TVA and the Thousand Eyes Archaeological Site Stewardship Program

30 Days of Tennessee Archaeology 2015, Day 20

Erin Pritchard
Tennessee Valley Authority

Public lands under the stewardship of the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) contain thousands of unique archaeological sites representing over 12,000 years of human occupation along the Tennessee River and its tributaries. TVA recognized the importance of these resources from the very beginning and supported numerous archaeological excavations across the valley in the 1930s and 1940s prior to the inundation of the reservoir basins associated with their dam construction projects. The agency continues to support the documentation and preservation of these non-renewable resources and works with 18 federally recognized Indian tribes to protect the many thousands of Native American sites located on its property.

TVA faces a number of difficulties in managing the nearly 11,500 recorded archaeological sites on its land.  Impacts to sites come from natural effects from erosion and also human effects from dispersed recreation, unauthorized construction activities, as well as illegal removal and digging into archaeological deposits in search of artifacts.

As many people know, archaeological resources on federal land (including land owned in fee by TVA) are protected by the Archaeological Resource Protection Act (ARPA) of 1979. ARPA made it illegal to remove, damage, vandalize, excavate or destroy archaeological materials from lands owned in fee by the U.S. Government. When an individual damages an archaeological site in order to obtain artifacts the context of that site is lost forever.  Even the removal of artifacts from the surface can skew the archaeological information that can be collected a site.  In many cases, artifacts on the surface may be all that remains of an archaeological sites and their removal will further restrict our knowledge of what may have occurred at that particular location.

TVA staff, volunteers, and tribal representatives who participated in the Painted Bluff Thousand Eyes Site Stewardship Program Workshop in the spring of 2015.

TVA staff, volunteers, and tribal representatives who participated in the Painted Bluff Thousand Eyes Site Stewardship Program Workshop in the spring of 2015.

TVA actively enforces ARPA and has had over 30 successfully convictions in the last five years. In spite of our enforcement efforts, the looting problem on TVA land continues to be intense. Violations range from surface collection and minor excavation to the total destruction of burial sites. It has become clear that enforcement alone cannot stop this problem, we need support from local communities.

Toward this goal TVA, in partnership with other federal and state agencies, has initiated a program where members of the community can have a more active role in the preservation of these sensitive resources. The Thousand Eyes Archaeological Site Stewardship Program was established to solicit help from the community in the protection of archaeological sites on public lands.

TVA piloted a volunteer workshop for the Thousand Eyes program in North Alabama earlier this year at Painted Bluff in Marshall County. The training was a huge success and we plan to continue with workshops across the Tennessee valley. Our next workshop will be held in Johnson City, Tennessee on November 7th and 8th of this year. Volunteers selected for this workshop will assist TVA in monitoring archaeological sites on Boone Reservoir in Sullivan and Washington Counties.

Dr. Jan Simek discusses the archaeological significance of Painted Bluff with volunteers.

Dr. Jan Simek discusses the archaeological significance of Painted Bluff with volunteers.

The volunteer workshop is a two-day course that will include a day of classroom training followed by a half-day in the field visiting archaeological sites and doing hands-on practical exercises related to monitoring activity. Participants will learn basic information about archaeology, Native American perspectives on archaeological site stewardship and will be entrusted to assist TVA in the management of archaeological sites located on public lands.

Following completion of the training workshop, each volunteer will be assigned an archaeological site to visit on a regular schedule. During each visit monitors will be asked to document any changes to the site (looting, natural destruction, addition of trash, etc.) that will be provided to the TVA volunteer coordinator. Data collected by monitors will be used to help manage resources across the Tennessee Valley. It is anticipated that this community-based approach to archaeological site stewardship will help promote a greater appreciation for the preservation of these resources so that future generations to come can learn about our past.

For more information on TVA, please visit tva.com.  If you have any questions about the Thousand Eyes Archaeological Stewardship Program or TVA archaeology, please contact Erin Pritchard at eepritchard@tva.gov.  To sign up for the Johnson City workshop in November, visit https://www.volunteer.gov/results.cfm.

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