Frequently Asked Questions
about Archaeology in Tennessee
The answers to Frequently Asked Questions are still being completed (as of February 21, 2015) -- more questions and more answers will be provided soon. Some of the most common questions and some possible answers are provided herein.
I found some artifacts on my property. What should I do?
You should report your artifacts to the Tennessee Division of Archaeology or to an archaeologist in your area. To find an archaeologist in your area, try this link: Organizations.html.
I found some bones, what should I do?
If you find bones that you are fairly certain are human bones, state law requires that you report this to your county coroner or medical examiner and local law enforcement agency (see Tennessee Codes 11-6-107). These officials will need to determine if there are forensic or criminal concerns with the remains (in other words, it might be a murder victim or other body that falls within their jurisdiction). However, if you think these are ancient human remains, you may also want to contact the Tennessee Division of Archaeology.
How do I find out how old my arrowheads or other artifacts are?
Archaeologists are always interested in looking at artifacts -- but, keep in mind that the majority of archaeologists in the state do already have full-time jobs and may not be able to meet with you at your convenience. This is not because of a lack of interest -- but rather a lack of free time! There are events scheduled specifically for identifying artifacts that you could try to attend, particularly meetings of archaeological societies and special artifact identification events during Tennessee Archaeology Awareness Month in September.
How do I find an archaeologist?
Where can I find an archaeologist to speak to my group?
Professional archaeologists are employed in many different settings in Tennessee including: colleges and universities, state and federal agencies, and private consulting firms. For more information, follow this link: Organizations.html.
How much are my artifacts worth?
Do archaeologists buy artifacts?
Do archaeologists dig for treasure?
Archaeologists in Tennessee, as a matter of professional ethics, do not generally offer monetary evaluations of artifacts -- nor do they generally support the buying, selling and trading of artifacts. For more information, you can read the professional ethics statements of several major organizations at: laws.html. For archaeologists, the value of artifacts lies in their potential to tell us about the past. To find the value of your collection, you will need to find someone who deals in the buying of artifacts.
In some instances, you may be able to get a tax writeoff for donating an artifact or collection to a museum or other public agency. However, most artifacts are not considered valuable even by museums unless their provenience (where they came from) can be documented.
I think someone is destroying an important archaeological site -- where do I report this?
Contact the State Archaeologist with the Tennessee Division of Archaeology. However, state laws in Tennessee do not provide strong protection for archaeological sites on private lands -- at this point, it is not always illegal to destroy an important archaeological site on private lands.
I need information on archaeological sites in my county. Where do I go?
The answer depends on why you need the information. Official records for archaeological sites in Tennessee are maintained by the Site File Curator with the Tennessee Division of Archaeology. Detailed and specific information on site locations may be withheld in order to protect sites from vandalism and looting.
Do archaeologists dig up dinosaur bones?
No, although this is a popular misconception. Archaeologists are primarily concerned with the activities of prehistoric and historic humans. The study of dinosaurs and other fossils is generally conducted by paleontologists -- people who study fossil organisms. Paleontologists are generally found in departments of geology or earth sciences. Some relatively recent fossils are occasionally of interest to archaeologists -- particularly at sites where humans interacted with extinct animals such as mammoths or mastodons -- but for the most part, you will need a paleontologist to identify dinosaur bones. There are few professional paleontologists in Tennessee, since most of the state was under an ocean during the time of the dinosaurs.
Can anybody pick up artifacts?
Is it legal to collect arrowheads?
Who owns artifacts?
Artifacts on public lands are protected for citizens of the state and nation. Collecting artifacts on state or federal property is a violation of several laws (see laws.html for more information). With the exception of items buried with human remains, artifacts on private lands are the property of the landowner. Collecting artifacts is legal only with the permission of the landowner. Generally, professional archaeologists discourage private collecting of artifacts unless it is conducted in a responsible fashion: a) detailed records of where the artifact was found should be maintained; b) sites and finds should be reported to a professional archaeologist so that the information can be recorded; and c) provisions for the disposition of your collection should be made so that the artifacts do not lose the critical associated information -- including where they were found.
Is it legal to dig for artifacts?
Yes and no. Generally, archaeologists discourage any digging except by
trained professionals -- artifacts lose a tremendous amount of their
information potential when they are carelessly or unprofessionally removed from their context. "Digging" is legal on private property with permission of the landowner -- but not advisable from the professional or legal perspective. Many archaeological sites contain unmarked human graves which may be disturbed or damaged by casual digging -- disturbing human remains IS a violation of state law (see Tennessee Code 11-6-107 for more information).
Is it legal to dig up burials?
No! All human burials in Tennessee are protected by state law. Intentionally disturbing a human burial constitutes a Class A misdemeanor (see Tennessee Code 11-6-107 for more information).
My child wants to be an archaeologist...is there information you can send to me?
Are there any college programs in Tennessee about archaeology?
A document entitled Frequently Asked Questions about a Career in Archaeology in the United States is an excellent starting place.
In Tennessee, six universities (Middle Tennessee State University, University of Memphis, East Tennessee State University, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, University of Tennessee at Knoxville, and Vanderbilt University) offer undergraduate degree programs in anthropology with specializations in archaeology. The University of Memphis, UT Knoxville and Vanderbilt also offer graduate degrees in anthropology. Links to these departments are available at: Organizations.html#University