Professor Awarded for Prehistoric Rock Art Research

Jan Simek, researching prehistoric rock art above the Tennessee River in Marshall County, Alabama. Jan Simek has spent decades trekking for miles in complete darkness, contorting his body to fit around rocks, and navigating down muddy and stony slopes.

The UT anthropology professor’s work has paid off in the form of big discoveries—and now a big award.

Simek’s article, “Prehistoric Rock Art from Painted Bluff and the Landscape of North Alabama Rock Art,” published in the academic journal Southeastern Archaeology, has won the 2013 Patty Jo Watson Award, presented by the Southeastern Archaeological Conference. The award is given for best article or book chapter on southeastern archaeology. The chapter was coauthored by Alan Cressler of the US Geological Survey and Nicholas Herrmann of Mississippi State University.

prehistoric-art

Prehistoric painted pictographs in red and orange at Painted Bluff, Alabama.

The research, led by Simek, president emeritus of the UT system and a Distinguished Professor of Science, describes a remarkable prehistoric rock art site along the Tennessee River in northern Alabama that, although known since the nineteenth century, has never been completely documented.  Working with the Tennessee Valley Authority, the authors of the paper show how the eighty elaborate and beautiful rock paintings from the site reflect the ancient religious beliefs of the Mississippian peoples who made them sometime around AD 1300.

“This award named for a ‘grande dame’ of American Archaeology is noteworthy for Jan and his colleagues,” said Theresa Lee, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. “This long-term research project led by Professor Simek and his colleagues helps us better understand the rock art of the southeastern United States,  providing a window into the world views of the prehistoric indigenous peoples of the region.”

The Southeastern Archaeological Conference is one of the oldest organizations of American archaeology. The award, presented earlier this month, is the first given in honor of Patty Jo Watson. Watson, a renowned American archaeologist who has worked extensively on the pre-Columbian cave archaeology of the southeastern United States, not only set new standards in the practice of archaeology but is also one of America’s most highly regarded scientists. This award honors her vast contributions to Southeastern archaeology—and has special meaning to the authors.

“This is a great honor for us, especially since Pat Watson, an archaeologist and member of the National Academy, has been a role model and mentor in different ways to all three of the authors,” said Simek. “Being the first recipients of an award named for a scholar who was always so supportive and encouraging of young archaeologists as they developed their careers, including us, is especially gratifying.”

C O N T A C T:

Whitney Heins (865-974-5460, wheins@utk.edu)