- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 21, 2015

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) - Researchers with the University of Alabama’s Office of Archaeological Research are in the middle of a project to rehabilitate a collection of tens of thousands of artifacts collected in Alabama during the 1930s and 1940s.

The work, which began in February, is a collaborative effort between the Tennessee Valley Authority, which owns the collection, and the university, which is curating it for the government-owned power company. The work is likely to last several years.

“TVA would like to see more academic research conducted with these collections, and improving the inventory of these artifacts and their condition will allow more students to easily access the data for this purpose,” said Erin Pritchard, archaeological specialist with TVA’s Natural Resource Planning & Programs, Reservoir Property & Resource Management.

The Office of Archaeological Research is putting the artifacts - many of which remain in the collection bags they arrived in from the field - in archival-quality bags and boxes and adding information tags per federal guidelines on curation, said Matt Gage, director of OAR. The information about the collection will be part of a searchable database that will be accessible to researchers, Gage said.

The collection includes 1,456 boxes and tens of thousands of pieces that span a 13,000-year time period of state history.

The artifacts, items from Native American life to European trade goods, were collected by archaeologists and researchers with TVA and UA with labor provided by the Works Projects Administration in the Guntersville, Wheeler and Pickwick reservoir basins in the 1930s and 1940s before the sites were inundated.

“They really were the first large scale excavations in Alabama. What they were finding was some of the most amazing materials,” Gage said.

The pieces received a preliminary analysis 70 years ago, but have predominantly remained in storage since then. The collection was moved to UA after World War II, Gage said.

“They have been trying to play catch up,” Gage said of TVA. “At this point, they are trying to make a concerted effort to really address these collections.”

As part of the rehabilitation, Gage said the researchers are also conducting a limited reanalysis of the material. The re-examination is yielding relationships and information about the region that went unrecognized during the preliminary study, Gage said.

“It is showing new relationships between the people across the region, cultural boundaries that we never recognized before,” Gage said. “For us, it is a fantastic opportunity.”

Gage used the example of vessels collected in Alabama that were typically made in the Yazoo River basin in Mississippi or from western North Carolina and eastern Tennessee.

By making the materials more accessible through the searchable database, Gage said the office hopes there will be more scholarship on the materials as a result.

“It is a heck of a lot easier when you have a database you can query,” Gage said.

The researchers working on the re-analysis are planning articles, and the office also hopes to generate a book out of the project, Gage said.

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Information from: The Tuscaloosa News, https://www.tuscaloosanews.com

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