Tennessee Archaeology, Magnetic Signs, and…Uh-Boy

Some of you are no doubt familiar with the Oak Ridge Archaeological Research Institute (ORARI), which I created in 2014 in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. It is my chosen venue for contributing to professional archaeological research; public archaeology; and advocacy for archaeology and historic preservation.  Geographically, ORARI is focused primarily on Anderson County and the surrounding area. When venturing out to do archaeology, I use my 2007 Honda Odyssey van. About six months ago, a local sign company made two nice-looking magnetic signs for the front doors on my van. These signs exhibit the full ORARI name in logo format, our website address, and contact information. When I am running errands, people often see the signs and stop me to talk about their plans to major in anthropology or how a child of theirs is already doing so. That is always fun. I try to be helpful, be encouraging, and answer any questions they have about Tennessee archaeology. However, something a bit unusual and unexpected is happening to me now, most often in the parking lot at Kroger (of all places). I want to tell you about it, give you a couple of examples,  and make some helpful educational clarifications for Tennessee citizens.

A few weeks ago in the parking lot at Kroger, a nice gentleman saw my van signs and assumed I was an expert who studies geological materials, how they move, and what such movement does to the foundations of buildings. Fortunately, for him at least, I had finished most of an undergraduate major in geology, so I stopped and listened carefully to what this gentleman needed to tell me. Afterwards, it was clear to me that geological materials were indeed moving around in very scary ways at his home—no doubt about it. I referred this gentleman to a friend of mine in Oak Ridge who owns a company that specializes in structural foundation engineering, repair, and stabilization.

Tonight my son and I had to run over to Kroger and buy some milk. When we returned to the van, a nice young man in a snazzy-red sports car called out from behind us and asked: “Found any good geodes lately!!!???”  I nicely told him no—and mentioned that the area around Red Boiling Springs, Tennessee, is famous for near-basketball-size geodes. I knew that because a relative of mine had once visited Red Boiling Springs when it was an early-middle 20th century resort town with mineral springs. He brought back a number of huge geodes to my grandmother’s house to line her flower beds.

Many members of the Tennessee public do not understand what professional archaeologists, geologists, or paleontologists do for a living—and how what one professional does is different from what the other two types of professionals do. I am going to address this issue by referring you to three excellent, safe web links that should clear this matter up for you. Just click on the blue links below and do a little reading and video watching. The differences should come into focus for you.  Here are the links:

Archaeologists Do This

Geologists Do This

Paleontologists Do This

Professional archaeologists in Tennessee do not analyze and repair building foundation problems for modern day homes, buildings, and structures. That is a unique specialization in the contract construction industry. Such tasks are performed by professional construction personnel in consultation with experts in civil engineering and geological engineering.  You may read a little about that and watch some related videos at the following safe link:

Foundation Stabilization and Repair Personnel Do This

However, some technical experts who work in the discipline of historic preservation do occasionally work with teams of architects, civil engineers, geologists, archaeologists, and foundation repair specialists to achieve the stabilization and repair of foundations that support ancient and historic-era buildings and structures that need to be preserved for future generations.

And no…the assorted artifacts (e.g. pottery sherds, projectile points, animal bones, etc.) found by archaeologists in American archaeological sites are not fossils. They are just human-influenced stuff like all those items in your kitchen drawer at home. The only difference is this. The stuff in your kitchen drawer at home is recent stuff, and the artifacts in archaeological sites are old stuff that once belonged to a person who is most likely deceased. Fossils are “the remains or traces of prehistoric life preserved in rocks of the Earth’s crust” (Wicander and Monroe 1989:558). Were ancient pottery sherds ever living things?  No. Do American archaeologists find pottery sherds in the form of rock or embedded inside rock? No. Pottery sherds are usually found in soil and sediment deposits at archaeological sites or in stream beds.  They are made of clay that ancient people dug out of the ground; shaped into various kinds of ceramic vessels; and baked at very high temperatures.  When one of these vessels broke into pieces, pottery sherds were born.

There are occasional exceptions to just about every rule, and that is true of artifacts and fossils. Once in a great and rare while, some ancient Native American would find a 400 million-year-old living thing in rock form (like a fossilized segment of a crinoid stem) and say:

This thing is already perfectly round, and it has a round hole in the middle of it. It would be a great centerpiece for the necklace I am making. I’ll just abrade the edge a bit to make it smoother and use it in my necklace.

In that manner an ancient fossil became an artifact because the ancient Native American man viewed it as a raw material, modified it, and used it as an item of material culture.

Now, repeat after me: “Why!!! I didn’t know all that!!!”  Now you do. Congratulations!!!  You are one smart cookie.


Wicander, Reed and James S. Monroe 1989. Historical Geology: Evolution of the Earth and Life Through Time.  New York: West Publishing.

New Archaeology at Cahokia

Just in case you might have missed it elsewhere today, Annalee Newitz at the Ars Technica website has written a long and fascinating article on her recent professional excavation adventures at the Cahokia Mounds site in East St. Louis, Illinois.  This is not your usual archaeology-for-public-consumption babble.  This is new and really great!  You may read this excellent article, view its photographs, and watch its internal video presentations at the following safe link:

Finding North America’s Lost Medieval City

What does this have to do with Tennessee archaeology?  Well, for those of you who are not professional archaeologists, you might think of it like this.  Cahokia was the ancient New York City of the United States. During its time, it was arguably the most important center of Native American culture north of Mexico, and its ancient cultural and social impulses fanned out across Tennessee and most of the American South.  The Mississippian period (1,000 -1475 A.D.) inhabitants of the Middle Cumberland region in Middle Tennessee (the people who built the stone box cemeteries and platform mounds) knew about mighty Cahokia and shared in a large number of the major cultural impulses emanating from it, particularly those involving platform mound  architecture, social organization, religion, and art.

You cannot really, truly, and wholly understand Mississippian prehistory and archaeology in Tennessee without knowing it in the context of influences from Cahokia and other contemporary centers of sociocultural influence in the American Southeast.  These include, but are not limited to, Moundville in Alabama and the late prehistoric Caddoan region sites such as the Spiro Mounds, located immediately west of the Mississippi River in Arkansas and eastern Oklahoma.

Our Favorite Quotation from Steve Jobs

Here at the Archaeology in Tennessee blog, I may occasionally say or do something with regard to Tennessee archaeology and American archaeology that will upset someone’s traditional apple cart. Indeed, some of you may think I am crazy because my words and deeds occasionally clash with what you believe and your understanding of the archaeological world—or your untested fantasies about it that you do not want to honestly face.

This brought to mind my favorite quote from the late Steve Jobs, and I subscribe to it. Indeed, famous anthropologist Margaret Mead once said something very similar. Here is the Steve Jobs quotation:

Here’s to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes… the ones who see things differently — they’re not fond of rules… You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them, but the only thing you can’t do is ignore them because they change things… they push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do.   ~ Steve Jobs (1955-2011)

Happy Thanksgiving

This is a Happy Thanksgiving card for the many nice folks who come to the Archaeology in Tennessee blog to read and comment on our main posts. Once upon a time, I worked in an art museum and gained a deep appreciation for painting and sculpture. My heart abides with the fascinating light of Vermeer and the seascapes of Frederick Church. However, odd as it might seem in contrast, I have always loved the folksy 20th century paintings of Norman Rockwell. Just a few years ago, a rather vicious art critic in New York City remarked that Rockwell’s art was not particularly good because it documents a delusional American past that never really existed anywhere in the United States as a matter of cultural and social reality. After reading his review, I looked up thoughtfully and commented to the air molecules above my head::

You must spend most of your time in New York City. I gather that you have rarely gotten out onto the American landscape and actually visited people in the small towns of the early and middle 20th century United States—now have you?

Today we know Rockwell painted at least some of his situational scenes from photographic snapshots he had taken—because the photographs have been found and can be directly compared to the paintings. What Rockwell actually captured in his many paintings, like those he did for the Saturday Evening Post, might not have always been observed life situations in small towns, but they did capture the pure essence, heart, mind, soul, and spirit of small town America and most of the American people. In my opinion, this is why his art was so well received in the small towns and backwoods areas of the United States, and it is the reason his art endures.

What does Norman Rockwell and his art have to do with this Happy Thanksgiving card to you?  Well, an old Chinese proverb says:

It is better to light one little candle than to curse the darkness.

On this particular Thanksgiving Day in 2016, more than anything else, I am thankful that light is always more powerful than the darkness that surrounds us. That light will inevitably win out over even the bleakest darkness we encounter in our lives here on Earth. That being the case, our Thanksgiving card to you is a short photographic essay using seven classic Norman Rockwell paintings.  Please think of each painting as a small candle lit in the midst of our current darkness.  Know who you are. Draw some hope from each candle, and never let any person steal your hope or your rights as an American citizen. Stand firm against all the clouds of darkness, and have a Happy Thanksgiving weekend.  (Please scroll down to see the paintings.)


Freedom of Speech


 Freedom of Worship


Freedom from Want



Do Unto Others as You Would Have Them Do Unto You


U.S. Marshals Escort Ruby Bridges to her First Grade Class in New Orleans


Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep

Gertrude Bell, Archaeology, and Iraq

These days we Tennesseans hear an awful lot about Iraq, its ISIS-occupied territories, and various atrocities that are committed on an almost daily basis. As professional archaeologists, we care about all of these atrocities, particularly the ones that involve the destruction of cultural resources and the looting of archaeological sites to finance ISIS operations. However, one thing we almost never hear is positive information about Iraq. That changes right now.

Most people do not know that a female archaeologist by the name of Gertrude Bell (1868 – 1926) [Figure 1] was instrumental in the official founding of the modern State of Iraq after World War I. She also established the famous Baghdad Archaeological Museum (known today as the National Museum of Iraq). Gertrude was a British archaeologist and adventurer. She was also multi-talented and led a real life that would make Lara Croft and Indiana Jones blush with envy. You may read a synopsis of her life and work in Wikipedia—bearing in mind that articles in Wikipedia sometimes contain one or more factual inaccuracies. If you are interested in probing deeper and with more accuracy into the life of Gertrude Bell, you may click on this Wikipedia article at the following safe link and review the reference items listed at the bottom of it:

The Life and Work of Archaeologist Gertrude Bell


Figure 1.  Photograph of Gertrude Bell

We also have an interesting and surprising Tennessee connection here.  Nashville resident and actress Nicole Kidman (Figure 2) has played the role of Gertrude Bell in a movie entitled Queen of the Desert. According to IMDb, this movie was filmed in 2015 and is scheduled for first release to American theaters in 2017.  The movie is based on an early biographical book entitled Gertrude Bell: Queen of the Desert and Shaper of Nations (Figure 3).


Figure 2.  Nicole Kidman Playing the Role of Gertrude Bell


Figure 3.  Early Book Cover on Gertrude Bell: Queen of the Desert, Shaper of Nations

As I have said in other places, some of the best archaeologists I have ever known are women archaeologists.  This article should be encouraging to female K-12 students and female undergraduate college students who are interested in becoming professional archaeologists or museum directors.  However, there is no reason to limit yourself to archaeology or museums alone. Why not try some nation building or something else fantastic along your own unique route in life?   If Gertrude could do it, so can you.  The Archaeology in Tennessee blog and the Oak Ridge Archaeological Research Institute  believe in your capacity for success.  Get out there in life and shoot for the stars!

Photograph Credits

Figure 1     The Daily Beast

Figure 2     Atlas Distribution Company

Figure 3     National Public Radio

Prehistoric Mortuary Practices in the Normandy Reservoir

by Tracy C. Brown

My M.A. thesis entitled Prehistoric Mortuary Patterning and Change in the Normandy Reservoir, Coffee County, Tennessee has just been scanned and uploaded to the TRACE System in the John C. Hodges Library at The University of Tennessee, Knoxville (UTK). If you are interested, you may easily read it on-line or download it to your computer from TRACE. You may do the same by simply using the following link here at the blog:

TCB Thesis

A total of 127 human burials dating from the Late Archaic Ledbetter phase through the Mississippian Banks phase were recovered from sites in the Normandy Reservoir, Coffee County, Tennessee, and three nearby sites located outside the reservoir area. Formal comparative analyses of mortuary attribute states were performed on phase-level burial samples. These analyses resulted in the isolation of mortuary patterning phenomena involving body disposal; the spatial organization of burials on sites and their integration with community patterns; and the locations of burials on functionally differentiated site types within local settlement systems. In turn, these patterning phenomena were assessed for their possible social implications. The generation of detailed data on mortuary behavior for each burial-yielding phase of the Normandy prehistoric sequence allowed the development of a diachronic perspective on stability and change in local mortuary practices.

To the best of my knowledge, this thesis is still the definitive diachronic study of human mortuary practices in the southeastern Highland Rim region of Middle Tennessee. It was written 34 years ago, and I still get calls from people who need a copy for their research—most recently a request from a researcher at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, Illinois.

I have a hard copy master here at the house that was given to me by my thesis service in 1982.  Unfortunately, it has little snippets of text loosely Scotch-taped to numerous pages, which precludes fast-feeding the document into a copier. The numerous foldout pages have to be copied one at a time on special copier settings, and they have to be folded. The slick reflective surfaces on the photographs renders them almost entirely black even on the lightest copier setting. The acid in the paper of my copy master has yellowed and degraded the quality of the paper, and although it was stored in a dry place on a book shelf, the steel paper clips in it still managed to rust and leave large, dark, ugly rust marks on the paper.

The first time this thesis was requested by a researcher, I had to cancel a whole afternoon of my life to copy and assemble it. After that, I dreaded the thought of getting more requests for it and knew it would either cost me more afternoons of personal copying at my office or cost a small fortune for copying and assembly by a commercial copying service.  Even TRACE indicated this thesis was a real bear for them to scan and upload to their system. The original PDF file was very large (96 MB), but they managed to compress it electronically into a 10-MB file. Therefore, I was really grateful when TRACE kindly made a decision to make my thesis available electronically on the Internet.

An Unexpected Death in the Tennessee Anthropology Family

Dr. Michael H. Logan has died. Mike was an Emeritus Professor of Anthropology at The University of Tennessee, Knoxville (UTK). He was one of my former cultural anthropology professors, a really nice guy, a good friend, a truly great teacher, and a really wonderful Friday afternoon beer buddy to many, many, many past anthropology students at UTK. Mike will be sorely missed by his many colleagues, friends, and former students. To this day our family cherishes the woven Mayan mat Mike and his wife gave us as a wedding present 37 years ago, and it is still prominently displayed on the wall in our upstairs library here at the house.  The obituary below was just forwarded to me a few minutes ago by archaeologist Donald B. Ball in Louisville, Kentucky.


Dr. Michael H. Logan passed away peacefully, surrounded by his loving family, on May 21, 2016. Born May 20, 1942 in Denver, Colorado, he was the son of Dorothy Dixon Logan and bandleader Warner “Happy” Logan. Dr. Logan received degrees in cultural anthropology from the University of Colorado (B.A.), San Diego State University (M.A.), and Pennsylvania State University (Ph.D.). He did extensive fieldwork in Mexico, Guatemala, Brazil, and India. He was known for his wide-ranging expertise in Plains Indian culture and art, as well as research focused on ethnobotanical and ethnomedical practices.

Dr. Logan authored and coauthored over 70 scholarly articles, book chapters, and reviews.  He also edited the journal, Reviews in Anthropology, as well as serving on several editorial boards. He served as a Professor of Anthropology at UT from 1976 to 2014. He loved classroom teaching and mentored thousands of students on a wide range of topics in cultural anthropology. For teaching excellence he received a dozen prestigious awards, including the National Alumni Outstanding Teaching Award in 1993 and the Cunningham Award in 2004. The UTK Department of Anthropology’s annual award for outstanding graduate student teaching is named in his honor. In addition, he received awards for curating and co-curating six exhibits at the McClung Museum of Natural History and Culture, focusing mostly on Plains Indian Art and American Indian beadwork.

Dr. Logan was preceded in death by his parents, his older brother Warner, and niece Diane. Survivors include his wife of 45 years Elizabeth Brown Logan, daughters Kristen Logan Clark (Patrick Clark) and Kay Marie Logan, and many other beloved family members and friends. He will be remembered for his love for life, humor, wealth of knowledge, and giving spirit. In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to the Tahosa Alumni Association (Camp Tahosa, Boy Scouts of America), P.O. Box 102938, Denver, Colorado 80250. A celebration-of-life gathering will be held on Wednesday, May 25th, from 3:00-5:00 p.m. at the McClung Museum of Natural History and Culture, located on the UTK campus at 1327 Circle Park Dr., Knoxville, Tennessee.