In recognition of the importance of Tennessee’s archaeological heritage, the state legislature created an official Tennessee Archaeology Awareness Week (TAAW) in 1995 in order to “promote the archaeological heritage of Tennessee.” (Acts 1995, ch. 91, Part 1). From 1996-2006, the Tennessee Division of Archaeology, Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Middle Tennessee State University, and the Tennessee Historical Commission cooperatively sponsored and coordinated events during one week in September. Between 1995 and 2006, the years Archaeological Awareness Week celebrations included the efforts of numerous professional and avocational archaeologists, and reached thousands of citizens.
The first Tennessee Archaeology Awareness Week poster was created in 1996 by Dr. Kevin Smith of Middle Tennessee State University and featured a map of Tennessee on which archaeological sites and finds were highlighted. The poster was submitted to the Archaeology Week/Month Poster contest held annually by the Society for American Archaeology, and was chosen as the first place winner at the SAA conference in the spring of 1997.
In 2014, the TCPA decided to relaunch this celebration of Tennessee’s unique archaeological heritage. However, we quickly recognized that there were more activities happening across the state than fit in a week, and so decided to celebrate September, 2014 as the first annual Tennessee Archaeology Awareness Month! The inaugural celebration included the efforts of the TCPA, MTSU, ETSU, Chucalissa, the Tennessee Division of Archaeology, the Tennessee State Museum, Old Stone Fort and Pinson Mounds State Parks, as well as several local archaeological societies. Members of our organization also conducted outreach in the public schools to support the statewide Social Studies curriculum.
As part of the celebration, the TCPA also relaunched the annual Tennessee Archaeology Awareness poster with a print designed by Noel Lorson and produced with assistance from the Tennessee Historical Commission. Finally, the TCPA hosted the first ever “30 Days of Tennessee Archaeology” blogfest. That virtual event was conceived as a way to connect archaeologists working across Tennessee with the public and show that archaeology is everywhere. The first Tennessee Archaeology Awareness Month celebration reached more than 3,500 participants both directly and via the internet.
Tennessee is not alone in our efforts to promote archaeological awareness, and there are numerous statewide archaeology celebrations that take place throughout the country each year. In addition, there are several international celebrations of archaeological awareness, including the Day of Archaeology in July and the Archaeological Institute of America’s International Archaeology Day in October.
The Executive Board of TCPA discussed at length which month to designate as Tennessee Archaeology Awareness Month. Ultimately, it was decided that September should remain the time for this celebration. This is in part because the event grew out of Tennessee Archaeology Awareness Week, which beginning in 1996 was celebrated in September in order to incorporate the Archaeofest event at Pinson Mounds State Archaeological Park.
In addition, September was named “American Indian Heritage Month” under Tennessee House Joint Resolutions in 2013 and 2014. This adds an important aspect to the Archaeology Awareness Month celebration, in that it incorporates formal legislative acknowledgement of millennia of Native American contributions to Tennessee history. Finally, in July of 2013 the State of Tennessee Board of Education approved new statewide Social Studies standards. The first unit for 4th grade Social Studies in Tennessee under the standards is “The Land and People before European Exploration,” in which students learn to “Describe the legacy and cultures of the major indigenous settlements in Tennessee,” beginning with the first PaleoAmerican settlers and extending through historic Native American tribes. This unit is covered at the beginning of the school year, extending into September.
Making it Official
At the January 2015 annual Business Meeting, TCPA Executive Board member and head of the Legislative Committee Jared Barrett proposed that TCPA contact lawmakers and promote new legislation codifying September as Tennessee Archaeology Awareness Month. The membership voted and agreed TCPA should move forward with this initiative. Jared subsequently approached Senator Bill Ketron of Murfreesboro (District 13), who agreed to sponsor a Tennessee Archaeology Awareness Month bill. Ketron enlisted the support of Representative Steve McDaniel of Parkers Crossroads (District 72) and co-sponsor Representative Darren Jernigan of Old Hickory (District 60). Together they introduced SB0170/HB0313. This legislation amends TCA Title 4, Chapter 1, Part 4, the portion of the Tennessee Code that designates statewide celebrations including Tennessee Genealogy Month and Women in STEM Month, and reads:
Naming and Designating – As introduced, designates the month of September as ‘Tennessee Archaeology Awareness Month’ to encourage citizens to learn more about prehistoric and historic archaeology in Tennessee.
The Archaeology Awareness Month legislation passed quickly through both the Tennessee House and Senate, and was signed into law by Governor Haslam on March 27, 2015.
What’s Happening This Year, and How Can I Become Involved?
The TCPA hosts a calendar of statewide public archaeology events that will be updated to include Tennessee Archaeology Month celebrations in September. We encourage our membership, as well as all archaeologists and Tennessee citizens interested in helping to promote and preserve our archaeological heritage, to consider opportunities for outreach and education during this celebration. You can take a look through the public archaeology resources provided by the Society for American Archaeology to get ideas for public archaeology projects, and also consider any of the following:
- Attend an event related to public archaeology or Tennessee History
- Host a public open house at your archaeology lab or department
- Volunteer to give a presentation for a local historical or archaeological society
- Contact your local 4th grade Social Studies teacher and volunteer to speak with their classes about archaeology and Tennessee’s Native American heritage
- Write a blog post for the “30 Days of Tennessee Archaeology” event!
- Participate in a volunteer opportunity at a research lab or a site like Chucalissa