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.


The MTSU Rogan Family Project: Archaeology, Architecture, and History of Early Irish-Tennesseans

30 Days of Tennessee Archaeology, Day 7

Kevin E. Smith
Middle Tennessee State University

Over 50 years ago, Tennessean reporter Hugh Walker noted that “[Hugh] Rogan’s life story – and love story – were epics of Tennessee history, told to sleepy children in the night-time stillness of frontier log cabins.” All of the early histories of Middle Tennessee describe him as the quintessential example of an Irishman – pioneer, Indian fighter, loyal, brave, honest, and so on. While his legend faded somewhat in the 20th and 21st century, our recent decades long multidisciplinary project at MTSU may change that.

On a fateful day in 1775, Hugh Rogan and his relative (brother-in-law?) Daniel left Ireland for Philadelphia to explore the possibilities of emigrating, expecting to return soon to their wives and infant children. With passenger ship service to Ireland disrupted by the Revolutionary War until 1783, their colonial adventure was greatly extended. In late 1779, Hugh enlisted as a guard in the Virginia militia company charged to protect the survey party mapping the newly opened Cumberland region. Apparently enchanted with the bountiful lands of Middle Tennessee, Hugh stayed there both to work with surveyors John Donelson and Isaac Bledsoe and to establish claims to land he could not acquire back home. In May 1780, he was among the signers of the Cumberland Compact – the first articles of government for the Nashborough colony – and was among the men who cleared Clover Bottom for the planting of corn that summer. From 1780-83, he was on the go much of the time – but was briefly based out of Donelson’s Fort on the Stone’s River, Mansker’s Station in Goodlettsville, and Fort Nashborough.

As the stories go, when passenger service to Ireland resumed in 1783, Hugh began his journey home to his wife Nancy and son Bernard. Stopping along the way to visit Daniel, Hugh was told that Nancy had remarried and his return home was futile – a story perhaps deemed necessary as Daniel had abandoned his own Irish wife, remarried, and started a new American family. Doubtless heartbroken, Hugh returned to Middle Tennessee where he lived and worked with Isaac Bledsoe from 1784-1793 at Bledsoe’s Station – an early civilian fort in Sumner County. My first encounter with Hugh Rogan was there during Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU) excavations of that site from 1996 to 2001.


Figure 1. Reconstructed Location of Hugh Rogan’s Cabin, 1784-1793.

Our project eventually explored the archaeological remains of fourteen log structures at Bledsoe’s Station – one of them Hugh’s first long-term home in America. The artifact assemblage gave no hints as to which cabin Hugh occupied, but the recent “rediscovery” of Supreme Court testimony concerning the death of Anthony Bledsoe on July 20, 1788 provided sufficient clues to relatively confidently identify Hugh’s cabin (Figure 1). The pit cellar in his cabin had almost no artifacts in it – unlike some of the others. The archaeological record of Bledsoe’s Fort is largely that of women and children (both white and black) who were in charge of day-to-day existence. The men, except for a guard or two, were gone for days, weeks, and months. Our archaeological results were transformed by local artist Bill Puryear in 2004 into “Construction of Bledsoe’s Fort” – a striking tribute to the labors of over 60 MTSU archaeology students (Figure 2). Recently, a new generation of MTSU students (in partnership with the Bledsoe’s Lick Historical Association) reconstructed the structure and stockade outline to enhance the visitor experience at Bledsoe’s Fort Historical Park (Figure 3).


Figure 2. Construction of Bledsoe’s Fort, painting by Bill Puryear 2004 (Used by permission).


Figure 3. Reconstruction of Bledsoe’s Station outline, July 2017.

Although star-crossed for 20 years, Hugh and Nancy’s romance was not over. In 1795, Hugh’s nephew arrived from Ireland with a letter from Nancy – she had “been true to him, had never believed him dead, and had always prayed for his return.” Hugh sailed for Ireland soon thereafter and returned to Sumner County with his wife and now adult son in 1797 – where he built Nancy a traditional Irish stone cottage. Their second and last child Francis “Frank” Rogan was born there a year later. While our archaeology team explored Bledsoe’s Station, Caneta Skelley Hankins of MTSU’s Center for Historic Preservation was engaged in documenting this cottage prior to its restoration at Bledsoe’s Fort Historical Park only a short distance from the site of Hugh’s log cabin – where you can visit both today (Figure 4).


Figure 4. Rogan Stone Cottage, April 2011.

Eventually, the hard work of the Rogan family resulted in a 640-acre plantation complete with a comfortable brick mansion built by Frank for his wife Martha Lytle Read (granddaughter of Isaac Bledsoe) and mother Nancy. Remarkably enough, though, the Rogan emigration story was not quite over. In 2008, the owners of the Francis Rogan plantation house donated it to the Ulster American Folk Park in Omagh, Northern Ireland – the house was carefully dismantled, transported, and restored there under the supervision of Steve Brown. Jennifer Butt, an MTSU alum, worked to provide appropriate period furnishings to accompany the house on its long journey. If a house can be said to emigrate, the Francis Rogan House is now a return immigrant in the New World diaspora section of Ulster American Folk Park, where I visited it last month (Figure 5).


Figure 5. Francis Rogan House – from Sumner County, Tennessee to County Tyrone, Northern Ireland.

Now on-going for over 25 years, the MTSU Rogan Family project remains just that – on-going. This past summer, over 100 members of the Rogan family – many of them descendants of Rogan slaves – visited with us at the Rogan cottage and the site of the Hugh Rogan cabin during a family reunion. The next chapter of this project will be, I hope, the discovery of the archaeological remains of the ten Rogan slave residences recorded in the 1860 federal census, and perhaps Hugh’s second home from 1793-1795.

You can read more about the Rogan Project at: http://www.mtsuhistpres.org/Rogana/New_Rogan_Website/index.html.

Co-Creation as an Archaeological Practice

30 Days of Tennessee Archaeology 2015, Day 2

Dr. Robert Connolly
Director, C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa

Last week, while finishing up the draft of an article for the Society for American Archaeology’s (SAA) Archaeological Record I noticed that four out of five of my most recent publications contain the word “co-creation” in the title. Just this past August Beth Bollwerk and I edited a thematic issue of the SAA’s Advances in Archaeological Practice (AAP) titled Co-Creation and Public Archaeology.  That all certainly suggests that the concept of co-creation is something reasonably important to my current research.

In my AAP volume chapter, “Co-Creation as a Twenty-First Century Archaeology Museum Practice,” I define the concept as partnering with the public in designing and implementing projects based on their expressed needs and interests.  I view this process as different from collaboration or partnering.  In co-creative projects, the starting point is simply determining the interests of the public who the archaeologist or museum professional serves.

African-American in Southwest Memphis exhibit at the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa.

The African American Cultural Heritage in Southwest Memphis exhibit at the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa.

A good example of how a co-creative process works is included in my AAP article that discusses the African American Cultural Heritage exhibit at the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa.  The exhibit has been a multi-year process and continues to evolve today.  The process began in 2008 when Chucalissa sought ways to be more relevant to the surrounding community that is 95% African-American.  A community nonprofit we worked with noted the importance of cultural identity as an issue.  We proposed using the cultural materials excavated at a 1920s-era farmstead on the Chucalissa site as a resource to address the cultural identity issue.  The nonprofit thought that was a good idea.  We obtained grant funding and in 2010 recruited nine area high school students to create the exhibit based on the farmstead excavation.

The result of the project far exceeded my expectations.  Initially, I thought we could call the project a success if we simply installed cultural materials and interpretive panels in the exhibit from the excavations.  However, because the high school students were charged with determining the content and design, the exhibit resulted in a product that aligned more with their interests.  In addition to the exhibit of cultural materials from the excavation, the students produced:

  • 30 hours of oral history interviews with community members that served as the basis for a 20-minute documentary.
  • Six timeline banners tracing the community history from the 1800s to the present day.
  • A resource center for further research.
  • “Did you know” placards and a memory board.
Student participants in 2010 exhibit project.

Student participants in 2010 exhibit project.

In this project, I learned a few things about co-creation:

  • The process can be messy, non-linear, and takes a good bit of time. But in this instance, an exhibit was created that was not just about the community but also by the community.
  • The process resulted in a deepening relationship with the community represented by the exhibit. At the 2010 exhibit opening, the president of a nearby neighborhood association noted that “We need to let more people know about our exhibit at the Museum.”
  • The process empowered other members of the community to become more integrally involved in the Museum. Every year since 2010 the exhibit has expanded.  In 2015 the C.H. Nash Museum hosted five summer camps of high school students from the Freedom Prep Charter School to upgrade and update the 2010 exhibit.
  • Co-creation does not mean that the archaeologist or museum professional is not involved in the project. In fact, co-creation forces us to be even more engaged in assessing and implementing the additional voices into the exhibit while maintaining best practices throughout the process.

When I reflect over the past five years, I am amazed at how three boxes of artifacts and a small stack of field notes led to so many different projects beyond the original exhibit.  Co-creation is an approach that can be applied in public archaeology that addresses John Cotton Dana’s 1917 mandate to “Learn what aid the community needs: fit the museum to those needs.”

Robert Connolly is the Director of the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa and an associate professor in the Departments of Earth Sciences and Anthropology at the University of Memphis. He is also the chairperson of the Public Education Committee of the Society for American Archaeology. He blogs at rcnnolly.wordpress.com.


Tennessee Archaeology Awareness Month Legislation!

Following the success of Tennessee’s State Artifact legislation and re-launch of Tennessee Archaeology Awareness Month celebrations in 2014, the Tennessee Council for Professional Archaeology was keen to preserve legislative momentum and further promote the unique archaeological heritage of our state going into 2015. 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.

Tennessee Archaeology Awareness Month grew out of Tennessee Archaeology Awareness Week, which beginning in 1996 took place in September in order to incorporate the Archaeofest event at Pinson Mounds State Archaeological Park. Over the years Archaeological Awareness celebrations have included the efforts of numerous professional and avocational archaeologists, and reached thousands of citizens. However, there has been no official legislative recognition of the event.

In addition to the traditional Archaeological Awareness celebration, two other factors led the Executive Board to identify September for the Archaeology Awareness Month legislation. In 2013 and 2014, September was named “American Indian Heritage Month.” This fits nicely with the archaeological celebration and acknowledgement of centuries of Native American contributions to Tennessee history. Secondly, 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 under the new 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.

Jared approached Senator Bill Ketron of Murfreesboro (District 13), who agreed to sponsor the Tennessee Archaeology Awareness Month bill. Ketron enlisted the support of Representative Steve McDaniel of Parkers Crossroads (District 72). Together they introduced SB0170/HB0313, which 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.” This legislation amends TCA Title 4, Chapter 1, Part 4, the portion of the Tennessee Code that also designates statewide celebrations including Tennessee Genealogy Month and Women in STEM Month.

The Archaeology Awareness Month bill has now been introduced to both the Tennessee House and Senate. You can track the progress of the bill online at the General Assembly Bill Search page.