Twenty Years of Tennessee Archaeology Awareness Week and Month

30 Days of Tennessee Archaeology 2016, Day 9

Kevin E. Smith
Middle Tennessee State University

As the 3rd annual blogfest continues, I look back on how we arrived at this great new outreach effort. The first officially recognized archaeology week in the United States was organized in Arizona in 1983 focused:

…on the positive rather than the negative side of archeology (don’t pothunt or vandalize, don’t pick up artifacts, don’t destroy our cultural heritage, etc.)… on how individuals can get involved in a positive way, on what makes archeology interesting and on what the past has to offer… while teaching… that there is a right way and a wrong way to do archeology (Hoffman and Lerner 1988).

In 1993, the National Park Service issued a technical brief on “State Archeology Weeks” to highlight and promote the implementation of a national public outreach effort. The brief found a receptive Tennessee audience, including avocationals, professionals, Native American organizations, and the interested public – all of whom shared the common cause of preserving Tennessee’s archaeological resources (albeit for many different reasons). The late 1980s and early 1990s were turbulent times in Tennessee archaeology as passage of new laws expanding protection of archaeological sites and prehistoric Native American burials led to largely unprecedented discussions among much broader constituencies. That era would witness creation of the annual Current Research in Tennessee Archaeology Meetings (1988), the TCPA (1993), the Tennessee Archaeology Network (1996), and Tennessee Archaeology Awareness Week (TAAW; 1996).


The first TAAW poster (1996; Designed and printed by MTSU Publications and Graphics and Ambrose Printing Co.)

With support from State Archaeologist Nick Fielder, Katherine Sanford and I (then both with the Division of Archaeology) adopted the creation of TAAW as our primary project for FY94-95, with the goal of holding our first Tennessee week in concert with the 1996 Tennessee Bicentennial Celebration. Finding legislative sponsors was not particularly difficult – except for the parts that would cost money – so lawmakers removed two key elements: a) funding for a new “Public Archaeology” position at TDOA to coordinate the week; and (b) funding for any kind of poster or promotional materials. The bill passed successfully reading (emphasis added):

Tennessee Archaeology Awareness Week. (a) Within existing resources and personnel, the division is authorized to … establish and coordinate activities focused on one (1) special week of the year to promote the archaeological heritage of Tennessee. This week shall be designated the ‘Tennessee Archaeology Awareness Week’ (Acts 1995, ch. 91, § 1).

Dead in the water.


Covers of the TAAW Calendar of Events, 1996-1999.

Going through my files, I found a folder labeled “Plan B.” Having moved from the TDOA to a tenure-track faculty position at Middle Tennessee State University in August 1995, I cobbled together a proposal for a National Park Service Historic Preservation Fund 60% (federal)/40% (local) matching grant administered by the Tennessee Historical Commission. Salary matches for coordinating and planning the first TAAW were provided by MTSU (me) and the TDOA (Sanford). Along with cash donations from the Middle Cumberland Archaeological Society ($750) and the Tennessee Council for Professional Archaeology ($200), we generated the federal matching funds to design, print, and distribute our first TAAW poster and Calendar of Events.

In 1996 and for ten subsequent years, we annually produced over 5,000 posters that were distributed to approximately 2300 K-12 public and private schools, 300 public libraries, and a host of museums, clubs, societies, and interested individuals.  Interest and support was so overwhelming that our event calendars for the first few years annually crammed over 100 events statewide into a single week. Outside the many lectures, tours, exhibits, and other events sponsored across the state, I always thought that some of our best accomplishments were facilitating the efforts of many public libraries to “post the poster” along with a special display highlighting their “archaeology books.” Some of you may want to think about this possibility as a simple way to reach many people in your local community.


Society for American Archaeology First Prize Award for the 1996 TAAW Poster.

Our first three posters were intended for use by school teachers and librarians as “teaching tools” that would be useful for longer than just a “week.” They included a lot of small images covering the breadth and diversity of Tennessee’s archaeological resources from ancient to modern. Our first (shown above) focused on Archaeology as “Discovering, Researching, Informing, and Preserving.” Thanks in no small part to the many avocationals and professionals who showed up to vote for that poster in the first competitive national competition for Archaeology Week Poster awards, we won first place from the Society for American Archaeology in 1997.


The 2001 TAAW poster illustrating the thematic series Paleoindian through Historic Cherokee series (2001; Designed and printed by Darrell Burks, MTSU Publication and Graphics)

The fourth poster emphasized and promoted ways the interested public could participate in archaeology across the state. With the generous support of Jeff Chapman and the McClung Museum, the posters from 2000-2004 featured five spectacular images created by artist Greg Harlin for the permanent exhibition “Archaeology and the Native Peoples of Tennessee.” In 2005 we acknowledged two major archaeological preservation efforts of the preceding year – the acquisition of late prehistoric Native American towns for protection by the State of Tennessee (Castalian Springs Mounds) and City of Brentwood (Fewkes Mounds) – and unofficially expanded TAAW to Tennessee Archaeology Awareness Month in recognition of that simple fact that there were too many events to cram into a week. The final poster in what we might as well dub “The First Series” would celebrate the 70th anniversary of the WPA/TVA “New Deal Archaeology” in Tennessee – alongside the 10th Anniversary of our annual celebration.

Although I received a 2007 grant, my service as MTSU Faculty Senate president had an unanticipated consequence – no salary match. Although the poster went away for a few years, our September celebration of Tennessee Archaeology did not.  Annual events continued to be planned and held by many organizations, institutions, and individuals. Promotion and coordination has shifted from hard copy and snail mail increasingly to the World Wide Web – a trend that began at the very beginning as the TAAW web pages and online events calendar were quite literally among the first such pages to appear in Tennessee with the introduction of the WWW in 1995. While our venues and media will continue to change and evolve, the underlying need to promote the significance of our archaeological heritage – and its preservation – will always remain with us.


The final poster in the First Series celebrating the 70th WPA/TVA Anniversary and the 10th TAAW Anniversary (2006; Designed and printed by MTSU Publications and Graphics)

Editor’s Note: You can learn about the recent relaunch of Tennessee Archaeology Awareness Month celebrations and the “Second Series” of posters via the TCPA web page.