Project Archaeology in Tennessee

30 Days of Tennessee Archaeology 2015, Day 7

Valerie McCormack
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Nashville District

Last week I had the opportunity to talk about archaeology with my daughter’s fourth grade class.  Each day she brought home a fact sheet on one of the main prehistoric temporal cultural period represented in Tennessee.  However, how we know the information about prehistoric cultures, in other words the archaeology, was not discussed in the classroom.  During my visit we crammed in dispelling myths about archaeology, some examples from archaeological sites, and a quick overview of laws and ethics.  The focus on prehistory stems from the Tennessee Department of Education’s fourth grade Social Studies standards.  The goal for the unit on “The History of America (to 1850)”  addresses learning:

…about native civilizations in North America, European explorations to the New World during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries and a the political, economic, and social development of the British colonies in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries…The purpose of fourth grade social studies is to give students their first concentrated study of the formative years of United States and Tennessee history, utilizing primary source documents, geographic tools, research, analysis, and critical thinking.

Some of the specific objectives include describing the legacy and cultures of the major indigenous settlements, including Paleoindeian, Archaic, Woodland, and Mississippian, and analyzing the religious believes, customs and various folklore traditions of the Cherokee, Creek, and Chickasaw.

Valerie McCormack presents a Project Archaeology workshop for Kentucky teachers at Wayne National Forest, July 2014.

Valerie McCormack presents a Project Archaeology workshop for Kentucky teachers at Wayne National Forest, July 2014.

The week of classroom instruction focused on prehistory is just a peep of the overall fourth grade social studies curriculum.  As parents, as archaeologists, and as citizens we want our children to master the higher level thinking skills-analysis, synthesis, and evaluation, and not just memorize facts.  In many ways archaeology is uniquely suited to help teachers and students achieve these skills.  The challenge for archaeologists is can we, and how do we, provide the support to teachers?

Project Archaeology is a program that provides materials and instruction to archaeologists, teachers, and other educators that meets this challenge.  Tennessee has had an active Project Archaeology program for two decades.  Currently, the Tennessee state contacts include Project Archaeology State Coordinator LinnAnn Welch (Bells Bend and Beaman Parks), Melissa Donahue (Warner Park Nature Center), and Debbie Woodiel, (McClung Museum of Natural History and Culture)

Project Archaeology began as a statewide program in Utah in 1990 to combat vandalism and looting of archaeological sites and now is a joint program of Montana State University and the Bureau of Land Management.  Individual states sponsor Project Archaeology, and locally adapt the program to their states and available resources.

IntrigueIn Tennessee, workshops for teachers use the Project Archaeology Intrigue of the Past: A Teacher’s Activity Guide for Fourth through Seventh Grades curriculum.  This curriculum was jointly developed by archaeologists and teachers to teach fundamental concepts, processes of archaeology, and issues with archaeology that could be supplemented with local materials. Intrigue provides tools for teaching essential concepts including observation and inference to help students reach those higher level thinking skills.  Since 1990 Tennessee Project Archaeology has provided training for over 1100 teachers and their students on a shoestring budget and through a lot of volunteer hours.

As education initiatives and theories progressed, the national Project Archaeology Program recognized the need for a revised and rigorous curriculum.  These factors lead to the development of the new National Curriculum-Project Archaeology:  Investigating Shelter.  Datasets for shelters derived from actual archaeological investigations are available for multiple geographical areas and cultures across the United States.  Currently, there is not a shelter unit based on archaeological data from Tennessee.  As we know, cultures did not stop at state boundaries and data sets from several bordering states are appropriate for the classroom. These include the investigation of slave cabins at Thomas Jefferson’s Poplar Forrest Plantation in Virginia, and a Tabby Slave cabin at the Kinsgley Plantation in Florida.  Kentucky is currently, developing the instructional package for a historic shotgun house.  The Tennessee Project Archaeology program is hoping to expand in the future to offer a teacher workshop with the Investigating Shelter curriculum.  Many of these existing databases could also meet the state’s fourth grade social studies curriculum.

While project archaeology workshops are intended for educators, archaeologists are also welcome.  If you are interested in attending a workshop keep an eye on the events calendars for Bell’s Bend and Beaman Parks and the McClung Museum, or contact me ( to be added to a distribution list.

Project Archaeology