Friday, December 6, 2013

Here Lies Bonita, UTK Pup

Before the summer began and Poggio Colla's excavation became my primary blogging topic, I was engaged in a mini-project about what I dubbed 'heirloom archaeology.' This referred to locally significant objects in a domestic structure inhabited for over 60 years by my family. When it came to the blog, I never quite made it inside the house, mostly focusing on historically interesting objects outside in the yard, such as plantsreligious images, and tools.

There is one class of items that I did not address, however, yet an emotional and archaeologically significant one: sixty years worth of pets. Most recently Tigger, after bravely falling in battle against stray dogs, joined his predecessors in the garden. My aunt and uncle's house is not unusual in this regard, and I recently came across an unexpected example here at UTK.

I should note first that it's only been in recent years that theorists have begun to reconsider the common divide between mortuary and domestic archaeology. While cemeteries were often separated out from living areas (the tombs located outside ancient city gates being illustrative examples), ever since Jericho bodies have been buried within houses. Indeed, sometimes they ARE houses. Kostis Kourelis, for example, conceptualized the Byzantine house as one constructed not just of harder architectural materials, but one built from the organic materials of flesh, bone, and burials.The living and the lost inhabit the same space in the archaeological record far more frequently than previously recognized.

I've been thinking about mortuary archaeology lately thanks to UTK's campus, which provides several examples of a rather thought-provoking nature. First, there's the Woodland-era Native American burial mound in the UT gardens, which might date back to the 7th c. CE. Then there is the Body Farm with its in-situ remains studied by students working in forensic anthropology, together with over 2,500 human skeletons stored under the football stadium in the anthro department.

And then there is the modern burial of that domestic pet next to the library, in what used to be the back garden of the Tyson family's home. The Neoclassical ('Colonial Classic') Tyson House is now part of the campus' office building collection. No Tysons live in it any longer and the six acres of their luxurious property, complete with a ballroom for their daughter's 1913 debut, has in the hundred years since its construction been swallowed up by the campus. That daughter Isabella had a puppy who, supposedly, her father brought home to her from a military stint in Puerto Rico. Named Bonita, the puppy would be lovingly interred in a back garden, much like pets today.

The former back garden with the back of the yellow Tyson House.

Little Bonita's grave would be attached to the deed when Isabella sold the house in the 30s, with the result that all future owners must leave it inviolate. My first thought on learning about little Bonita's spot was that it seems like a great comparative example for teachers covering ancient sanctuaries and abatons. The beautiful back garden of the Tyson home, where the city elite wandered at the beginning of the last century, is now a parking lot. A parking lot with this strange thing under a shady tree:

Here lies Bonita.

There's no inscription, there's no image, no marker with an Ode to Puppies, flowering bushes, red ferns, or other such clues as to what lies beneath. There is nothing whatsoever to indicate to the passing students that such an interesting (and rather touching) remnant of history rests here, on their path to Starbucks.

Just a boundary marker and a blank stone. I have to say its a bit strange to me that this is the case, especially at a university with a mascot that's a dog! If nothing else, it's certainly a reminder about memory, mortuary archaeology, and how easy it is to forget.

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