Tag Archives: Archaeology

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.

The Past Creates the Present

I have mentioned The Twilight Zone in several of my past posts.  It was one of my favorite television series in the early 1960s when I was about 10 years old.  Sure, the series was made for entertainment purposes.  However, if you were a fairly bright kid, even something as imaginary and mundane as an episode of a black and white TV show could teach you some important things.

One night way back in 1961, I plopped my child bottom into an old rocking chair to watch the latest episode of The Twilight Zone.   The settings for most such episodes were usually current times, future times, or some set of circumstances on another planet.  Much to my surprise, the episode that night was very different.  Although fictional, It was nonetheless an important  lesson about American history, served up with just a slight tinge of archaeology in the form of one crumbling artifact at the end.  It made a real impression on me as a child because it dramatized the relationship between the historical past and current times.  In particular, it showed how the smallest events of the human past work through time to create the present…and in the Twilight Zone a little help from the present sometimes creates the past.  Needless to say, it is one of my Top 5 episodes of the famous series.

This episode is from the second season of The Twilight Zone, and its title is “A Hundred Yards Over the Rim.”  It is only 30 minutes long with a few interspersed commercial messages from current times.  The main character is played by a fairly young Cliff Robertson, and one of his followers is John Astin (before The Adams Family and Patty Duke).  Please take a few minutes, watch this rarely seen episode, and think about history and archaeology while you are doing it.  Here is the URL:


Archaeological Advice Column

All of us have had really good days and really bad days at work.  On some of the really bad days, people stop for a moment and ask themselves a key question: “What other job or career might make me happier?”  I have asked this question too.  One of the answers that came to my mind many years ago was advice columnist.  Many of you remember the most famous syndicated advice columns in your local newspapers:  Ask Ann Landers (Ann Landers), Dear Abby (Abigail Van Buren), and My Answer (Billy Graham).  While cruising around the worldwide web earlier this summer, I ran into an archaeological question so astute that it deserved an equally astute answer.  The exact wording of the question, the name of the person who asked it, and its location on the web have left my memory.  However, the essence of the question—and what it might look like in a syndicated advice column—has been on my mind for weeks.  Here goes:

 Ask the Old Archaeologist

Dear Old Archaeologist:

I have permission to hunt a very special corn field for Indian relics.  This field has been deeply plowed every year (without fail) for the past 100 years.  I started surface collecting in this field way back in early March 1955 and hunted it for relics every weekend from March plowing to the onset of cold weather in October.  When I first started hunting this field, I found large numbers of really amazing relics.  Why I could easily bring home 100 perfect arrowheads and even more broken ones every weekend back in those early days. There were so many other nice bifacial tools too—drill bits, endscrapers made from spent arrowheads, and numerous flint spear points that were 6 inches long.  Some other fellas and their kids may have had permission to hunt this field off and on over the years too.  It has been 58 years since I first started surface hunting every weekend in that great old field.  However, something is terribly wrong now, and I don’t understand why?  I can go to that old field every Saturday now, walk back and forth through the corn rows, and find nearly nothing in the way of quality relics. Once in a very great while, I might find the tip of a broken arrowhead, and that’s about it.  Do you have any idea why my wonderful relic field is no longer producing the types and numbers of nice Indian relics that it once did?  It has me really concerned and upset.  Please help me.



The Old Archaeologist Answers:

You certainly do have a serious problem Worried.  You have been hunting this field too frequently and for too many years.  It is a well-known archaeological fact that Big Sandy, Eva II, Morrow Mountain, and Snyder points (as well as many other bifacial tools) mate in late March and lay their eggs from early April to early May.  You arrived to surface collect every March when the ground was first plowed.  This turned up numerous, whole, male and female artifacts that were easily found and collected. You most likely collected both male and female artifacts in very large numbers at that time of the year and removed them from the field before they were able to mate.  Whole adult artifacts are only able to mate and lay eggs that will hatch while still in the ancestral fields where they were hatched.  Consequently, large numbers of female artifacts were gone from the field (framed in the den at your house) and unable to lay their eggs in that field each year.  In addition, many attractive artifacts persist for a considerable period of time in their larval stages.  If you removed the few remaining larval artifacts from the field each year before they reached maturity, the overall artifact populations were adversely impacted by your direct removal actions and were indirectly impacted by preventing these young artifacts from becoming breeding adults.  Thus, your actions severely reduced the artifact populations in your favorite surface hunting field over time.

Now that you understand how your actions have been affecting the artifact populations in your favorite field for the last 58 years, it is possible to rectify the situation.  The cultural ecology of the field must be restored!!!  The few remaining adult artifacts must be allowed to mate on site, lay their eggs, and produce numerous larval artifacts that will survive, become adults, and eventually breed.  This means you and other artifact collectors who live in your area need to immediately cease surface hunting for artifacts in this field until the various adult projectile points and bifacial tools that may still be present can reproduce in sufficient numbers to restore their natural population levels. 

It may take a decade or more for the cultural ecology of your field to reestablish equilibrium at a level that can produce and sustain large populations of artifacts.  When the populations have stabilized at high levels in the future, it is further recommended that you and your fellow collectors avoid surface collecting during those months of the year when the artifact reproduction cycle is running its natural course, and you should give sufficient time for larval artifacts to mature into adult projectile points, drill bits, endscrapers, and knives.  This occurs during the period from March to early October of each year.  Whenever you and your fellow collectors do surface hunting in this field again (from middle October to February of each year), try to avoid taking every whole adult artifact you see so large adult mating populations will still be present when late February comes.  Limit your harvesting to no more than 20 percent.  Follow this wise advice from The Old Archaeologist, and your favorite field should be teeming with collectible ancient artifacts for many decades to come.

The Sequester is Coming

It appears that the federal “doomsday” sequester will go into effect on March 1, 2013.  For those of you without a calendar, that is Friday of this week.  In addition, the current continuing resolution that is financing the federal government will expire about four weeks from now on March 27, 2013.  The most recent information indicates that neither the U.S. Senate nor the U.S. House of Representatives has the will to negotiate a deal to avert it—and neither has plans to even try.  A brief film clip from the 1962 movie The Longest Day about sums it all up.  Just insert the word “sequester” for the word “invasion.”  Here it is:


The sequester is an $85 billion annual cut in federal discretionary spending each year for the next 10 years.  For those of you who do not do numbers, that is $85,000 million.  The term “discretionary spending” refers to that small piece of the federal pie other than the mandatory spending on entitlement programs, which takes up most of the federal pie in any given year, and interest on the national debt.  The discretionary pie pays for such things as federal funding for research in anthropology and archaeology.  For those of you who do Section 106 compliance projects for a living, the discretionary pie also pays for those federally funded construction projects that may no longer have sufficient funding to proceed on Friday.  How will this all shake out?  I have no idea and neither do you.  We are just going to have to wait and see.  Frankly, I am very worried.

The news media are going to have a field day with this, starting tomorrow, but especially on Friday.  I can pretty much guarantee you that they will have their fingers on the pulse of every gloomy story they can find and will be painitng a sensationalistic picture entitled “The End of the World” as we have known it.

More on Archaeology and the Looming Fiscal Cliff

The Archaeology in Tennessee blog offers a series of opinions about American science, archaeology, and the looming fiscal cliff.  These opinions assume that you have read our previous post on fiscal cliff issues and know at least some very basic facts about why we are in this national economic calamity and why we are in danger of an economic tumble.  The opinion points are as follows:

1)     Any deal between President Obama and Congress to avert a tumble over the fiscal cliff will require compromise between Republicans and Democrats. President Obama is willing to compromise by reducing some entitlement spending. However, the degree to which Congressional Democrats are willing to go along with the specific entitlement compromise he has in mind appears to be unclear at this time.  The President would be open to eliminating some federal tax deductions to raise revenue, but he is unwilling to compromise on the need to raise additional revenue by eliminating the George W. Bush tax cuts only for individuals making $200,000+ per year and married couples making $250,000+ per year, which he defines as the wealthiest Americans. The soon-to-expire Bush tax cuts would be reinstated for individuals and couples making less. During the just completed election cycle, he made a campaign promise to raise taxes on this group, and polls indicate that a vast majority of Americans (~ 67 percent) agree with him on this.  He would also like to raise tax rates on the wealthiest Americans to bring in additional revenue, but it has been indicated that he may be willing to compromise on the specific tax rate increase numbers.

2)     Republican John Boehner (Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives) and house majority leader would like to raise revenue primarily by deep budget cuts in government programs, particularly entitlement programs such as Medicare.  With regard to the George W. Bush tax cuts that are set to expire next year, he wants to reinstate these cuts for all individuals and married couples, regardless of their income levels.  However, he too recognizes the need to raise new revenue so our nation can pay its huge bills, and he has offered to compromise on this issue by eliminating existing federal income tax deductions and loopholes.  He is unwilling to raise tax rates on the wealthiest Americans.

3)     Items 1 and 2 above stake out the baseline positions of each side.  The old saw says that “the devil is in the details.”  Unfortunately, for these two opponents and the American people, the devil is also in the gamesmanship, and a high stakes poker game is being played here, so let us examine the nature of the game.

4)     Back in the 1980s, an American lobbyist by the name of Grover Norquist arrived on the political scene in Washington, D.C. and started an organization called Americans for Tax Reform.  Mr. Norquist believes that the federal government is way too large, and he wants to cut it down to a much smaller size.  One way to do that is by choking it nearly to death.  This means cutting off the air (i.e., money supply) that allows it to breathe and thrive.  Many years ago, Mr. Norquist came up with an idea about how to do this. Have every Republican running for Congress and every incumbent Republican Congressman sign a pledge to their constituents that they would never raise federal taxes—no matter what.  He rightly judged that he could become one of the most powerful unelected persons in Washington, D.C. by holding on to those signed pledges and later using them to publicly threaten any Republican Congressman who showed any signs of deviating from the pledge in future years.  How does this sound: “Mr. Republican.  If you vote to raise even one federal tax after signing this pledge, be it 1 year from now, 15 years from now, 50 years from now, or 75 years from now, Americans for Tax Reform will work against you in the next election and ensure that you are defeated.”  It is our understanding that Mr. Norquist and his organization have sufficient funding and clout in conservative circles to do just that—and most Republican Congressmen are frightened to death by this man and what he can do to them if he so chooses.

5)     Mr. Boehner is unwilling to compromise with President Obama to raise taxes on the wealthiest Americans because he has signed the Norquist pledge and so have most of the other Republican Congressmen (U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives). Figuratively speaking, Mr. Norquist has a loaded gun cocked and pointed right at their heads.  When politicians are in this position, one of their classic game plays has been to exit the situation by playing clever word games—semantics.  Mr. Boehner attempted to do this by offering Mr. Obama his compromise to eliminate federal tax “deductions” and “loopholes” rather than overtly and openly raise taxes.  For example, if the citizen tax deduction for home mortgage interest is eliminated, the federal government gets to keep the money it would have otherwise given up to a homeowner.  It is a clever way of raising taxes without actually using the two words “raising taxes.”  Mr. Norquist then stepped in and told Mr. Boehner that the clever word game would not work and that the pledge to never raise taxes—ever again—no matter what—includes never eliminating deductions and loopholes.

6)     If that were not enough to contend with in forging a sensible compromise, Mr. Boehner has to contend with the Republican Tea Party members in the U.S. House of Representatives and other ultra-conservative Republican house members who are in sympathy with them.  Even if Mr. Boehner personally and desperately wanted to work with Mr. Obama to achieve a reasonable, win-win compromise agreement, the Tea Party people (who have always worn their ability to be unreasonable as a badge of honor) would be unlikely to cooperate with Mr. Boehner and vote for a compromise bill to save us from the fiscal cliff.  To make matters worse, many of them are “Bible-believing” religious zealots who earnestly believe that President Obama and the Democrats are evil in the deepest religious sense.  In their particular view, the Bible teaches them that one must never compromise with evil—not even on the tiniest of points.  Instead evil must be vanquished and destroyed, even if great sacrifice (like flushing the United States down an economic toilet) is necessary to achieve it.

7)     Compromising with President Obama and the Democrats would be hard enough even if we lived in less partisan times, but Boehner’s own people have cornered him into a nearly impossible position with regard to any sort of reasonable compromise.  However, to be fair about this, a certain amount of clever gamesmanship is also underway on President Obama’s end of the court, so we will now take a look at it.

8)     From a pure negotiation standpoint, the Democrats have the upper hand in several different ways.  President Obama was re-elected by the popular vote and a landslide in the Electoral College.  The Democrats retained the U.S. Senate and added to their majority.  In case you have not noticed, that is at least two-thirds of the federal government.  This gives them what the pundits refer to as “political capital” to wield power as if they owned the government.  Furthermore, the American people, as mentioned earlier, are in favor of increasing taxes on the wealthy and renewing the Bush tax cuts for the middle class—and by a wide majority.  This further bolsters the bargaining power of the Democrats and their ability to win the compromise game, and that may be the key factor.  However, hearkening back to The Lord of The Rings, the Democrats believe that they already possess within their hands the master ring that controls all of the other rings, including the ones the Republicans own.

9)     If the Republicans in Congress fail to come to a reasonable compromise with the Democrats and the nation falls off the fiscal cliff in January, the Bush tax cuts will be automatically eliminated for ALL Americans. The Democrats can then reasonably argue that the entire Republican membership of the U.S. Congress broke their Norquist pledge to the American people—not just a little bit—but in a massive and totally irresponsible conflagration that hit every American family hard and plunged the entire nation back into the Great Recession.  They can make it stick and stick tightly, and they can campaign on it to win back the entire U.S. Congress in the 2014 election.  National polling is already showing that failure to avoid the fiscal cliff, and the ensuing precipitation of another national economic disaster, will be squarely blamed on the Republicans in the collective American mind.  The Democrats see this as their “Big Chip” in the poker game, which is one reason they are less likely to compromise and more likely to press for a win over the Republicans on the fiscal cliff issue rather than a win-win compromise.  If the Democrats get a reasonable compromise, they win.  If the nation goes over the fiscal cliff, the Democrats still win big anyway and can easily hang the albatross of blame around the necks of Congressional Republicans.

10)     President Obama’s ability to compromise on cutting entitlement programs may be limited by his own party in the U.S. Senate. Some reasonably limited compromises involving obvious programmatic waste and inefficiency are possible, and they will probably go along with that in support of Mr. Obama.  The profoundly deep entitlement cuts that the Republican members of Congress want would be a game stopper for the Democrats and probably most of the American people.  For the Democrats, no compromise is possible here beyond a certain limited point.

11)     After examining the situation in some detail, the Archaeology in Tennessee blog has concluded that no Congressional compromise will occur by January 2, 2013, and we have a greater than 90 percent chance of tumbling over the fiscal cliff.  What does that mean?

12)     It does not necessarily mean that the fiscal cliff argument and an attempt to compromise are all over.  Some are now calling it the fiscal slope rather than the fiscal cliff, meaning that we get to roll slowly into oblivion rather than plunging headlong into it.  At any time, the U.S. Congress can undo the whole fiscal cliff matter with simple majority votes to stop automatic deep budget cuts, reinstate the Bush tax cuts, or strike a compromise with the Democrats.  Our economic world does not have to be turned on its head immediately after New Year’s Day or on any other day.  The madness can be stopped.

13)     In the absence of an annual federal budget appropriation, the continuing resolution that is now funding federal government operations will continue in effect until sometime in March 2013.  If we do go over the cliff or begin rolling down the slope on January 2, 2013, current research funding for archaeology and its associated jobs will probably be safe for another few months beyond that date.  If the draconian budget cuts that are set to go into effect automatically actually go into effect, along with the death of the Bush tax cuts for everyone, all bets are off beyond March 2013. The federal government would no doubt continue to operate under another continuing resolution passed by the U.S. Congress, but it would be one with lesser funding and more limited scopes of work.  Jobs would be lost. Some archaeological field assistants, field technicians, and laboratory technicians will likely be leaving the nomadic road to go live with mom and dad.  Some museum and university research faculty may be looking at salary reductions or the loss of their jobs.

14)     One thing we have not seen addressed in other media venues is the fact that a rescue from the fiscal cliff, be it in January 2013 or August 2013, will not be a win for the American people or American archaeologists.  The fiscal cliff may be portrayed as a looming economic disaster, but even a reasonable compromise to avoid it will still mean significant losses in federal funding for scientific research, including archaeological research.  The whole point is the need to eventually balance the federal budget, and that cannot be accomplished without pain.  If the fiscal cliff can be viewed as sudden death, any reasonable compromise that avoids it will still be a slowly progressing, long-term, and very painful illness that we will all have to endure as best we can.

15)     Another thing we need to consider is whether falling off the fiscal cliff really is clandestine “Plan A,” and no compromise Plan A was ever intended, and all of this political squabbling is just political theater, sound and fury signifying nothing.  Anyone with an ounce of common sense knows that a compromise to avoid the fiscal cliff will not raise the large amounts of money needed to balance the federal budget and pay off our $16 trillion national debt.  The $ 2 trillion – $4 trillion range of anticipated savings over 10 years from a compromise is nowhere near enough money to rectify matters.  It is only a beginning and a rather paltry one at that.  If we do go over the fiscal cliff, everyone would pay more taxes and deep budget cuts would go into effect.  More money would be raised in that way.  With the public already angry at politicians because of the tumble, it might actually become easier over time to raise taxes to levels that would really put a dent into the national debt.

16)     Finally, we need to consider one other possibility.  Some say Congress continues to borrow money and increase the national debt because our politicians cannot summon the political will to do otherwise.  However, if you look at this group of men and women, you find highly educated people who have earned millions of dollars in private business and various professions. These are articulate, highly educated, and very skilled people who easily balance their own checkbooks at home and down at their private businesses.

In many instances, they seem to be oblivious to running up our national debt, even casual and nonchalant about it.  One side of the aisle never saw a $3-trillion war it did not like.  The other side of the aisle never saw a $3-trillion government program it did not like.  In normal times, either side would jump at the opportunity to spend that money on their pet projects.  The only time they seem to care about it is election time.  A year or so after the election ends, the issue fades from their memory, expenses come up, and the tab is paid with borrowed money.  What could make intelligent, responsible business and professional people behave that way about the national debt?  We can think of only one thing that makes any sense at all.

The United States of America has no intention—none whatsoever—of paying back that $16-trillion national debt, $25-trillion national debt, $50-trillion national debt, or $100-trillion national debt.  Congress can borrow and appropriate money like it is going out of style because it really is going out of style.  They plan to borrow until no one will lend us money or buy our bonds.  If any foreign nation tries to collect the principal that is owed them, we will just escort the “repo” man to the back room and show him the 7 megaton nuclear warhead enema his country is going to get if it does not conveniently forget that the debt exists.  “Debt?  What debt?”  That is precisely why government finances are not exactly the same as your personal finances at home.  We think the real plan is:  Borrow and never pay back.

American Science and the Looming Fiscal Cliff

Some people think American archaeology is science.  Some people do not.  Believe it or not, a quiet argument about that actually exists in the world of archaeology today.  No matter how you might feel about that issue, the federal government tends to treat research in archaeology and physical anthropology as science.  As you know, a great deal of the archaeological work in the United States is funded with federal dollars.  What would happen if a large chunk of annual Congressional appropriations for research in American archaeology and other scientific fields were to suddenly disappear every year for the next 10 years?  For those of you who do not follow the daily news as closely as we do here at the Archaeology in Tennessee blog, such an unfortunate event may actually happen right after New Year’s Day 2013.  That is only about 2.5 weeks from now.  Our nation’s economy and a good deal of its life-sustaining scientific research may lose its already tenuous balance and fall headlong (like a bungy jumper) off the Fiscal Cliff.  A good deal of American archaeology and physical anthropology may tumble off the cliff with it.  What is the Fiscal Cliff?  You can read about it and its potential impacts on scientific research in the United States in the following article and the many web links within this article:


This issue is deadly serious business folks.  Come back tomorrow night, and I will have some personal commentary on the Fiscal Cliff and my opinions about the potential odds that American science and archaeology will take a fall.  We will now close with a famous nursery rhyme because children are in charge of our fate over the next few weeks: 

Humpty Dumpty sat on the wall.

Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.

All Obama’s horses and all Boehner’s men

Couldn’t put Humpty Dumpty back

Together again.