Tennessee Archaeological Site File 1992 – 2017 Highlights

30 Days of Tennessee Archaeology, Day 8

Suzanne Hoyal
Retired Site File Curator
Tennessee Division of Archaeology

The Tennessee Archaeological Site File is the state’s repository for information about recorded prehistoric and historic archaeological sites.  State governments across the country maintain such repositories where archaeological records are managed by Site File Curators. Here, that office is the Tennessee Division of Archaeology (TDOA). The following is a behind-the-scenes glimpse of the Site File journey from paper to digital records during my 25-year service at TDOA.

1992 – Data Management System. TDOA began preparations for the next millennium before my arrival. A database application would be written in-house to manage basic site, survey report, and collections data. Ashton-Tate’s dBase III, the only suitable computer software available to TDOA at the time, provided the programming tools. Much of the information would be stored in the system as coded data, necessitating a review of all versions of the site survey record, or site form.

WPA archaeologists created the first site form where they noted basic details on hundreds of newly discovered archaeological sites in major river valleys.  Several versions followed over the next few decades.   The collection of these historic documents formed the core of what would eventually be known as the Site File.

The site forms review, one of my introductory tasks, identified all the various kinds of basic information to be categorized and coded, such as cultural affiliation and site type.  The review results provided about 60 potential fields, or columns, needed for inclusion in the site database, which would be the primary component of the forthcoming data management system.

Within the database each recorded site would exist as a distinct record known by its unique identifier, commonly referred to as site number. A few decades earlier Tennessee institutions replaced an old site number format with the much-improved Smithsonian trinomial format. The improved method efficiently and uniquely labeled each recorded archaeological site by its state, county, and sequential number within county. For example, site number 40MD1 identified Pinson Mounds as the first site recorded in Madison County (MD), Tennessee (40).

Database application construction proceeded after completion of code assignments. The team’s preparation of site forms for data entry began. A site form revision accommodated the new system’s needs. The 1992 count of recorded sites totaled around 12,000. Reorganization of the site form files and survey report library revealed several hundred sites without forms, which led to a successful and interesting search through the working files of my predecessor, and at the Chucalissa and McClung museums.

Progress continued for a few years. The team completed the initial data entry. Federal agency archives and ongoing survey projects generated thousands of new number assignments to sites at Cherokee National Forest, Big South Fork NRRA, Fort Campbell, Kentucky Lake and other reservoirs. The National Park Service sponsored a regional site file management workshop. The data management system worked admirably.

Geographic information system (GIS) training and Tennessee Geographic Information Council (TNGIC) membership reaffirmed the value and compatibility of TDOA’s site database. Although lean years took a toll, my belief in the potential of GIS and Oracle held true as I advanced slowly forward for another decade.

2008 – ArcMap Sanctuary. Ongoing survey projects continued to generate new site number assignments by the thousands with their reams of records and gigabytes of data. A printer/scanner, ArcGIS, and Adobe Pro eventually became available to me. ArcMap remained open on my desktop each day, ready for windows of editing time. Progress continued.


Map of recorded archaeological sites in Tennessee, courtesy of TDOA Site File Curator Paige Silcox.

2017 – Passing of the Baton. My daily wrangling of site data, points, polygons and polylines is done. TDOA’s current Site File Curator, with her knowledge of both paper and digital realms, is well-prepared to continue the journey. Tennessee’s Archaeological Site File will one day be described as a digital repository made available to archaeological researchers through secure remote access. My office desktop is shut down.

Learn more about Site File potential and digitization efforts of other TDOA resources from TCPA’s previous blogfest, 30 Days of Tennessee Archaeology, 2016 where you will find posts by Paige Silcox and Aaron Deter-Wolf, David G. Anderson and others on the DINAA team, and Shane Miller.

Acknowledgement and Thanks go to many.  Charles McNutt for 3 semester hours on Archaeology of North America. Sam Smith for mentoring during Hermitage and Wynnewood investigations. The late Herbert Harper for a position related to Anthropology. Nick Fielder for bureaucratic insight. SHPO/THC 1979-1983 staff for comradery. The late Patti Coats for being first. Kevin Smith for foresight and programming skills at TDOA. Katherine Sanford, Scott Jones and the late Parris Stripling for site form prep, data entry for 12,000 sites, lunchtime Rook games, and more at TDOA. Senior TDOA staff for corporate knowledge. Zada Law, Bill Avant, Lori Pittman, Tim Buchanan for GIS tips, tricks and expertise. Mike Moore and Jennifer Barnett at TDOA for finding Paige. TDOA staff for moral support and laughter. TDOA Site File Curator Paige Silcox for understanding the language, her calm amidst chaos, my peace of mind at retirement, and for the image above, a panacea for ArcMap withdrawal. And, archaeologists working in Tennessee for professionalism and cordiality when our paths crossed.

Please join us in celebrating Tennessee’s archaeological heritage.


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