A Collaborative Effort: Protecting Archaeological Sites and Sensitive Ecological Habitats

30 Days of Tennessee Archaeology 2015, Day 15

Sarah Levithol
Tennessee Division of Archaeology

For me, one of the best things about being an archaeologist is the opportunity to collaborate with a variety of people from different professions and walks of life. Such collaborations demonstrate the ability of archaeology to be relevant in a variety of ways. Working at the Tennessee Division of Archaeology (TDOA) has allowed me to collaborate with local schools and universities, local communities and individuals, and other professionals and scientists. A recent collaborative effort between the TDOA and the Tennessee Division of Natural Areas (TDNA) has proved to be a very rewarding and educational experience for both parties.

Sarah Levithol investigates the looter’s pit at the cave entrance.

Sarah Levithol investigates the looter’s pit at the cave entrance.

In February of this year, the TDOA was contacted by TDNA biologists about significant looting of archaeological material in a cave on state owned property. The biologists had been doing reconnaissance on the bat population in the cave, which has been severely depleted by White Nose Syndrome (WNS). They observed recent looting activity at the entrance of the cave and saw evidence that archaeological deposits had been disturbed.

Some bats that inhabit the cave.

Some bats that inhabit the cave.

I was able to visit the cave with TDNA Zoologist David Withers in February and confirmed the looting of prehistoric deposits. Although few artifacts were present in the looter’s pit, our inspection did recover a freshwater mussel shell that was not native to the cave, as well as significant amounts of charcoal in the profile. This charcoal layer was directly associated with the shell and suggests a prehistoric occupation. During this visit we also toured the rest of the cave and found more evidence of prehistoric activity as well as modern garbage. A return visit with TDOA Archaeologist Aaron Deter-Wolf allowed me to better inspect the looter’s pit and to take carbon samples that will be dated later this year.

Sarah Levithol investigates the looter’s pit at the cave entrance.

Sarah Levithol investigates the looter’s pit at the cave entrance.

While the archaeology conducted during these trips was minimal, the collaboration proved important in other ways. Firstly, until our visit the TDOA site files included no record of prehistoric activity in the cave, and thus we were able to better document the archaeological importance of the site. Secondly, this collaboration has provided further motivation to install a cave gate, which will hopefully be in place next year. The gate will not only protect the vulnerable bat population, but also the archaeological deposits in the cave. A final benefit has been strengthening the relationship between the TDOA and State Natural Areas.This project has demonstrated to both divisions the importance of sharing data, as we are both in the field often and can both provide valuable information to each other. There are plans in the works for each division to hold a workshop where staff are trained about important information from each other’s respective fields. Such training will help the TDOA be better informed about the ecological environments we encounter, and will assist the TDNA in identifying archaeological sites and looting.

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