New Deal Archaeology in Tennessee tells the engrossing story of Southeastern archaeology in the 1930s. The Tennessee Valley Authority Act of May 1933 initiated an ambitious program of flood control and power generation by way of a chain of hydroelectric dams on the Tennessee River. The construction of these dams flooded hundreds of thousands of square miles of river bottoms, campsites, villages, and towns that had been homes to Native Americans for centuries. This triggered an urgent need to undertake extensive archaeological fieldwork throughout the region. Those studies continue to influence contemporary archaeology.
The state of Tennessee and the Tennessee Valley were especially well suited research targets thanks to their mild climate and long field seasons. A third benefit in the 1930s was the abundance of labor supplied by Tennesseans unemployed during the Great Depression. Within months of the passage of the Tennessee Valley Authority Act, teams of archaeologists fanned out across the state and region under the farsighted direction of Smithsonian Institution curators Neil M. Judd, Frank H. H. Roberts, and Frank M. Setzler. The early months of 1934 would become the busiest period of archaeological fieldwork in US history.
The twelve insightful essays in New Deal Archaeology in Tennessee document and explore this unique peak in archaeological study. Chapters highlight then-new techniques such as mound “peeling” and stratigraphic excavation adapted from the University of Chicago; the four specific New Deal sites of Watts Bar Reservoir, Mound Bottom, Pack, and Chickamauga Basin; bioarchaeology in the New Deal; and the enduring impact of the New Deal on contemporary fieldwork.
The challenges of the 1930s in recruiting skilled labor, training unskilled ancillary labor, developing and improvising new field methods, and many aspects of archaeological policies, procedures, and best-practices laid much of the foundation of contemporary archaeological practice. New Deal Archaeology in Tennessee offers an invaluable record of that pivotal time for professional, student, and amateur archaeologists.