My Construction Project Has Discovered Human Remains: What Do I Do Now?

30 Days of Tennessee Archaeology, Day 21

Michael C. Moore
State Archaeologist and Director, Tennessee Division of Archaeology

Most archaeologists have discovered, or will encounter, human skeletal remains at some point during their career. These encounters comprise prehistoric Native American burials and/or historic period graves. Prehistoric Native American burials have been dug since the early 1800s for various reasons by researchers and hobbyists, as well as looters seeking to profit from the sale of associated burial objects on the antiquities market. Folks may not know that digging prehistoric Native American graves was perfectly legal in Tennessee until 1984 when legislative intent was established to cover these graves under the state cemetery statutes.

Historic/modern cemeteries have also fared poorly at times through landowner negligence, developer deceit, and vandalism. I’m aware of several development cases where cemetery tombstones were removed but the graves left in place. I have also observed a vandalized grave accompanied by candles and other offerings.  This particular desecration occurred the night before Easter, but fortunately the people involved did not disturb the interred individual as they dug on the wrong side of the tombstone.

fig 1

Figure 1. Coffin heavily damaged by backhoe during subdivision construction activity within an unmarked historic cemetery in Davidson County.

fig 2

Figure 2. Consultant removal of prehistoric stone-box graves, Davidson County.

Today, the current construction boom in Nashville has led to an increase in the discovery and removal of prehistoric and historic graves (Figures 1 and 2). Developers occasionally consult our office regarding the presence, or potential presence, of burials within their project areas. In those cases where graves are known to be present, a private consultant is often hired to evaluate the construction footprint. If burials are discovered, the consultant can recommend burial avoidance when possible but removal when necessary. One example is the Nashville construction project within the boundaries of a large prehistoric site where human burials had been dug in the past. In this particular case, the archaeological consultant discovered a previously unrecorded burial mound that contained well over 200 individuals. These individuals were legally removed through the process mentioned below.

However, most burial discoveries occur as complete surprises during construction. Recent cases in Nashville include an early historic cemetery within a subdivision entrance, historic graves found under an existing driveway, and prehistoric Mississippian stone-box graves within the footprint of a backyard pool.

So, what happened in those cases? First, Tennessee state law (TCA 11-6-107) required all digging to stop. That statute also required notification of local law enforcement, the medical examiner or coroner, and the Division of Archaeology. Local law enforcement and the medical examiner were contacted to assess any forensic concerns (homicide, suicide, missing person). The Division assisted in assessing remains as prehistoric or early historic, and took the lead once forensic concerns were ruled out. At that time the disposition of remains became the landowner’s responsibility. Burials could be avoided and left in place if they were not disturbed by proposed construction.

Tennessee has a legal mechanism to remove human burials, known as Termination of Land Use as Cemetery (TCA 46-4-101-104). Landowners petition Chancery Court for a court order to remove any human remains on their property (whether disturbed by proposed construction or not). The court order will include a project description, how the removal will be performed, and a designated reburial location for the removed individuals (on the same property if possible). Please visit here to see more information regarding cemetery removals.

There are several unique statutes regarding the disposition of Native American burials.  For example, under TCA 11-6-116 Native American observers are allowed (but not required) to be present during the removal of Native American graves. Also, under TCA 11-6-119 all removed Native American individuals and associated burial objects have to be reburied with six months of removal (although I can grant an additional six months for a total of one year). This particular statute also allows (but does not require) scientific analysis within that one-year period.

On a final note, what happens to prehistoric structures, palisades, refuse-filled pits, and other non-burial features exposed during the search for graves? Landowners are only responsible for human burials under state law, so over the past 20+ years the Division of Archaeology has requested permission from landowners to evaluate the non-mortuary features at no-cost. Permission to conduct such work has been granted in the vast majority of cases, including such well-known sites as Rutherford-Kizer and Brentwood Library.


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.

Ongoing Digitization Efforts at the Tennessee Division of Archaeology

30 Days of Tennessee Archaeology 2016, Day 10

Paige Silcox and Aaron Deter-Wolf
Tennessee Division of Archaeology

The Tennessee Division of Archaeology (TDOA) has undertaken a number of projects as part of a statewide move to convert to digital storage of information and expand accessibility. These efforts include creating and maintaining a digital archive, participating in the Digital Index of North American Archaeology (DINAA), and hosting a variety of digital archaeological information on our website.

Digital Archive

In 1998, the TDOA offices (then on Edmonson Pike in Nashville) were hit by a flash flood resulting in water damage not only to the building, but to the extensive archive of archaeological records it contained. While most of those documents were salvaged thanks to the hard work of the staff both during the flood and in the weeks following, some were damaged beyond repair.  Historically, we’ve made efforts to duplicate key paper archives in multiple physical locations to prevent loss from natural or other disasters; however, this is not comprehensive or fail-proof. Fortunately, new technology opens the door for us to create and maintain a digital archive as well. TDOA staff are currently involved in various aspects of digitizing site forms, survey reports, excavation records, maps, photos, and myriad additional documents that make up the written archaeological record of Tennessee. The Tennessee State Library and Archives provided guidance in this effort to help ensure this archive will remain secure and functional well into the future.


Sevenmile Creek claims the TDOA office on Edmondson Pike in 1998. Thankfully, we’ve since moved to higher ground.

Participation in DINAA

This year, thanks in large part to our site file curator’s tireless work on the state’s archaeological site database, Tennessee was able to contribute our site information to the Digital Index of North American Archaeology (DINAA). Funded with grants from the NSF and IMLS, this innovative open-source database compiles site file data across North America from an increasing number of states, museums, and government agencies to host online for public use through the Alexandria Archive Institute’s Open Context. Data regarding site type, cultural affiliation, time period, physiography and a number of other factors are available for map-based browsing at a locational accuracy of 20 kilometers. This data can be used in a variety of ways, including regional spatial analysis, which David Anderson discussed in more detail on Day 2 of this blog series. As the 16th state to join this worthy project, we are more than happy to help fill out the DINAA map with data from our state.

Online Publications

Another ongoing project has been facilitating online access to the “gray literature” of TDOA publications. These efforts include completing reports of older TDOA surveys and excavations, as well as producing digital editions of works from both the Division’s Research Series and Reports of Investigations. As a result of this initiative, PDFs of nearly all TDOA reports since 2001 are now available for free download via the Archaeology Publications section of our web page.

The most recent result of this effort has been a new edition of the report on investigations at the Rutherford-Kizer site in Sumner County. The TDOA conducted salvage excavations and monitored removal of burials by a private consultant at this Mississippian mound and village between 1993 and 1995. The original edition of the site report was published in 2001 as TDOA Research Series No. 13, edited by Mike Moore and Kevin Smith. The new digital edition of the Rutherford-Kizer report includes updated information, illustrations, and citations, and was added to the website earlier this summer.


TDOA excavations at the Rutherford-Kizer site, October 1993

In addition to hosting digital reports, the TDOA website is now also home to a growing array of online information on Tennessee archaeology. Thanks to the efforts of Sarah Levithol Eckhardt, the website now includes a portal for accessing all past issues of the Tennessee Archaeology e-journal, as well as abstracts and programs for the annual Current Research in Tennessee Archaeology meeting going back to 1995.

While the past year has seen major strides in digitization of archaeological data at the TDOA, it’s just the beginning!  The corpus of digital data on Tennessee archaeology hosted and made accessible by the Division of Archaeology and other institutions and projects is going to to continue to grow as existing initiatives are expanded and new efforts are launched. Stay tuned!

What is the Tennessee Division of Archaeology?

30 Days of Tennessee Archaeology 2016, Day 6

Michael C. Moore
State Archaeologist and Director, Tennessee Division of Archaeology

Some confusion exists regarding the Tennessee Division of Archaeology (TDOA) and our place within the “big picture” of Tennessee archaeology.  This blog seeks to clear up a few common misconceptions about the Division (several things we do, and several things we can’t do).

The TDOA was established in 1970 under the Department of Conservation (TCA 11-6-101-121).  Our first staff members were hired in 1972, with additional staff brought aboard over the next few years that included three regional archaeologists, a historic archaeologist, and various field positions.  In 1991, the Department of Conservation merged with the Environment side of the former Department of Health and Environment to become the Department of Environment and Conservation.


The original TDOA Regional Archaeologists: Carl Kuttruff (L), John Broster, and Brian Butler (R).

State-wide field projects have comprised an important Division mandate since the beginning.  Significant investigations on state-owned properties include Mound Bottom, Sellars Farm, Pinson Mounds, Fort Loudoun, Ft. Pillow, Fernvale, Riverbend Prison, SR-42 (Algood), Hiwassee Old Town, Sandbar Village, Carter House (Williamson County)Spencer Youth Center, Middle TN Veterans Cemetery, Bicentennial Mall, and Ropers Knob.  Select site investigations on non-state lands include Brick Church Pike Mound, Fort Southwest Point, First Hermitage, Yearwood, Penitentiary Branch, Fort Blount, Brandywine Pointe, Coats-Hines Mastodon, Johnson, Old Town, Gordontown, Austin Cave, Carson-Conn-Short, Rutherford-Kizer, Brentwood Library, Moss-Wright and collaborative investigations along the Cumberland River near Nashville following the 2010 floods.  Thematic historic site surveys (such as potteries, gunmaking, Highland Rim iron industry, Civil War, World War II, and Trail of Tears) have also been an important component of TDOA research.  Reconnaissance surveys for prehistoric sites have been conducted within the Obion, Duck, Cumberland, Harpeth, Caney Fork, Collins, Calfkiller, and Hiwassee/Ocoee River watersheds.

The Division’s ability to perform larger-scale site excavations (such as Ft. Loudoun, Hiwassee Old Town, and Spencer) has significantly diminished over the years due to the same position reductions experienced by other state agencies.  Division positions have been cut roughly 70% over the past 25 years, from about 35 positions during the mid-1980s to our current 10 positions in 2016.  Most of the eliminated positions were part-time/seasonal posts used to employ project field crews.  We now focus on smaller-scale survey and site investigations, and also respond to emergency situations as possible (such as the new Nashville Sounds baseball stadium in downtown Nashville).

Other TDOA mandated responsibilities have grown over the decades to play a much larger role in our day to day operations.  The site information file section is one such example, as we are responsible for assigning official state site numbers along with managing data for the 26,000+ sites recorded in the state to date.  An upcoming blog from Division archaeologist Paige Silcox will elaborate on this role.

Another vital responsibility is our review of federal and state undertakings to assess possible impacts to known or potential archaeological resources.  The TDOA provides all federal archaeological services to the Tennessee SHPO office (through a contract with the Tennessee Historical Commission), and that includes just over 900 project responses for FY15-16.  Our FY15-16 state reviews comprised 210+ project responses as well as 25+ permits issued for archaeological work on state lands.

Our technical assistance section offers advice and direction to a wide variety of entities seeking archaeological assistance.  These entities include federal/state/local agencies, private consultants, law enforcement, university professors and students, development community, avocational archaeologists, and the general public.  Our work ranges from assessments of proposed state land projects, to responding to reports of discovered sites and/or disturbed human burials, to answering questions about artifacts found.

Public education opportunities (notably school presentations and service programs) are something that Division staff attempt to accommodate as schedules allow.  Regrettably, there are many more requests than available time to commit.  This is one area where demand far exceeds our ability to perform.

Each month we receive calls/emails from people asking (demanding) we stop a proposed undertaking because “Indian graves” are present.  Such contacts are usually in response to an unpopular project on private property.  Our office informs these folks what we know about the area in question, and may provide recommendations to developers and/or local planning agencies as appropriate.  But we also have to tell callers there is no state law that requires private landowners to evaluate the potential for archaeological destruction, even if known sites are present.  With that said, state cemetery laws do require a court order prior to removing a human burial (ancient or modern).

Perhaps the most notable TDOA misconception relates to historic cemeteries.  Such cemeteries unfortunately fall through the cracks in Tennessee as there is no public agency officially responsible for these resources.  Several attempts to propose such legislation have yet to be successful.  The TDOA has become the default contact for citizens concerned about ongoing or proposed cemetery disturbance.  These calls/emails are often emotionally charged, and understandably so.  We provide archival information and advice as possible, and offer a historic cemeteries fact sheet on our website, but must consistently decline requests to assess cemetery locations and boundaries.  Instead, we offer our consultants list for people in need of those services.  Sometimes the cemetery concern is a property/access dispute between one or more individuals.  Our office does not intervene in private property affairs, so we recommend folks acquire the services of legal counsel and/or contact local law enforcement.   Admittedly very few people seeking action are satisfied with these responses.

These paragraphs have presented several (but certainly not all) TDOA mandated responsibilities, and hopefully clarified the Division’s role regarding private property issues and historic cemetery concerns.  Please feel free to contact our office if there are questions about these (or other) archaeological matters.

Editor’s Note: You can find the Tennessee Division of Archaeology online via their web page and Facebook account).

30 Days of Tennessee Archaeology, Day 21

Archaeological Survey of Rosenwald Schools in Tennessee

Ben Nance
Tennessee Division of Archaeology

In 1911 Booker T. Washington, a former slave who later founded the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, met with Julius Rosenwald, president of Sears, Roebuck, and Company, to discuss a plan to build schools for black children in the South. Their subsequent collaboration led to the establishment of the Julius Rosenwald Fund and the construction of more than 5,300 schools, industrial shops, and teacher homes in fifteen states between 1912 and 1932. In Tennessee the Rosenwald Fund contributed to the construction of 354 schools, 9 teacher homes, and 10 industrial shops.

Restored Cairo School, Sumner County

Restored Cairo School, Sumner County

As the 100th anniversary of the Rosenwald program in 2012 approached, there was an increased interest in locating surviving Rosenwald Schools, spurred on by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Steve Rogers with the Tennessee Historical Commission suggested conducting an archaeological survey to locate the sites of Tennessee’s Rosenwald Schools, and he helped secure funding for the first phase of the project. The archaeological site survey approach is one that has been successfully used by the Tennessee Division of Archaeology since the first systematic study in 1977. Since then a series of site survey projects has led to the addition of more than 2,000 recorded historic period archaeological sites to the statewide site file maintained by the Division of Archaeology (Smith 2006).

With the initial success of the school building program, Rosenwald continued to provide funds that had to be matched by public money. Booker T. Washington died in 1915, and the Tuskegee Institute continued to administer the school building program until 1920. A 1919 inspection of the Rosenwald Schools that had been built thus far found that most of the schools did not meet all of the standards expected of these new schools. In 1920 Rosenwald moved the program from Tuskegee and placed it under the Julius Rosenwald Fund, a foundation that he had formed in 1917 with its office in Nashville (Hoffschwelle 2006; Deutsch 2011)

Community School Plan for a One-Teacher School (From

Community School Plan for a One-Teacher School (source)

Rosenwald hired Samuel L. Smith, Tennessee’s Agent for Negro Schools, to lead the Nashville office. Smith designed the Community School Plans that would be used for most Rosenwald Schools from 1920 until the end of the program. These plans featured large banks of windows for adequate light and ventilation and movable partitions by which a larger space could be opened. Rosenwald intended for these buildings to be more than schools; they were to be centers of the communities where public meetings could be held and people could gather for entertainment such as movies or plays. He also required that the community using the school raise some of the money to ensure their commitment to the project.

Sam Smith, long time employee of the Tennessee Division of Archaeology and now retired, and I began our survey with background research using the Fisk University Rosenwald database. We then consulted several types of historical maps including older USGS topographic quads, county highway maps, a set of 1936 bus route maps, and Sanborn Fire Insurance maps. Using this information we began our field portion of the survey, attempting to locate each of the school sites and assess their archeological integrity.

Thus far we have visited slightly less than half of the sites, finding about 22 standing structures and the remains of several more. A few of the standing schools have been completely restored and are available for use as community centers as Julius Rosenwald had originally intended. Other standing schools are currently in use as private residences, churches, a tobacco barn, and even a night club in which James Brown once played. Some buildings have been abandoned and are in various states of decay.

Ruins of Salem School in Gibson County, 2012

Ruins of Salem School in Gibson County, 2012

By far the most valuable resources we have found during this survey are the former students who attended these Rosenwald Schools. In addition to helping us confirm the physical location of the schools, they have given us insight into their experiences attending the school. All of these former students spoke of their fond memories of their school days and the value of the education they received.

Field work for the survey will resume in October 2014. With Sam Smith now enjoying his retirement, Sarah Levithol will assist with the survey as we attempt to locate the remainder of the Rosenwald School sites. As with previous survey projects our goal is to produce a published report of findings.

References Cited

Deutsch, Stephanie
2011    You Need a Schoolhouse, Booker T. Washington, Julius Rosenwald, and the Building of Schools for the Segregated South. Northwestern University Press, Evanston, Illinois.

Hoffschwelle, Mary S.
2006     The Rosenwald Schools of the American South. University Press of Florida, Gainesville.

Smith, Samuel D.
2006     “A Retrospective on 30 Years of Historic-Period Archaeological Site Survey.” Tennessee Division of Archaeology. Paper Presented at the South Central Historical Archaeology Conference, Memphis Tennessee, October 28, 2006.

30 Days of Tennessee Archaeology, Day 19

State Archaeology 101

Sarah Levithol
Tennessee Division of Archaeology

What does an archaeologist working for the state of Tennessee do?

TDOATo answer this question, some background is needed first. The Tennessee Division of Archaeology (TDOA) and some of the first laws geared toward archaeology in Tennessee were established by the passage of the “Tennessee Antiquities Act” of 1970. The creation and successful passage of this act was largely due to the passing of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) in 1966 (discussed previously in Phillip Hodge’s post), and the concern of avocational and professional archaeologists in the state for the preservation of sites; specifically members of the Southeastern Indian Antiquities Survey and the Tennessee Archaeological Society. Both of these organizations were integral to the development of archaeological standards in the state, and in defining the mission of the Tennessee Division of Archaeology, which is headed by the State Archaeologist (currently Mike Moore). The responsibilities of the TDOA are as follows:

  • Work with other state agencies in the protection and management of archaeological sites on state lands
  • Survey the state to identify and record archaeological sites
  • Excavate, protect and preserve prehistoric and historic sites
  • Conduct research and encourage public cooperation and responsibility for site preservation
  • Publish archaeological findings in scientific and popular formats

A 1990 amendment to state statutes provides additional protections for Native American human remains and burial objects, and also makes the Division and State Archaeologist a central part of the discovery and handling of (primarily prehistoric) Native American graves in the state. This amendment prohibits the public display of Native American human remains, requires reburial of all removed skeletal remains and associated burial objects, and provides a time limit (six months to one year) for analysis prior to reburial. It is illegal in Tennessee to knowingly excavate, remove or tamper with any human burial, whether on public or private property. Burials can be legally removed through a court order from the Chancery Court, but only under very specific conditions. The 1990 amendment occurred about the same time as passage of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), which provides a mechanism for the repatriation of Native American skeletal remains and objects to federally recognized tribes.

So how does all of this affect archaeologists working for the Tennessee Division of Archaeology?

Map of recorded sites in Tennessee

Map of recorded sites in Tennessee

There are over 25,000 archaeological sites in the state of Tennessee and a large part of my job, and that of my colleagues, is keeping tabs on them, specifically those on state owned lands, and also recording new ones. Unfortunately sometimes this means documenting their destruction by natural forces (as was done in collaboration with MTSU following the 2010 Nashville flood), construction projects, and looting. Although excavation of archaeological materials is illegal on federal land under the Archaeological Resources Protection Act, collecting and digging of non-burial archaeological resources on private property is legal in Tennessee with landowner permission.

State Archaeologist Mike Moore excavating at what is now the Brentwood Library, where a Mississippian village was found.

State Archaeologist Mike Moore excavating at what is now the Brentwood Library, where a Mississippian village was found.

Our office also reviews construction projects on state-owned land to assess the impact to known or potential archaeological sites. For smaller projects the TDOA staff may conduct a small-scale evaluation and/or monitor the work. Larger projects generally require a private Cultural Resource Management firm to carry out the more intensive investigations before construction begins. Many projects require the Division to work closely with other state and federal agencies such as the Tennessee Historical Commission, TDOT, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, TVA, and federally recognized Native American tribes. We also rely heavily on the reports of concerned citizens who inform us about damage being done to archaeological resources.

Housing development in TN literally stopped in their tracks by the discovery of an unmarked historic cemetery (yellow caution tape marks where first two graves were found). Photo by Ben Nance.

Housing development in Tennessee literally stopped in their tracks by the discovery of an unmarked historic cemetery (yellow caution tape marks where first two graves were found).   Photo by Ben Nance.

Another important aspect of work at the TDOA is protecting prehistoric and historic human burials. It is illegal to knowingly tamper with, excavate, or otherwise disinter any human burials or funery objects in Tennessee without legal permission. The TDOA often receives reports of disturbed human remains, and we always respond to them to assess the situation. If a burial is uncovered during development or construction, it is the Division’s responsibility to help inform the builder or landowner of their legal options. These may include rerouting a project to avoid a burial, or if avoidance is not feasible then undertaking the legal process to remove the grave. If we receive a report of grave looting or other disturbance, we also make sure that local law enforcement and the medical examiner are contacted is case there is a forensic concern.

Sarah Levithol works to documenting a Mississippian fire pit feature.

Sarah Levithol works to document a Mississippian fire pit feature.

Another important part of my job is completing reports from previous TDOA projects. Currently, I am analyzing artifacts from a 1988 investigation carried out in Algood, Tennessee for the State Route 42 road project. This project involved the excavation of nine sites within the proposed State Route 42/Highway 111 right of way. Based on the artifacts, the area was most heavily occupied during the early portion of the Archaic period (8,000 BC- 1,000 BC).

Public education is a large, and enjoyable, part of working at the TDOA. We regularly give talks and presentations to avocational archaeology, civic, and school groups. We also give talks to professional archaeologists about ongoing projects at local, regional, and national conferences. In addition, we daily answer phone calls and emails from citizens about artifacts they have found, potential sites on their property, or from students curious about our profession. It is these public interactions that allow us to share our knowledge of Tennessee’s past and foster a sense of excitement and concern for our cultural resources.