RCARP receives THC Historic Preservation Grant

Every year the Tennessee Historical Commission (THC) awards grants to organizations for projects that promote the understanding and preservation of historic and archaeological resources. This year the THC awarded funding to 36 such projects, and the MTSU Rutherford County Archaeology Research Program was one of those recipients.

So, what is RCARP going to do with the grant funds? Well, we will return to the Magnolia Valley site in summer 2016 to investigate additional anomalies detected during the 2014 geophysical survey and survey areas suspected to have evidence of ancient human occupation. Some of these anomalies are associated with the Archaic period occupations of the site (ca. 5,000 years before present), others we suspect may be associated with the late prehistoric Mississippian period. The Mississippian period occupations of what is now Rutherford County are not well researched nor understood. This THC grant-funded work will allow us to learn how and why people settled in this particular part of the county and add to our knowledge of Native Americans’ relationship with the landscape.

For updates on our progress, subscribe to this website. You’ll receive an email when we update our blog (and that is the only time we will email you, promise!). Just click on the “FOLLOW” button on the lower left side of the homepage.

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You can read more about the program and the grants awarded to MTSU here.

Click here or a list of all grants awarded this cycle.


30 Days of Tennessee Archaeology, Day 22

RCARP’s Public Outreach and Education Coordinator, Laura Bartel, focused on the public outreach mission of RCARP in today’s edition of the “30 Days of Tennessee Archaeology” blogfest. A great rendition of what we did this summer and our plans for the future. Be sure to see the information on our Open House this weekend at the end of the blog.

Tennessee Council for Professional Archaeology

Dig and Dine: Introducing the Rutherford County Archaeological Research Program to the community

Laura Fyock Bartel, M.A.
Independent Archaeologist
Public Outreach and Education Coordinator, RCARP

Most professional archaeologists recognize the importance of public archaeology programs, and where feasible, try to incorporate some sort of public outreach and activity along with their projects. The Rutherford County Archaeological Research Program (RCARP), a new program based at Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU) and directed by Dr. Tanya M. Peres, Associate Professor of Anthropology, focuses on prehistoric archaeology in Rutherford County, Tennessee. Previous posts for the “30 Days of Archaeology” have discussed RCARP and its Magnolia Valley project.

As Public Outreach and Education Coordinator for RCARP and an archaeologist myself, I have the exciting opportunity to assist Dr. Peres in engaging the public with the prehistory of Rutherford County. I would like to share how we have begun our public outreach program.

Tanya Peres and Jesse Tune describe the excavation process for visitors Tanya Peres…

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Life in the (outside) Archaeology Lab, Part II

As was mentioned in the previous post, we have many samples that are undergoing a process called “flotation.” We have well over 400 bags that range from 20-100+ lbs of feature samples to process this way. The students are working in 4-5 hour shifts five days a week to complete all of these by Friday, August 8th (and will be rewarded with a BBQ picnic lunch prepared by me, Dr. Peres! [and a good grade, too]). We have been fortunate to have an awesome faculty and staff at the MTSU Greenhouses that have given us lots of space, logistical support, and interest to get this job done. It is helpful for them, too — they get all of the organic residual sediments for composting. So thanks to Dr. Nate Phillips, Larry Sizemore, the Greenhouse staff, and of course the graduate students, who have taken an interest and given us a flotation home!

The rest of the blog post is by Clacey Farley and Lee Van Sickle. I challenged them to not only write a post about flotation, but to be creative and “make a video or something.” They did a great job on their first video to show you, our blog readers, what they do every day.



by Clacey Farley and Lee Van Sickle

What is flotation?

Flotation = Reduction, very systematically.
We take large bags of sediment rocks and other items, wash, and reduce them to smaller bags for further analysis. We pre-soak the large bags in water-filled buckets before transferring them onto a large set of screens inside of a 50 gallon flotation tank that resembles a giant pitcher.
Lee and Clacey working at the flotation tank.

Lee and Clacey working at the flotation tank.

Inside the tank is a small sprinkler to generate water for washing off the dirt. The heavy items (fire cracked rocks, flint, etc.) or heavy fraction sink to the bottom of the screens and are removed and placed on trays to dry. What happens to the stuff that floats to the top? Well, the lighter items (plant remains, carbonized pieces, etc.) or light fraction cascades out of the top of the tank and into a bucket with another sieve to catch it. It is then placed on a separate tray for drying, just like the heavy fraction and then they are both dried and bagged again alongside tags indicating which feature the material is from. Then they are taken to the lab where another team processes them further.
As of Thursday, July 31, over 336 bags had been floated. This includes down-time for patching and repairing torn screens, building mud walls to divert the runoff to a specific location, lectures in the archaeology lab, and the unloading of more bags as they are brought in from field storage. We’ve learned the value of multitasking and the importance of double- (and triple-) checking! It is also nice to know that we can trust our teammates to do the same. When we have to look away, we have the security of knowing the project is still in safe hands!​

Life in the Archaeology Lab, Part I

RCARP operations moved to the lab in July after a much-needed week off following the end of fieldwork.

Did you know that fieldwork is just a small fraction of how an archaeologist spends her/his time? A general rule of thumb for how an archaeologist spends their time is:  one 40 hour week in the field (per person) = three 40 hour weeks in the lab (per person). We spent SEVEN 40 hour weeks in the field at Magnolia Valley. This equals twenty-one 40 hour weeks in the lab. But wait, that is per person. Our crew consisted of 17 people on site each day. That means we can look forward to 357 40-hour weeks in the lab (not including the Geophysical survey and data analysis). This time will be spent washing and sorting artifacts, processing 100% samples through a process called flotation, checking all field notes and forms, digitizing field maps, analyzing and cataloguing artifacts, entering data, and eventually writing reports, articles, lectures, posters, blog posts, and public talks.

Today we will get a glimpse on how we start to tackle that long to-do list.

Two weeks ago we began the long process of organizing the hundreds of bags of artifacts and double-checking that all information on the bags and in the FS log are the same. FS stands for Field Specimen number (abbreviated on all paperwork and bags as FS#). This is a unique number given to each different provenience during excavation. For example, a shovel test will get its own FS number so that no two shovel tests have the same FS#. Each 10-cm level of an excavation unit is assigned its own FS#. The artifact bags are arranged in boxes FS# order, from 1 to 345. This corresponds with the FS Log and allows us to quickly locate any given bag of artifacts we are interested in.

The early stages of artifact processing.

The early stages of artifact processing.


As the bags are being checked for accurate information, all artifacts within them are also being washed, dried, sorted by artifact category, and re-bagged. This is the initial step in analysis, which will commence once all of the artifact bags have undergone this process. You can read more about how we go about washing artifacts and also the flotation process in the coming days.

Guess what day it is?

— post by Dr. Peres

We have yet to recap Week 7 – between the rain, threats of rain, visits by VIPs, and all-out-feature excavation, well, we (that would really just be me, Dr. Peres) have slacked off on blog posting. But today is the day we backfill, and we still have a lot of prep work to finish before we move the ridges of backfill dirt into our excavated units.  I will offer up a recap of our whirlwind last week of excavations and our biggest public outreach event to date over the next few days. As always, you can catch glimpses of our work during the day on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  #rcarp

What day is it?

Every backfill day needs a meme.



— post by Dr. Peres

We are in the thick of trying to finish up our excavations for the field season and continue to fulfill our goal of community outreach and public education. The first two days of this week have been filled with all of the above! The Daily News Journal ran a feature story (on the FRONT PAGE) of our work this summer. Michelle Willard (@MichWillard), the DNJ reporter that visited us on-site, is to be commended for writing up an accurate and exciting account of what RCARP and our field school are all about. We currently have a laminated copy of the article hanging in the lab!


Cover story (in print and on-line) of the DNJ on 6.23.14

Cover story (in print and on-line) of the DNJ on 6.23.14

On Tuesday we hosted about 30 MTSU VIPs for the inaugural “Dig & Dine” to showcase the great work of the archaeology faculty, staff, and students at MTSU. I want to write a longer post on this as it was a great event that created a lot of enthusiasm for archaeology in Rutherford County. We were honored to have MTSU President Dr. Sidney McPhee and First Lady Liz McPhee, as well as University Provost Dr. Brad Bartel, on hand for the event. Here is a picture from the event with a longer post and more pictures to come!

 Dr. Tanya M. Peres and Jesse Tune, Co-Directors of the Magnolia Valley Project, show MTSU President Dr. Sidney McPhee the earth oven feature.



Magnolia Valley Field School: Week 6 Recap and Looking Ahead to the End

— post by Dr. Peres

I know the blog has been quiet the past few days and for that I apologize. We have finished Week 6 and are now into the home stretch! Our days on site are less about the physical nature of our work (though it is still not for the out-of-shape) and more about the intellectual side of archaeology. One of the aims of archaeological excavations is to uncover physical evidence of humans whereabouts and activities in a given area. Of course artifacts (any object made, modified, or used by humans) can tell us some of this, but what really interests archaeologists are the features (evidence of human activity that cannot be removed, such as a post hole or hearth). The remote sensing work that was completed at the site is the basis for our excavation strategy. We are targeting several areas of intense anomalies.

Week 6 was about identifying features in the floors of our excavation units as soon as possible (which is one of the reasons archaeologists dig in small controlled increments), then open up more units as necessary to expose the entire surface of any given feature. This has resulted in a total of 19 excavation units open: 16 of these are 2 meter x 2 meter squares and the remaining 3 are 1 meter x 2 meter rectangles. We have exposed a total of 8 features, most of which are large and occupy more than one excavation unit. Here is a quick summary of what we know about Features 1-5 this far.

Feature 1: a posthole — not modern, maybe historic, likely older than that. This feature was first thought to be a natural tree feature, as the top outline was circular, but without distinct edges. In actuality it was the very top of the post hole, something we rarely, if ever, see in Southeastern Archaeology as most features have had the top 20-30 centimeters plowed off. Lucky for us, our site has never seen a mechanical plow. In fact, according to Susan’s research, Magnolia Valley has almost exclusively been in horse pasture. I know I have never worked on a site in the Southeastern US that did not have a deep and oftentimes destructive-to-the-site plowzone.

This feature was excavated to a depth of over 1 meter.

Feature 1, excavated.

Feature 1, excavated.














Feature 2: the historic two-track horse and wagon/buggy/carriage road. (Pictures to follow another day.)


Feature 3: a possible earth oven.


Feature 4: very large feature located to the north of Feature 3. We have opened seven 2 m x 2m and one 1 m x 2 m units to expose this feature in its entirety. We will work on documenting and excavating this during our final week on-site. We anticipate their being additional features within this one large one.


Feature 5: a long, mostly linear, slightly curving trench-like feature. We have it exposed in three 2 m x 2 m units. What is exposed is being excavated.

Plan view of Feature 5 in two consecutive units (not yet excavated).

Plan view of Feature 5 in two consecutive units (not yet excavated).


Features 6-8 are still in need of further defining before we can discuss them in any depth.


Also this week we saw a number of visitors to the site. We had a local school group of students, parents, and several teachers come and learn about archaeology with some hands-on activities. A number of MTSU faculty and alumni stopped in (and brought popsicles!) to check out our work. We love sharing what we are learning with our friends, colleagues, and anyone that is interested.

Stay tuned as we work to finish up an exciting field season at Magnolia Valley!