The latest issue of the Southeastern Archaeological Conference’s newsletter Horizon and Tradition was just published online at the SEAC website (direct link to the PDF here). Page 19 of the newsletter is an interactive feature on the TCPA’s “30 Days of Tennessee Archaeology” blogfest, prepared by TCPA President-elect Phillip Hodge! Hyperlinks in the PDF of the newsletter allow readers to click on any image and visit the post for that day here at the TCPA site.
Tanya M. Peres, PhD, RPA
Associate Professor, Middle Tennessee State University
I think we can all agree that “30 Days of Tennessee Archaeology” Blogfest was an overwhelming success! The blogfest started out as the brainchild of TCPA Secretary/Treasurer Aaron Deter-Wolf, and the TCPA Board members quickly agreed this would be a fun way to raise the visibility of archaeology across the state. This endeavor was successful due to Aaron’s steadfast organization and scheduling of contributors and posts. However, we couldn’t have had a blogfest without the contributors and readers! Thanks to everyone that took the time to share with us a glimpse of their archaeological world. Thanks to the readers for their interest in the subject and their support for this project.
I thought it would interesting (and heck, a little geeky) to share some of the metrics for the success of the blogfest. After all, I am a scientist, and scientists like numbers! We actually have two sets of metrics to look at: those for the WordPress site, and those for Facebook.
- The new TCPA website was launched in late January, 2014.
- Between February and August 2014, we averaged 108 unique visitors and 299 views per month, with peak traffic in March (324 visitors / 560 views, which corresponded to the State Artifact bill being signed into law).
- In September 2014, our site had nearly 3,300 unique visitors and a total of nearly 7,000 views.
- The number of visitors peaked on September 12, with 639 visitors viewing or sharing the posts by TCPA President-Elect Phil Hodge and Executive Board Member Dr. Shannon Hodge.
- The post on the Nashville Zoo cemetery by Shannon Hodge has had a total of 1,166 views since it went live on September 11.
As far as Facebook, the September 11 post by Shannon Hodge reached the news feed of 2,029 people, followed by the September 18 post by Larry McKee and Hannah Guidry (also on the Nashville Zoo) reached 1,933 people, the September 12 post by Phil Hodge (1,521 people), and the Day 29 (9/29) post by Paul Avery reached 1,220 people. The other posts during the month averaged 400-500 people reached.
During the month of September, the TCPA Facebook page increased in “Likes” by 15%. We also saw an increase of the number of people interacting with our posts on FB during the month of September.
If you didn’t get a chance to contribute this year – not to worry – “30 Days of Tennessee Archaeology” will be back in September 2015!
Archaeological Survey of Big South Fork
Mark M. Crawford III
Founder, Williamson County Archaeological Society
Based on past and current archaeological research, the area that encompasses Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area has been consistently inhabited by people for more than 10,000 years. Long before the National Park’s inception, the Cumberland Plateau attracted people seeking a multitude of occupational and recreational activities. In modern times, canoeing and kayaking are extremely popular along the Big South Fork, as well as hunting, horseback riding, and hiking. Numerous species including black bear, deer, turkey, etc. populate the many ecological niches found within the park. Geologically, Big South Fork lies along a plateau composed of horizontal sheets of sandstone and shale, deposited like layers of a cake. Sandstone is much more resilient than the shale layers. As the water cuts downward through the plateau, deep gorges are formed. Once the shale layers are exposed along the steep gorges they erode quickly and leave the sandstone layers suspended above creating rock overhangs or shelters.
These rock shelters were a major focus of activity for people in the past, as they served as a convenient locality for a multitude of activities. Due to the uniquely dry conditions, preservation of the material culture left behind is enhanced. Unfortunately this makes the sites a target for modern-day looting. The illegal digging of these sites by collectors and treasure hunters threatens to destroy the priceless information they contain. To mitigate this threat, an archaeological survey was initiated in collaboration between Middle Tennessee State University and the National Parks in 1996. So far the survey has identified over 400 previously unrecorded cultural sites in rock shelters dating as far back as the Paleo-Indian period, through the Archaic, Woodland, and Mississippian periods, as well as much more recent activity such as moonshine manufacture. This year, Courtney L. Croft, Brandy Dacus-Hale, and I accepted internships to continue the unfinished survey of the over 750 miles of bluffline within the park’s borders.
On a typical day in the field we start early in the morning, hiking to the bluffline where rock shelters frequently occur. We then follow along the bluffline, entering rock shelters as we find them and identifying cultural materials visible on the surface. For example, we survey the rock shelter for stone tools, fire boxes, and metal rings that once held barrels together (probably for moonshine stills). We cover approximately one mile of bluffline a day and find an average of two archaeological sites in that time. Each new site is named and assigned a unique number. A metal tag with the corresponding number is then attached to the wall of the shelter for future identification. We measure, draw a rough sketch, and fill out an information card for each new site. Each site is assessed based on the level of illegal digging or lack thereof, erosion, and modern hiker/hunter impact. Once recorded, this information is filed with the park and is used by law enforcement personnel to observe and protect the sites. Big South Fork encompasses 198 square miles, so it is critical to narrow down the areas that need protection. Using archaeological survey, high risk areas can be identified and better protected.
All in all, we identified 54 new sites, roughly 40 percent of which had been damaged by illegal digging. Historic sites consisted of 3 livestock pens constructed of ax-hewn timber, as well as shelters containing evidence of square stone fire boxes, broken glass jars, and rusty metal barrel rings (all that was left of what once was a wooden barrel). At one such site we recovered a coiled copper pipe probably used in the manufacture of moonshine. Prehistoric sites were identified by the presence of stone tool making debris, the stone tool fragments themselves, and pottery fragments. Stone tool debris, unfortunately, only identify a site as prehistoric, a time period that stretches over 10,000 years. Fortunately, we were able to assign a smaller range of time for some of the sites based on the presence of stone tool fragments and ceramic sherds that are diagnostic or point to a specific time period of the prehistoric age. Stone tools belonging to the Early, Middle, and Late Archaic periods as well as the Woodland period were identified by the artifacts recovered this summer. Woodland period ceramics were recognized too. This new data concurs with previous survey analysis by MTSU interns as well as the Big South Fork Archaeologist, Tom Des Jean, in other areas of the park. All conclude that the rock shelters have been utilized and inhabited by people for over 10,000 years. Based on our survey, newly recorded rock shelters were used for the containment of livestock, making moonshine, brief and long duration habitation, hunting, as well as many other activities. In other words, these shelters were used by past people for almost anything you can imagine, just like modern buildings today, and thus were an integral part of their daily lives.
The uniquely dry conditions of the rock shelters preserve a wide range of artifacts spanning over 10,000 years. Unfortunately, they are threatened with past and current destruction by illegal digging activities. These rock shelters are priceless repositories of the story of humanity’s past and they deserve our respect and protection. But they have to be identified and recorded first. The rock shelter archaeological survey collaboration between MTSU and the National Park Service is working to identify and protect what remains of our collective past in a Tennessee treasure; Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area.
Thank you for helping the TCPA make Tennessee Archaeology Awareness Month great!
Many thanks to everyone who contributed to the 30 Days of Tennessee Archaeology project in 2014, and to all those who read, shared, and commented on the posts! Tennessee has a fantastic archaeological heritage, and we hope this project has helped highlight a small portion of the research and stories taking place all around us. Remember that archaeology awareness shouldn’t end on October 1! We encourage our membership and all those interested in Tennessee’s archaeological past to get out there and find ways to promote archaeological stewardship, preservation, and understanding of our shared human past.
Archaeological Research at the Perry House Site in Knox County, Tennessee
Cultural Resource Analysts, Inc.
As a principal investigator with Cultural Resource Analysts, I oversee the excavation of a lot of empty holes in the process of looking for archaeological sites so that they can be avoided. But every now and then, I get to work on a special site, one that is interesting to work on and actually contributes to our understanding of the past.
One such site is 40KN275, the Perry House. In 2013, CRA was contracted by the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) to conduct archaeological testing at the site ahead of planned improvements to the intersection of Emory Road and Tazewell Pike in northeastern Knox County. Local historians thought the site might have been the location of a colonial-era station on Emory Road known as Reynold’s Station. TDOT archaeologist Alan Longmire worked on the site in 1994 as a possible thesis project and did find 18th century artifacts. TDOT was unable to avoid the site, so it was necessary for them to determine whether or not the resource was eligible for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP).
Historical research indicated that the first inhabitant of the site was likely George Perry, who purchased the tract of land in 1799 and built a two story log house shortly thereafter. Although little is known of Perry historically, he is believed to have owned as many as 24 slaves, making him one of the larger slave holders in East Tennessee. Perry died in 1836 and his 1,286 acres of land were purchased by William Pledge Harbison in 1842. Harbison was also a slave owner, but records indicate that he owned no more than five at one time. In 1865, Harbison divided his land holdings among his children, deeding 140 acres and the house to his daughter Sarah Harbison Neal. Sarah had married James Frank Neal in 1857, and they would live in her father’s house until her death in 1923. At that time, the property passed out of the family through a series of trustee sales to O.M. and Eva Cardwell, who demolished the home and built the modern house in 1932.
CRA tested the site in 2013 and determined that it was eligible for inclusion on the NRHP. Given the historical importance of the Perry House site, it was recommended that TDOT avoid it during construction. However, this option was not feasible, and in March 2014 CRA returned to the site to conduct an archaeological data recovery ahead of the planned construction. The field work this time included the excavation of test units within two dense sheet middens of late 19th and early 20th century materials and the mechanical removal of the topsoil from the majority of the yard. This resulted in the identification of an additional 113 cultural features. Of these, 89 were excavated.
The features covered the full range of occupation of the site, from the prehistoric to the 20th century. Of particular interest were eight cellars that likely all dated to the Perry occupation of the site. Six of the cellars appear to have been located beneath slave cabins and one marked the location of a detached kitchen. The other cellar was the largest and deepest of the lot, but contained very few artifacts. It may be one of the earliest features on the site.
The artifact assemblage consisted of 10,371 artifacts, along with a large amount of animal bone and plant material. The historic ceramics consisted primarily of creamware, pearlware, and redware types that were popular during the early 19th century. The variety of decorative techniques was remarkable. Later ceramics, such as cream-colored ware and ironstone, were contained almost exclusively in the later privy features. Very few fragments of container glass were recovered, except from the privies.
The cellars appeared to have been filled at the beginning of the Harbison occupation in 1842. They were also filled in a single episode, as there was almost no stratigraphy within the features. The materials did not accumulate over time while the cellars were in use, but were placed in the cellars as part of the fill. This makes it impossible to determine what materials were used by the slaves and what were used by the Perry household. But the assemblage consists almost exclusively of lower cost materials. This likely means that the slaves were using ceramic types that were very similar or identical to those being used by Perry.
The research at the Perry House has provided extensive data with which to study a variety of important topics in historical archaeology. The historical research, feature excavations, and artifact assemblage combined to provide a much more clear picture of what the site looked like through time and about the behavior of the people that lived there. Of particular interest is the additional information gained about the enslaved inhabitants that can be used to build on previous research conducted on rural slave sites in east Tennessee.
Teaching Near-Surface Geophysics at the Magnolia Valley Field School
Timothy S. de Smet
Assistant Curator, Anthropology Research Collections
Texas A&M University
Before beginning my work in Rutherford County, Tennessee this past summer I was told that some archaeologists did not think geophysical techniques would work well in that portion of Nashville’s Central Basin. Perhaps previous archaeologists had been burned by geophysical surveys (everyone I talk to seems to think they have at one point) because they worked with poor practitioners, at sites with low contrast features, or had too high of expectations of the data. In fact, Doolittle and colleagues‘ (2007) ground-penetrating radar (GPR) soil suitability maps depict Rutherford County – and most of Tennessee, for that matter – as having a “low potential” for GPR suitability! While there is obviously some skepticism regarding the use of geophysics in Middle Tennessee, our work at the Magnolia Valley site in 2014 proved the efficacy of these methods and along with other research programs will hopefully inspire a generation of future archaeologists to disregard naysayers and employ geophysical techniques in the pursuit of anthropological research in Tennessee.
I have worked with and taught near-surface applied geophysics at seven field schools to date. I believe that everyone has the capability to learn about these methods, from their theoretical underpinnings, to their deployment and use in the field and subsequent processing in the lab, and all the way through to the final product. But, everyone learns a bit differently. For some figures are the best at driving home an idea, for some text, for some lecture, and just equations for some brilliant individuals. My goal in teaching these methods is for every student to have learned the possibilities and limitations of each method at different types of sites and in different settings. Students also learn how to set up a survey, collect the data, and even do a bit of preliminary processing. Finally, and most importantly I emphasize the use of these methods to answer and generate anthropological research questions about human behavior, social organization, and cultural change through time. These methods are not just about X marks the spot prospection. We are not just end users of methods developed by researchers in other disciplines – as is sadly often the case in anthropology. Practitioners of archaeogeophysics can and should make meaningful contributions to anthropology, history, geology & geophysics, geography, soil science, and a multitude of other disciplines in both the soft and hard sciences.
At archaeological sites there are four commonly used near-surface geophysical methods: 1) GPR; 2) magnetometry; 3) frequency and time-domain electromagnetic-induction (EMI); and 4) resistivity. Of the four, only resistivity is invasive, albeit minimally so with small probes being inserted into the topsoil. The other three methods are non-invasive, non-destructive and – other than GPR – do not even require ground contact. Therefore these methods can be used to discover sites and delineate their extent, boundaries, and structure without ever punching any holes into the ground or causing significant disturbance to archaeological deposits.
Magnetometry is the lone passive method of near-surface geophysical investigation, where the sensors simply measure the earth total magnetic field strength in nano Teslas (nT) at a given point. Typically two magnetic sensors are used simultaneously and their horizontal or vertical gradient is calculated in nT/m in order to eliminate geological noise and the need to process out diurnal magnetic drift. EMI and GPR are active methods that transmit electromagnetic energy into the ground. GPR transmits pulsed electromagnetic waves into the subsurface and the receiver records the time and amplitude of the returning signal to determine the depth of dielectric contrasts in the ground. Time-domain EMI is a fancy way to say metal detecting and is often used at historical archaeological sites. At Magnolia Valley we used magnetometry, GPR, and frequency-domain EMI, which transmits low frequency electromagnetic waves into the ground to record both the in-phase and quadrature response of the subsurface, which can be converted into the magnetic susceptibility and apparent conductivity of various depths, respectively.
Prior to our geophysical investigations, little was known about the Archaic component of the Magnolia Valley site. We collected data using Geometrics G-858 cesium vapor magnetometer, GSSI’s Profiler EMP-400 multifrequency electromagnetic conductivity meter, and Sensor’s & Software’s pulseEKKO PRO GPR with 500 MHz antennas at a line spacing of 0.5 m and station spacing of 0.1, 0.25, and 0.025 m,respectively. The use of multiple methods was necessary to distinguish feature type. Negative apparent conductivity paired with strong dipolar magnetic responses were indicative of historic metal artifacts. High magnetic susceptibility and strong magnetic gradient contrasts indicated probable Archaic pit and habitation features. A historic two track wagon road was identified approximately 25 cm below the surface with both GPR and magnetometry. Ground-truthing the results proved the efficacy of this multi-method survey strategy and resulted in the identification of a rock-lined earth oven, several large (over 1 m in diameter and 1 m in depth) pits, and a possible Archaic structure/living space footprint along with the historic two-track road and metal artifacts. We are currently analyzing the archaeological and geophysical data and will be presenting the results of our research at the 2015 CRITA and the SAA annual meetings in Nashville and San Francisco, respectively.
The 1993 Rutherford-Kizer Mound Site Excavations
Michael C. Moore, State Archaeologist and Director
Tennessee Division of Archaeology
During this time of the year my mind usually wanders back to 1993 when Kevin Smith and I began our exploration of the Rutherford-Kizer site, a Mississippian mound center in southwest Sumner County. At that time, the general site area was in a rural part of the county with minimal residential development. That changed in early 1993 when Tom and Jack Tyree (father and son) proposed to build a large subdivision in an agricultural field/pasture north of Stop 30 Road and west of Drakes Creek. Unfortunately, this location included the southern half of the Rutherford-Kizer mound center recorded as 40SU15 in the Division of Archaeology site files.
To make a really long story short, Kevin and I (along with Nick Fielder who was State Archaeologist at the time) held a number of meetings with the Tyree’s and eventually obtained their permission to conduct a limited testing program of the site area proposed for development. Despite our status as the State Archaeologist’s office, we still needed the Tyree’s permission as Tennessee state law did not (and still does not) require private landowners to conduct any type of archaeological investigation prior to ground disturbance, even if previously known sites will be disturbed by the earthmoving activity. However, Kevin and I knew that human burials were likely present in the area to be disturbed, and drove home that point numerous times during our discussions. Tom Tyree, on the other hand, did not believe burials were present on his property as he had been told the burials were on the other (north) side of the property fence. All of us agreed our evaluation would help answer that question.
The investigation began with a controlled surface collection of plow strips. The vast majority of our work force was comprised of volunteer labor from the Middle Cumberland Archaeological Society (MCAS) as well as graduate and undergraduate students from Vanderbilt University and Middle Tennessee State University. We also had stay-at-home mothers and kids that lived nearby come over to see what the excitement was about, and we put them to work too!
Three strip blocks were excavated based upon the controlled surface collection results. Our first strip block (Strip Block A) exposed the outlines of several stone-box graves, quickly answering the question of whether or not human remains existed within the proposed development zone. The second strip block (Strip Block B) was expanded to expose a structure in addition to large pit features and several burials (stone-boxes as well as a bundle burial). No human remains were removed from either Strip Blocks A or B during the course of our initial investigation (these strip blocks were later included in a greenspace set aside from any grave removal, more on that later). Our third strip block (Strip Block C) uncovered intact non-mortuary features.
We concluded our initial work in late November 1993, and soon afterward presented the Tyree’s with a map of the proposed development marked with the most sensitive areas. The results of our exploration convinced the Tyree’s that intact archaeological features (including human burials) were present in their proposed development, but they were not deterred from building within the site area and indicated their intent to define all graves and legally remove them. The archaeological work necessary to define these graves was beyond the ability of the Division of Archaeology, so the Tyree’s agreed to hire a private consultant to conduct this work with oversight from the Division.
It needs to be stated that during the winter of 1993 through the summer of 1994, grading and other construction activity was continuing across the site area. This was certainly not ideal but completely legal. A consultant was eventually hired during the summer of 1994, and quickly identified an extensive number of graves and other non-mortuary features within the area of highest sensitivity. After a few days, all activity was stopped across the site area as the Tyree’s decided to revise their subdivision plan to avoid areas with the highest concentration of graves. This revision was based on a number of factors, including the cost of grave removal, less than flattering media attention, and some unfortunate acts of grave looting. The end result of this redesign was that the Tyree’s set aside four-acres of core site area as greenspace as well as a one-acre greenspace in an adjacent stone-box cemetery. To accomplish this redesign, the Tyree’s reduced their number of building lots from 111 to 102.
Grave removal by the consultant and Division of Archaeology continued throughout 1994 and into the summer of 1995. The Division also conducted spot checks of the construction project throughout the late summer until the subdivision was essentially completed by September 1995. The Division of Archaeology was able to map a substantial portion of the site area destroyed as a result of the development. The end result was admittedly not perfect as portions of the site area were destroyed by construction actions before we had a chance to investigate. This includes a main road graded through the middle of the site area under the original design but later removed from the final plan. However, we are very thankful for the information we did obtain, as the Tyree’s could have asked us to leave the property at any time. Our investigations did result in the discovery of two separate palisade lines (one trench and one post construction), eleven structures (trench as well as post construction), and 61 pit features. Also, a total of 86 individuals from 81 graves were legally removed by the private consultant and the Division of Archaeology. All removed individuals and associated burial objects were reburied on-site in two separate ceremonies held June 1995 and September 1995.