or bullies cuts loose with some mean-spirited diatribe, nearly every other member of the forum snaps into the marching line right behind him just like a U.S. Marine recruit falls into line behind his drill sergeant. I am not sure why the more calm and level-headed collectors do this, but it often looks as if they do not have minds of their own. Maybe they are just afraid of the hotheads and bullies. Me? In times past, I have verbally handed some of these hotheads and bullies their heads on a platter—because that is precisely what these bullies and hotheads deserve. Sure. It will get you kicked off the forum forever. However, one prominent artifact collector in the Nashville area taught me one simple thing many years ago:

If someone gets on your back—get’m off!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

(10) Do not start any discussion about the federal/state statutes and regulations that protect cultural resources and adversely affect artifact collecting. These laws and regulations are a unique sore point with artifact collectors. It has been my personal observation that most artifact collectors on these forums do not know their asses from a hole in the ground when these statutes and regulations are batted around. Their ignorance of the details in these laws and regulations—and how they work—is monumental!!! As a result, the collectors are prone to generating homespun legal theories about artifact collecting—theories that will get them into trouble if they try to implement them in the field. Moreover, some of the artifact collectors are highly averse to points of correction coming from a person who really does know these statutes and regulations well. If you do try to correct one of these collectors, he will most likely blow his stack with anger at the facts; retreat into denialism; or insist that you cannot possibly know what you know. It is just plain crazy!!!

(11) Finally—and this is very important to say—some of the artifact collectors and treasure hunters on these forums are nice, sane, leveled-headed, and congenial people who are quite knowledgeable about artifacts and archaeology. Interacting with these people is a truly joyful experience. The thing I have never understood is this. Why do these nice people on the forums tolerate the highly sensitive collectors and the collectors who are knee-jerk hotheads and bullies? If I were the owner of one of these forums, they would be the first people banned for life—and I would not give a damn whether they are a fellow collector or not. Brotherhood with thin skins, hotheads, and bullies is no brotherhood at all.

Questions Artifact Collectors Pose to Professional Archaeologists: Question No. 10

by Tracy C. Brown

Question No. 10: My artifact collection contains one really unusual-looking artifact, a kind I have never seen before. I would like to show it to a professional archaeologist, have him look it over, identify it for me, and tell me how old it is. My collector friends are warning me not to do that. They say professional archaeologists in departments of anthropology, museums, and other professional archaeology venues have a long-time, dishonest, and frequently played con game they use to steal artifacts from collectors like me and ordinary citizens who just walk in off the street with an artifact. They say the con game works something like this:

I will take my artifact to a museum and meet with the professional archaeologist. The archaeologist will welcome me and treat me like his oldest friend. Rather than give me the information on my artifact right then, the archaeologist will ask me to leave the artifact with him for a couple of weeks so he can study it more closely—to give me a better and more thorough opinion about it. Of course, I will do that like most folks will do. Then I will come back two weeks later to pick up the new information and my artifact at a scheduled time. When I inquire at the front desk, they will tell me that the archaeologist I talked to before is not there that day, but I can talk to another archaeologist on the staff.  That other archaeologist will come out, talk to me for a minute, and tell me that no one at the museum has ever heard of me or my artifact. I will plead to get my artifact back. Then the archaeologist will angrily tell me to leave the museum and order me to never come back again. I will never get the information I requested, and I will never see my artifact again.

My collector buddies have left me with the impression that this con game is played very often, and they regularly advise artifact collectors and ordinary citizens all over the country to avoid showing artifacts to professional archaeologists for this reason. They also tell them to never leave an artifact overnight or for any other long length of time with a professional archaeologist—or they will never, ever see their artifact again. Is all of this really true?


No. It is not true. “Come now, and let us reason together…” (Isaiah 1:18). If a widespread and often repeated con game like this actually exists among professional archaeologists in the United States, I would know about it after being around professional archaeologists and artifact collectors most of my life. I do not play such con games with artifact collectors or ordinary citizens—and neither does any other professional archaeologist I have ever known. While a rare bad apple may exist in every social barrel, most professional archaeologists and museum directors are ethical, honest, and conscientious people who try their level best to do the right thing, and they succeed most of the time. That being the case, stealing legal, privately owned artifacts from artifact collectors or ordinary citizens through some nationwide, know-the-secret-handshake con game does not ring true to me.

Almost nothing escapes the notice of the American news media (both print and electronic). Editors and reporters are constantly sniffing nearly every nook and cranny of the United States for truly interesting stories. What reporter would be able to resist printing this headline:

         Local Indiana Jones Runs Con Game to Steal Artifacts from Citizens

If a widespread (or even just local) con game like this were to really exist, it would make big headlines in the local news media and national news media. I have not seen any old or recent stories in the news media about this supposed con game.

If a professional archaeologist did steal an artifact from a person, do you seriously think that person is going to simply shrug their shoulders and go home to brood? No——of course not——in most instances! That person would do the same thing I or anyone else would do. Go to their local police department, get an attorney, solicit a judge to issue a search warrant, and come down hard on the professional archaeologist (and their institution) who stole the artifact in question. Moreover, if this supposed con game were implemented often by professional archaeologists all over our country, artifact collectors and ordinary citizens would be up in arms about it and leading street demonstrations. Huge numbers of professional archaeologists would be cooling their heels for theft in local jails or state prisons. That has not happened in our American past, and it is not happening now.

No professional archaeologist has ever mentioned the existence of this supposed con game to me. I have heard about it only from the artifact collectors who pass it around by word of mouth (and occasionally in casual written form at on-line artifact collector forums). The whole notion of this con game is part of what I call artifact collector folklore.

Frankly, I am inclined to formally define this so-called professional archaeologist’s con game as nothing more than a widespread urban legend among American artifact collectors. The original sources of such urban legends are often hard to identify. Some urban legends are rooted in a real past incident that involved a bit of truth, something misunderstood to be truth, or  some odd perversion of the truth. I cannot say for certain where this urban legend about a professional archaeologists’ con game to steal artifacts began, but I have one really excellent historical candidate for where it may have begun.

It may have begun with a series of events and actions that occurred after the first discovery of an Adena sandstone tablet exhibiting engraved bird heads. This artifact was found in 1942 by a 12-year-old boy who was digging for artifacts within a bluff top mound in Parkersburg, West Virginia. This boy’s name was Edward Low, and the artifact he found there is widely known today as the Low Tablet.

The full story of Edward Low and his tablet is far too long and convoluted to describe in full here. Suffice it to say that a much older Edward Low eventually took his Low Tablet to the Ohio Historical Society (OHS) so a famous Ohio archaeologist, Dr. Raymond Baby (pronounced “Bobby”), could closely examine it. Mr. Low left the artifact with this archaeologist and the OHS Museum for 36 years.

In the year 2007, after Mr. Low had found out the incredibly high amount of money the Low Tablet was worth, he wanted the OHS Museum to give it back to him. The OHS Museum claimed that Mr. Low had donated the Low Tablet to the Museum in 1971, and the museum had old internal paperwork indicating that it had indeed been a gift. Furthermore, Mr. Low admitted in a legal document (Defendant’s First Request for Admissions) that on September 2, 1971, he had called Dr. Baby on the telephone and told him that he would give the Low Tablet to the OHS—all the while knowing that the OHS had long considered it to be a gift. Mr. Low later claimed that he had merely loaned the tablet to the OHS. In an attempt to get his artifact back, Mr. Low filed a major lawsuit against the OHS in the case of Edward Low vs. Ohio Historical Society. The OHS won this initial legal action, but an appeal was soon filed. More legal wrangling ensued over the next several years. Mr. Low died one day while this wrangling was still underway, but his surviving family kept it going. An Ohio court eventually dismissed the case. In the end, the Low family was never able to legally reclaim the Low Tablet as its personal property, and it remained in the possession of the OHS.

Today the Edward Low Dispute (as I call it), and the now closed legal storm surrounding it, are legendary in the American artifact collector community. Many artifact collectors swear up one side and down the other that Edward Low and his family were unfairly and royally screwed by the OHS and the court system. Based on no particular evidence at all, numerous artifact collectors have speculated that the OHS forged the internal documents indicating the Low Tablet was a donation. Most of the artifact collectors who make such wild claims have never even read the original court records. They have just read highly biased artifact collector tomes about it, or they have heard collector grapevine gossip about the Edward Low Dispute. They have chosen to believe whatever is said just because a fellow artifact collector said it——————-and “by God” everyone must surely know it is impossible for an artifact collector to ever be wrong about anything (LOL).

American court documents are a matter of public record in the United States, and they are available to the general public. I am one of the few people who has actually obtained and read the original court documents pertinent to this dispute. After studying all of those documents carefully and in detail, I have concluded to my own personal satisfaction that the Low Tablet really was a gift and should have remained at the OHS Museum. The contents of the OHS internal documents and court documents clearly indicated that to me. That was also the conclusion of the jury in the initial trial (Edward Low vs. Ohio Historical Society).

The Edward Low Dispute and the folklore surrounding it offer today’s American artifact collectors a key opportunity they desperately want and need. Since at least 1960, artifact collectors and artifact collecting (either as a hobby or as a material investment) have been under unrelenting assault by the professional archaeology community in the United States. The urban legend about a professional archaeology con game to slyly steal artifacts from artifact collectors and ordinary citizens has become a useful public relations (PR) tool to stab back at professional archaeologists in vengeance for all of the emotional pain they have inflicted on artifact collectors. Furthermore, properly distorted and finessed, the Edward Low Dispute, all by itself, has become a figurative but quite useful quick slip of the switchblade knife between the ribs of professional archaeologists for the same reason—vengeance that gives the professional archaeology side bad PR.

In light of all that I have written above, I have come to my own personal conclusion about this so-called con game many artifact collectors believe professional archaeologists are running to steal artifacts from collectors and ordinary citizens. I am hereby calling bullshit on it. Do you hear that artifact collectors?  This long-time, con game accusation of yours is nothing but pure bullshit.

Sure. If you dig up a large carved statue like “The Ancestor,” which is the Tennessee State Artifact, and you take it to a professional archaeologist and say:

Look at this huge artifact Fred and me just dug up on Tennessee Valley Authority land…

Well, you just openly confessed to violating the Archaeological Resources Protection Act of 1979 and other federal laws—including the one against theft of federal property. That is one artifact you will never get back—along with your pickup truck—because that statue was never your property to begin with. It is stolen property that must go back to its original owner (TVA and the American public). Anything so blatant as that lies outside the boundaries of this con game I have heard so much about from artifact collectors over the years.

The original mistake both sides made in the Edward Low Dispute was their failure to draw up and sign a legal, mutually binding artifact loan contract or artifact donation contract. Either document would have left no basis for any dispute over final ownership of the Low Tablet.

Paranoia and anxiety run wild in the American artifact collector community these days. Nonetheless, if an artifact collector ever wants to show a legally obtained and legally owned artifact to a professional archaeologist or museum director—and she is afraid she will never see her artifact again—all she has to do is have her attorney draw up a contract (or other written agreement) saying that the artifact is being loaned for archaeological examination for a specified period of time. A few sharp, close-up, color photographs of the artifact with a centimeter scale in each photograph should be part of the contract. The owner of the artifact and the professional archaeologist or museum director must both sign the legally binding contract or agreement. When the specified time in the contract or agreement expires, the professional archaeologist or museum director must surrender the artifact to its owner. That should dispel most of the unwarranted collector or citizen paranoia and anxiety about temporarily leaving an artifact with one of us professional archaeologists for examination.