Astragalus Dice Games

30 Days of Tennessee Archaeology, Day 25

David Dye
University of Tennessee, Memphis

Over the past several years, I have been accumulating data on a bone artifact that I think may have been used as ancient dice. These bone dice were crafted from the astragalus or knuckle bones of bison, deer, and elk , with sides being ground into straight-sided cubes; it is unknown whether they were painted with designs of not.

Dice games were once widespread throughout Native American communities of North America, being played by men and women, not only for recreation, but also as important components of ritual practice. In Tennessee, the use of astragalus dice dates between approximately A.D. 1350 and 1450 during the Mississippian period in the Middle Cumberland Valley.

Historic accounts of eastern North American populations suggest dice gaming was associated with men and women in distinct, yet complementary, forms, with each gender having specific ceramics, deities, and rituals. Women were associated with female effigies, which represented guardian spirits that were venerated. In this sense, women appear to have employed effigy bottles as an essential part of rituals, which also included dice gaming to honor their individual guardian spirits. Women’s guardian spirits, when honored through dice gaming rituals, provided health and longevity.

Men interred with astragalus dice may have engaged in high-stakes gaming to emulate the activities of culture heroes, such as Morning Star, Red Horn, Storms-as-He-Walks, Turtle, and the Hero Twins. The mortal combat of these culture heroes with powerful antagonists, especially cannibals, giants, and monsters during the “dawn time,” often entailed trophy-taking, especially heads and scalps.

While astragalus dice frequently accompany adults in mortuary contexts, the majority are found with subadults. The presence of astragalus dice in children’s graves alerts us to the possibility of ritual practice, rather than children’s games. Children, as members of ritual societies, would have been buried with dice as a form of supplication or veneration of ancestors, deities, and guardian spirits. The emphasis on rebirth and reincarnation through dice games were primarily ritual acts that brought children, deities, and humans into a covenant of guardianship and sponsorship.

Through much of North America, dice games in general lost their ritual significance and were gradually diminished among many indigenous groups due to government and missionary prohibitions against gaming and gambling. Nonetheless, ritual dice games are still enjoyed by some native people, including the Oklahoma Seneca-Cayuga, who play the seed dice game during their annual Green Corn ceremony.


Investigations of Early Woodland Contexts at the 2018 UT Cherokee Farm Field School

30 Days of Tennessee Archaeology, Day 24

Kandi Hollenbach
University of Tennessee, Knoxville

During the 2018 May mini-term, seven field school students and a bevy of volunteers followed me into knee-high brambles, weeds, and poison ivy to investigate Early Woodland contexts at the Cherokee Farm site (40KN45) on the UT-Knoxville’s high-tech campus.

I am interested in the transition between the Late Archaic and Early Woodland periods in East Tennessee.  By the end of the Late Archaic period (ca. 3000-1000 BC), Native American groups across the Midwest and Midsouth had domesticated several plants and were growing them across the region.  These include squash (Cucurbita pepo), sunflower (Helianthus annuus), marshelder or sumpweed (Iva annua), and goosefoot or chenopod (Chenopodium berlandieri).  They also grew other crops, including maygrass (Phalaris caroliniana) and little barley (Hordeum pusillum), that do not show markers for domestication but were clearly cultivated alongside the domesticated plants.

Here in East Tennessee, Late Archaic groups were cooking these seed crops in soapstone bowls and likely storing them in relatively large pit features (see Wells et al. 2014).  But archaeologists generally associate the succeeding Early Woodland period (roughly 1000-200 BC) with significant change in cultural practices. Early Woodland groups are the first in this area to widely make and use pottery. Archaeologists generally tie use of pottery to more sedentary lifestyles, as mobile groups are not likely to bother with toting relatively heavy, relatively fragile ceramic vessels along with them.  Indeed, the Early Woodland period is also the first for which we see postholes in East Tennessee, suggesting that they first began building more substantial structures at this time (see Chapman 1994; Driskell and Norrell 2015).

So I was hoping to excavate several Early Woodland storage pit and cooking features at Cherokee Farm with the 2018 May mini-term field school so that we could get a better idea of how Early Woodland groups living along this stretch of the Tennessee River had adapted their lifestyles to farming crops like chenopod and maygrass.  We opened up several features on the second river terrace that had been identified during previous testing of the site in 2008, prior to the development of the Innovation Campus by UT.  We also used ground-penetrating radar (GPR) to try to locate additional features in areas outside of the areas exposed in 2008.


Field school students excavating a large pit feature in 1-m-x-1-m units.

The students and volunteers did excellent work over our short three weeks in the field.  Plagued by bramble roots, our GPR data better reflected those places where the radar antenna could not make good contact with the ground due to vegetation.  And our features yielded few artifacts, mostly a handful of small ceramic sherds and chert flakes associated with stone tool manufacture.  However, some of the best Woodland artifacts came from a historic cellar that we excavated, dating to the mid 19th century. We did excavate a set of features associated with heavy burning, including an area of highly oxidized clay and a large amount of wood charcoal.  But the amorphous nature of the base of the pit features suggests that either they had been disturbed by burrowing creatures or that they represent a tree (or trees) that had been burned in place.  We are analyzing the plant remains to see if the charcoal recovered does indeed represent a single species.


Feature with heavily oxidized clay and charcoal.

In addition to the excavations, the students prepared a garden plot at the UT Gardens and planted a set of domesticated chenopod seeds (C. berlandieri var. nuttalliae, or red Aztec spinach) closely related to those that would have been grown by Early Woodland groups at Cherokee Farm.


Students planting chenopod (by stomping it into the newly cleared dirt) at UT Gardens.

On the last day of the field school, we hosted a Public Day, where the students prepared a set of posters providing an overview of our work at the site and the garden.  We had roughly two dozen people visit the site before we were rained out.

By some metrics, the field school results are not particularly impressive.  We investigated six features, one of which was a historic cellar and another of which appears to be a tree burn.  All of the artifacts and floatation samples could fit in two curation boxes.  And the small garden plot only yielded three chenopod plants.  But those features and artifacts were used to train seven undergraduate students, three graduate students, and eight volunteers in excavation and lab techniques, and introduced them to GPR.  They also served as opportunities for another dozen volunteers to engage with the artifacts in the lab, through washing, sorting, counting, and weighing.  And I have used the leaved of the three chenopod plants to demonstrate how this “lost crop” tastes to students who are currently taking my Paleoethnobotany class this fall, as well as several dozen attendees at the Cherokee Archaeology Symposium, hosted by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians in Cherokee, NC.

The field season also taught me that this second river terrace (or at least this spot along it) was sparsely used by Early Woodland peoples, so I will turn my efforts to locations along the first terrace in my next investigations.  But just as importantly, it has given me opportunities to talk with students, volunteers, the interested public, and some of the descendants of these Early Woodland groups about the rich heritage of East Tennessee.


One of our chenopod plants, with its tasty goosefoot-shaped leaves.

Suggested Readings:

Chapman, Jefferson. 1994 (revised edition). Tellico Archaeology: 12,000 Years of Native American History.  University of Tennessee Press, Knoxville.

Driskell, Boyce N., and Robert J. Norrell. 2015. Tuckaleechee Cove: A Passage through Time. University of Tennessee Press, Knoxville.

Wells, Edward W., III, Sarah C. Sherwood, and Kandace D. Hollenbach. 2014. Soapstone Vessel Chronology and Function in the Southern Appalachians of Eastern Tennessee: The Apple Barn Site (40BT90) Assemblage. Southeastern Archaeology 33(2):153-167.


Take This into Account: The Cultural Landscape of African American Community Formation Post-Emancipation

30 Days of Tennessee Archaeology, Day 23

Zada Law
Director, Fullerton Laboratory for Spatial Technology
Department of Geosciences, Middle Tennessee State University

Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) requires Federal agencies to “take into account” (emphasis added) the effects of their actions “on any district, site, building, structure, or object that is included in or eligible for inclusion in” the National Register of Historic Places.

Part of our mission at MTSU’s Fullerton Laboratory for Spatial Technology is to advance the use of geospatial methods for historical and archaeological research and conservation. Our goal is to add to our knowledge of Tennessee’s historic cultural landscape – both above and below ground – that ultimately can be “taken into account” in the Section 106 process and beyond by connecting primary source material with geographical locations in free interactive mapping applications for use by students, educators, archaeologists, preservationists, planners, and the general public.

Since 2014, we’ve focused on mapping Tennessee’s African American cultural landscape to raise awareness and elevate its visibility. Our initial effort, Landscape of Liberation, was a collaboration with the Tennessee State Library and Archives to show the locations of Civil War era sites in Tennessee such as contraband camps, freedmen schools, labor impressment locations, and recruitment and mustering locations for the United States Colored Troops.

But what about the African American geography of the post-Civil War period?

In  “Sacred Spaces of Faith, Community, and Resistance” (Nieves and Alexander, eds. We Shall Independent Be: African American Place Making and the Struggle to Claim Space in the United States, University Press of Colorado, 2008), Dr. Carroll Van West wrote: “Upon freedom, African Americans of the 1860s quickly sought to create new physical spaces that belonged to them and reflected their values. Besides homes for their families, they rushed to create three institutions in particular: churches, cemeteries, and schools. African Americans typically clustered these institutions close together, with the church invariably as the focal point (indeed, it often doubled as the school building) surrounded by their homes and businesses.”


Pruitt Hill African American church and cemetery (behind church). Steps to school that once stood on the site remain (2018).

West’s hypothesis – that the nexus of these three institutions, as well as fraternal lodges and businesses, was the basis for early African American communities in Tennessee – is the starting point for a project currently underway at the Fullerton Lab to develop a visualization tool for the African American cultural landscape of the post-Civil War period.

Funded by a grant from the Tennessee Civil War National Heritage Area, “Places, Perspectives: African American Community-building in Tennessee, 1860-1920” project is a three-county prototype for a statewide historical geography of African American communities in Tennessee.

With a focus on one county in each part of Tennessee – Greene County in East Tennessee, Maury County in Middle Tennessee, and Hardeman County in West Tennessee – “Places, Perspectives” is developing an online, interactive and easily usable digital research platform that highlights the presence of these clusters of African American community institutions that emerged in the post-Civil War period and still dot the Tennessee landscape.

Primary source documents, photographs, and first-hand accounts are serving as evidence in the creation of a mapped landscape linked to primary sources that will be freely available to the public through the digital collections at MTSU’s James E. Walker Library.

Our strategy for the creation of this online collection and mapping platform includes filling out the historical record with additional research and contextual material and examining the locations of these institutional clusters through a variety of lenses–from military geography to transportation networks to economic imperatives.

In all three counties, community historians have stepped in to share knowledge based upon years of “boots on the ground” research. We’ve also met with community members and elders who carry first-hand information about these communities in their memories and have graciously driven with us to show us exact locations where churches, schools, cemeteries, and lodges once stood.


Community  members locating sites  in Greene County TN, September 2018.

For the past 10 months, my MTSU colleagues, Susan Knowles from the Center for Historic Preservation and Ken Middleton from the James E. Walker Library, and I have been “drinking from a firehose” trying to record, visit, photograph, research, and follow the historical threads embodied in these sites.

We’ve learned that while some communities have clear links to formerly enslaved individuals and some are near former locations of Civil War federal outposts, encampments, or freedmen’s camps, many may have been created in out of the way locations as expressions of resistance, while those in more prominent places may represent landowners, local school or church leaders, and outside supporters.

Whatever their origins, these separate African American cemeteries, churches, and schools bear witness to the formation of sustainable community bonds that survive in historical memory, if not on a current map.

However, these cultural sites can be hard to recognize. Cemeteries may be overgrown or the church or school building that once stood on the site has been demolished. And the histories of these African American communities are often not recorded in local histories or county cemetery surveys. As Michel-Rolph Trouillot observed in Silencing the Past (1995), whether “silences” concerning past occurrences are deliberate or inadvertent, they skew our perception of the past.


New Hope African American school, church, and cemetery cluster near Greeneville, TN shown on 1936 Greeneville USGS topographic quadrangle, 1:24:000.


New Hope African American school, church, and cemetery sites, 2018.

Tennessee’s historic African American cultural landscape embodies a uniquely American story – from Civil War to Civil Rights – from enslavement to liberty – that deserves to be recognized and “taken in account.”

KRF look-a-likes in Tennessee

30 Days of Tennessee Archaeology, Day 22

Ryan M. Parish, PhD and Ellis Durham
University of Tennessee, Memphis

There often exist significant overlapping visual characteristics both within and between chert sources.  This fact coupled with our propensity to identify raw materials as exotic potentially causes misidentifications of prehistoric stone artifacts.  In turn, the identification or misidentification of chert artifacts leads to conclusions regarding social networks, mobility, and human behavior that may be unsound.  Knife River Flint (KRF) was a widely utilized and circulated tool stone in the northern Great Plains throughout the entire prehistoric record.  It is a common material type found in artifact assemblages throughout North Dakota and into Canada.  KRF is also a material type identified on sites in Maine and Florida and just about every state in between.  In Tennessee, KRF is rarely but occasionally identified usually as projectile points and other curated artifacts.  Are these artifacts really made from KRF, the source of which is located over 2,000 km (1,400 miles) away?


Figure 1.  KRF and Tennessee look-a-like flakes.  Can you guess which is which? *

Visually, KRF is said to be pretty distinctive, a translucent fine grained amber, root beer, beer bottle glass colored material sometimes with small white fossil inclusions.

However, researchers in the source region identify visually similar varieties of chert, chalcedony, petrified wood, and silicified peat.  The main prehistoric procurement sites of KRF occur in Dunn and Mercer County, ND as secondary gravel deposits thought to belong to the glaciated/eroded Golden Valley Formation. Glacial and alluvial deposits of KRF extend southeastward from Montana to Iowa.   The historically documented Hidatsa and Mandan tribes maintained a broad trade network within which KRF was exported although the true extent of which has yet to be confirmed using analytical techniques in most regions.


Figure 2. The Dodge Quarry site, ND. A typical undulating procurement site where KRF was dug out of the soil matrix. Sites such as this are common in Dunn and Mercer Counties. 

As Barbara Luedtke used to assert, ‘assume a local source first’, we must be critical of KRF claims in Tennessee.  What, if any chert sources in Tennessee or vicinity could be similar in description? First, before we speculate on possible local look-a-likes let’s briefly recap major toolstone sources in Tennessee.  The Central Basin (Nashville) contains older Silurian and Ordovician carbonate sources such as Brassfield (waxy, green/blue/gray/orange) and Bigby Cannon (fine grained, laminated brown/black).  Camden chert, Devonian in age, occurs just west of the Central Basin and provides a medium grained white chert with opaque inclusions.  The Western and Eastern Highland Rim contains abundant Mississippian epoch aged Fort Payne (coarse to fine grained white/tan/mottled brown/dark gray), Warsaw (fossiliferous blue/gray), St. Louis (waxy, green/blue/gray), and Ste. Genevieve/Monteagle (waxy, blue, gray) sources.  Cretaceous gravels; Horse Creek (medium grained tan/red/yellow/gray) exist along the Tennessee River at the edge of the Highland Rim and Coastal Plain of southern Tennessee, northeastern Mississippi, and northwestern Alabama.  The Coastal Plain in western Tennessee is dominated by Pliocene Upland Complex gravel (medium grained tan/brown) sources.  Finally, the Valley and Ridge of eastern Tennessee has Ordovician sources such as Knox chert (fine grained translucent black/blue) and quartzite (medium grained white/tan).

Though the authors do not claim to have conducted an exhaustive survey of tool stone sources, a fair amount of time visiting, surveying, and sampling various sources allows us to offer up a speculation of local KRF look-a-likes.  The extensive and diverse gravel deposits within and along the Mississippi River contain chert that certainly provided prehistoric people with a wide selection of materials.  However, we have never observed chert gravels that are fine grained/waxy or translucent.  The multi-colored Cretaceous gravels at the northern inflection point of the Tennessee River likewise do not contain material similar to KRF.  Neither do the Valley and Ridge sources appear to provide a visual match for KRF despite the range of white/opaque/blue/black translucent varieties present.  A match has not currently been observed in the Ordovician, Silurian, and Devonian chert sources of the Central Basin and vicinity.

That leaves the Mississippian aged sources of the Highland Rim, varieties of which overlap visually with KRF.  Specifically, the upper Fort Payne and lower Warsaw occasionally produces a root beer translucent chert with white fossil inclusions.  Also, both the Upper St. Louis and Ste. Genevieve/Monteagle sources are waxy and occasionally occur as tan/dark brown materials.  Some would refer to these varieties as a chalcedony. I would shy away from the use of the term chalcedony, as the KRF look-a-like materials do not appear to be dominated by a fibrous quartz crystalline structure.

The take away theme is this; that the many varieties of cherts that prehistoric people selected and used may sometimes have significant overlapping visual characteristics.  This fact makes identification of exotic material from long distances away appealing but potentially flawed.  The 240 lbs. of KRF collected from nine sources in North Dakota this summer may help us for the first time confirm or deny the presence of KRF in Tennessee using reflectance spectroscopy.


Figure 3.  Examples of KRF.  Note heavy blueish and white patina on some samples.

*Answer – KRF is the top sample.  The bottom two are probably a St. Louis chert variety.



Farther Down the Nolichucky: New Research at David Crockett Birthplace State Park

30 Days of Tennessee Archaeology, Day 21

Eileen G. Ernenwein and Reagan Cornett
East Tennessee State University

If you float down the Nolichucky River from it’s headwaters in western North Carolina, you will soon enter a steep, whitewater gorge in Tennessee, then cut through the Blue Ridge Mountains before emerging from a large gap into the Middle Nolichucky Valley. Eight miles from this gap, you arrive at the Cane Notch Site (40WG143) (Figure 1), a likely ancestral Overhill Cherokee town dating to the mid-16th century (see our 2016 blog post, and the Secrets of the Nolichucky River documentary).


Figure 1. Middle Nolichucky Valley showing Cane Notch, Runion, and David Crockett Birthplace State Park.

Ten miles farther downstream you enter a large meander bend and arrive at the Runion Site (40WG20), another mid-16th century Native American town (see our blog from last year on this, and Jay Franklin’s update this year) (Figure 1). Continuing down the river another five miles, you will find the perfect place to stop for a rest: David Crockett Birthplace State Park (40GN12) (DCBSP), where we have just begun a new research project. Will we find another prehistoric or contact-era village? There are, in fact, many other known sites along this stretch of the river, including others possibly contemporaneous with Cane Notch and Runion (see Nathan Shreve’s post from earlier this month). We are certain that there have been people living on this landscape for thousands of years, but uncertain what we will find preserved beneath the surface DCBSP.

History and Prehistory

Historically, this area is known as the 1786 birthplace of David Crockett, Tennessee’s famous frontiersman and congressman (Kennedy, 1995). It is also known as the Nolichucky Settlement, part of the Watauga Association and home to famous Tennesseans including Jacob Brown and John Sevier (Cox and Cox 2001).  In July of 1776, an impending Cherokee attack warranted the construction of Fort Lee, under the direction of Sevier, near the mouth of Big Limestone Creek (Cox and Cox 2001). Outnumbered, the settlers retreated to Fort Caswell on the Watauga River. The Cherokee then burned Fort Lee before attacking Fort Caswell, where they were ultimately defeated (Cox and Cox 2001). Jacob Brown had originally bought the land from the Cherokee, but it then was acquired by George Gillespie. Sometime after this, the Crockett family reportedly leased the land and built a cabin near the confluence of Big Limestone Creek and the Nolichucky River, in the same vicinity of the abandoned and burned Fort Lee (Kennedy 1995). The location of the cabin and fort have not been located (Smith 1980).

Sam Smith conducted archaeological excavations in the park in 1977 and found that historic plowing and flooding had disturbed historic and prehistoric features, but suggested that deeper features such as storage pits and postholes might still be intact (Smith 1980). He recovered historic artifacts including metal, glass, bricks, personal adornments, and ceramics dating to 1824-1943. He also recovered prehistoric artifacts including limestone tempered cord-marked, sand-tempered cord-marked, and grit-tempered, fabric-impressed ceramics, indicating a Woodland occupation, as well as shell-tempered pottery and small triangular points indicating a Mississippian occupation.

We recently visited the park to look at items collected by park staff during regular site maintenance and found a range of materials from Late Archaic to Mississippian periods (Figures 2-3). We have also retrieved Smith’s collections from Nashville but have not yet examined or photographed them.


Figure 2. Park staff showed us artifacts that have surfaced in recent years when gardens have been plowed. These materials range in age from the late Archaic through the Mississippian periods. Pictured, L-R: Archaeologist S.D. Dean, ETSU Geosciences graduate student Reagan Cornett, Park Manager Jackie Fischer, and Park Ranger Sean McKay.


Figure 3. Ceramics and Lithics recently found in the gardens at DCBSP: (A) Lamoka projectile point (Late Archaic), (B) Lost Bear Creek projectile point (Late Archaic), (C) grit-tempered, cord-marked pottery sherds (Woodland), (D) two grit-tempered, fabric-marked pottery sherds (Woodland), (E) Nolichucky projectile point (Late Woodland), (F) Madison projectile point (Mississippian), and (G) Pisgah projectile point (Mississippian).

Clearly DCBSP has a rich historic and prehistoric past. Our plan this fall is to survey the site with ground penetrating radar, magnetometry, and electromagnetic induction (Figure 4), which we hope will enable us to see features buried beneath the surface. We will then select areas for excavation to date past occupations and better understanding the many peoples who have lived on this landscape.


Figure 4. We have begun to test ground-penetrating radar (left) and magnetometry (center) at DCBSP. Soon we will also test electromagnetic induction (right). These instruments measure different soil properties in the ground down to about 1.5 meters below the ground surface.

References cited

Cox, Joyce and W. Eugene Cox. 2001. History of Washington County Tennessee. Washington County Historical Association, Inc. The Overmountain Press. Johnson City, Tennessee.

Kennedy, Billy. 1995. The Scots-Irish in the Hills of Tennessee. Causeway Press: London

Smith, Samuel D. 1980. Historical Background and Archaeological Testing of the Davy Crockett Birthplace State Historic Area, Greene County, Tennessee. Research Series No. 6. Report prepared for the Tennessee Department of Conservation. Nashville, Tennessee. 67 pages.


This research is supported by a grant from the Tennessee Historical Commission. We are grateful for the continued support of Park Manager Jackie Fischer and Park Rangers Nate Dodson and Sean McKay.



Revisiting the Mialoquo Site (40MR3): Previous Archaeological Investigations and Current Research

30 Days of Tennessee Archaeology, Day 20

Christian D. Allen
University of Tennessee, Knoxville

Between 1967 and 1979 nine Overhill Cherokee archaeological sites were excavated by the University of Tennessee’s Department of Anthropology. One of those archaeological sites was the Mialoquo site (40MR3) which is situated on the Little Tennessee River in Monroe County, TN (Figure 1).


Figure 1: Google maps image and overlain shape file of the Mialoquo site and adjacent Rose Island. Mialoquo is located north of the modern city of Vonore, TN in Monroe County.

The site was first recorded in 1762 by Lt. Henry Timberlake (King 2007; Williams 1927), see Aaron Deter-Wolf’s 30 Days of Tennessee Archaeology post Ethnohistory, Archaeology, and Lt. Henry Timberlake for more information on the importance of Timberlake to east Tennessee archaeology. Between 1761 and its’ eventual abandonment ca. 1776-77 the Overhill Cherokee town grew in population size, evident from the construction of a townhouse not documented on Timberlake’s 1761 Map (figure 2).


Figure 2: Timberlake’s Map of Cherokee Towns in the Little Tennessee River valley. Image courtesy of McClung Museum of Natural History and Culture.

The first archaeological investigation near the site of Mialoquo occurred sometime between 1885 and 1889 by J.W. Emmert and James D. Middleton, under the direction of Cyrus Thomas (Thomas 1894). These excavations focused on nearby mounds, but Emmert “observed indications of a former village partly on the land about the mound and partly on an island [Rose Island]” (Thomas 1894:389). In 1971 and 1973-1974 excavations on Rose Island (40MR44), adjacent to Mialoquo, were conducted as part of the Tellico Archaeological Project. Directed first by Paul Gleeson (1971:5-6) then by Dr. Jefferson Chapman (1975) the excavations demonstrated an Archaic and Woodland occupation at the northern end of the island, but no Cherokee artifacts were recovered.

Since Timberlake’s first witness in 1761, the Cherokee town of Mialoquo had not been documented. In the Fall of 1976, Dr. Gerald Schroedl and field team conducted test excavations at the suspected location of Mialoquo (figure 3). The resulting excavation yielded multiple features and physical evidence of historic Cherokee settlement. Finally, in 1977, an extension on the inundation of the reservoir allowed for additional testing at the Mialoquo site (Russ and Chapman 1983). Between January and April of 1977 eight Cherokee structures, including an octagonal townhouse, were excavated (figures 4-6). The Tellico Reservoir project was completed in December of 1979 inundating the site.


Figure 3: Southern view of the Mialoquo site prior to field excavations. Image courtesy of McClung Museum of Natural History and Culture.

Mialoquo has received relatively little attention academically compared to other nearby Cherokee towns excavated nearly concurrently, like Chota (40MR2), Tanasee (40MR62), Citico (40MR7) and Toqua (40MR6). Due to this, I was interested in developing a better understanding of Mialoquo’s spatial layout and social composition. I employ both ethnohistoric and archaeological lines of evidence to achieve this. Archaeologically, I am focusing on the ceramic assemblage from Mialoquo, I utilize portable X-ray Florescence (pXRF), an analytical technique described by Erika Lyle in her 30 Days of Tennessee Archaeology post Hiwassee Island: Absorbed Residue Analysis and pXRF with Legacy Collection Ceramics. In short, this instrument allows for the near-instantaneous viewing of the elemental composition of material objects. In ceramics, this technique is useful in determining if the clay source, from which pottery vessels are manufactured, are similar or dissimilar between pottery sherds. This can be useful for both intra- and inter-site variation analysis.


Figure 4: Contour Map of Mialoquo Locale. Image source Russ and Chapman (1983:3).

The trajectory of ceramic development in various independent Cherokee communities and town clusters was not static. In fact, it appears that at least two discernable areas of development within the Cherokee homelands occurred, producing two very diverse ceramics styles referred to as the Qualla ceramic series (Egloff 1967; Riggs and Rodning 2002; Rodning 2004:312) and the Overhill ceramic series (Bates 1985; Egloff 1967; Lewis et al. 1995; Schroedl 1986). The development of these ceramic series can be envisioned geographically as bounded by either side of the Appalachian mountain range, whereby the Qualla ceramic series developed to the east in the modern states of North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia and the Overhill ceramic series developed west of the Appalachians in the east Tennessee area. It is important to note that this approach to ceramic studies acknowledges that ceramics and ceramic design sequences do not necessarily represent social groups. Instead, it is understood that the surface treatments, tempering agents, and sources of clay are all material expressions that help interpret the relationship between communities and the interactions with different community groups.


Figure 5: Area Map of Mialoquo townhouse (structure 7). Image source Russ and Chapman (1983:14).


Figure 6: Area Map of domestic structures 1, 2, 3, and 8 excavated at Mialoquo. Image source Russ and Chapman (1983:12).

An important part of this work has been the recognition that in the early seventeenth and eighteenth centuries AD, Cherokee settlements in western North and South Carolina and northern Georgia coalesced with Overhill Cherokee communities in east Tennessee, coming together into a number of towns along the lower Little Tennessee River valley (Baden 1983; Corkran 1962; Ethridge 2006; Marcoux 2008, 2010; Rodning 2002, 2008). Mialoquo, established ca. 1760, intersects this period of Cherokee community coalescence. To understand the social composition and spatial layout of the town as a community of coalesced individuals and family groups I attempt to address the following questions: Were households homogenous in one ceramic type (Qualla series or Overhill series)? Were households utilizing the same clay source(s) for manufacturing pots? What is the spatial relationship between households and corresponding ceramic data? Is there any evidence of blending communities of practice at Mialoquo?

The primary analysis of ceramics from Mialoquo included a total of 6,677 sherds and their typological identification by Russ and Chapman (1983) suggests that there were at least two communities of practice present at Mialoquo. At present pXRF data collection on the ceramic assemblage from the site is ongoing.

Baden, William W., Chapman, Jefferson, Carnes-Mcnaughton, Linda F, Glassman, David M.
1983 Tomotley: An Eighteenth Century Cherokee Village. Tennessee Valley Authority. University of Tennessee.
Bates, James F.
1985 Aboriginal Ceramic Artifacts. In Overhill Cherokee Archaeology at Chota-Tanasee. Chapter 6. Edited by Gerald F. Schroedl. Tennessee Valley Authority. University of Tennessee. Report of Investigation 38.
Chapman, Jefferson
1975 The Rose Island site and the bifurcate point tradition. Department of Anthropology, University of Tennessee, Report of Investigations 14.
Corkran, David H.
1962 The Cherokee frontier: conflict and survival, 1740-62. University of Oklahoma Press, Norman.
Egloff, Brian
1967 An Analysis of Ceramics from Historic Cherokee Towns. Unpublished Master’s thesis, Department of Anthropology, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.
Ethridge, Robbie
2006 Creating the Shatterzone: Indian Slave Traders and the Collapse of the Southeastern Chiefdoms. In Light on the Path: The Anthropology and History of the Southeastern Indians, edited by Thomas J. Pluckhahn and Robbie Ethridge, pp. 207-218. University of Alabama Press, Tuscaloosa.
Gleeson, Paul F. (edito)
1971 Archaeological Investigations in the Tellico Reservoir: Interim report 1970. Department of Anthropology, University of Tennessee, Report of Investigation 9.
King, Duane H. (editor)
2007 The Memoirs of Lt. Henry Timberlake: The Story of a Soldier, Adventurer and Emissary to the Cherokees, 1756-1765. Museum of the Cherokee Indian Press, Cherokee, NC
Lewis, Thomas M. N., Madeline D. Kneburg, and Lynne P. Sullivan
1995 The Prehistory of the Chickamauga Basin. University of Tennessee, Press.
Marcoux, Jon C.
2008 Cherokee Households and Communities in the English Contact Period, A.D. 1670-1740. Ph.D. dissertation, Department of Anthropology, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.
2010 Pox, Empire, Shackles, and Hides: The Townsend Site 1670-1715. University of Alabama Press, Tuscaloosa.
Riggs, Brett H. and Christopher B. Rodning
2002 Cherokee ceramic traditions of southwestern North Carolina, ca. A.D. 1400-2002: a preface to “the last of the Iroquois potters”. North Carolina Archaeology. Vol. 51.
Rodning, Christopher C.
2002 Reconstructing the Coalescence of Cherokee Communities in Southern Appalachia. In The Transformation of the Southeastern Indians 1540-1760. Edited by Robbie Ethridge and Charles Hudson. University Press of Mississippi, Jackson, MS.
2004 The Cherokee Town at Coweeta Creek. Ph.D. Dissertation, Department of Anthropology, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.
2008 Temporal Variation in Qualla Pottery at Coweeta Creek. North Carolina Archaeology 57:1-41.
Russ, Kurt C. and Jefferson Chapman
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Archaeological Legacy Data at TDOT

30 Days of Tennessee Archaeology, Day 19

Phil Hodge
TDOT Archaeology Program Manager

The Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) hired its first archaeologist in 1976 and has maintained an archaeological program and staff ever since. In that time, TDOT archaeologists have reviewed nearly 10,000 projects for impacts to archaeological sites and have worked in every county in the state, in every physiographic region, and across the entire range of human occupation from its Pleistocene inhabitants all the way through to late 19th century rural farmsteads and 20th century urban house lots. One advantage to a forty year old program is that you have an abundance of legacy data; the disadvantage is that many of these data are land-locked in physical collections, static legacy databases, or gray literature. While the IMPROVE Act and all of the new projects it is funding keeps us busier than ever, we are also working intermittently on three initiatives to organize the abundance of TDOT’s archaeological legacy data and make it available to agency archaeologists, researchers, students, and the interested public.

As with many other agencies and institutions, curation of physical collections of artifacts and associated records and photographs has been a long-term challenge at TDOT. For years, we curated collections from our projects with the Tennessee Division of Archaeology and with a variety of state universities, museums, and other institutions on a project by project basis. In the last decade however, we’ve both funded external curation facilities to house our legacy collections and taken on curation responsibilities internally at our lab in Nashville. For years, our lab served as a field office for our long-time Middle Tennessee archaeologist, Gary Barker. Sadly, Gary passed away in 2013 and the lab went largely unused in subsequent years. However, with the receipt of several large collections from recent excavation projects and in anticipation of new collections generated by the IMPROVE Act, we are working to convert the lab’s primary function to curation and collections management instead of analysis and office space. We have developed a new accessions policy and are working to inventory our on-hand collections. In addition to meeting our projects needs, our long-term goal is to make these collections available to researchers and students either through official loans or by hosting researchers in our lab.

Photo 1

TDOT’s Nashville curation facility under construction.

Like our physical collections, we also curate decades of project tracking data that consist primarily of project locations and survey results. These data are stored and accessed in static databases or spreadsheets and are difficult to query to determine if a new project has been previously surveyed for archaeological sites. To make these data more accessible, TDOT funded a research project with Middle Tennessee State University’s Geospatial Research Center to convert these static data to a dynamic, geospatial format. Having these data available in a GIS will allow us to easily review new project locations and quickly determine what has been previously surveyed and what hasn’t, and also direct us to any associated survey reports. It will also allow us to overlay supplementary data like land-use, hydrology, soils and geology to help determine the presence and potential for archaeological sites on TDOT projects. We piloted this system in 2016-2017, and researchers and student workers at MTSU have been working diligently ever since to complete the system and deliver it on schedule.

Photo 2

Screenshot of our legacy data GIS showing a sample of previously surveyed TDOT projects across the state.

The third leg of our legacy initiatives is the TDOT Publications in Archaeology series. Beginning in 1995, TDOT created a publications series with the goal of making the results of TDOT archaeological investigations available to the general public. These publications were primarily print reports of major excavation projects and were mailed to universities, public schools and libraries, local historical societies, and members of the public. Since the series began, we’ve published and printed, on average, one report every two years, with the most recent going to press in 2013. We hope to resurrect the publications series with a report on excavations at the historic period Perry House in Knox County. However, in the future, these reports will likely be published as PDFs and made available on TDOT’s website. We also hope to expand the range of our series to potentially involve abstracted versions of large survey projects, such as the State Route 52 surveys across the entire length of the upper Cumberland region, the Knoxville Beltway, State Route 13 across the Duck River Valley, State Route 40 in Polk County, or I-69 through West Tennessee, for example. While we have to redact site location information, the macro-level data these reports contain about site type and setting can make equally important contributions to our understanding of prehistoric and historic settlement and land-use across the state.

Photo 3

Cover of TDOT Publications in Archaeology, Number 13.

It is our hope that these initiatives, when completed, will combine to provide access to more than forty years of TDOT archaeological data in ways that can both inform the public and be applied in meaningful and useful ways to a wide range of archaeological questions. If you would like more information about TDOT Archaeology, please feel free to email me at