30 Days of Tennessee Archaeology, Day 24
Lauren Woelkers and Jay D. Franklin
East Tennessee State University
The ETSU Valleybrook Campus was donated to East Tennessee State University in 2010 by Eastman Chemical Company. Situated on 144 acres of land, it features 102,000 square feet of office and research space used by ETSU students and faculty from various academic disciplines. The Archaeological Education and Curation Center was established at the facility in 2013 as a part of an MOA between Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) and ETSU, in which ETSU agreed to curate TDOT archaeological collections at the Valleybrook Center.
These artifacts are not only curated at the Valleybrook Center, they also serve as teaching and research collections. ETSU students gain valuable experience working directly with these collections; they conduct artifact analyses as a part of research projects, write Student-Faculty Collaborative Grant proposals to acquire funding for their research, and present their work at professional archaeological conferences. As a part of their research, students use resources such as a Portable X-ray Fluorescence (PXRF) instrument, a flotation tank, comparative prehistoric and historic artifact collections, and the Stanley A. Ahler Archaeology Library. Additionally, students gain experience using professional applications such as ArcGIS and ARTAX Spectra software. These opportunities for research and collaboration on a professional level are both rare and rewarding for undergraduate students.
Students are actively engaged in experimental archaeology such as flint-knapping demonstrations and pottery replication at the Valleybrook Center (ETSU students have participated in pottery workshops with Joel Queen, a world-renowned 7th generation EBCI potter toward this end). In 2016 and 2017, archaeological exhibits were constructed by ETSU students and placed in the Banner House Museum in Banner Elk, North Carolina and three Tennessee museums: The ETSU Natural History Museum in Gray, Sycamore Shoals Historic Park, and The Pickett State Park Archaeology Museum & ETSU Archaeological Research Station, which Travis Bow discussed in an earlier blog. Archaeological workshops and seminars are offered at Valleybrook and open to students, faculty, and the public. Additionally, the facility is used as a satellite campus location where courses are offered in curation, cultural resource management, and analyses of ceramic and lithic artifacts.
Archaeologists are aware that, on a regional scale, we are approaching a curation crisis, if we are not already there. For the foreseeable future, we can provide space for collections, particularly those from CRM projects. However, a critical issue related to the curation crisis involves funding. There is often a lack of associated funding to house archaeological collections long-term. This is particularly true of old collections. We believe this represents a crisis in the archaeological community. For the time being, the Valleybrook Center is able to provide one of those key conditions: ample curation space.
The Archaeological Education and Curation Center also plays a crucial role in public outreach in archaeology. We provide guided tours of the lab and research areas to groups of people such as elementary school students, retired members of the community, and local historic associations. During these tours, we present our ongoing archaeological research and invite guests to ask questions and share any knowledge they may have. Our goal is to make the region’s archaeology accessible and meaningful to all in the community. In doing so, we hope to stress the importance of protection and sensitivity of local archaeological resources.
Students from Cherokee Central Middle School on the Qualla Boundary have also visited the facility to learn about the archaeology of early Cherokee towns in our region. Representatives from the Tribal Historic Preservation Office (THPO) of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI) come to the Valleybrook Center to give talks to ETSU students about archaeology from a tribal perspective. This direct involvement with the Cherokee community makes the research conducted at the Valleybrook Center relevant to a living group of people and fosters a mutually gratifying relationship between ETSU and Cherokee people.
Future goals for the center will address our primary focus on public archaeology. We are currently constructing 3D databases of comparative prehistoric and historic artifact collections for our region. These databases will be uploaded to the Archaeological Education and Curation Center’s webpage, and made accessible to the public. We continue to engage in original field work and research, but we also recognize the importance of engaging our communities. Further, we believe field work and research should be interwoven with public outreach. Static approaches to archaeology education, research, curation, and public outreach need revision and revitalization; continued fieldwork must form the base of these efforts, and we are committed to such an approach.