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New-Deal-Era Federal Archaeology Programs and the Tennessee Valley Authority

The New Deal’s public works projects of the 1930s profoundly affected archaeology in the southeastern United States. With federal funding from the Works Progress Administration (WPA), university archaeologists conducted large field projects that provided work for the unemployed. In the Tennessee River Valley, these projects were carried out in conjunction with construction of reservoirs by another Depression-era federal agency, the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA). The WPA/TVA projects had significant impacts on archaeology in Tennessee, Kentucky, and Alabama.

Not only did these projects lay the groundwork for much subsequent research in the region and help build an infrastructure for archaeological research in the involved states, the collected information is the only systematic documentation of major sites that now are inundated or destroyed. The research in the 1930s formulated new techniques, methods, and theories, many of which still are being investigated, and the extremely large collections made by the projects now serve as major data banks for continuing research. The projects also helped create Anthropology Departments and museums at the respective state universities. The archaeological collections and records that are the legacy of these projects thus contain a wealth of information pertinent to current archaeological problems, but also relevant to historical research about the development of the discipline.

PDF of TVA Reservoir Map


Recommended Reading:

A New Deal for Southeastern Archaeology
by Edwin A. Lyon University of Alabama Press, 1996.
ISBN: 0817307915
A history of New Deal Archaeology in the Southeast during the 1930s and 1940s, chronicling the projects of the Federal Emergency Relief Administration, the Civil Works Administration, the Tennessee Valley Authority, and the Smithsonian. Lyon (geography and anthropology, Louisiana State U.) demonstrates through research based in correspondence and unpublished reports how New Deal archaeology transformed archeological practices in the Southeast, creating the foundations for today's discipline. Recipient of the 1994 Anne B. and James B. McMillan Prize.

Digging for Dollars: American Archaeology and the New Deal
by Paul Fagette, University of New Mexico Press, 1996.
ISBN: 0826317219
See for Review:

Grit-Tempered: Early Women Archaeologists in the Southeastern United States
by Nancy Marie White, Lynne P. Sullivan, Rochelle A. Marrinan, University Press of Florida, 1999
ISBN: 081301686X
Rich with humor, tragedy, and important information for the history of anthropology and archaeology in the South and beyond, this book includes the stories of African-American women excavators on WPA crews; and of Madeline Kneberg, WPA lab director and co-founder of the Frank H. McClung Museum at the University of Tennessee. The book offers tales of innovative lab work, adventurous fieldwork, and public archaeology; and provocative discussions of women in archaeology and of gender in the archaeological record

Accidental Archaeologist: Memoirs of Jesse D. Jennings
by Jesse D. Jennings, University of Utah Press; 1994
ISBN: 0874804523
Jennings is a legend in the archaeology profession He got his start in archaeology on WPA excavations in Tennessee and went onto become a founder of Great Basin archaeology, a professor of anthropology for more than 40 years, and founder and director of the Utah Museum of Natural Histor. His autobiography includes a chapter on his experience in the Southeast and offers a view of the field's crucial growth period. It conveys his ethos about archaeology and how it should be done without embellishment or apology

The Prehistory of the Chickamauga Basin in Tennessee (2 volume set)
by Madeline D. Kneberg Lewis, Thomas M. N. Lewis, Lynne P. Sullivan, University of Tennessee Press; 1995
ISBN: 0870498630
The Chickamauga report was one of the last of the remaining major unpublished manuscripts of the WPA/TVA projects. These excavations established the region's basic cultural chronology and are still a staple in the educational diet of the region's archaeologists.

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