30 Days of Tennessee Archaeology, Day 12

An Archaeology of Sunday in Black and White

Phillip Hodge, Archaeologist Supervisor
Tennessee Department of Transportation
Pickett Chapel Community Archaeological Project

There are two United Methodist congregations in Lebanon, a small town about 30 minutes east of Nashville in Wilson County, that both trace their beginnings to an unassuming 187 year old brick building known as Pickett Chapel. One congregation is black, the other is white. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. famously observed that “11 o’clock Sunday morning is the most segregated hour in American life.” His observation is unfortunately still true in many American communities, including Lebanon, and is reflected in the history of these two congregations and of the building from which they both began.

Pickett Chapel, Lebanon, Tennessee.

Pickett Chapel, Lebanon, Tennessee.

The story of Pickett Chapel begins with the first Methodist congregation in Lebanon, which was white and was organized in 1812. In 1827, they financed the construction of a meeting house on Market Street, a block off the public square in the newly chartered city of Lebanon. At that time, Pickett Chapel was called Seay’s Chapel and was constructed by enslaved African Americans, many of whom also attended services there. Services were held at Pickett Chapel until 1856, when white members of the congregation moved to a newly built church a block away. In 1964, this congregation moved to their current location on West Main Street and exist today as Lebanon First United Methodist Church, where, coincidentally, my family are members and attend weekly services.

It’s unclear what happened at Pickett Chapel between 1856 and the Civil War, but in 1866, just one year after Appomattox, thirty newly freed African Americans pooled their money and purchased the old church on Market Street for a sum of $1500, which equates to about $24,000 in today’s currency. Shortly thereafter, the newly formed black congregation rechristened Seay’s Chapel as Pickett Chapel Methodist Episcopal Church, after their first pastor, Reverend Calvin Pickett.

By the early 1970s, having outgrown Pickett Chapel, they built a new, larger church about a mile away and, in 1973 became known as Pickett Rucker United Methodist Church, again after the first pastor of the new church, Reverend T.G. Rucker. Pickett Chapel was soon sold and for the next two decades it was used as a community theater, before closing again and falling into disrepair. It was slated for demolition in 2007, when at the eleventh hour, several former congregants and descendants of the original 30 families who purchased Pickett Chapel in 1866, once more pooled their money. They took out second mortgages on their own homes and held fundraisers to again purchase the old church on Market Street. Stabilization and restoration efforts began shortly thereafter and continue to this day.

Inside the sanctuary at Pickett Chapel. Photo courtesy of the Wilson County Black History Committee.

Inside the sanctuary at Pickett Chapel. Photo courtesy of the Wilson County Black History Committee.

I got involved with Pickett Chapel somewhat coincidentally. In my job as a TDOT archaeologist, I’ve worked on archaeological projects in almost every part of Tennessee, except my hometown of Lebanon. My kids went to daycare next door to Pickett Chapel, and I’d drive by the old chapel every day to drop them off and always wonder if it had any archaeology. Fast forward to 2012. I’m in the local coffee shop eavesdropping on a conversation among members of the Wilson County Black History Committee (WCBHC) about, what else, Pickett Chapel. I eventually interrupted their conversation, introduced myself, and asked if I could do some archaeology at Pickett Chapel. They enthusiastically agreed and the rest, as they say, is history.

Our first weekend of fieldwork coincided with the WCBHC’s annual spring celebration on the grounds at Pickett Chapel, which, even though it’s open to the entire community, is especially focused on bringing together the congregations of Lebanon First and Pickett Rucker. At one point after the formal program, I looked around and saw just how many people from both congregations, young and old, black and white alike, were eager to participate and, most importantly, were asking questions about their own past. It was then that I realized this was much more than archaeological research – it was about memory, community, and reconciliation. And it was this realization that led to the transformation of the project from a conventional research study to one focused on the congregational descendants of Pickett Chapel, whereby participation in the archaeology itself becomes the vehicle for renewed connections.

Youth from Pickett Rucker UMC excavating a shovel test with MTSU Archaeology students at Pickett Chapel. Photo courtesy of Wilson County Black History Committee.

Youth from Pickett Rucker UMC excavating a shovel test with MTSU Archaeology students at Pickett Chapel. Photo courtesy of Wilson County Black History Committee.

Two years later, we have surveyed the archival sources, sampled the archaeology, and explored their potential to address more complex questions. Thanks to MTSU archaeology students and volunteers from the WCBHC, we’ve figured out that the artifacts are undisturbed and densely distributed across every part of the property we could investigate. Artifact analysis is ongoing at MTSU’s Archaeology Lab, but it appears that artifact diversity is high with all of the common historic classes present, in addition to abundant bone and plant remains. The assemblage is predictably dominated by nails, ceramics, and glass and appears to represent the entire site occupation from the early 19th century to the present. Six features have been discovered so far, including one previously unknown structure that is likely contemporaneous with Pickett Chapel. Preservation across the site is exceptional, in part due to the fact that the property hasn’t been developed and is capped with six inches or more of crushed limestone gravel that once formed a parking lot.

Brick feature identified west of Pickett Chapel that likely relates to an as yet undefined structure contemporaneous with Pickett Chapel. Photo courtesy of Wilson County Black History Committee.

Brick feature identified west of Pickett Chapel that likely relates to an as yet undefined structure contemporaneous with Pickett Chapel. Photo courtesy of Wilson County Black History Committee.

As an archaeologist, I find Pickett Chapel’s history and archaeology fascinating, but what’s really hooked me is its connection to the present. The white congregation at Lebanon First and the black congregation at Pickett Rucker are both daughters of that original 19th century church. Both congregations, black and white alike, acknowledge Pickett Chapel as an integral part of their own origin story and both claim it at different times in its life history. Circling back to Dr. King’s Sunday morning observation, I’m proud to report that some progress, however incremental, is being made. On January 19, 2014, the congregations of Lebanon First and Pickett Rucker held a joint service, which marked the first time since before the Civil War these congregations shared the same space and, because this key fact can’t be overlooked, the last time they were together, one congregation owned the other. It is to the credit of the leadership of both churches, due to their shared connections to Pickett Chapel that these congregations are now reaching out to one another through those timeless Methodist traditions of songs, sermons, and potluck suppers. And now, archaeology. For these descendant congregations, the archaeology of Pickett Chapel has become a link for discovering our commonalities, understanding our overlapping histories, and forming new relationships across the social and historical divide of race in American society.


30 Days of Tennessee Archaeology, Day 5

TDOT Archaeology: Balancing Past and Present

Phillip Hodge, Archaeologist Supervisor
Tennessee Department of Transportation

Sometimes people are baffled when I tell them I’m a professional archaeologist and that I work at TDOT. The typical follow-up question goes something like this: why does TDOT do archaeology and why do they need archaeologists? I usually say there’s a short answer to this question, and a longer, more complicated one.

The short answer is that it’s required by federal law. Since TDOT works on behalf of the Federal Highway Administration to administer the Federal Aid Highway and Bridge Replacement Programs, which is how the majority of transportation projects are funded in the United States, one of the laws they have to comply with is the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA). The NHPA was signed into law in 1966 by President Lyndon Johnson and requires all federal agencies, or recipients of federal funds or permits, to take into account the effects of their projects on historic buildings, historic districts, and archaeological sites. Agencies like TDOT have archaeologists and historians on staff to identify archaeological and historical resources that might be affected by construction projects.

State Route 840 under construction in Williamson County. Photo by George Hornal, TDOT.

State Route 840 under construction in Williamson County. Photo by George Hornal, TDOT.

This inevitably leads to a second question, and to the long answer: Ok, why do we need the National Historic Preservation Act? Isn’t it just another layer of regulations and bureaucracy that drives up costs and drags out construction that inconveniences us all? As Presidential candidates often say, let’s take the second part first. Yes, it is regulatory and it is bureaucratic, but, when compared to what society gains, its benefits far and away exceed the costs. Archaeological sites are non-renewable resources that contain information about the past that cannot be obtained from any other source. After all, there’s thousands of years of Native American history in Tennessee pre-dating the arrival of Europeans in the early 16th century. Not to mention the histories of marginalized peoples, like enslaved African-Americans, women, ethnic minorities and the poor, that simply were not recorded in official records. Archaeology is the only way to fill in these very real gaps in the historical record and, in effect, becomes the only way to tell the whole truth about the past.

Through the National Historic Preservation Act we are able to systematically survey the ruins and remains of the past – everyone’s past – which not only creates an inventory of these resources before they are destroyed, but it also provides a process to evaluate the importance of each site and determine which ones warrant further investigation and investment of taxpayer dollars. Lest this be seen as frivolous spending, or reflecting the interests of an academic minority, an oft-cited Harris Poll on the public perception of archaeology found that a clear majority of Americans – almost 100% – support laws to protect archaeological resources and that public funds should be used to do so (Ramos and Duganne 2000).

Let’s return to TDOT. TDOT is one of the largest and most active development agencies in the state, with an annual budget of almost two billion dollars spread over 500 transportation construction projects from Bristol to Memphis and everywhere in between. The Tennessee State Historic Preservation Office (TN-SHPO) reviews all state and federal projects conducted under the National Historic Preservation Act and has maintained a database of these projects since 1985. Over the last 30 years, the TN-SHPO determined that in excess of 8,000 TDOT projects were submitted to their office for review  (Garrison 2013). Of which, almost 25% identified one or more archaeological sites. These numbers, along with the scope and extent of TDOT’s program, show that TDOT has more potential to encounter and investigate archaeological sites in more places than any other organization in the state – public, private, and non-profit.

As such, TDOT has made many important contributions to the understanding of Tennessee’s prehistoric and historic past. For example, during the 1980s and 1990s, there was a boom in large scale transportation construction as a result of then Governor Lamar Alexander’s initiative to connect every county seat with an interstate. This resulted in the discovery and investigation of hundreds of archaeological sites that would have otherwise gone undiscovered and, in all likelihood, would’ve been destroyed. Another more recent example comes from Rhea County, where TDOT discovered the lost city of Old Washington along Highway 30 near Dayton. Old Washington was an important river town on the Tennessee River that was abandoned after the founding of Dayton in the late 19th century and subsequently lost to time and floods. There is no above-ground trace of Old Washington today, but our work there discovered that the entire town, including the courthouse, is likely preserved as an archaeological site (Grantz-Bastianini and Fuess 2012).

Early 19th century plat map of Old Washington with the modern route of State Route 30 overlain.  Image c/o Denise Grantz-Bastianini and Martin Fuess, Michael Baker Corporation.

Early 19th century plat map of Old Washington with the modern route of State Route 30 overlain. Image c/o Denise Grantz-Bastianini and Martin Fuess, Michael Baker Corporation.

TDOT Archaeology’s contribution to the state is not limited to knowledge about the past. Our projects also create jobs and contribute to local economies. Take for example a recent bridge replacement project on Highway 13 over the Buffalo River in Perry County. Our work there led to the discovery and full-scale excavation of the “Riley” site, an ancient Native American settlement. During the multi-year archaeological excavations and subsequent construction, TDOT was one of the largest employers in Perry County and the crews working on these projects lived at local hotels, ate at local restaurants, and shopped at local stores. TDOT’s relationship with Perry County didn’t end with the opening of the new bridge, as TDOT archaeologists continue to work with local officials to develop interpretive displays based on the discoveries made at the Riley site.

TDOT excavations at the Riley site along State Route 13 in Perry County. The area being excavated is the right-of-way for the new bridge. Photo by Gary Barker, TDOT.

TDOT excavations at the Riley site along State Route 13 in Perry County. The area being excavated is the right-of-way for the new bridge. Photo by Gary Barker, TDOT.

Working closely and cooperatively with the TN-SHPO, the Tennessee Division of Archaeology, and federally recognized Native American Tribes, public agencies like TDOT, TVA, and the U.S. Corps of Engineers attempt to balance the preservation and protection of archaeological sites with the development needs of the present. In doing so, agency archaeologists in Tennessee and across the nation work hard to ensure that both the letter and spirit of the National Historic Preservation Act are fulfilled and, in this way, serve as stewards of our nation’s unique and irreplaceable archaeological record.

For more information on TDOT and FHWA’s archaeology programs, please visit these websites: http://www.tdot.state.tn.us/environment/archeology/ and http://www.environment.fhwa.dot.gov/histpres/archaeology.asp.


Ramos, Maria and David Duganne

2000 Exploring Public Perceptions about Archaeology. Electronic document, http://www.saa.org/Portals/0/SAA/pubedu/nrptdraft4.pdf, accessed September 4, 2014

Garrison, Joseph Y.

2013  The Tennessee Department of Transportation and Section 106 Review 1985-2012. The Courier 61(3): 19. http://www.tn.gov/environment/history/docs/courier_jun13.pdf

Grantz-Bastianini, Denise and Martin Fuess

2013  Phase I Archaeological Survey of State Route 30 from State Route 29 in Dayton to the Tennessee River, Rhea County, Tennessee. Michael Baker Corporation. Submitted to Tennessee Department of Transportation, Nashville. Copies available from TDOT.

30 Days of Tennessee Archaeology, Day 4

Garfish – It’s NOT What’s for Dinner!

Aaron Deter-Wolf
Tennessee Division of Archaeology

Tanya M. Peres, PhD, RPA
President, Tennessee Council for Professional Archaeology
Director, Rutherford County Archaeology Research Program

Early European drawing of a gar by Le Page du Pratz (1758, vol. 2 p. 152)

Early European drawing of a gar by Le Page du Pratz (1758, vol. 2 p. 152)

If you’ve ever seen a modern gar up close, or even in pictures, you know these fish are creatures from the ancient past. Gar evolved into their current form around 100 million years ago. They have body armor consisting of bony scales, prominent sharp teeth, and a semi-aggressive nature that prompted naturalist William Bartram to describe the fish as a “warlike, voracious creature.”

There are five surviving species of gar still swimming in the waters of the Southeastern United States today, including alligator gar, spotted gar, longnose gar, shortnose gar, and Florida gar. We find their scales, vertebrae, and jaws archaeologically at sites across the Southeast dating to the Archaic period (ca. 8000-1000 BC) through the Mississippian (ca. AD 1000-1450). Gar remains have been reported from at least 15 sites in Tennessee including Eva, Castalian Springs, Fewkes, and Toqua.

In most cases, archaeologists have treated gar remains as part of the daily food waste – especially at sites from the Archaic and Woodland periods. Conversely, when garfish parts are reported from late prehistoric (i.e., Mississippian) sites, they are usually interpreted as the remains of feasting events held by and for the elite residents of the site. These assumptions of garfish-as-food fit with traditional archaeological interpretations of animal remains, but stand in contrast to ethnohistoric and ethnographic accounts which describe how gar were used by Native Americans following European contact. This discrepancy recently caught our attention, and prompted us to look more closely at the modern and historic accounts of garfish use by Native Americans in the Southeast, with the idea that these might reveal information that would allow us to more thoroughly and accurately interpret garfish remains from archaeological sites.

Longnose gar (Lepisosteus osseus) from the Norris Reservoir, Tennessee. Photograph by Jim Negus.

Longnose gar (Lepisosteus osseus) from the Norris Reservoir, Tennessee. Photograph by Jim Negus.

In our research we were only able to identify two accounts of historic Native American gar consumption. In one of these records, Bartram describes that during the late eighteenth century in central Florida, gar was “sometimes” cooked by being buried whole beneath hot embers. This cooking method would leave behind an archaeological signature of carbonized scales and other burnt bones. However, few of the gar remains recovered archaeologically from Tennessee or the Southeast have been noted as being burned, carbonized, or calcined.

Moreover, the two accounts of gar consumption are directly contradicted by ethnographic data suggesting gar were not eaten by certain Native American groups. For example, gar were among species the Cherokee historically regarded as unclean, and subject to exacting “blood revenge.” Additionally, linguistic work by Dr. Heidi Altman (Cultural Anthropologist and Linguist at Georgia Southern University) has shown that gar is not among the eleven named fish species considered edible or otherwise significant in Cherokee folklore.

Alligator gar (Atractosteus spatula) scales. Gar scales have been popularly interpreted as being used as arrow points by historic Native Americans, principally due to their overall shape.

Alligator gar (Atractosteus spatula) scales. Large gar scales have been popularly interpreted as being used as arrow points principally due to their overall shape.

So, if garfish were not eaten, why do we find their scales and parts of their skeletons in our excavation units and artifact screens? Discussions of gar in online fishing forums often state that Native Americans used larger scales as arrow points. This function appears in two ethnohistoric accounts (from Florida and Louisiana), and is sometimes proposed in the archaeological literature for finds of isolated alligator gar scales. However, use of the scales as arrow points would have resulted in specific wear patterns from hafting and sharpening. Only two of the archaeological identifications of gar which we have reviewed record evidence of these activities.

Much of the available ethnographic and ethnohistoric data for Native American gar use describe tattooing and scratching functions. Tattooing was practiced by most Native American groups in the Southeast prior to the 1700s, and gar teeth were recorded historically as tattoo implements among both the Chickasaw and Chitimacha. Experimental testing, including our own previous research, has shown that gar dentition is indeed adequately -if not ideally- suited for tattooing.

An alligator gar mandible with partially intact dentition.

An alligator gar mandible with partially intact dentition.

During scratching rituals, sharp objects were dragged across the skin of participants deep enough to draw blood and leave behind temporary scars. At least 12 ethnographic and ethnohistoric sources record the use of garfish jaws or teeth for scratching among the Muscogee, Seminole, Chickasaw, Catawaba, and Yuchi, and gar mandibles continue to be used for scratching performed at Muscogee busks.  We believe it is likely that gar mandibles recovered archaeologically from sites such as Hiwassee Island were used either for scratching or tattooing.

The seal of the Coushatta Tribe, which features a gar as its central emblem.

The seal of the Coushatta Tribe, which features a gar as its central emblem.

Finally, we learned through our research that gar functioned as both individual and group totems or talismans. The gar is the historic tribal emblem of the Coushatta tribe of Louisiana. In the late nineteenth or early twentieth century gar were carved on the front posts of the Coushatta tribal leader’s bed, and a large carved wooden gar was used by the tribe for ritual dances. Today the gar appears as the central element on the official seal of the Coushatta, where it represents courage, wisdom, strength, and discipline.

It is widely accepted that some animals served as food resources for people in the past. However, human-animal relationships are, and were, much more complex than the simple equation “animals equal meat.” Animal remains recovered from archaeological contexts have much to tell us about social and political systems and worldviews of the indigenous peoples of Tennessee and the American Southeast. By using every data category available to us, including ethnographic and ethnohistoric literature, we are perhaps better able to understand the gar’s place in the lives of ancient peoples.

A substantially expanded version of this discussion will appear as the chapter “Reinterpreting the use of Garfish (Family: Lepisosteidae) in the Archaeological Record of the American Southeast” in the forthcoming volume People with Animals: Perspectives and Studies in Ethnozooarchaeology (Oxbow Press, edited by Lee Broderick).

30 Days of Tennessee Archaeology, Day 3

Archaeology and Tennessee History

Carroll Van West, PhD
Director, MTSU Center for Historic Preservation
Tennessee State Historian

When I had the privilege of editing the Tennessee Historical Quarterly from 1994 to 2010, I was always on the look-out for articles that spoke to Tennessee history through material evidence. What is found underneath the ground, or in ruins above the ground, is important evidence of the past, just as much so as the cache of documents found squirreled away in someone’s attic.

In the late 1990s, after numerous collaborations in the field, my MTSU colleague Kevin Smith decided to take my challenge and served as a guest editor for a special issue on Tennessee history as viewed through the prism of historical archaeology. The articles ran the gamut, from new insights on plantation slavery and antebellum social structure from field projects in both Knox and Davidson counties to the literal underside of urban life, found in excavations and studies carried out in downtown Memphis. I still feel that this single issue was one of the best produced during my years as THQ Senior Editor, and encourage both archaeologists and historians to remember that collaboration can yield significant results in our joint explorations into the past.

Allendale Farm, one of the Tennessee Century Farms, where terracing is part of the site's history.

Allendale Farm, one of the Tennessee Century Farms, where terracing is part of the site’s history.

Certainly in the years since we have done our best to push such reciprocal partnerships in our many field projects at the Center for Historic Preservation. Three projects in this decade are worth highlighting. The first came when we received the glorious opportunity to consider carefully the entire landscape of Glen Leven Farm in Nashville while undertaking a heritage development plan for the Land Trust for Tennessee (this plan is available on the website of the Tennessee Civil War National Heritage Area). Zada Law of MTSU led our efforts, with the assistance of the Tennessee Division of Archaeology. The result emphasized that there was more than grand architecture to Glen Leven–a rich landscape of agricultural buildings, fields, and sites also were there.

Another collaboration came at Cragfont, a state historic site in Sumner County. Here Dan Allen led the archaeology assessment for our efforts, giving the state both a much better documentary record of the property’s history but also meaningful clues that can guide future archaeology at the site so that the landscape’s full story can be appreciated.

Then there is our effort, working with Rutherford County archivist John Lodl, to survey Rutherford County cemeteries. Our efforts are led by Michael Fletcher and Catherine Hawkins, who had earlier undertaken a study of Nashville City Cemetery for our Tennessee Civil War National Heritage Area program. Here our survey and GIS mapping will be a godsend for both archaeologists and historians looking at these resources in the future.

We have learned long ago that collaborations between historians and archaeologists work: I haven’t even mentioned the Tennessee Century Farms program, the Slave Housing Survey of Tennessee or our on-going survey of historic properties along the entire Trail of Tears. We salute our archaeology colleagues and look forward to working together to build our understand of Tennessee’s past.

Research Award Winners

The TCPA is pleased to announce that Timothy de Smet and Jessica Dalton-Carriger are the recipients of the spring, 2014 TCPA Research Award! Tim, a PhD student at Texas A&M, was awarded a grant to fund magnetometry, electromagnetic-induction, and ground-penetrating radar surveys at the multi-component Magnolia Valley site in Rutherford County. Jessica is a PhD candidate at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and will use her award to fund elemental analysis of glass trade beads from sites in East Tennessee using Laser Ablation Inductivity Coupled Plasma Mass Spectrometry. Congratulations to both the recipients!


More news coverage for the Tennessee state artifact initiative!

Nice coverage from the Lebanon Democrat yesterday about the Tennessee state artifact. This is the most complete coverage we’ve seen so far:

Wilson County’s ‘Sandy’ set to become official state artifact

Tennesse State Artifact Bills

This morning House Bill 2443 and Senate Bill 2442 naming “Sandy” as the official State Artifact passed through their respective subcommittees, and will appear before the House and Senate Calendar and Rules Committees next week.

You can find video of the Senate subcommittee hearing at the Tennessee General Assembly page (click on the “video clips” tab). The footage of SB 2442 is from around 1:04:00. to 1:08:00