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Tennessee Music, Culture, and Archaeological Treasures, or, "Don't Go Stir Crazy in the Meeting Rooms"

Kevin E. Smith and David G. Anderson

From a purely academic perspective, the 1997 SAA Annual Meeting in Nashville promises to be one of the largest and most exciting in our history. With almost 1,300 papers in dozens of sessions addressing archaeological topics from across the world, the challenge (as usual) will be to choose which sessions and papers just cannot be missed. At the same time, these annual gatherings include opportunities to experience local culture and visit some of the premier archaeological parks of the region.

The SAA Annual Meeting is set for the first time in the heart of the interior upland south. For millennia, the area has served as the crossroads of the eastern United States. Described as the "Eden of the West" during the 18th century A.D., the region has hosted an incredible array of peoples and cultures. Planned local excursions have been designed to touch on the current scenic beauty and cultural flavor of Nashville and to hit some of the chief archaeological sites from the distant prehistoric to the recent historic past.

For those interested in capturing an overview of Nashville as "Music City," a driving tour of downtown will include a stop at the Country Music Hall of Fame, shopping on Music Row, and a picnic lunch in Centennial Park beneath a full-scale replica of the Greek Parthenon built for Tennessee's Centennial Celebration in 1897.

Two of the excursions will highlight the scenery of Middle Tennessee along with visits to the state's foremost archaeological parks. On the way to Pinson Mounds State Archaeological Park, participants will view the farms and forests of the Western Highland Rim, cross the Tennessee River, and descend to the edge of the West Tennessee Plain. At the park, visitors will tour the recently renovated museum and experience the grandeur of the largest Middle Woodland ceremonial center in the eastern United States. The site covers 160 ha and includes more than 100,000 m3 of earthen constructions. Among the unique features of the site are some of the first rectangular platform mounds created by Middle Woodland cultures. The ascent to the observation platform atop Saul's Mound, more than 70 ft above the surrounding level tableland, truly exemplifies the accomplishments of prehistoric Native America.

A second excursion will travel to Old Stone Fort State Archaeological Park, the location of a ceremonial enclosure constructed by Native Americans between A.D. 30 and 450. On the way, participants will pass through the cedar glades of the Central Basin of Tennessee and ascend the rolling hills south of Nashville. Nestled between the waterfalls at the forks of the Duck River, this park is considered one of the most stunning locations in Middle Tennessee. Park staff will provide a personalized tour of the museum and the spectacular earth-covered stone walls of the 50-acre enclosure.

Folks more interested in the recent history and archaeology of the area will have an opportunity to visit plantation homes and Civil War forts. Andrew Jackson's Hermitage was the magnificent plantation home of the seventh president of the United States. The Hermitage Archaeological Project, ongoing since 1988, has produced many new insights into the lives of slaves and the functioning of this upland plantation. With a multimillion-dollar restoration project just completed, there has never been a better time to view the mansion and gardens.

And finally, for military and Civil War buffs, Fort Negley offers the most complex Civil War fortification in the Nashville defenses and is possibly the most intricate interior land fortification built in the United States up to that time. Led by Fred Prouty (military sites specialist, Tennessee Historical Commission), the tour will highlight not only this massive engineering feat but also the contributions of the African American troops who first constructed and staffed the fort. Currently closed to the public, the park has been opened for a special SAA preview of what promises to become a premier destination for Civil War enthusiasts.

So, consider planning a break from the technical sessions to create a few pleasant memories of Nashville and Middle Tennessee to take home with you. And, don't forget your camera!

Kevin Smith is chair of the local advisory committee and David G. Anderson is chair of the 1997 Annual Meeting Program Committee.


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