Tag Archives: Tennessee Archaeology

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

Advertisements

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

 

New Book Available: Chiefdom on the Cumberland

The Archaeology in Tennessee blog is proud to announce the publication of a new book on Middle Tennessee archaeology.  After many years of dedicated research and writing, Mr. Donald B. Ball has just completed a book presenting the history and evolution of archaeology in Middle Tennessee and focusing on the Mississippian archaeology of the Middle Cumberland region. The title of the new book is Chiefdom on the Cumberland.  This hardcover book contains 408 pages, including the main text, copious annotations, 12 appendices, more than 65 pages of references, and an extensive index.  The publisher is Borgo Publishing, a full-service, independent publishing company headquartered in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.  This is the same excellent company that published Mr. Ball’s recent, 2-volume editorial work entitled Stone Age Man in the Middle South.

Cumberland Chiefdom

You may read more about Chiefdom on the Cumberland and Stone Age Man in the Middle South in the following flyer from the Borgo Publishing Company:

Borgo Publishing Flyer

We believe Chiefdom on the Cumberland and Stone Age Man in the Middle South are must own books for anyone interested in the Mississippian archaeology of the Middle Cumberland region of Tennessee, Middle Mississippi Valley, and Southeastern United States. The Archaeology in Tennessee blog highly recommends both books to you. You may purchase the new book right now at Amazon.com or the Seattle Book Company for the price of just $55.  Stone Age Man in the Middle South is also available from Amazon.com.  Please click on one or the other of the following links to make your purchase of the new book:

http://amzn.to/1BeFURy

http://www.seattlebookcompany.com/chiefdom-on-the-cumberland-the-history-and-evolution-of-middle-tennessee-archaeology/

Donald B. Ball has a B.S. degree in history from Middle Tennessee State University (1970) and an M.A. degree in anthropology/archaeology (1977) from The University of Tennessee in Knoxville, Tennessee. Upon completion of his graduate studies, Don accepted a job offer for an archaeologist position with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), Louisville District, in Louisville, Kentucky. He managed cultural resources for USACE until his retirement in 2004. Throughout his long career, Don has maintained an unusually wide range of professional interests that include (but are not limited to) prehistoric archaeology, historical archaeology, the history of American archaeology, history of Tennessee and the United States, Southern Appalachian folk culture, grist mills, historic cemeteries, and firearms artifacts. His list of excellent professional publications is both long and formidable. For a number of years, Don was the editor of the Proceedings of the Symposium for Historic and Urban Archaeology. Currently, he serves as the editor of two regional journals, Ohio Valley Historical Archaeology and The Millstone: Journal of the Kentucky Old Mill Association. In addition to being a member of several professional organizations and archaeological societies, Don is a Registered Professional Archaeologist in Kentucky.

Oukonunaka – Set Your Atlatl Darts on Stun

For the past three years, the Archaeology in Tennessee blog has published numerous posts aimed at audiences that were presumed to already have significant knowledge of Tennessee archaeology and American archaeology. These target audiences were professional archaeologists, museum professionals, avocational archaeologists, and artifact collectors. One of our goals for 2015 is to reach out even further with posts designed to inform the average Tennessee citizen about assorted matters (both small and great) in Tennessee archaeology. This post starts out small by examining a bifacial lithic tool that sometimes arises in casual conversations among citizens in Tennessee.

Some Star Trek fans are familiar with the smallest language details written into the scripts for the early television episodes and later movies. One such detail is when Captain Kirk orders Spock and other members of an Enterprise away team to “set your phasers on stun.” At some unknown point in Tennessee history, someone introduced the average Tennessee citizen to the notion that ancient Native Americans in our state could set their projectile weapons on stun.

It was 1960, and I was just 8 years old. At about that time, a relative of mine who collected Native American artifacts took me with him to a plowed field near Portland, Tennessee. I was told we would be spending our afternoon eyeballing the ground surface for something called Indian rocks. This broad term subsumed the term arrowhead, which I already knew about from watching sagebrush sagas on television.

The average man on a Tennessee street in the 1960s knew about as much about Tennessee archaeology as he does now―almost nothing. Raw material for flaked lithic tools was called flint in those days. If a flint artifact had an acute point on its distal end, two sharp blade edges, and an area on the proximal end for hafting it to a wooden or cane shaft, it was called an arrowhead. In reality, most of the so-called arrowheads that people found in plowed fields dated to the Archaic Period (8,000 – 700 B.C.) and were never used on arrows. Instead, they were used as knives or as dart tips for an ancient American dart-throwing device known as the atlatl. This unusual term was derived from the Nahuatl language, which was spoken by the ancient Aztecs in Mexico. Anthropological linguists later classified it as a member of the Uto-Aztecan language family. In Tennessee, use of the atlatl was common throughout the Archaic Period, but its use declined during the later Woodland Period (700 B.C. – A.D. 900), eventually giving way exclusively to the bow and arrow. However, the Aztecs in Mexico were still using the atlatl when Spanish conquistador Hernando Cortes and his men arrived on their lands in A.D. 1519.

Our plowed field near Portland exhibited a very high density of prehistoric artifacts dating primarily to the Archaic Period. Even as a child, I knew what prehistoric dart points looked like and found a number of them at various locations as we walked the corn rows. Every once in a while, I was surprised to encounter a dart point that looked as if its tip had been broken off―and the broken area had been finely flaked into an excurvate edge all the way across while also creating a steep, angular profile on the newly flaked edge. Figures 1 and 2 show examples of this commonly found lithic artifact.

Hafted Endscraper I

Figure 1.  Highly Excurvate Putative Stunner

Hafted Endscraper II

Figure 2.  Projectile Point/Knife Flanked by Four Putative Stunners

I asked my uncle why the ancient Native Americans did this reshaping of dart points, and he did not know for sure at that time. Throughout the rest of my childhood, I sometimes wondered why ancient Native Americans did this lithic reworking on the distal ends of broken dart points. There were no Tennessee archaeologists in the Nashville area to consult about the matter, and the poorly stocked Sumner County Memorial Library had no reference books to clear it up.

During my teenage years, a local man and his colloquial wisdom briefly entered my life. To this day, I cannot recall who he was, but he is most likely dead by now. The subject of these rounded-off dart points came up in a conversation with this guy, and the old man’s wisdom flowed forth something like the following:

“Why boy!!! I know what them thangs are. Them’uns is stunners. The Indians used normal arrowheads with sharp points to kill their game, but sometimes they just wanted to stun their prey rather than kill it. They would take a broken arrowhead, round off the end, put it on an arrow, and let the flying force of the arrow stun the game when it hit.”

I did what most teenagers do―look upon such adult wisdom with skepticism. Why would an ancient Native American want to stun an animal when he could just kill it with a single shot? Stun an animal so he could kill it later? Either way, it was going into the boiling bag, so why not just kill the beast outright? Did he want to start a small Native American petting zoo? Considering the frequent and widespread occurrence of this artifact type throughout the Nashville area, that would have been a whole bunch of Archaic Period petting zoos, which seemed a bit left field at best. It also seemed unlikely that the force of a rounded-off point on an atlatl dart or arrow would stun a large animal like a white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginanus). In short, the old man’s explanation made no sense to me.

The old man was indeed wrong. This type of lithic artifact is not a stunner. No such thing as a lithic stunner exists anywhere in Tennessee archaeology today, and it never has at anytime in the past. It is pure mythology. However, this piece of archaeological mythology was not just confined to one old man in the 1960s. Today this stunner mythology still circulates across Tennessee and anywhere else in the United States where this type of lithic artifact is found. It even circulates among people who have at least some knowledge about Native American artifacts―but should know better. If you are ever inclined to visit the many websites where ancient artifacts are bought, sold, and traded, it is not at all unusual to see the words “Stunners for Sale.”

The original source of stunner mythology is apparently unknown. An on-line search using several different keyword queries was conducted in hopes of finding some reliable historical information about who originated this “stunning” notion, where it began, and how it spread. One would think that at least some information about it would be floating around in cyberspace, but this inquiry turned out to be fruitless. On a related and amusing note, in an item published in the 20th Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology (1896), Gerard Fowke notes that Charles Colcock Jones, Jr., the famous 19th century Georgia historian and antiquarian, believed Native Americans in the southeast designed this artifact as a special projectile tip for shooting off the heads of birds. Why would ancient Native Americans want to shoot off a bird’s head rather than shoot some other part of its body? You can travel back through time and ask C.C. Jones that one.

In archaeological reality, what is this odd lithic artifact? Archaeologists who specialize in prehistoric lithic analysis refer to it as a hafted endscraper or endscraper reworked on a projectile point/knife. The latter is most accurate because other kinds of unifacial and bifacial endscrapers could also be hafted. Most of these endscrapers are made from the proximal ends of accidentally or intentionally broken atlatl dart points or knives―or versions of these artifacts that got resharpened nearly to nubs and cried out for one last alternative use. Archaeologists believe they were hafted to short handles (about 20 cm long). They were used for scraping animal hides and other soft materials such as wood. The steep, angular bit end of this tool is generally considered to have been the ideal geometry for scraping tasks, although some of these ancient endscrapers exhibit sharp, straight edges rather than excurvate, steeply beveled ones. As previously noted, these artifacts are most often found on archaeological sites that date to the Archaic Period in Tennessee, particularly the Middle Archaic Period (6,000 – 2,500 B.C.) and the Late Archaic Period (2,500 – 1,200 B.C.). However, they are not exclusive to such sites, meaning they can also show up in archaeological sites and components dating to later time periods, perhaps sometimes as redeposited artifacts, as curated artifacts that were found and used, or as old projectile points/knives that were found and reshaped for scraping.

Photographs – Mr. Peter A. Bostrom at the Lithic Casting Lab in Troy, Illinois, kindly gave us permission to use his two photographs of endscrapers reworked on projectile points/knives.

Beans, Beans…on Southeastern Archaeological Sites

The Archaeology in Tennessee blog would like to take this opportunity to congratulate the Frank H. McClung Museum of Natural History and Culture on its newly initiated research effort aimed at developing a prehistoric bean (Phaseolus vulgaris) database for the Southeast. This database will support a study of the emergence and distribution of beans during the late prehistoric era—and a dating program for certain selected beans recovered in paleoethnobotanical samples. Curator Dr. Tim Baumann at the museum can no doubt fill you in on the details of the research design, and we were told by one of our Facebook friends that Tim has posted a brief story about this research on the Tennessee Council for Professional Archaeology (bless their little pea pickin’ hearts) Facebook page—so everyone be sure and head on over to that excellent on-line location (https://www.facebook.com/Tennessee.Archaeology) in the coming hours and days to read more details about this research effort.

We were also very pleased to learn that Bush Brothers & Company of Knoxville, Tennessee (the world famous bean processor and canner) has contributed funds to finance this project.  We had no idea they were interested in southeastern archaeology, but we are very glad they are.  In our honest opinion here at the blog, the fine folks at Bush Brothers make the very best and tastiest canned bean products on the market.  We love the baked bean products at our house—and If you can find them on your grocery shelf—their speckled butter beans are to die for—really.  Therefore, we recommend the full line of Bush bean products to all of our readers.  So, go buy some beans from the Bush Brothers right now and contribute to archaeological research in Tennessee and the American Southeast.

Maize has been and will continue to be an important focus of paleoethnobotanical studies in the Southeast.  However, what our culture sometimes refers to as the “lowly bean” was a potentially important player in the prehistoric diet because of its high protein content.  So, we here at the blog say, “Maize shmaize y’all!!!  Turn in your beans for the database!!!”

Beans are happy-making things too!!!  It has been our experience that American archaeologists in general love “classic” bean humor.  This was certainly the case on Tennessee archaeological sites in the 1970s and 1980s—been there—seen that.  Fifteen people would be busily troweling down 5-ft squares, and some young man would be telling everyone about the great Fourth of July cookout he had just attended and how the Boston baked beans were especially good.  All of a sudden, a Project Director or Crew Chief would call out (audible across the entire site), “Beans, beans…!!!”  This cue would soon be followed by a deluge of some of the most creative and funny impromptu short poems one could possibly imagine:

Beans, beans!!

They’ll never fail ya.

Eat too many

And they’ll really nail ya!!

Maybe this is one reason why the exact role of beans in the late prehistoric southeastern diet has been a little more fuzzy and hard to pin down than the clearly overwhelming role of maize.  Perhaps ancient Native Americans knew what Mel Brooks knows about chuckwagons, beans, and cowboy campfires?

Yes, we know beans in the right quantity would have added extra protein and other nutrients to the diet that could have ameliorated the malnutrition side effects from the eating-too-much-maize problem during the Mississippian Period. However, if your teeth were massively decaying from maize sugars and the population of your village was already in compromised health from eating way too much maize, would you have really wanted to add the bean’s potential for severe intestinal cramps and diarrhea to that mix on a daily basis?  Sometimes, if you already have a compromised health condition, the compromised state itself can make you more susceptible to negative physical symptoms you might not otherwise have from something so simple as the common bean. We know this is really bad archaeological interpretation and even worse paleoepidemiology—but it is something to think about—if only briefly.

PBS Antiques Roadshow Appraises Duck River Cache and Sandy

This was an interesting and surprising evening! While the rest of my family was at a concert, I prepared some food in the kitchen at home, plopped my bottom into a den chair, munched on dinner, and watched some television. After Erin Burnett had regaled me with assorted Ebola horrors on CNN, I did some quick channel surfing and landed on the Public Broadcasting System (PBS) channel where The Antiques Roadshow was already underway―from Knoxville, Tennessee. After watching a few minutes, the camera suddenly cut away to a program emcee standing in front of the Frank H. McClung Museum of Natural History & Culture at The University of Tennessee. The primary subject of concern was the museum’s permanent exhibit called Archaeology and the Native Peoples of Tennessee.

Once inside the museum, the emcee was accompanied by a professional art appraiser with knowledge of Native American artifacts and their monetary value. The focus was on the Sandy statue (Figure 1), a famous Mississippian Period artifact from the Sellars mound site near Lebanon, Tennessee, and the equally famous Duck River Cache (Figure 2) of Dover chert ceremonial objects from the Link Farm site in West Tennessee. Somewhat less interest was placed on a crudely executed female Mississippian statue that sits near Sandy in the exhibit.

USPS04STA029F

Figure 1.  Sandy

 Duck River Cash

Figure 2.  Duck River Cache (Seever 1897:143)

The art appraiser examined Sandy and the Duck River Cache,  and he offered an appraised dollar value for each of them. As a matter of ethics, we professional archaeologists normally refrain from offering such appraisals to private individuals because they could contribute to commercial trafficking in artifacts, which has the ultimate effect of encouraging looting at archaeological sites. I would also say that most of us professional archaeologists do not keep up with current monetary valuations on artifacts because we do not need to know such things in the course of our daily work. No doubt being aware of this fact, the professional art appraiser was very careful to note that his appraisals for Sandy and the Duck River Cache were recommended valuations for insurance purposes only.

Lady Gaga’s new song Artpop says that she is in the entertainment business for the music and not the “bling” (flashy possessions). Similarly, we professional archaeologists are in our business for archaeological information and not the bling. Nonetheless, it was interesting and a bit fun to find out how valuable these artifacts are in crass monetary terms.

The Duck River Cache was formally appraised at $600,000 to $800,000. Considering the fact that the State of Tennessee bought these chipped stone artifacts from the University of Missouri for only $2,500 in 1947 (Peacock 1984:26), that is not a bad return on our state’s long-term investment in professional archaeology.

I thought the Duck River Cache would certainly be valued higher than Sandy, but you have to remember that Sandy has become a national celebrity since his appearance on a U.S. postage stamp. This star quality and his new status as an official state artifact has no doubt increased his value. For insurance purposes, Sandy was appraised at $800,000 to $1,200,000, which in my mind further raises the ancient Sellars artist to bonafide master sculptor status.

Now that PBS has brought Sandy and the Duck River Cache to the attention of both national and international television audiences via regular television transmissions, cable connections, and satellite hookups and placed a very high monetary value on these artifacts, we all trust that Dr. Jefferson Chapman (Museum Director) and his fine staff at the Frank H. McClung Museum of Natural History & Culture have implemented security measures sufficient to protect these famous artifacts from theft both now and in the years to come.

References

Peacock, Charles K., Duck River Cache: Tennessee’s Greatest Archaeological Find. Reprinted and updated by H.C. Brehm and Quentin R. Bass II in the Mini-Histories Series, 1984.

Seever, William J.,  “A Cache of Idols and Chipped Flint Instruments In Tennessee,” The Antiquarian, Volume 1, Part 6, June 1897.

The Search for the Madison Tablet

by Tracy C. Brown

The Oak Ridge Archaeological Research Institute is continuing its search for the long lost Madison Tablet and several other long lost Native American artifacts that were discovered in Tennessee.  Please read the following revised and updated story about the Madison Tablet and help us find it.  You are our eyes and ears. It has to be out there somewhere in Tennessee, the United States, or some foreign country.  Please be on the lookout for it, and send us an e-mail message at orari14@gmail.com or tcbkjbbrown@comcast.net if you know its current whereabouts or have any leads.  Thanks!!

1.0 Introduction

Sometimes prehistoric Native American artifacts go missing and are never seen again for several decades or even a century. One good example that has been missing for about 90 years is the famous Castalian Springs Tablet, also known in the Tennessee archaeological literature as the Eagle Warrior stone (Smith and Miller 2009:73). It is a flat limestone slab with a depiction of the famous birdman mythological figure incised into its surface. This stone was found on the ground surface at the Castalian Springs mound site in Castalian Springs, Tennessee, in the late 1800s, and it dates to the Mississippian period (Myer 1894:11). In the late 20th century, a lesser known but equally important incised limestone slab known as the Madison Tablet was found at a large Mississippian village site on the east side of Nashville, Tennessee. This site was known as the Haysboro site in the 19th century, but by the 1960s it was known as the Maddox site (40DV17) [Parker 1980:5-6; Parker and Parker 1982].

The Madison Tablet disappeared from the realm of Tennessee archaeology in 1994 and has not been on exhibition or available for scientific examination for the past 20 years. Its current owner, location, and preservation status are unknown. This essay tells the story of the Madison Tablet, and it kindly asks the many readers of the Archaeology in Tennessee blog to assist with finding this long-missing Tennessee artifact.

2.0 Archaeological Context of the Madison Tablet

The Madison Tablet was found in situ within a human burial on 40DV17. A Nashville artifact collector by the name of Malcolm P. Parker discovered the tablet and curated it in his private collection from the moment it was found in autumn 1968 until the date of his death in 1993, a period of 25 years (Parker 1980:5-6; Parker and Parker 1982).

This burial was a flesh inhumation, and the deceased individual had been buried on their back in a fully extended position. The skeletal remains were fully articulated, and they rested on a single limestone slab that was long enough to accommodate the entire length of an adult male body. Perhaps most importantly, the cranium of this individual was found resting squarely on top of the Madison Tablet, which had been used as a sort of pillow for the head at the time of inhumation. A quartzite ear plug was found near the cranium. In the midsection of the remains lay a large rim sherd from a shell-tempered pot, and a metal knife with a bone handle was present in approximately the same location (Parker 1980:5-6; Parker and Parker 1982). Mr. Parker earnestly believed that the knife was an intentional item of burial furniture, but most archaeologists in the Nashville area have long thought that this artifact was intrusive.  Suffice it to say that it has been a matter of some controversy.

Throughout his life, Malcolm Parker was an honest man and a church-going member of several Methodist congregations. In addition, he was a close relative of mine, and I knew him better than almost anyone because he was like a second father to me throughout his long life. I was 16 years old when the Madison Tablet was found, and upon first hearing about its discovery, I immediately requested an opportunity to go to 40DV17 and see the burial in which it was found. Mr. Parker took me straight to the site that afternoon to observe the still-open burial in which it was found. This opportunity to see the burial occurred within approximately 3 days after the tablet was discovered and removed from its burial context.

Mr. John Dowd, a highly respected avocational archaeologist and a member of the Southeastern Indian Antiquities Survey (SIAS), was a friend of Mr. Parker. A number of months after discovery of the Madison Tablet, he interviewed Mr. Parker and filled out a standard field burial form for this flesh inhumation, which he officially designated as Burial 1. A copy of this burial form and other detailed information about Burial 1 are on file in my home office, and Mr. Dowd’s original SIAS burial form is on file at the Tennessee Division of Archaeology in Nashville, Tennessee.

Today a large retail store and its parking lot sit on top of the burial zone where the Madison Tablet was found, and the surrounding area has been subject to heavy commercial development over the past 60 years. Consequently, a very large portion of the Maddox site has been destroyed, and the rest of its once intact archaeological deposits have been disturbed to varying degrees.

As may be seen from the foregoing information, the Madison Tablet is not one of those infamous artifacts that has been intentionally tagged with a false discovery story to dupe a succession of would-be artifact buyers into thinking it is a genuine Native American artifact when it is really just a fake. Indeed, Mr. Parker never attempted to sell the Madison Tablet during his own lifetime because he had a strict policy of never selling or trading any artifact he had personally found in Tennessee. Unequivocally, the Madison Tablet is an actual dirt find within a human burial on a well-known Mississippian archaeological site in the Middle Cumberland region.

3.0 Description of the Madison Tablet

The Madison Tablet is a slab of native Ordivician limestone, which is a common lithic raw material in the Nashville Basin. It is a hefty stone with an irregular shape. The Madison Tablet measures 35.5 cm (14 in) × 25.4 cm (10 in.) × 7.6 cm (3 in).

At the time of its discovery, the exterior surfaces of the tablet were stained with soil minerals, giving it a somewhat mottled yellowish red color. One broad face of the tablet (obverse side) showed distinct evidence of smoothing and polishing, but this alteration of the surface was executed unevenly because of gentle undulations in the natural surface of the limestone slab.  This smoothing and polishing does not look like the smoothing and polishing one would expect from a modern power tool.  Instead, it looks exactly like the patinated smoothed and polished areas one normally sees on the bit ends of Dover chert hoe blades and chisels. In two words, it looks distinctively prehistoric.

The obverse surface of the Madison Tablet has intricate incised images on it. No incised images are known to be present on the reverse side.

From the date it was found in 1968 until Mr. Parker died in 1993, the Madison Tablet was never photographed. The only known image of the tablet and the iconography incised into its surface is a drawing he made prior to his death. This drawing is shown in Figure 1.

pic1629521.jpg

Figure 1. Madison Tablet

The original drawing and the size-reduced version (Figure 1) are a bit misleading and need some clarification. Malcolm Parker was an amateur artist who preferred to draw with wide-tipped writing instruments such as large-lead pencils and grease pencils. This explains why the lines are so wide and distinctive in his original drawing and to a lesser degree in the size-reduced version shown in Figure 1. Consequently, the thicknesses of the lines on the original drawing and the one shown here do not accurately reflect the true widths of the incised lines on the Madison Tablet. The actual incised lines on the Madison Tablet tend to be mostly narrow and shallow like those on the Thruston Tablet, and many of them are quite faint.  Thus, Figure 1 is an idealized view of the overall lineation wherein all lines are portrayed as strong, wide, and distinct.

The irregularly smoothed and polished surface of the Madison tablet bears the incised images of a serpent, a lizard-like creature, and two possibly still-living herbaceous plants with long stems and narrow leaves. The lizard-like creature appears to have already removed the leaves from 14 plants, leaving only the stems, and it is weaving these stems into a lattice structure. The body of the serpent is partially obscured by the two still-living plants. The head  of the serpent is poised above the tops of these plants, allowing it to observe the lizard-like creature and its lattice-building process. The body of the snake rests in an extended position at the bottom of the stone, and it is decorated with alternating diamond-shapes, one set empty and one set shaded with cross-hatch incising. Two long, roughly parallel, vertical lines to the left of the lattice work appear (at first glance) to be a possible stream of water, but these lines most likely are the rough top edge of the stone slab rather than an intentional element or motif in the overall engraved image.

4.0 Temporal Context of the Madison Tablet

The Madison Tablet was found in a human burial located among a number of stone box burials on 40DV17. This suggests that it dates to the Mississippian Period (A.D. 1000-1475) in the Middle Cumberland region (Smith and Miller 2009:38). Admittedly, the incised images on the Madison Tablet are atypical of Mississippian iconography, but one must remember that we still do not know all there is to know about regional Mississippian iconographic traditions (and certainly not those for flat, stone slab media in the Middle Cumberland region). Another matter to consider is whether the local Mississippian culture required all incised themes on in-burial petroglyph stones to represent Mississippian mythological subject matter that uses only widely known Mississippian iconographic elements and motifs. Would it have been socially and ideologically permissible to abandon standard Mississippian iconography on such stones and present an incised theme reflecting a matter of personal, site-level, or chiefdom-level significance? If so, this might explain the observed deviation from typical Mississippian iconography.

Alternatively, this portable stone tablet might date to some earlier prehistoric time period, meaning it was passed down through many generations as an important heirloom item to the Mississippian occupants of the Maddox site.  Optionally, it could have been a much earlier artifact that was found by someone during the Mississippian period and curated on 40DV17. Because a bone and metal knife was found in possible association with Burial 1, Mr. Parker always believed the Madison Tablet was a Native American artifact dating to the early historic era.

At the moment, the Mississippian origin and temporal attribution for Burial 1 and the associated Madison Tablet are considered to be the most plausible.  However, the door must be left open to the possibility that the Madison Tablet might be a fake artifact that was created in the early or middle 20th century and later planted on the site for some archaeologist or artifact collector to eventually find.

5.0 Potential for Being a Fake Artifact

This section entertains the question of whether or not the Madison Tablet is a fake artifact.  Right now, the only argument in favor of this notion is the fact that the incised images on the stone slab do not look Mississippian. Then again, just because an Afrikaner does not look African is no sure indication that she was born outside of Africa. Consequently, if a future archaeologist wishes to test whether the Madison Tablet is fake, he or she will need to go beyond mere appearances; closely examine the actual petroglyph stone (once it is found); develop even more hard evidence; take a look at the hard evidence already presented in Section 2.0 of this paper and in this section (Section 5.0) [including some not presented in this essay], and then take a holistic, objective look at the authenticity of the Madison Tablet.

As previously noted, the incised images on the Madison Tablet do not look Mississippian. Several years ago, Dr. Charles H. Faulkner, professor emeritus of anthropology at The University of Tennessee, Knoxville, examined the Parker drawing and indicated that the images do not look Mississippian.  However, based on his experience with rock art and cave art in eastern North America, he hastened to add that every element and motif shown on the Madison Tablet exists in American Indian rock and cave art at various times in the prehistory of eastern North America. Based on that fact alone, Dr. Faulkner was unwilling to definitively tag the Madison Tablet as a fake artifact.

The people who produce fake prehistoric incisings on limestone make some rather typical mistakes. For example, all of the engraved lines on their fake images are distinct and easy to see.  The incised lines tend to be of uniform thickness and depth. In addition, the interiors of the lines often do not exhibit the same degree of staining and weathering as that on the natural surface of the limestone raw material. In other words, the incised lines look uniformly white and chalky against a naturally gray background.

As already noted, the iconography incised into the obverse surface of the Madison Tablet consists of very narrow and  shallow lines quite similar to those on the Thruston Tablet, including the presence of both distinct lines that are easy to see and long-ago faded lines that are difficult to see. Unlike recently faked limestone incisings, the lines on the Madison Tablet exhibit irregular widths and depths. Moreover, the exterior surfaces of this tablet have distinctive soil mineral staining, indicating that the Madison Tablet had been buried in soil for a long time. This staining is evident not just on its exterior surfaces, but also within all of the incised lines.

These observations about the incised lines were made informally in April 1969 when I had an opportunity to briefly view the Madison Tablet under excellent exterior lighting conditions (daylight). Unfortunately, these observations about the incised lines were made 45 years ago, and I was 16 years old at the time. Memories can fade with time, which is one very good reason why the Madison Tablet merits a closer examination today.

Could the Madison Tablet have been an intentionally planted fake artifact? A highly detail-oriented faker who had seen the line variability on the Thruston Tablet might have gone to extraordinary lengths to forge similar lineation on the Madison Tablet. Subsequently, they could have planted the forged tablet in an already known Mississippian burial on the Maddox site, perhaps many decades prior to 1968. In other words, the Madison Tablet could have been planted like the Piltdown man cranium and mandible or the Bat Creek Stone. However, even this fake-and-plant scenario presents several problems. For example, replication of the subtle variability in lineation seen on the Thruston Tablet would have been an extremely difficult, meticulous, and time-consuming task that would have probably far exceeded the time and patience of most artifact fakers. Furthermore, the quartzite ear plug found in situ near the cranium of the Burial 1 individual would pose yet another problem. It seems unlikely that a 19th century antiquarian or 20th century artifact collector would have sacrificed such a nice and valuable ornamental artifact in support of a mischievous archaeological hoax.

People who plant fake artifacts in the ground are usually pursuing some sort of scientific, financial, political, social, or religious agenda. As soon as the planted artifact is found and the story is made public, the people who planted it shift into agenda overdrive and publicly shout about how the new find supports their agenda. As we all know now, a scientific agenda with social connotations was clearly at work in the famous Piltdown fakery. During the entire time since the Madison Tablet was found in 1968, a period of 46 years, not a single person in the Nashville area or outside of it has ever spoken up to link the Madison Tablet to any sort of scientific, financial, political, social, or religious agenda. Indeed, the public silence on this point has been deafening, again making it unlikely that the Madison Tablet was a planted fake.

Based on what we know (or think we know) at this time, if Cyrus Thomas, W.E. Myer, Gates P. Thruston, and P.E. Cox were alive today, I feel certain they would say that the Madison Tablet “bears all of the ancient tell-tale marks of authenticity,” and as a professional archaeologist who has actually seen the Madison Tablet, I would have to agree―at least tentatively—until the tablet can be closely examined one more time.

6.0 Legal Status of the Madison Tablet

It is important to note that the Madison Tablet has not been stolen from a private artifact collection or any museum collection. It was found on private property in 1968. Mr. Maddox was a local realtor who owned the 40DV17 property and was known to allow multiple artifact collectors to dig at will on his property. The Madison Tablet was found immediately after earthmoving had begun for a large box retail store. The prevailing historical assumption has always been that Mr. Maddox still owned the 40DV17 property when the Madison Tablet was found. However, it is potentially possible that land ownership could have been transferred to the retailer or their holding company immediately prior to the beginning of earthmoving operations, meaning the Madison Tablet might have been found and unknowingly removed without retailer or holding company permission. A determination of who owned the property when earthmoving began would require in-depth research. The exact date when the Madison Tablet was found is unknown. Considering this variable, the passage of 46 years, and the uncertain disposition of old corporate construction records, such research might yield no clear answers as to who owned the property when the Madison Tablet was found―and most likely no one would even care about it today.

Excavation of the Madison Tablet occurred on private property and long before 1979, which means the current federal cultural resource management (CRM) statutes and regulations do not apply to this artifact. No federal or state laws pertinent to human burials or artifacts found in human burials apply to the Madison Tablet.  The Tennessee CRM statutes and regulations did not even exist when the Madison Tablet was found, which means none of them were violated by excavation and removal of the Madison Tablet. As a result, this is not an artifact that a federal or state agency could legally confiscate from its owner. In other words, the current owner of the Madison Tablet is not subject to arrest, prosecution, fines, or imprisonment by federal or state authorities. It is also highly unlikely that any private or public entity would ever want to confiscate the Madison Tablet—even if they could.  It has been privately owned for the past 46 years, and that is not likely to ever change.

7.0 Current Location of the Madison Tablet

In 1994, the Madison Tablet dropped out of sight―meaning off the archaeological radar screen and out of general public awareness. It has not been seen by anyone in the local avocational or professional archaeological communities in the past 20 years, meaning it has never shown up on display at any Nashville or Tennessee area artifact collector show. It is presumed that this artifact was sold to someone shortly after 1994, and it may have already changed hands a couple of times as a result of artifact trades or sales. If it was sold, the purchaser may have been an artifact dealer, artifact collector, or just an ordinary citizen who bought it as a piece of decorative art for their home or garden.

The best-case location scenario is one in which the Madison Tablet is owned by some artifact collector who knows the story of this artifact; appreciates its archaeological importance; takes good care of it; plans to keep it on Tennessee or United States soil; wants to know more about it; is not afraid of owning it; and is willing to let others know that he owns it—thereby sharing it with the general public.  Today almost all artifact collectors are adamant in their belief that every ancient American Indian artifact should be made available for public viewing and study.

Sad to say, potential worst-case location scenarios abound. The following are just four of them:

A) The Madison Tablet is owned by a private citizen who has no earthly idea what it is. She bought it at a flea market, believing it was a cute piece of art done by some elementary school kids. It was taken home and now has a lovely place of its own in the Japanese rock garden behind the house.

B) A few years ago, the Figure 1 drawing of the Madison Tablet was shown to several artifact dealers who were asked to state whether they thought it was an authentic American Indian artifact. Most were unwilling to express an opinion without seeing the actual limestone slab. However, a couple of dealers immediately expressed the opinion that it is obviously a fake artifact. They could tell because the incisings did not “look American Indian.” If the Madison Tablet has come into contact with the wrong artifact dealer or appraiser, its last owner may have tossed it into the garbage bin―and if not―this fate may still be waiting for this tablet in the future.

C) The Madison Tablet may have been sold to an obscure artifact collector in Europe, the Middle East, or Japan, which quite likely means it has no chance of ever being studied in the United States. It is gone from Tennessee forever, and the owner may know nothing about it except that he was told American Indians made it.

D) The Madison Tablet might be owned by a timid and very secretive artifact collector who sits in his house in wild imaginings and fear about federal or state authorities beating a path toward his door to confiscate the Madison Tablet and his Chevy Tahoe―or he is afraid to let anyone know he has an artifact collection for fear that someone will break into his house and steal it. Therefore, he will just let time drift by quietly, he will die someday, his surviving wife or children will sell the collection, and the Madison Tablet will end up in the hands of another secretive collector, an artifact dealer who will immediately declare it to be garbage, or someone who will send it to a new owner in a foreign country. Consequently, no one here in the United States will ever be able to examine the Madison Tablet, and the full story it still has to tell will be lost forever, unless the current owner bravely steps forward and allows this artifact to be examined so its full story can be elucidated and told.

8.0 An Appeal for Your Help

The Madison Tablet is an important element in some long-term archaeological research I am doing, and I would very much like to find out who owns this incised limestone slab so I can get in touch with them and obtain permission to photograph it, take some measurements, examine it more closely, and make some notes on it. This is my sole purpose in attempting to find the stone. When I am finished, the owner can take it back home and do with it whatever he wishes.

If you own the Madison Tablet, please send me an e-mail message at orari14@gmail.com or tcbkjbbrown@comcast.net. If you are an artifact collector, avocational archaeologist, museum employee, or professional archaeologist in Tennessee, another state, or elsewhere on planet Earth and you know who owns the Madison Tablet, please send me an e-mail message. If you are just an ordinary citizen out there on the American landscape and you have seen this artifact somewhere, like maybe as a decorative on the mantle above some average citizen’s fireplace, please send me an e-mail message. Your identity will be kept confidential if you wish.

Finally, just to cover all the bases, I know a little bit about how human beings think—well—some human beings. Someone out there will look at the Figure 1 drawing of the Madison Tablet and say, “Oh! I’ve seen that! My best friend Fran has one just like that!” No. Only one of these exists. If your best friend Fran has one, it is the one and the only one on planet Earth. Please trust me and send me that e-mail message. Thank you very much for your help!

9.0 References

Myer, William E., “An Old Shawnee Town in Tennessee.” The Archaeologist. 2(1): 6-13, 1894 (January).

Parker, Malcolm, The Shawnees in Tennessee. Nashville: Central Printing, 1980.

Parker, Malcolm and LaUna Parker, Letter to Tracy Brown (Subject: Excavation of a Human Burial at 40DV17), July 2, 1982.

Smith, Kevin E. and James V. Miller, Speaking with the Ancestors: Mississippian Stone Statuary of the Tennessee-Cumberland Region. Tuscaloosa: The University of Alabama Press, 2009.