John Broster’s Legacy and Influence on Tennessee Archaeology

30 Days of Tennessee Archaeology 2016, Day 20

Jesse W. Tune
Department of Anthropology, Fort Lewis College

Shane Miller
Department of Anthropology and Middle Eastern Cultures, Mississippi State University

When John B. Broster retired from the Tennessee Division of Archaeology in 2013, he completed a career in archaeology that spanned almost five decades, multiple countries, hundreds of sites, and literally thousands of Paleoindian points. His influence on Tennessee archaeology and Paleoindian studies cannot be overstated, and we wanted to take this opportunity to acknowledge his good work.

9.20 - F1

John poses with his Professional Career Achievement award from the Tennessee Council for Professional Archaeology on the cover of Tennessee Archaeology Volume 8, Issues 1-2.

Beginning in 1966 John worked on archaeological sites throughout Europe, Mexico, the American Southwest, Southern Plains, and most notably in Tennessee. He received a B.A. degree in Anthropology from Vanderbilt University in 1968, and a M.A. degree in Anthropology from the University of New Mexico in 1971. From 1973 to 1975 John worked at the newly created Tennessee Division of Archaeology (TDOA), and then became the Project Director at the Office of Contract Archaeology at the University of New Mexico. The Bureau of Indian Affairs hired John in 1977 where he worked as Field Director before being promoted to Archaeological Program Director. John received two Achievement Awards while working for the BIA. In 1985 John returned to work for the TDOA, where he worked until his retirement in May 2013.

John’s discussions of lithic technologies and colorful anecdotes of fieldwork have sparked the interest and curiosity of many younger archaeologists – ourselves included. He has served on thesis and dissertation committees, as well as provided constructive advice on many students’ research. He has spent many long days standing beside graduate students in the field giving his thoughts and advice on their projects. John’s successful career and influence has paved the way for much of the current and future Southeastern Paleoindian research.

John’s illustrious career was honored recently at the Recent Research and Future Directions in Southeastern Paleoindian Archaeology symposium during the Southeastern Archaeological Conference in Tampa, Florida in 2013. The papers presented during that conference were the result of research inspired by John. In turn, those papers were showcased in a special double issue of Tennessee Archaeology.

For that publication we were able to assemble a broad array of contributors that reflect the impact that John has had at a state, regional, and national level in regards to Paleoindian period archaeology. It is our hope that these contributions display our gratitude for the way in which John conducted research, collaborated with colleagues, and helped dozens of students get their research off the ground. Moreover, over the course of John’s career he helped address some of the “Big Questions” in Paleoindian archaeology. We would argue that his ability to connect the archaeology of the Midsouth to broader research questions come from a lifetime of conducting fieldwork in a variety of contexts – from Oaxaca to Santa Fe to Pinson Mounds.

When you hear the anecdotes and personal stories about John, it sounds as if his life was pulled from the pages of an Ernest Hemingway novel, and that he, like “Santiago” from The Old Man and the Sea, is a larger-than-life character who didn’t back down from an even larger challenge. However, in John’s case, his challenge wasn’t reeling in a 20-foot-long Marlin by hand. Instead, John went toe-to-toe with the Pleistocene and Early Holocene record of the Midsouth for a substantial portion of his career.

One of the lasting contributions from John’s prolific career is that he set the tone for how Paleoindian research should be conducted in Tennessee. First, John (and his colleagues at the TDOA) have worked extensively with the public to examine private collections. This work led to a revitalization of the Tennessee Fluted Point Survey (TFPS) in the late 1980s, and has since expanded to include nearly 5,500 artifacts. As a result of this public engagement and the lasting relationships built with private collectors across the state, John brought several now-famous sites to the attention of the archaeological community, including Carson- Conn-Short, Widemeier, Sinclair, and Puckett.

By disseminating information on these sites and isolated finds through numerous journal articles and the TFPS, John provided avenues through which Tennessee’s rich Late Pleistocene and Early Holocene archaeological record could be available to a broader audience. The significance of this effort cannot be overstated, as it has facilitated research and collaborative partnerships across North America. Furthermore, under John’s guidance, the success of the TFPS stands as an example of the importance of collaboration between professional archaeologists and the avocational community.

9.20 - F2

Jesse Tune, John Broster, and Shane Miller at the 2013 SEAC symposium in Tampa, Florida.

It’s largely because of John’s efforts that we now know that Middle Tennessee has one of the richest Late Pleistocene and Early Holocene archaeological records in North America, both in terms of density and diversity. John influence on Paleoindian archaeology also extends beyond Tennessee. Researchers in other parts of North America frequently use the record from Tennessee as an important baseline for comparison.

Unlike Santiago from The Old Man and the Sea, John did not return to port empty-handed. Instead, he had a long and fruitful career as a larger-than-life figure in the archaeology of Tennessee, whose influence will continue for years to come.

 Editor’s note: For a more detailed discussion of the significance and impact of the Tennessee Fluted Point Survey, see Jesse Tune’s post from September 3rd.