365 Days of Tennessee Archaeology: 2016 and Beyond

Phillip Hodge
President, Tennessee Council for Professional Archaeology
Tennessee Department of Transportation

Well, that’s it, folks. Another “30 Days of Tennessee Archaeology” is in the books! I want to thank everyone who followed along each day and especially all those who contributed a post! Special appreciation is also due to Aaron Deter-Wolf, Jesse Tune, and Andrew Gillreath-Brown, who solicited contributions, organized the blogfest, and made it happen! Just this morning, Jesse and Aaron reported that we reached more than 50,000 people on Facebook, accumulating more than 3,000 reactions, comments, and shares, and had almost 11,000 visits to our website! The most viewed posts were Sarah Levithol’s on the skull discovered in Elliston Place near downtown Nashville, Sarah Sherwood’s on Rebel’s Rest in Sewanee, and Aaron Deter-Wolf’s on the archaeology of tattooing. As they do every year, these numbers underscore the success and popularity of the blogfest.

I continue to be impressed each year with the quality and diversity of archaeological research, outreach, and stewardship activities in Tennessee. If you’ll indulge me, I’d like to offer a few reflections on the posts this year as a way to wrap up the 2016 blogfest and let you know what TCPA has accomplished this year and where we’re heading in the upcoming year. Let me start with what is, by now, a cliché and entirely unoriginal observation to say that modern archaeology takes a village. That is, it takes specialists from many different fields of study to collect and interpret information about the past. It is also true that modern archaeology is now taking place in our villages. I was impressed this year by the number of surveys, excavations, or outreach projects that TCPA archaeologists are carrying out in the towns and communities where they live and work. Take for example, Ryan Parish of the University of Memphis and his Nonconnnah Creek survey in Shelby County, or Sarah Sherwood of the University of the South and her excavations at Rebel’s Rest in Sewanee, or Jared Barrett of TRC Environmental and his excavations of the Civil War era Cotton Gin in Franklin. Not only are these projects local, but they’re also projects that the communities in which they’re located are interested and invested.

Like most things today, archaeology is rapidly migrating to digital technologies and processes. Danny Gregory’s post on New South Associates smartphone based field recording system is an important development that blurs the line between field, lab, analysis, and reporting – steps in the archaeological research process that were once wholly distinct. Likewise, Paige Silcox and Aaron Deter- Wolf’s post on efforts at the Tennessee Division of Archaeology to digitize the state site files and incorporate them into a geographic information system will facilitate statewide analyses and reveal patterns and relationships in the state’s database that were not visible in an analog system. However, I would be remiss not to mention Tracy Brown’s post, which reminds us that no matter how advanced our technology, there will always be a place in archaeological research for local informants and good old fashioned gum-shoe archival research.

Journalists and others have described the opening decades of the 21 st century as the age of big data. I’ve often wondered what big data would look like in archaeology and I think David Anderson and his colleagues have provided an answer with the Digital Index of North American Archaeology. The DINAA database allows for the first time the continental (and theoretically, global) scale integration of spatial, cultural, and chronological data. The big picture questions DINAA will allow us to ask is hard to comprehend. If this is indeed the age of big data, then Sierra Bow and Stephen Carmody and colleagues posts on molecular analyses points to the power of “small data.” What’s most impressive, however, is that today we have the technology and theoretical openness to ask questions at both ends of this spectrum, from the global to the atomic, and everywhere in between.

Finally, as I read the posts each day I kept coming back to one question: are our observations about the past scalable to the present? That is, are our observations of the past scalable such that we can use them to address problems we face today and to inform our expectations of the future? And, by extension, contribute in a meaningful and practical way to policy discussions aimed confronting the challenges of a complex, ever changing world. To take one example, I thought Jesse Tune’s post on adaptation to late Pleistocene environmental change spoke to this dilemma. The New York Times recently ran a cover story about coastal inundation and the overwhelming challenges it presents to local governments. Late Pleistocene hunters and gatherers are admittedly a long ways from modern Americans in coastal Georgia, yet the fundamental human challenge both face is the same and is limited by the range of options and resources that structure their lives. Archaeology can contribute to this discussion by translating our long view of the past to a better understanding of social, economic, and environmental problems, and their consequences, in the present. This, in my view, is the grand challenge of archaeology here in Tennessee and around the world.

Before I sign off, I want share with you some of the initiatives TCPA has been working on this year. While the year got off to a frozen start, with a record snowstorm and cancellation of the Current Research in Tennessee Archaeology (CRITA) meeting, the Board and officers held virtual meetings and discussions online throughout the year and have racked up a number of important accomplishments. We awarded our annual research grant in the spring, coordinated with the National Park Service, MTSU, and the Tennessee Historical Commission throughout the summer on the Tennessee Archaeology Awareness Month poster, and organized and hosted 30 Days of Tennessee Archaeology this fall. We’re also monitoring several important federal legislative efforts related to archaeological sites and artifacts and are currently preparing comments on the prehistoric module in the state’s social studies standards.

Perhaps our most important accomplishment this year is sponsoring “Secrets of the Nolichucky,” which is a documentary on the Cane Notch site near Johnson City. Jay Franklin and his colleagues at East Tennessee State University carried out excavations there this past winter. I had the opportunity to visit Jay’s lab earlier this year and see some of the Cane Notch material first hand – it is nothing short of amazing. The documentary will air on East Tennessee Public Television late this year or early 2017. You can see the trailer here (also embedded below).

If you like what you’ve heard and read about this month, you can help TCPA continue this work and expand our outreach efforts by joining or renewing your membership today. Starting today and running through International Archaeology Day on October 15, you can join TCPA or renew your existing membership for $15, which is a 25% discount off of the regular membership rate. Just go to the membership page on the TCPA website and click on the link for “Discounted Full Membership.” If you join or renew before October 15, your membership will cover the remainder of 2016 and remain in effect through December 2017. I just took advantage of this offer myself! I hope you’ll join me and help TCPA fulfill its mission to support professional archaeology in Tennessee.

On behalf of TCPA’s board, officers, and membership, thank you again for following along through 30 Days of Tennessee Archaeology! I also want to take this opportunity to thank all of the professional archaeologist in the state, including your students, employees, and volunteers, who put TCPA’s mission into practice and advocate for professionalism in archaeology in the best way possible –through your actions. This year has been an unqualified success for TCPA and we look forward to an equally successful year in 2017. See you at CRITA!

Scraping the Bowl: New Data on Prehistoric Tobacco Use in the Southeast

30 Days of Tennessee Archaeology 2016, Day 30

Stephen B. Carmody1, Ryan Hunt2, Jon Russ2, Jera R. Davis,3 Natalie Prodanovich,2 Benjamin McKenzie,1 and Christopher Van de Ven1
1 Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, Sewanee: University of the South
2 Department of Chemistry, Rhodes College
University of Alabama, Office of Archaeological Research

In last year’s 30 Days of Tennessee Archaeology blog post, Secrets in the Smoke: Prehistoric Tobacco Use in Tennessee, we discussed the results of both pollen analysis and gas chromatography/mass spectrometry (GC/MS) analysis on archaeologically-recovered pipes and pipe residues from the state of Tennessee. Thanks to research funds provided by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, we are happy to report new findings. Having nearly exhausted the collections at the McClung Museum of Natural History and Culture at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, we were fortunate to gain additional access to pipes from sites in Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, and North Carolina. We selected pipes based upon cultural and temporal affiliation and for the amount of residue. Once selected, residues were carefully removed, so as not damage the pipes. Afterwards, faculty and students from the Department of Chemistry at Rhodes College in Memphis, Tennessee extracted organic compounds from the residues and analyzed them using GC/MS. This year we sampled 55 pipes, of which 35 produced positive evidence of tobacco use.


Pipe recovered from the Seven Mile Island site (1LU21).



Pipe fragment recovered from the unnamed 1MS121 site in Marshall County, Alabama.

Thirty-one Alabama pipes comprised the majority of our sample. These are curated at the University of Alabama, Office of Archaeological Research. Twenty-seven derive from the Moundville site in west-central Alabama and four derive from three Tennessee River Valley sites in north Alabama: 1La14, 1Lu21 (see above), and 1Ms121 (see image to right). With the exception of the pipe from 1La14, a Copena mound site, all pipes are Mississippian in age. In total, sixteen of the Moundville pipes and all four Tennessee Valley pipes tested positive for nicotine.


We also tested two pipes currently housed at the Fernbank Museum of Natural History in Atlanta, Georgia and one other curated at the Antonio J. Waring Jr. Laboratory at the University of West Georgia.

The two Fernbank pipes come from the Glass site in Telfair County, Georgia, a late prehistoric Native American site (ca. AD 1450-1550) visited by Spanish conquistador Hernando de Soto. Dr. Dennis Blanton of James Madison University, Virginia has been excavating at Glass since 2006. One of the two pipes from Glass tested positive for nicotine.

One pipe fragment from the collections at the Waring Lab was also submitted for analysis. The first came from the Buzzards Roost site, a historic Creek town located in Taylor County, Georgia. The fragment produced a positive nicotine signature.

North Carolina


Pipe fragment recovered from the Biltmore Mound. Image courtesy of Dr. Larry Kimball.

Dr. Larry Kimball, Professor of Anthropology and Director of the ASU Laboratories of Archaeological Science at Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina, provided us with a sample from his excavations at the Biltmore site (31BN174) in Asheville, North Carolina. The pipe was recovered from a posthole in the center of a Middle Woodland Connestee phase platform mound, indicative of the Hopewellian culture in western North Carolina, eastern Tennessee, and northern Georgia (see profile below). The Middle Woodland date for the pipe makes it possibly the earliest evidence of tobacco use in North Carolina and the Appalachian region.


Drawing of Biltmore Mound showing Posthole 21, where the pipe fragment was recovered. Image courtesy of Dr. Larry Kimball.


Six pipes were also made available to our study from the Feltus site (22JE500) located in Jefferson County, Mississippi. The three-mound site dates to the late Baytown through middle Coles Creek periods (AD 700 – 1100). From 2006 to 2012, faculty and students from the Research Laboratories of Archaeology at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill excavated at Feltus and they are hoping to return in 2017. Each of the six pipes submitted for analysis tested positive for nicotine.



Pipe tested from the Fains Island site (1JE1).

Six pipes sampled from the collections at the McClung Museum produced evidence for the use of tobacco. Five of these pipes were recovered during archaeological excavations, and one was donated to the museum from a once privately-held collection, the Barnes Collection.

Three of the pipes were recovered from sites excavated during the Chickamauga Basin Project prior to the construction of the TVA Chickamauga Reservoir, between 1936 and 1939 (Lewis, Lewis, and Sullivan 1995). The pipes were recovered from the Dallas site (8HA1), the Hixon site (1HA3), and the Ledford Island site (16BY13).


Pipe analyzed from the Toqua site (40MR6).

The Fains Island site (1JE1 – see image above) was excavated in 1935 as part of the Douglas Reservoir project. The site is a Mississippian period open-air habitation site with a platform mound. Nicotine was also detected in the residue of a pipe recovered from this site.

Toqua site (40MR6) in Monroe County, Tennessee, is an open-air habitation site with Mississippian and Cherokee components. A pipe recovered from a proto-historic feature tested positive for nicotine.

A pipe from the Barnes Collection donated to the McClung museum (see image below) was also analyzed and produced evidence for tobacco use.

In total, we analyzed 55 pipes from 17 archaeological sites. Thirty-five showed evidence for tobacco use at 13 different sites. Previous evidence for tobacco use at these seeds consists of a single seed from a mound at the Moundville site (Knight 2010). We believe that both our success rate and the new cultural patterns emerging demonstrate the value of GC/MS analysis.


Pipe from the Barnes Collection housed at the McClung Museum, UTK.

Since the beginning of our project, we have tested 75 pipes from 21 sites for either tobacco pollen or for a nicotine signature. Forty pipes from 17 sites across the Southeast have tested positive for tobacco use. Moving forward, we hope to continue building our database. Eventually we hope to have enough spatial and temporal data to discuss differences in the use of tobacco over time and space, explore the role of other plants in the smoking complex, and better understand the timing and transmission of tobacco into the region.


Map showing sites where evidence of nicotine was discovered.

Middle Mississippian Archaeology at Pile Mound, Upper Cumberland Plateau, Tennessee

30 Days of Tennessee Archaeology 2016, Day 29

Jay Franklin, East Tennessee State University
Jeremy Menzer, University of Arkansas

We reported on our initial archaeological testing and geophysical survey at the Pile Mound Site in this blog in 2014. William Myer of Carthage, Tennessee first recorded the site in the early 20th century, and mentioned the presence of one mound measuring approximately 5 feet high. Myer also described several other mound sites in the region; however, most of these were inundated by Dale Hollow Reservoir in 1943. Our 2014 work focused on geophysical survey of the mound and associated village site along with “ground-truthing” (archaeological testing) of certain anomalies discovered by magnetometer.


Geophysical Plan View Map of the Pile Mound and Associated Features (Jeremy Menzer)

The 2014 survey and testing revealed the presence of an elaborately constructed platform mound built using piles and pavements of large limestone clasts and a few non-local quartzite clasts. The mound space is clearly delineated from the village area. AMS radiocarbon dates indicate a village site dating to about AD 1250 and mound construction began just before AD 1300. Recovered artifacts included a chunkey stone and check stamped and cord-marked shell tempered pottery. A particular feature of the pottery at the Pile Mound site was the inclusion of crushed local chalcedony in the pottery temper along with shell. We suggest this is a holdover from the preceding Woodland Period and represents attempts by local communities to hang on to their identity in an ever-growing Mississippian world. This work is significant because it is a first look at Mississippian communities in the far upper reaches of the Cumberland Valley, specifically in the headwaters of the Wolf River near Pogue Creek Canyon State Natural Area where we have conducted years of archaeological survey and testing.


Ground-penetrating Radar (GPR) Image of Possible House Floor at the Pile Mound Site (Jeremy Menzer)

In May 2015 and this past summer, we continued with geophysical survey primarily using ground-penetrating radar (GPR). We were able to identify at least three possible house floors and a number of archaeological features. Archaeological investigations as part of ETSU’s annual summer field school focused on ground-truthing one of the house floors and excavation of two pit features. Our concentrated efforts were met with great success. We verified one house floor south of the mound. Associated pottery appears to represent the Middle Mississippian with shell temper and elongated loop handles. GPR survey identified at least two more potential house floors, too.


Photogrammetry Image of Structure 1 at the Pile Mound Site (Jeremy Menzer and Jay Franklin)

We excavated two anomalies discovered by the GPR. These turned out to be very large but relatively shallow pits. Most likely, these were initially borrow pits used to re-plaster house walls, etc. Such pits are typical of late prehistoric village sites and quickly become refuse pits. Feature 8 measures approximately 3.5 by 3 meters across and 30 cm deep. It contained numerous animal bone remains including white-tailed deer, black bear, and wild turkey. It also contained thousands of freshwater periwinkle gastropod shells. Shell tempered pottery and ceramic beads were also recovered. Feature 9 measured approximately 1.8 by 1.5 meters in diameter and 30 cm deep. It contained far less periwinkle shell but did possess numerous white-tailed deer and black bear fauna and shell tempered pottery.


Photogrammetry Image of West Profile of Feature 8 (Jeremy Menzer and Jay Franklin)


Photogrammetry Image of Feature 9 Excavated (Jeremy Menzer and Jay Franklin)

We are awaiting four new AMS radiocarbon dates but expect them to be similar to the previous two. Ground-truthing of Structure 1 indicates a probable domestic house of single set post construction measuring about 6 meters a side. The Mississippian pottery from the site appears to represent a transitional Middle Mississippian assemblage: (elongated) loop handles dominate, but we also recovered a few strap handle vessel fragments and a couple of flattened loop handles. Surface treatments are check stamped and cord-marked, and there is mostly Mississippi Plain.


Pot Break, Loop Handled Vessel, Structure 1, Pile Mound Site (Jay Franklin)

Beginning this winter, we will target new areas for GPR survey to try and locate the central plaza and more houses. We will also begin geophysical survey of the nearby West Mound site. The West Mound is approximately 6 meters high, and the associated borrow pit is still visible. We have also located several other mounds in the area, and all appear to be spatially associated with caves. A major focus of our work will be establishing the chronology and potential contemporaneity of these mound sites near the headwaters of the Wolf River in an effort to address regional socio-political relationships. We will also excavate Structure 1 at the Pile Mound site in summer 2016. Stay tuned. . .


West Mound and Associated Borrow Pit (Jay Franklin)


Hiwassee Island Revisited: Using Non-Invasive Technology to Evaluate Archaeological Sites on TVA Land

30 Days of Tennessee Archaeology 2016, Day 28

Erin Pritchard 
Tennessee Valley Authority

 As a federal agency, the Tennessee Valley Authority is responsible for the identification and evaluation of archaeological sites on its managed lands under the National Historic Preservation Act. Over the last several decades the agency has surveyed many thousands of acres of land and identified over 11,500 sites on its property. A majority of the public land managed by TVA is located along the Tennessee River and its tributaries where people have been settling for thousands of years. The task of completing TVA’s inventory while simultaneously evaluating and ensuring the protection of these many thousands of sites has been incredibly challenging.


Shawn Patch (New South Associates) talks to Emman Spain (Thlopthlocco Tribal Town) and Pat Ezzell (TVA Historian and Tribal Liaison) about ground penetrating radar.

With the significant depth of archaeological deposits along the Tennessee river (sites documented as deep as 12-15 feet below the surface), traditional survey methods are not typically effective for full identification of both horizontal and vertical sites. Coupled with that are ever-expanding problems with curation of archaeological collections. Repositories are running low on space, and federal agencies are struggling to pay for long term curation costs and material continues to come in. Agencies such as TVA must find more innovative and efficient ways to address these federal obligations.

Toward that goal, TVA has been exploring new technology to document archaeological sites. In the last few years, the agency has experimented with non-invasive geophysical techniques to survey TVA parcels. This methodology has proven to be most effective in the reexamination of previously recorded sites with limited known archaeological information, some not having been thoroughly examined since the 1930s and 40s when they were first discovered. A most recent example of these investigations was done at Hiwassee Island.

Hiwassee Island, located at the confluence of the Hiwassee and Tennessee Rivers in Meigs County, Tennessee, was initially visited as early as 1885 with numerous excavations over the next century including work by John W. Emmert (1885), Clarence B. Moore (1913-1914) and Mark Harrington (1919). These early explorations identified as many as 24 mounds on the island. Most of these earlier excavations focused on the conical mounds now known as Hamilton burial mounds.

WPA/TVA Archaeology Photographs, 1930's - 1940's

WPA workers at Hiwassee Island (Photo courtesy of McClung Museum of Natural and Cultural History)

The largest excavation conducted at Hiwassee Island occurred in the late 1930s when the University of Tennessee investigated the site prior to the inundation of Chickamauga Reservoir. Labor for this effort was provided by the Works Progress Administration (WPA). The focus of the excavation was on the Mississippian Village located on the north end of the island. Among the findings was a central plaza, palisade/stockade and large platform mound. Information collected from these investigations provided one of the first regional chronologies in the Southeast and the fieldwork and most importantly the resulting report was touted by numerous professionals in the field as being innovative for its time.

WPA/TVA Archaeology Photographs, 1930s-1940s

WPA Excavations of large platform mound on Hiwassee Island (Photo courtesy of McClung Museum of Natural and Cultural History)

Since the 1930s several small scale surveys and excavations have been conducted at the site. A reconnaissance survey in 1987 re-examined previously identified features, such as shell middens and mounds, still remaining on the island. An archaeological field school conducted between 1997-1999 assessed the extent of intact deposits along the shoreline as justification for stabilization to protect eroding features. While both of these efforts provided data to indicate the potential for remaining significant archaeological deposits, no comprehensive assessment of the island was made until 2015.


Marianne Shuler (TVA Archaeologist) learns how to use the gradiometer

In 2015 TVA hired New South Associates to conduct a geophysical survey of the island to provide comprehensive data on the extent and nature of archaeological deposits to help support its nomination for the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) and provide TVA with information to better manage the resource. Under the direction of Shawn Patch and Sarah Lowry, New South Associates conducted an initial magnetic gradiometery survey across the island and a ground penetrating radar survey in areas where the magnetometer identified potential archaeological features. In addition, conductivity and magnetic susceptibility data were collected by Eileen Ernenwein from East Tennessee State University. The fieldwork also included a week of training for TVA and other regional archaeologists and Federally recognized Indian tribal representatives to learn more about how this new technology works.

Geophysical results clearly indicate the island retains significant archaeological deposits. A total of 649 anomalies believed to be cultural features were identified in either the GPR or gradiometer data. These include middens (39), structures (129), pit features (356), palisades or portions of palisades (26) and historic homesteads (13). While resources were identified across the island (both prehistoric and historic), data collected from the previously identified Mississippian component on the island was included some of the more exciting finds associated with the project.


GPR and gradiometer data results from Mississippian Village

As expected, the Mississippian village area of the island contained the highest density of archaeological features which included burned houses, middens, pit features and evidence of palisades. More specifically, results indicate that at least seven palisades once stood around the Mississippian town. One of these clearly defined palisade wall features includes what appear to be bastions. Excavations conducted during the WPA period identified at least one palisade, but now it appears that the Mississippian village expanded and/or contracted numerous times throughout its occupation. The time frame for these additional palisades cannot be determined through geophysical testing, so more testing is needed to establish a chronology.


Interpretive results of Mississippian village.

Geophysical survey of Hiwassee island proved to be a successful method for providing TVA with the information needed to justify the site’s inclusion in the NRHP. In fact, the State Review Board of the Tennessee Historical Commission unanimously accepted Hiwassee Island as eligible for listing in the NRHP on September 14th. TVA hopes to see the site officially listed by the end of 2016!

More importantly, the work that has been conducted through these non-invasive methods has provided the agency with data that will help them manage archaeological sites on its land more effectively in the future. This methodology will allow the agency to evaluate and protect these resources without having to face large amounts of new archaeological collections or impact sensitive features such as burials. Once a site is excavated it is gone forever. Non-invasive technology allows archaeologists to collect sufficient data to limit our need for extensive excavations, so we are doing archaeology smarter and protecting these resources for many generations to come.

Artifacts, Displays, and Public Archaeology: TDOT Honors Commitment to Install Exhibit in Perry County

30 Days of Tennessee Archaeology 2016, Day 27

Marsha Welch
Tennessee Department of Transportation

Between 2005 and 2011, the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) conducted archaeological excavations at the Elvis Riley Site (40PY288) just north of Linden, Tennessee. This site was first identified by TDOT archaeologist Gary Barker in 2005 while surveying the right-of-way required for the new State Route 13 Bridge over the Buffalo River. Gary found the site was relatively undisturbed and contained deeply buried deposits. Over the next 6 years, Gary oversaw the work by a contract archaeological firm on test excavations at the site, and eventually the full excavation and analysis of the portion of the site within the proposed right-of-way. Analysis of the artifacts and excavation data determined that the Riley site contained Archaic, Woodland, and Mississippian components. All material classes were identified: lithic debitage and stone tools, earthenware pottery, botanical specimens like seeds and nuts, animal bones, and bone tools.


Phase III excavations at 40PY288.

Unfortunately, Gary passed away in late 2013 after a long illness, and did not get to see the project to its completion. Perry County and the Buffalo Valley were special to Gary and his family. Some years before he passed, they bought a beautiful piece of property on the Buffalo, where they spent many weekends camping, swimming, and generally having an all-around good time with family and friends. Since he owned property in Perry County, and oversaw the excavations at the Riley site, Gary worked with locals in Perry County who were interested in archaeology to establish the Buffalo River Archaeological Society. In his role as a TDOT archaeologist, he was also approached by local officials to create an educational exhibit about the excavations and about Tennessee prehistory using materials from the Riley site. At the time, TDOT committed informally to doing so, but not long after, Gary passed away, the analysis wrapped up, and the exhibit in Linden fell by the way side.

Fast forward to 2016. Gerald Kline, TDOT’s long time archaeology program manager, was contacted by Linden’s mayor-elect, Wess Ward, and Perry County Sheriff Nick Weems about the exhibit. That phone call resurrected the idea of the exhibit, and I jumped at the opportunity to follow through on the commitment that Gary made years ago to the city of Linden. After a few initial meetings to find out what Wess and Nick had in mind, I got to work.

The materials and records from the excavations at the Riley site are curated at TDOT’s Archaeology Lab in Nashville. I started by pouring over the draft report and the artifact catalog to get a sense of the range of materials from the site. It didn’t take long to realize that I had hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of artifacts to sort through to locate the exhibit quality specimens. My goals for the exhibit were two-fold. I wanted to educate visitors about the archaeological research process and to present a broad view of middle Tennessee’s prehistoric record as reflected at the Riley site. I consequently focused on complete, representative artifacts, like projectile points, ground stone tools, and pottery that would best illustrate adaptation to specific environments and change over time.


The completed display as it can be seen in city hall in Linden, Tennessee.

The “keep it simple” principle guided the design and installation of the exhibit. Mayor Wess Ward and Sheriff Nick Weems purchased a locking, secure exhibit case for the artifacts to be displayed inside the lobby of Linden City Hall. I started by creating a large-format background that was designed to look like the profile of an archaeological site. I divided the background into four “strata” and diagnostic artifacts were arranged chronologically, with the oldest material in the lowest levels of the exhibit and the more recent ones in the uppermost levels, much like they were found at the Riley site. This simple, easy-to-follow layout created a basic overview of material culture change throughout the last 9,000 to 10,000 years in southern middle Tennessee. Brief descriptions of each prehistoric period represented at the Riley site were included as a side-bar that correlates with each “stratum” on the background. I included information about settlement and subsistence, social organization, and chronology to give visitors a way to compare and contrast change from one cultural and chronological period to another.

I finished the exhibit in late July and it opened to the public on August 4. The first few days after it opened, Mayor Wess Ward and Sheriff Nick Weems called to proudly report that City Hall had been full of people all week that came to see the exhibit. It was personally satisfying to take on this project and see it through to completion, and even though I didn’t know Gary, it was even more gratifying in light of what I learned about his commitment to the archaeology at the Riley site, to the family that owned the property, and to the citizens of Perry County and the community of which he was a part. Shortly after he passed, the Tennessee House of Representatives adopted a joint resolution (#653) recognizing Gary as an “…exemplary public servant and consummate professional who worked assiduously to improve the quality of life for his fellow citizens.” Even though the exhibit in Linden is small, it is a tangible reminder of the outreach at the heart of public archaeology and exemplifies the approach that Gary took in his career as a TDOT archaeologist.

This Women’s Work: Women in WPA Archaeology in the Tennessee Valley

30 Days of Tennessee Archaeology 2016, Day 26

Michaelyn Harle
Tennessee Valley Authority

With the creation of the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) in 1933, it was quickly realized that the impoundment of the Tennessee River would have a significant impact to archaeological sites across the Valley. Utilizing Civil Works Administration and Works Projects Administration (WPA) labor, hundreds of sites were excavated throughout the Tennessee Valley employing hundreds of laborers. These excavations also attracted a significant number of young professionally trained archaeologists to direct these excavations. These field directors would become a venerable who’s who in field of archaeology. The resulting work would shape our understanding of prehistory in the Tennessee Valley and help professionalize the field of archaeology.


Artifact analysis at the Central Archaeological Laboratory in Birmingham, Alabama. (unfortunately, there are no similar photographs of the Tennessee Laboratory). Photo courtesy of the Alabama Museum of Natural History, University of Alabama.

In the backdrop of this legacy are the contributions made by women, as both professional archaeologists and as laborers, in an especially male dominated field. The WPA/TVA excavations uncovered millions of artifacts that needed to be cleaned, inventoried, and analyzed and this work often fell to women. Both white and African American women were employed at the laboratories in Alabama and the University of Tennessee’s Frank H. McClung Museum. Their efforts would aid in the long-term curation of these important collections.


Crew photo from the Flint River site, Madison County, Alabama. (Photo courtesy of the Alabama Museum of Natural History, University of Alabama).

While fieldwork was seen as a man’s domain, some African American women would actively resist this sentiment by insisting on being allowed to work on field crews. Several WPA/TVA excavations in the Tennessee Valley, including the Flint River site in Alabama employed African American women within their ranks. Despite this, they were still burdened by gendered stereotypes. For example while men wore standard field clothes as seen in this photograph, women were expected to still wear dresses while they conducted heavy labor, and were not allowed to operate a wheelbarrow. Instead, they transported the dirt in bags on their heads.


Madeline Kneberg (Photo courtesy of the McClung Museum).

Unlike their professional male counterparts, female professional archaeologists were expected to be confined as laboratory workers and supervisors. Correspondences from this era show that evening getting a position within the field were difficult due to prevailing prejudices. Despite these restrictions, female archaeologists of the era such as Madeline Kneberg and Florence Hawley would make substantial contributions to southeastern archaeology. Like many other WPA-era archaeologists, Kneberg got her start in anthropology at the University of Chicago. With professional training in both archaeology and physical anthropology, Kneberg would become instrumental in the standardization and refinement of techniques in both fields. Her work along with her husband Thomas M.N. Lewis, director of the Tennessee WPA/TVA excavations, produced two of the most important monographs on Tennessee archaeology to come out of this era: Hiwassee Island: An Archaeological Account of Four Tennessee Indian Peoples and Eva: An Archaic Site. Similarly, Hawley would become one of the first archaeologists to champion the use of dendrochnonolgy (tree-ring dating) in the southeast. While Hawley would go on to have an illustrious career in archaeology in the southwestern United States, unfortunately, sexist attitudes would undermine her efforts in the southeast.

WPA/TVA Archaeology Photographs, 1930's-1940's

Florence Hawley studying dendrochronology sample from the Norris Basin (Photo courtesy of the McClung Museum of Natural History and Culture)

While gender inequities remain a significant issue in southeastern archaeology, female archaeologists have made great strides since these depression era trailblazers. Like Kneberg for bioarchaeology and Hawley for dendrochronology, these women would take these niches, perhaps seen as a pigeonhole, and refine and transform them. Increasingly since the 1970s, they would fight their way out of the laboratory and into the field. I would be remiss if I did not highlight one of this later generation, a “leading lady of Tennessee Archaeology” in her own right, Lynne Sullivan, retired Curator of Archaeology for the McClung Museum of Natural History and Culture. In many ways, Sullivan would ensure that Kneberg’s legacy was not forgotten. She would go on to edit and publish Kneberg and Lewis’s Chickamauga Basin Report, build on and enhance Kneberg’s research, and utilize the extensive WPA collections to continue to enhance our understanding of the prehistory of the region while encouraging her students (including myself) to do the same. Today, I am proud to play a small role in the legacy of these women as one of four female cultural resources specialists (sorry my male colleagues – we know you are important, too) employed at TVA who are responsible for the stewardship of cultural resources on TVA lands.

Photographs from the WPA/TVA excavations can be viewed here

Suggested Readings

White, N.M., L. P.Sullivan, and R. Marrinan, (editors)
1999. Grit-Tempered: Early Women Archaeologists in the Southeastern United States

Lyon, E. A.
1996. A New Deal for Southeastern Archaeology.

Sullivan, L.P., B.R. Braly, M.S. Harle, and S.D. Koerner
2011. Remembering New Deal Archaeology in the Southeast: A Legacy in Museum Collections. In Museums and Memory.

Archival Research and Tennessee Archaeology: Chasing Down the Good Professor

30 Days of Tennessee Archaeology 2016, Day 25

Tracy C. Brown
Oak Ridge Archaeological Research Institute


Location of Oliver Springs, Tennessee (Purzuit.com 2016)

Archival research is a major component of all archaeological studies focused on a particular geographic location. It entails a thorough search to identify and review the already existing media (e.g., files, books reports, maps, correspondence, etc.) pertinent to the history of the area under study.  In June 2016, I began archival research for a report on the prehistoric archaeology of Oliver Springs, Tennessee, and its immediate vicinity. At the Oliver Springs Public Library, I encountered a mysterious quotation in The Story of Oliver Springs, Tennessee and its People: Vol. IV. First Settlers Around 1800 – A Study of Town Government (1985) by long-deceased Oliver Springs historian Snyder E. Roberts. The quotation is as follows:

Professor Richard Davis, an authority on anthropology, says that the recently constructed sewage disposal plant for the Oliver Springs sewage system was found to be on the site of an old Indian mound, and that a second mound is located nearby.

A mound site in Oliver Springs was surprising and welcome news, but during my many years in Tennessee archaeology, I had never heard of a Tennessee anthropologist by the name of Richard Davis. Maybe I had somehow missed him? Maybe he was an out-of-state college professor who had only rarely done archaeology in Tennessee during the 1970s or 1980s?  Perhaps he had been in charge of the National Historic Preservation Act (Section 106) review for the proposed Oliver Springs Waste Water Treatment Plant (sewage plant)?  Who was this man, and was he still alive?


Oliver Springs Waste Water Treatment Plant.

Suzanne Hoyal, the Site File Curator at the Tennessee Division of Archaeology, had no survey records on an archaeological site at the sewage plant, and the City of Oliver Springs had no report on a past Phase I archaeological survey at the sewage plant site. Apparently, no Section 106 review had been necessary prior to its construction. The mystery deepened at this point, and it became all the more imperative to find Professor Richard Davis.  He might still have archaeological records and artifacts from the sewage plant site.

An Internet search for anthropology professors working outside of Tennessee identified only one Dr. Richard Davis, an archaeologist at Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania. He had never done any archaeological work in Oliver Springs. It occurred to me that the individual in question might be Dr. R.P. Steven Davis, now an archaeologist at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. He had been a graduate student at The University of Tennessee, Knoxville (UTK) in the early 1980s. Perhaps Roberts had asked him to come over to Oliver Springs and examine the sewage plant site—and he had simply misidentified Steve as a professor at UTK.  According to Steve, he had never done any archaeological work at the sewage plant site. An e-mail inquiry was sent to key archaeologists at major Tennessee colleges and universities to ask if they might know a Professor Richard Davis who had worked in Tennessee during the 1970s or 1980s. Dr. Jefferson Chapman at UTK suggested that Snyder E. Roberts might have contacted Dr. Richard Beale Davis, a former professor at UTK. However, this Professor Davis was not an authority on anthropology. He was a Professor of English and a famous scholar who studied the intellectual history of the Colonial South.  No other anthropological respondents at major Tennessee colleges and universities knew a Professor Richard Davis.


Oliver Springs Historical Society (Abston-Daugherty Museum). Photo by Wesley Lee (2016).

Focusing on the local level, I contacted the current anthropology and history professors at Roane State Community College in Harriman, Tennessee, which is near Oliver Springs. One history professor responded that he knew about a Richard Davis, but he was not a professor of anthropology. He lived in Oliver Springs and had been a past principal at the Oliver Springs Elementary School—and he was knowledgeable about the history of Oliver Springs. He encouraged me to contact the Oliver Springs Historical Society (OSHS) about Mr. Davis. Instead, I thought it best to join the society as a member. Mr. Wesley Lee, an officer in the society, first confirmed for me that Mr. Davis was still alive and was likely the Richard Davis cited by Snyder E. Roberts. Several elderly members of the OSHS essentially confirmed it. Richard Davis had been found.


Professor John C. Webster, Oliver Springs School, 1900-1905 (after Roberts 1982:18a)

One nagging question remained. Richard M. Davis had never been a college or university professor. He had been a teacher and principal in the local public school system, so why had Snyder E. Roberts referred to him as “Professor Richard Davis?” Unable to get in touch with Mr. Davis at that time, I went back to the Oliver Springs Public Library to see if any clues might be there. On my previous trip, I had ignored a 1982 Snyder E. Roberts volume of no seeming prehistoric archaeological significance entitled The Story of Oliver Springs and Its People: 1. The Story of Oliver Springs Schools; 2. Oldtimers and the Days Back When, – or When Grandpa Was a Boy. Within the Oliver Springs schools section, Mr. Roberts had included biographical sketches and photographs of numerous principals in the early schools of Oliver Springs.  He had placed the title Professor in front of all their names rather than Principal.  In each Oliver Springs public school of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, it had been customary for teachers and students to address their degreed school administrators as Professor.  In keeping with this local tradition from his childhood, Snyder E. Roberts had chosen to address Richard M. Davis as “Professor Richard Davis” in his 1985 writings on the history of Oliver Springs.

This is just one small example of how an old, local custom can result in a misunderstanding of archived document statements pertinent to archaeological research. I have met with Richard M. Davis, and he has kindly agreed to share with me his knowledge of the former mound site at the sewage plant and other archaeological sites in the Oliver Springs area.

Editor’s Note: Tracy Brown also runs the blog Archaeology in Tennessee.