A Virtual Tour of Sellars Farm State Archaeological Area

By: Megan E. Belcher, Graduate Student in Anthropology, Washington University in St. Louis

            During my senior year at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, I jumped at the chance to take a class Dr. Kandi Hollenbach, Assistant Professor in the Department of Anthropology and curator of Paleoethnobotany at the McClung Museum, entitled “Public Heritage and Community Archaeology.” There, our class was tasked with a project in which we developed a display or small exhibit for one of our Tennessee State Parks or state-owned archaeological sites. I instantly knew I wanted to do my project on Sellars Farm State Archaeological area, a lesser know archaeological site in Middle Tennessee, conveniently located in my hometown of Lebanon. I decided to create a virtual tour of the site, which is one of the lesser visited archaeological areas in Tennessee, so anyone can explore Sellars Farm from the comfort of their homes.

            The application I used is ESRI Storymaps, a digital, interactive program that is open source and free to everyone, and hosts the virtual tour online: http://arcg.is/1O8SO8. This creates an opportunity for those who don’t have the means, resources, or time to physically visit Sellars Farm, to at least get a taste of what the site is. This is especially important for teachers as they have little to no field trips. Here, they can go through the story map with their students without ever leaving their classrooms. Additionally, because the information boards are about a fourth of a mile from the site, visitors to Sellars Farm can look at the story map on a mobile device while walking around the site. This would be a great socially distanced activity!

Depiction of Sellars Farm by artist James V. Miller.

Sellars Farm was occupied during the Mississippian period site (around 1,000 to 1,500 AD) based off many unearthed artifacts found there like elaborate ceramic and stone vessels, steatite pipes, projectile points, and beads. The people that lived there were successful farmers, fishermen, hunters, and artisans.

Depiction of the type of housing structures present at Sellars Farm by James V. Miller.

Their village consisted of many square houses, a plaza for games and ceremonies, a platform mound, and many other smaller mounds. After the site was abandoned around 1,300 A.D., the area was used for farmland by European settlers.

Mississippian stone figurine from Wilson County Tennessee recovered from Sellars Farm (photo by David H. Dye).

One unique find from Sellars Farm is the figurine featured in the image above: a kneeling male figurine approximately 18.5 inches tall. The figurine is thought to have been carved by a Native American artist out of siltstone between approximately 1250 and 1350 A.D. Dr. Kevin Smith and James Miller (2009) state that the figurine follows the Tennessee-Cumberland style depicted by other recovered statues in the area and is one of the most “intricately and realistically portrayed statues discovered to date.” The figurine has held the title of Tennessee’s State Artifact since 2014, and is on display at the McClung Museum of Natural History and Culture in Knoxville, TN.

Map of Sellars Farm prepared for Putnam in 1877 (Courtesy of Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, Harvard).

Frederic Ward Putnam, an archaeologist from Harvard University, first investigated the site in 1877. The Tennessee Division of Archaeology also conducted excavations at Sellars Farm in 1974, 1977, and 1981. Since then, Sellars Farm has been preserved and is now under the responsibility of the Tennessee state government.

If you would like to take a virtual tour of Sellars Farm, copy and paste this link into your internet browser: http://arcg.is/1O8SO8. I would like to thank Michael C. Moore and Dr. Hollenbach for their feedback on my storymap.


Butler, Brian M. 

1981    Sellars: A Small Mound Center in the Hinterlands. Tennessee Anthropologist 6(1):27-36.

Moore, Micheal C., and Kevin E. Smith 

2009    Archaeological Expeditions of the Peabody Museum in Middle Tennessee, 1877-1884. Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, Division of Archaeology, Research Series No. 16, revised 2012. 

Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation

2019    Sellars Farm State Archaeological Area. State Archaeological Parks and Areas website, accessed December 9th, 2019, https://www.tn.gov/environment/program-areas/arch-archaeology/state-archaeological-parks—areas/sellars-farm-state-archaeological-area.html

Tennessee History For Kids, Inc

2019    Sellars Farm Virtual Tour. Accessed December 9th, 2019, http://www.tnhistoryforkids.org/history/virtual-tours/virtual-tours/sellars-farm.2461697

Smith, Kevin E. and James V. Miller

2009    Speaking with the Ancestors: Mississippian Stone Statuary of the Tennessee Cumberland Region. University of Alabama Press, Tuscaloosa.

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