Volunteer Day at the UT Archaeological Research Lab

30 Days of Tennessee Archaeology, Day 18

Kandace D. Hollenbach
University of Tennessee, Knoxville

On the third Friday of each month, the Archaeological Research Laboratory (ARL) at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville invites members of the community to join us for our Volunteer Day.  This program began in January of 2015, shortly after the ARL “inherited” Dr. Charlie Faulkner’s comparative collection from the Normandy Archaeological Project.

Dr. Faulkner and Major McCollough directed the Normandy Project from 1971 to 1975, prior to the construction of Normandy Dam and inundation of the reservoir in 1976 by the Tennessee Valley Authority.  These archaeological salvage efforts and resulting research defined the culture history of Middle Tennessee.  Dr. Faulkner compiled some of the best examples of these materials into a type collection of stone tools and pottery that he used to teach untold numbers of undergraduate and graduate students.


A shell-tempered vessel fragment with an unusual handle from the Normandy collection.

With the Department of Anthropology’s move from South Stadium Hall imminent, the collection – dozens of drawers, artifact boxes, and cigar boxes filled with artifacts labeled by type and provenience – was moved to the ARL’s space at Middlebrook to be repackaged into curation-quality bags with acid-free paper tags, a significant improvement over the paper bags with crumbling rubber bands that many of the artifacts were held in.  Covering four large work tables, the collection quickly proved to be more than could be managed by student volunteers.

Thankfully, several dozen community members answered our call for volunteers to help us with the daunting task of rebagging over 20,000 artifacts, entering them into a spreadsheet, and organizing them for curation.  We plied them with snacks and a lunchtime lecture on Tennessee archaeology, with guest speakers including Charlie Faulkner, and archaeologists from TVA, UT, and SUNY-Oneonta.

At the end of the first year, we asked for feedback from the volunteers. Their primary request was for reading material related to the either the Normandy Collection or to the topic of the lunchtime lecture, a request we were more than happy to oblige.  They also expressed interest in fieldwork, if the opportunity arose.  We were finally able to fulfill this request this past spring, with shovel-testing at the UT Institute of Agriculture’s Holston Unit Farm.  Roughly a dozen stalwart volunteers joined us from March through July, slogging through at least 60 cm of clayey overburden to reach a few sherds and a handful of debitage (stone tool-making debris).  I hope that we have not scared all of them off from fieldwork, which is usually not as exciting as one imagines it to be.  We plan to do some additional testing this winter, including some geophysical surveys to trace the deposits rather than using a shovel, and I am hoping that our volunteers will join us for collecting these data.  I also hope that they will join us for our field school this coming summer, so that they can learn how to use trowels as well as shovels in the field.


Five of our stalwart volunteers tackling two shovel test pits at the UT Holston Unit Farm

I have sincerely enjoyed working with the volunteers and getting to know them over the past three years.  We are truly indebted to them for the more than 1000 hours of their time that they have given to us, and their enthusiasm and interest that they have shared with us.  I am looking forward to the next three years of the program and the directions in which our volunteers will join us and push us.

For more information about the Volunteer Program at the ARL, please contact Kandi Hollenbach (kdh@utk.edu).