Dr. Carl Kuttruff, our Tennessee Archaeology Friend, Has Passed Away

Carl Kuttruff

Tennessee Archaeologists Having a Technical Discussion in the Woods Long Ago

Left to Right: Carl Kuttruff, John Broster, and Brian Butler

Our Tennessee archaeology legend and friend, Dr. Carl Kuttruff, passed away on July 23, 2017, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Many people in Tennessee archaeology knew Carl much better than I did. However, I had several fond encounters with him. Carl worked for a number of years at the Tennessee Division of Archaeology in Nashville, Tennessee, and I first encountered Carl while he was leading the Vanderbilt University field school at Mound Bottom circa 1974.

My next encounter with Carl came in 1976 when I visited his massive excavations at the Fort Loudoun site in Monroe County, Tennessee.  That was one really hot summer with no air conditioning and little shade. Carl and his field crew were occupying the old Carson House, a white, 19th century Victorian farmhouse located just off Highway 72S in Vonore, Tennessee. At the same time, our University of Tennessee, Knoxville (UTK) Tellico Archaeology crew was occupying an old church camp a short walk down the road from the Carson house. Members of both field crews visited with each other often that summer. During off hours, Carl and his crew set up a volleyball net at the Carson House, and members of the two field crews had some lively volleyball matches that summer. How they had enough energy to play so much volleyball after long, sweltering summer days in the field was a monument to the enthusiasm of young archaeologists—and no doubt to the socially lubricating powers of tequila.

Carl’s work at Fort Loudoun resulted in his now famous book entitled Fort Loudoun in Tennessee: 1756-1760, a comprehensive, thick, and quite heavy hard cover volume covering the history of the British colonial fort, its archaeology, replications, exhibits, and interpretations.  A very small amount of human skeletal remains were found during Carl’s excavations at Fort Loudoun.  He was kind enough to ask me to analyze them for him, and the results were included in this book.

My fondest remembrances of Carl go back to 1976-1977, or thereabouts, when Carl would make visits to UTK to give talks or conduct research. He often came on winter nights when it was frigid cold outside. Rather than spend a night at an expensive hotel, he would bring his backpack and sleeping bag with him. Dave McMahan and I were sharing a small dormitory room in Reese Hall (Presidential Court Complex) on campus at UTK. Carl would come by for a visit and ask if he could spend the night with us and sleep on the floor of our dormitory room.  We were always glad to see Carl and welcome him into our room for some conversation and a good night’s rest after a long day.

An obituary for Carl was published recently in The Advocate, a local newspaper in Baton Rouge. Unfortunately, the last few words of his obituary were not published. We are not sure why. It may have been an editorial mistake or a decision forced by limited publication space. Whatever the case might be, you may read Carl’s obituary by clicking on the following safe link, and when you get there, please notice a clickable button that allows you to leave a personal message of condolence to the members of Carl’s family:

Obituary for Carl Kuttruff

Carl was a nice person who I found to be kind, friendly, and easy to get along with.  We will all miss Carl very much.

Photograph Credit: Tennessee Council for Professional Archaeology


State Archaeological Permits: They Are Not Like Fishing and Hunting Licenses

Looter Holes

Thousands of Random Digging Holes in a Middle Eastern Archaeological Site

Most professional archaeologists do not keep track of the various “goings on” in the avocational archaeology and artifact collector communities. I do to a certain extent and so does my friend Doug Rocks MacQueen in the United Kingdom, as well as a few other professional archaeologists I know. Back in the 1950s and 1960s, when I was growing up in the Nashville area, there were no professional archaeologists. If a kid wanted to learn something about American archaeology or Tennessee archaeology, local libraries were of little help. The only way to learn anything at all about prehistoric Native Americans was to get in touch with a local avocational archaeologist, such as Buddy Brehm or John Dowd, or call on various local artifact collectors. That being the case, I became familiar with those folks, felt at home with them, and enjoyed interacting with them—and still do with the ones who are friendly and receptive. I suppose this is why, every once in a while, I take a break from whatever else I am doing with American archaeology and tune in to what is happening in those communities. I am writing this blog post because of one particular issue that I have encountered several times on visits to various on-line artifact collector venues over the past few years, so this post is kindly directed to the many folks in the American and Tennessee artifact collector communities.

I cannot recall what the specific on-line venue was because it was about three years ago, but an artifact collector in one of the 50 states had written in to ask if it was legal for a person to dig for artifacts on private property in that state. He was told that it was legal to dig for artifacts on private property as long as he got written permission from the property owner and a written state permit from the official state archaeological authorities. His response was something along the lines of the following:

Well, that is good news!!!  I know a farmer in my state that has an archaeological site on his land, and I feel certain he will give me permission to dig in it.  So, I will just apply for a state permit, pay them a few bucks for the permit, and start digging.

Some states actually require a written state permit to perform any kind of excavations for artifacts and/or archaeological information on privately owned land. One good example of this is the State of Oregon. Here in Tennessee (and in most other states), it is legal to perform archaeological excavations on state-owned or state-managed property if a person gets a written permit to do so from the appropriate state agency. Here in Tennessee that agency is the Tennessee Division of Archaeology in Nashville, Tennessee.

So, if you are an artifact collector, it is easy as pie—right?  You just ask for permission to dig, pay a few quick bucks like you do for your fishing or hunting license, grab the nearest shovel, and you are on your way. Correct?

Face palm.  No.  Sorry to burst your bubble, but it does not work that way here in Tennessee or in any other state that I know about—including Oregon. These state permits are not anything like fishing licenses or hunting licenses. They are far more serious business and far more difficult to obtain. Here is a list of typical specifics that will explain what you would have to do to get one of these state permits to excavate on an archaeological site:

(1)  You would have to be a professional archaeologist with a Ph.D. or M.A. degree in archaeology (or a related field) and meet the minimum professional standards and years of supervisory and excavation experience specified by your state.  Truthfully, in most states, they will prefer far more than just the minimum qualifications.

(2) You would have to fill out a standard state application for a permit. This application usually asks for a lot of detail and attachments (e.g., a map of the proposed excavation area).

(3) You would have to write and submit to the state a formal proposal to do archaeological research. In this proposal, you would need to set forth the specific archaeological problems to be addressed by your excavations; show how you are going to address them (formal research design); justify the proposed work; and demonstrate that you have sufficient qualified personnel, funding, equipment, laboratory space, artifact curation plans, and levels of funding. You would also have to present a formal schedule for successfully completing your proposed work. This research proposal is not a quick-and-dirty, one-page deal in most cases. It takes multiple pages, and you have to do serious, high-quality scientific writing; know how to use professional archaeological terminology; and exhibit a deep understanding of archaeological science, archaeological field methods, laboratory processes, and archaeological logistics.

(4) You would submit to the official supervision of state archaeological personnel through occasional or regular announced and unannounced visits to your archaeological field operations and/or laboratory operations. You would also be required to submit weekly or monthly progress reports to the state and the sources of your funding. In other words, a professional state archaeologist would be breathing down your neck a big part of the time to make sure you were doing the work responsibly.

(5)  When your fieldwork and laboratory work are completed, you would be required to write and submit a formal, highly detailed, written archaeological report on your work, including reports on lithic analyses; ceramic analyses; zooarchaeological analyses; analyses of paleoethnobotanical remains; palynological analyses; human osteological analyses, if human burials were excavated; and radiocarbon dating and other dating methods that were used. A typical report could run several hundred typed, single-spaced pages with appendices.

(6)  Unlike fishing and hunting licenses, these are not general permits that are issued only one time—and afterwards a person can excavate anywhere in the state on any private property, state property, or state-managed property they like. Normally, each new site-level excavation project requires a new permit specific to the work proposed for a particular archaeological site. However, exceptions that include multiple site research can be made, depending on the nature of the proposed project.

(7) Now. Pay close attention here. If you do not personally dig random holes into archaeological sites and never plan to do so, I am not talking to you here. So relax. However, if you do put random digging holes into archaeological sites, you may not like this, but I have to be honest with you here.

There is a very long American history of some artifact collectors (not all) [without formal archaeological training] putting random, spatially uncontrolled digging holes into archaeological sites. Digging without grid squares in this random, three-dimensionally uncontrolled manner destroys the ancient archaeological story written in the soil on archaeological sites. You can see what this random, massive destruction looks like in the sad photograph at the beginning of this blog post (above).

Many thousands of American archaeological sites (and many sites right here in Tennessee) have been destroyed in this same manner by such random, spatially uncontrolled, and unrecorded digging. Archaeological information that would fill whole libraries has been lost forever as a direct result of such digging. Consequently, most professional archaeologists get really nervous at the idea of letting an artifact collector loose with a shovel and grapefruit knife on any archaeological site with intact cultural deposits. As a direct result of this long history of artifact collectors and artifact dealer minions destroying sites, most state archaeological authorities will never issue one of these state permits to an artifact collector. As an artifact collector, your chances of obtaining one of these state permits—in any of the 50 states and U.S. territories—are about the same as your chances for personally resurrecting George Washington from the dead. I know that sounds provocative and harsh, but it was not meant to hurt your feelings. It was said that way to emphasize the baseline truth of the matter so you will not forget it.

I hope this article has cleared up most of the confusion that exists among some folks in the American and Tennessee artifact collector community, particularly for novice artifact collectors, about state permits to excavate archaeological sites on private property, state property, or state-managed property. Obtaining one of these permits to excavate is not anything like paying a few quick bucks for a fishing or hunting license. Getting one of these written permits to excavate requires a lot of professional archaeological expertise, a lot of professional experience, and a damned lot of deep thought and hard work.

Artifact collectors and professional archaeologists in many different states, and a lot of foreign countries, read the various articles on the Archaeology in Tennessee blog. If you have specific questions about obtaining one of these state permits, please consult with the office of the State Archaeologist in the particular state you have in mind to do archaeological excavation work. The many specific requirements for obtaining a written state permit can vary some from one state to another.  Please click on the following safe link to get the contact information for the Office of the State Archaeologist in all 50 states and U.S. territories such as Puerto Rico:

Contact Information for State Archaeologists


Recent Archaeology in Oliver Springs, Tennessee

The Oak Ridge Archaeological Research Institute (ORARI) has spent several days researching, exploring, and recording a previously uninvestigated archaeological site in Oliver Springs, Tennessee. Yesterday was our last day of work at the site—mostly a day to tie up a few loose ends. Because the heat was brutal and our tasks were few, we had planned to tie up our loose ends in about one hour. However, an unexpected but welcome opportunity to obtain even more information and data on the site presented itself in the form of a very nice man in a white pickup truck who drove onto the site and parked next to the ORARI archaeology van. We struck up a conversation with him and quickly learned that he had been a student (1947-1955) at a former school building that once occupied a portion of the site. He was able to fill in some significant historical and architectural information gaps we were concerned might go unfilled. Consequently, we ended up spending an extra hour sweltering in the afternoon sun, asking detailed questions, and taking copious field notes.  We were grateful for the opportunity!

No small or large archaeological project ends without taking a crew picture (Figure 1). The old guy with the “chrome dome” in the center is me—the Field Director.  The other two folks served as my volunteer Field Technicians at the site.  They also happen to be my fine and beloved children.


Figure 1.  Left to Right: Leah C. Brown, Tracy C. Brown, and Aaron W. Brown

The archaeological site consists of two discrete areas. One is the former location of a small school that was constructed in 1916 to serve Grades 1 through 8.  This school was operated until 1967. Soon afterwards, the abandoned school building was turned into a neighborhood community center.  Unfortunately, this originally square, two-story, brick school building burned down on Saturday, August 30, 1975.  The burned remains were razed, and a new neighborhood community center was built in the late 1970s. In fact, it was built right on top of the location once occupied by the old school building.  All that remains of the old school today are a set of exterior concrete stairs embedded in a soil embankment along the street in front of the school, a walkway from the stairs to the front of the former building, and a portion of a fragmented sidewalk that paralleled the front of the school building.

The other discrete area of the site is a small, sandstone rockshelter located in the general vicinity of the school, but also historically related to the school in an unusual way.  This rockshelter is approximately 20 feet wide, 5 feet high, and 18 feet deep (front to back).  The floor is primarily soil that contains some chunks of breakdown rock—but no boulders that are evident at the soil surface.  The soil floor is dusty like wood ashes in some places and somewhat damp and compact in other places. Over the years, this rockshelter has been visited frequently by those local citizens who are aware of its presence, and this has resulted in a large, unattractive accumulation of bottles, cans, and other disposables on the soil surface inside the rockshelter.

Sometime in the 19th century or early 20th century, a local citizen found evidence of a prehistoric occupation in this rockshelter, primarily in the form of lithic artifacts. Word of it eventually filtered down to the students who attended the nearby school. According to Snyder E. Roberts, the 20th century historian of Oliver Springs, some of the students at the old school were found to be absent from school in the morning or absent from class later in the day on various days throughout any given school year. Whenever a teacher discovered these absences, she would initiate a search for the missing children—only to find that they had quietly sneaked off the school grounds and over to the rockshelter to dig for projectile points/knives and other prehistoric artifacts. Apparently, this happened quite often over the years, establishing a clear and persistent historical and cultural connection between the school and the rockshelter.

Eventually, this rockshelter became more widely known among local citizens, and it attracted teenage/adult artifact collectors bent on digging. In fact, during our visit to the rockshelter, a small but shallow “digger hole” of very recent origin was observed and photographed in the floor of the rockshelter (Figure 2).


Figure 2.  Recent Digger Hole in the Floor of the Rockshelter

The irregular floor surface in the rockshelter today suggests quite a lot of other past digging has occurred, the floor undulations reflecting a combination of long-abandoned, small, shallow, open holes and associated backdirt piles.

It should be noted that ORARI makes a deliberate and concerted effort to avoid disturbance of intact or disturbed archaeological deposits whenever possible because our orientation is decidedly toward site preservation rather than site excavation.  The ORARI crew did not perform any sort of excavations in this rockshelter or on the site of the old school—and we did not collect any artifacts. Our effort at this archaeological site was restricted to deep background archival research, informant interviews, making field observations on the school grounds and in the rockshelter, taking measurements of various surface features, recording the current community center (almost 50 years old); taking field photographs, collecting information/data via extensive field notes, and writing it all up, along with some interpretations, in our daily electronic field manual entries. In other words, good archaeology does not always entail a shovel or trowel in the ground—nor should it.

Now that our on-site work has been essentially completed, we have plans to identify and interview any local individuals who may still own artifacts they found while digging in the rockshelter floor or on the steep soil embankment just outside of it. We will take a close look at the artifacts, photograph them, and identify temporally and culturally diagnostic pp/k’s and ceramics to help us determine how many prehistoric components are present in the rockshelter and determine the date ranges when the site was occupied during prehistoric and historic times. The results from our archival research, fieldwork, and interpretations will be recorded on a standard electronic Archaeological Site Survey Record form for permanent filing in the Tennessee Register of Archaeological Sites (Tennessee Site Survey Files) housed at the Tennessee Division of Archaeology in Nashville, Tennessee.  In addition, we plan to write a report on this work and similar work we are doing at several other archaeological sites in Oliver Springs and its vicinity.

Finally, just in case this site is of interest to anyone doing rockshelter research in other parts of Tennessee, this particular rockshelter is located barely inside the Cumberland Mountains and very close to the boundary line between the Cumberland Plateau physiographic province and the Ridge and Valley physiographic province—where limestone and dolomite meet  sandstone.  This is also arguably a site right on a major ecotone boundary line between two significant biomes and in a small area with a very high concentration of natural mineral springs and freshwater springs. Depending on how disturbed the archaeological deposits are (or are not) at depth in this Oliver Springs rockshelter, it might pose a future opportunity for Tennessee archaeologists to compare and contrast rockshelter occupations in a similar environmental setting along the western escarpment of the Cumberland Plateau to an occupational regime at a rockshelter site on its eastern escarpment at a location much farther south than in upper East Tennessee.

Because of some rather severe safety constraints, we were unable to closely examine this Oliver Springs rockshelter for prehistoric rock art or historically interesting graffiti. However, we may be able to do this at some future date.

A Moving Native American Musical Performance

Alexandro Querevalu

I thought you might enjoy listening to a Native American musical performance, which is done using handmade musical instruments constructed mostly from natural materials that would have been available on the American landscape to ancient Native Americans. The Native American musician is Alexandro Querevalu, a native of Lima, Peru, and the music is the haunting theme to the motion picture The Last of the Mohicans, which was based on the early 19th century novel of the same name by American writer James Fenimore Cooper. This unique performance is very moving, and it shows a brief glimpse of our ancient Native American past that has been lost forever.  In your minds, if you can block out the festival tourists and masonry floor surrounding this musician, you can easily imagine such an ancient musician offering up a somewhat similar performance with different musical notes in a ceremonial context. Imagine him kneeling and playing his instruments on the great plaza at Mound Bottom, the Mississippian period mound ceremonial center in Cheatham County, Tennessee.  The year is 1153 A.D.

Yes.  I know.  Yours truly is a hopeless Euroamerican romantic, but I do like this musical performance and hope you will too.  Just turn up the volume some on your computer speakers or headphones and click on the following safe link:

Musical Theme to “The Last of the Mohicans” (Reed Flute and Rattles)

Photograph Credit: Gudrun Giese


Mississippian Period Statues from Sellars Farm

Oak Ridge High School lets their students go home at 1:50 p.m. on Wednesdays.  It was my job to pick up my son after school today. He had a haircut scheduled for 3:00 p.m., so we had some time to kill before his appointment. We both agreed to go across the street to the Oak Ridge Public Library, use the restroom, and watch the clock. On entering the library, I bolted for the magazine and journal section to look at the latest edition of The Tennessee Conservationist (TTC), a general environmental periodical put out six times per year by the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC).  Way back in the 1980s and early 1990s, I really looked forward to seeing each new edition of TTC because it usually contained at least one article related to Tennessee archaeology. True. I did not formally chart the tables of contents from one edition to the next across those many past years, but it appeared to me that someone at TDEC, in the 1990s, decided to make Tennessee archaeology a low priority for general TTC magazine articles and focus instead on many more articles about environmental management, zoology, and ecology. Although environmental management is one of my fields of expertise, along with southeastern archaeology, I quit reading the TTC when it became clear to me that Tennessee archaeology was no longer a high priority for articles. When I picked up the latest edition of the TTC at the public library this afternoon, I was amazed to see a new and richly illustrated article on the four famous Mississippian period statues found at the mound site on the Sellars Farm, which is located in Wilson County near Lebanon, Tennessee.  Two of these statues are shown in Figure 1.

Sellars Statues

Figure 1.  Two of the Ancestors at the Sellars Mound Site

The title of this new article is “Ancient Faces: Native American Stone Sculptures from Sellars Farm State Archaeological Area in Wilson County.”  Dr. Kevin E. Smith, Professor of Anthropology at Middle Tennessee State University, is the author.  This article is on pages 20–25 in the March/April 2017 edition of TTC.  It is a really good, well-written article, and the accompanying photographs are excellent. I encourage you to read it.  Your local public library may have a subscription to TTC, which means you may read the article there.  Information on how to subscribe to TTC is available at the following safe link:

Subscribe to The Tennessee Conservationist

Dr. Smith and his late friend, James G. Miller, did the comprehensive, seminal research on Mississippian stone statuary in the Tennessee-Middle Cumberland region. The results of their research were published in a 2009 book entitled Speaking with the Ancestors: Mississippian Stone Statuary of the Tennessee-Cumberland Region. This excellent book is available from its publisher, The University of Alabama Press.  In addition, you may obtain this book as a Kindle Edition or as a paperback book from Amazon.com.

In the years since the death of Jim Miller, Dr. Smith has continued his research on Mississippian statuary in Tennessee and the southeast region, and he has inspired an interest in related aspects of it by young, up-and-coming Tennessee archaeologists such as Ms. Sierra Bow, a Ph. D. graduate student at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Much to his credit, Dr. Smith has also been instrumental in creating widespread public interest in Mississippian statuary through his well-known commitment to public archaeology. This new article in TTC is part of that continuing and very valuable commitment.

I would like to close this blog post by praising TTC for publishing this recent article on Mississippian statuary and by encouraging TTC to include more general articles related to Tennessee prehistoric archaeology and historical archaeology in its future editions, like you did in the 1980s and early 1990s. Yes. The journal Tennessee Archaeology is published by the Tennessee Division of Archaeology under TDEC, and it is an excellent publication. I relish reading every new edition that comes out because I am a professional archaeologist.  However, it is primarily a technical journal that serves the interests of professional archaeologists and avocational archaeologists.  Most ordinary Tennessee citizens with no deep educational background in Tennessee archaeology or American archaeology would probably get lost in the technicalia of it. In my opinion, which is always open to change, most Tennessee citizens would be more likely to experience a sparked interest in Tennessee archaeology through more basic TTC articles such as this new one about the Mississippian statuary from the Sellars Farm.

Photo Credit: The Lebanon Democrat

A Monkey and His Flakes

Hi everyone.  Here is an interesting article on chipped stone artifacts, their origins, and their implications for the identification of so-called “early man” sites all over the world. In particular, this has implications for the identification of Early Arrival Hypothesis archaeological sites in Central America and South America. As anyone who has ever watched Night at the Museum I can attest, the monkey can be a deceitful and misleading creature.  Here is the safe link to the article:

A Monkey and His Flakes

If you would like to know more about the Capuchin monkey (Cebus capucinus), you may read up on the species here:

The Capuchin Monkey

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.