30 Days of Tennessee Archaeology, 2015: A Wrap Up

This morning we wrap up the 2015 blogfest with some thoughts from President Tanya Peres and Secretary-Treasurer Aaron Deter-Wolf.

Tanya M. Peres
President, Tennessee Council for Professional Archaeology

Bluff line overlooking the Cumberland River, October 2012.

Bluff line overlooking the Cumberland River, October 2012.

While we love fall, October 1st makes us a little bit sad because it means that the “30 Days of Tennessee Archaeology” blogfest is finished for another year. The TCPA membership has looked forward each day to the snippets of archaeology from across the state posted to the blog and Facebook in celebration of Tennessee Archaeology Awareness Month (TAAM). Judging by the metrics from both WordPress and Facebook that Aaron will discuss below, others from throughout Tennessee (and across the globe!) also tuned in for their daily dose of Tennessee Archaeology during the month of September. 

The numerous contributions from our colleagues working across the state kept the “30 Days” content fresh, timely, and something to look forward to everyday. Thank you one and all for taking time out of your busy schedules to write about the awesome work you are doing to protect and promote Tennessee’s cultural resources. In addition, this virtual event would not be possible without Aaron’s efficient and excellent organizational skills. He has agreed to take charge of it again next year, even though is term as TCPA Secretary/Treasurer will be over in January. THANK YOU AARON!  Most of all, thanks to our READERS – without you we are just preaching to the proverbial choir. We hope you have enjoyed the 2015 “30 Days of Tennessee Archaeology” blogfest as much as we have.

Finally, I should note that the celebration of archaeology in Tennessee does not – and should not! – end with the month of September. This coming weekend there are public archaeology events planned at both Old Stone Fort  and Sycamore Shoals State Parks, and our event calendar will continue to be updated throughout the year with new events and happenings. Be sure to follow us on Facebook for regular updates on archaeology in Tennessee and the Southeastern US, and mark your calendars for TAAM 2016!

Aaron Deter-Wolf
Secretary-Treasurer, Tennessee Council for Professional Archaeology

To begin with, I’d like to extend my thanks to the TCPA Executive Board for allowing me to organize this project for a second year. I also greatly appreciate the willingness of friends and colleagues to participate, and their tolerating my reminder emails and word count limits with good grace. The “30 Days” blogfest is a fun project, and I hope everyone out there has learned as much as I have about the fantastic breadth of archaeology taking place in Tennessee!

And now, some statistics.

The TCPA WordPress site has generally modest traffic of around 700 views each month from about 300-400 unique visitors. On the other hand, for the month of September 2015, the site picked up 10,864 views from 5,888 visitors! This is also a nice bump from the 2014 blogfest, which accumulated around 7,000 views from about 3,300 visitors. This means that from 2014 to 2015 individual readership for the “30 Days” project increased by about 90%, which is fantastic.

Global viewership for September, 2015

Global viewership for September, 2015

The most popular post this year was Heath Bailey’s contribution on the archaeology of the Smoky Mountains National Park, which as of midnight last night has accumulated a total of 1,458 views. The second most popular post this year was Shane Miller and Jesse Tune’s musings on lithics, which picked up 1,125 views. Viewership peaked on September 21st, with 758 visitors clicking through to Heath’s post. Finally, the project had a modest global reach this year! Of course the vast majority of traffic was from the United States (Canada came in second with 107 visitors), but individual posts found readership as far away as Serbia, Panama, Nepal, and Sri Lanka!

And now (briefly) for Facebook. The Day 1 post by Tanya reached the news feeds of >2K people, 108 of whom clicked through. Posts by Robert Connolly, Sarah Sherwood et al., the TAAM poster, Phil Hodge, Jay Franklin (twice!), Sarah Levithol, Marsha Welch, Shane Miller & Jesse Tune, Heath Bailey, Kandi Hollenback, Mark Crawford, and Lacey Fleming all reached the news feeds of >1K people, with between about 40 and 90 people clicking through. That exposure for both the project and for Tennessee archaeology would not have been possible without the assistance of those of you hitting “share.”  Thanks for the help!

I hope you all had a great month of Tennessee archaeology, and that your interest will continue beyond the end of the “30 Days” project. We’re always willing to accept blog posts, and would love to learn about public archaeology events in your area. Have a great fall, and I hope to see you at the Southeastern Archaeological Conference meeting in Nashville this November!

Advertisements

Tennessee Dog Burials

30 Days of Tennessee Archaeology 2015, Day 30

Lacey Fleming
University of Alberta

The puppy burial during excavation.

The puppy burial during excavation.

One afternoon in September 2004, as an undergraduate student working on a CRM project in eastern Davidson County, I was tasked with excavating what appeared to be an unremarkable circular feature. It was likely prehistoric given the site, and only visible because the soil inside the feature was considerably darker than the soil around it. Clearly it was evidence of some kind of past human activity, but we wouldn’t have any idea of what that might be until it was excavated. After half an hour of careful digging, what seemed to be the leg bones of a small, four-legged creature were visible. When I finished excavating, I realized I had uncovered the grave of a puppy, placed in the ground thousands of years ago, and—it seemed—with all the love and care a human might bury a beloved pet today.

I don’t know why it hadn’t occurred to me before that afternoon that dogs accompanied the first humans on their journey into the Americas, or that the people who arrived later arrived on the continent likely would be traveling with dogs as well. After all, the dog is considered the first domesticated animal—the available archaeological and genetic evidence indicates it joined forces with us at least 20,000 years ago. The dog would have been an important ally as humans spread across the Americas, in part because it:

  • is good at barking; this habit of most dogs serves as an alarm, a deterrent, or both, against predators
  • has an excellent sense of smell that makes them invaluable hunting partners
  • has a tendency to clean up human refuse, which helps to keep away scavenging animals

My fascination with this puppy’s burial blossomed into a larger research project as I learned more dogs were interred in a similar manner across the state of Tennessee. With many and various forms of assistance from MTSU’s Department of Sociology and Anthropology and the Tennessee Division of Archaeology, I was able to analyze the skeletal remains of the puppy, as well as those of nine dogs from four additional prehistoric contexts in Middle Tennessee, including both the Fernvale and Riverbend Prison sites. As a student of zooarchaeology, I was curious about the dogs’ size, and hoped I would be able to assign each to a sex and to determine how old they were at death. However, I was particularly interested in how the dogs had been regarded by humans during their lives. Were they merely pets, as their burials suggested?

During my analysis the following year, I read a paper by Walker et al. (2005) that discussed several dog burials from Dust Cave, a prehistoric site in northern Alabama. In that paper, they argued the Dust Cave dogs showed signs of having carried or hauled heavy items with their backs, an observation supported by an incredible amount of ethnohistoric data. Many of the Dust Cave dogs’ vertebral spinous processes (the knobby bits of bone you may feel as you pet a dog’s back) were deformed and/or misshapen. When archaeologists who study human or animal bone see these kinds of changes, we often attempt to identify what caused the bone to take on the new shape. Often these changes are linked to specific, habitual activities a human or animal carried out in life. These particular changes—or pathologies—prompted Walker and colleagues to consult with a group of university-based veterinary specialists who “unanimously concurred that the damage … was probably due to weight bearing down on that area of the dogs’ backs.” This means these dogs weren’t just pets or hunting companions—they were performing a crucial role in helping humans transport items across the landscape.

So of course I checked my dogs’ spinous processes. And wouldn’t you know … ?

Misshapen dog spinous processes from a site in middle Tennessee. Dogs that don’t carry or haul weight have perfectly straight spinous processes.

Misshapen dog spinous processes from a site in middle Tennessee. Dogs that don’t carry or haul weight have perfectly straight spinous processes.

In sum, five of the ten prehistoric dogs I examined showed considerable evidence for the weight-bearing pathology. Of those who exhibited the pathology, four were identified positively as male by the presence of a baculum, or penis bone, and also were estimated to be the largest individuals in my sample. Overall, the weight and size estimates for these dogs ranged from small to medium, roughly corresponding to the dimensions of the modern-day rat terrier and Finnish spitz breeds.

The hind legs of the Fernvale dog. Because the specimens are in correct anatomical position, the right leg is to the left of the frame.

The hind legs of the Fernvale dog. Because the specimens are in correct anatomical position, the right leg is to the left of the frame.

Interestingly, one of the dogs in my sample (from the Fernvale site in Williamson County) that didn’t have warped spinous processes experienced something else entirely. In 2012, I returned to this dog, a fully-grown male, whose right hind leg was severely misshapen. The ball-and-socket joint of the dog’s right hip was completely destroyed, yet showed signs of a naturally occurring repair. The dog’s upper leg bone also was broken, though it is not yet clear if this is related to his hip condition. Additionally, the dog’s lower right leg bones were fused together in an unusual way, suggesting the trauma to the right hip had implications for the dog’s entire leg, and that the leg may have been atrophied. My research on this dog is ongoing, though recently I have favored a disease-based interpretation of its skeletal pathologies, and I am investigating the possibility that the disease was readily transmissible between humans and dogs. Given the dog’s condition, it is tempting to suggest it required the daily ministrations of a human caregiver, although there are many examples of three-legged dogs who don’t need extraordinary human care. Perhaps more telling is the fact that this dog was interred alongside an elderly human female?

The life of an animal is written in part through its bones. In looking at these dogs’ skeletal materials, I have begun to piece together the kinds of daily activities they were carrying out, which helps to inform what humans who lived at the same time were doing. That dogs seem to have been used as traction animals thousands of years ago is a fascinating, yet generally underappreciated, aspect of life for the prehistoric inhabitants of North America. Zooarchaeology, once characterized as the part of archaeology that provides information on the meat component of ancient human diets, is trending toward new understandings of human-animal relationships in which the circumstances of animal lives are just as significant as their deaths. At this very moment, other scholars in Tennessee are taking our state’s prehistoric dog research to the next level, and I couldn’t be more excited to see what new insights will emerge in the near future!

*Editor’s Note: For more on the early domestic dog in Tennessee, be sure to read Meagan Dennison’s post for the 2014 “30 Days of Tennessee Archaeology” blogfest!

Archaeology at Rotherwood (40SL61), a Mississippian Site on the Holston River in Kingsport

30 Days of Tennessee Archaeology 2015, Day 29

Jay Franklin
East Tennessee State University

SD Dean measuring depth of initial STP into the refuse pit.

SD Dean measuring depth of initial STP into the refuse pit.

The Rotherwood site, on the Holston River in Kingsport, was first brought to my attention several years ago by a former member of the old Kingsport Chapter of the Tennessee Archaeological Society. He had given me permission to examine and photograph his archaeological collections from the upper East Tennessee area. I noted that he had both Dallas and Pisgah pottery sherds from the site as well as a field map depicting a couple of house floors from avocational excavations at Rotherwood in the 1980s. Much of the area was developed for a residential neighborhood, and a lot of dirt was removed for fill. I had been led to believe that the site was essentially destroyed.

In a pedestrian survey of the area around the Rotherwood site in 2013, my friend and colleague, SD Dean, noticed that a white pine tree on the southern periphery of the site had been blown over in a storm. He asked the landowner for permission to excavate a shovel test pit (STP) in the tree fall sediments. Dean called me when he opened the pit up, and we believed at the time that he had excavated into a village midden. We recovered >100 potsherds, fauna, charcoal, river mussel and ios gastropod shells, and even fish scales from the STP. The “midden” appeared to be about 50cm thick. Below that was sterile river sand. We were excited about the density of material from one STP, and more importantly, it was exciting to know that the Rotherwood site had in fact not been destroyed. An AMS radiocarbon date from wood charcoal and one OSL date from a Dallas McKee Island Cord Marked sherd placed the “midden” in chronological context about AD 1520-1580.

Profile View of the Refuse Pit.

Profile View of the Refuse Pit.

In July of this year, we began a testing program at Rotherwood which included geophysical survey and excavation of several 2 x 2 and 1 x1 meter excavation units. The geophysical survey was preliminary and focused on two areas: 1) an area just west of the where the previous house floors had been excavated, and 2) an area centered around the “midden” we located in 2013. Unfortunately, no new house floors were identified, but a buried surface was located approximately 30-35cm below surface in which the midden originated.

Plan View of the Roasting Pit.

Plan View of the Roasting Pit.

Our excavations revealed that the “midden” was in fact a large pit measuring 2m in diameter and 35-50cm deep. It was most likely what Roy Dickens called a borrow pit, excavated originally to re-plaster house walls or for some other construction purpose. This idea is further supported by the fact that such pits are rare on sites that predate permanent villages in Southern Appalachia. A net effect of such a pit, however, would be its immediate availability as a refuse pit. This appears to be the case for our pit at Rotherwood. We recovered house daub along with myriad river mussel and ios shells, wood ash, broken pottery vessels, and abundant fauna. The pottery assemblage represents a late Dallas Phase occupation, but we also recovered several Pisgah sherds (much like Holliston Mills just downstream). There were also a few sherds that look more like wares we typically recover on the Watauga and Nolichucky – wares that bear great similarity the Qualla and Nolichucky Series. Toward the end of our excavation, we uncovered a roasting pit abutting the refuse pit (in fact, the refuse pit sediments covered over the roasting pit). The roasting pit had burned edges and was full of the same wood ash as in the refuse pit. We even recovered a few mussel shells that did not open during roasting.

Plan View of Refuse Pit (larger one on left) and roasting pit (smaller one on right). Note the exposed roots from the tree fall that initially exposed the feature area.

Plan View of Refuse Pit (larger one on left) and roasting pit (smaller one on right). Note the exposed roots from the tree fall that initially exposed the feature area.

In sum, while we had hoped to gain greater insight into Mississippian community structure at Rotherwood, we were excited to excavate the remains of what was almost certainly a single household activity area. Analyses are currently ongoing at the ETSU Valleybrook archaeology laboratories, but we hope to gain a finer grained understanding of activity and consumption at the household level since these features likely represent very short term deposition. New AMS dates are forthcoming to augment this idea. We also now think that instead of finding the southern edges of the site that it appears more likely we actually found the northern periphery of the site. More geophysical surveys will also be forthcoming toward delimiting site boundaries and community structure.


Suggested reading:

Dickens, Roy S., Jr. 1985. The Form, Function, and Formation of Garbage-filled Pits on Southeastern Aboriginal Sites: An Archaeobotanical Analysis. In Structure and Process in Southeastern Archaeology, edited by Roy S. Dickens, Jr. and H. Trawick Ward, pp. 34-59. University of Alabama Press, Tuscaloosa.

Franklin, Jay D., Elizabeth K. Price, and Lucinda M. Langston. 2010. The Mortuary Assemblage from the Holliston Mills Site, a Mississippian Town in Upper East Tennessee. In Mississippian Mortuary Practices: Beyond Hierarchy and the Representationist Perspective, edited by Lynne P. Sullivan and Robert C. Mainfort, Jr., pp. 325-350. University Press of Florida, Gainesville.

Unearthing Clover Bottom’s Majority: Using Archaeology to Trace One Community’s Path to Freedom

30 Days of Tennessee Archaeology 2015, Day 28

Kathryn Sikes
Middle Tennessee State Univeristy

As interdisciplinary scholars, historical archaeologists get to wear many hats, often delving into archives or perusing historic maps and photographs, but it is in our fieldwork that we get to offer the public an alternative view of the past by excavating its artifacts, the remains of buildings, and telltale patterns on the landscape that speak for people who left little written record. In the field, we search for evidence that will allow us to retell the stories we think we already know about our history, using information that is not accessible through texts alone. This gives us an opportunity to balance our view of history by revealing the perspectives and experiences of people who were often poorly documented or unsympathetically documented

Clover Bottom Mansion.

Clover Bottom Mansion.

Over the course of the summer semester of 2015, I was joined in the field by graduate students from Middle Tennessee State University’s Program in Public History and undergraduate majors from the departments of History and Sociology & Anthropology to conduct a survey and preliminary excavation of Clover Bottom Plantation (Davidson County, TN). Funded by a Tennessee Historical Commission Federal Preservation Grant, the MTSU field school in historical archaeology sought to uncover new evidence for Middle Tennessee’s African American history during the first field season of a long-term investigation of the plantation’s 19th-century enslaved and emancipated majority.

Other historic outbuildings remain standing behind the mansion, including this small building of unknown function. It may have originally housed enslaved families or descendants who remained at Clover Bottom as free tenants after the Civil War.

Other historic outbuildings remain standing behind the mansion, including this small building of unknown function. It may have originally housed enslaved families or descendants who remained at Clover Bottom as free tenants after the Civil War.

Clover Bottom Plantation may be best known for the standing Italianate antebellum mansion behind its gates that is associated with the stories of the Hoggatt and Price families who owned the property from the 1790s through the early 20th century. Constructed in the early 1850s, this historic house currently serves as the offices of the Tennessee Historical Commission and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. However, behind the historic plantation house lie the archaeological remains of several other 19th-century structures that have other histories to tell. These were the buildings that housed enslaved and emancipated African American families who once made up a vibrant community of approximately 60 people. We know their number from the property’s 1860 census that lists each enslaved resident by age and sex, but the census does not name or describe individuals or families, or give much insight into their daily lives.

In contrast to members of the Hoggatt and Price families who left behind a wealth of historical documentation, the men, women, and children who made up Clover Bottom’s African American majority are known only through rare accounts in historical sources. In a memoir of his enslaved childhood on the plantation, John McCline provides us with fleeting glimpses of his family and neighbors in Slavery in the Clover Bottoms (edited by Jan Furman). His writings and other descriptions of the property reveal that in addition to Clover Bottom’s few remaining historic outbuildings, there were once many more antebellum structures on the property. These buildings would have left archaeological features in the ground as well as artifacts associated with their use that can tell us more about the ways Clover Bottom’s enslaved residents ate, socialized, worked, worshipped, and led their family lives. The remains of these buildings and their yard spaces, if located and excavated, have the potential to offer more information about African American families whose names and experiences were not as frequently or thoroughly recorded on paper as those of the Hoggatt and Price families.

The 2015 field season began with a shovel test survey to understand the site’s stratigraphy and identify patterns in clusters of artifacts on the landscape.

The 2015 field season began with a shovel test survey to understand the site’s stratigraphy and identify patterns in clusters of artifacts on the landscape.

Our crew began by thoroughly mapping the site and excavating small shovel test pits, placed at known locations and spaced at equal distances in the areas of the property that were most likely to contain the property’s slave quarters according to historic maps and documents. This initial shovel test survey was followed by larger square test units placed at locations within the property where available evidence suggested historic building foundations might be located. Artifacts were screened, collected, and labeled with their location on maps and field records in relation to standing historic structures. By these techniques, the crew succeeded in uncovering the outline of the northern half of one building that was almost certainly constructed sometime during the 1800s, but not abandoned until the mid-20th century. As the artifacts are identified, catalogued, and queried for spatial and temporal patterns in the lab this fall, we expect to be able to define more precise dates for this building’s construction, use-life, and destruction.

Following the shovel test survey, test units revealed the foundation of this building.

Following the shovel test survey, test units revealed the foundation of this building.

The building foundation explored by MTSU’s archaeological field school may be one of several former “quarters” that housed enslaved families on the property, perhaps even the remains of one of the buildings described by John McCline as erected during the 1850s under a new overseer’s management. Alternatively the remains of this excavated building may have had a specialized function other than housing (as in the case of a dairy, smokehouse, or icehouse) that reflects the labor performed by enslaved residents. As some quarters probably continued to shelter tenant families employed by the Price family following emancipation, their contents may also tell us more about the lives of freedpeople during Reconstruction, enriching our understanding of how Middle Tennessee’s formerly enslaved communities transitioned to free wage labor.

Artifacts from the building’s construction debris and destruction fill may allow archaeologists to date its construction, use-life, and abandonment, and to understand more about its function.

Artifacts from the building’s construction debris and destruction fill may allow archaeologists to date its construction, use-life, and abandonment, and to understand more about its function.

The summer’s survey and excavations were only the beginning of MTSU’s research into Clover Bottom’s history. As fieldwork is not the only job of historical archaeologists who wear many hats, project members are now engaged in expanded historical and genealogical research to understand when and how the building we uncovered was used, and who lived there. We are also now tasked with piecing together the meaning of our archaeological findings. Graduate students and advanced undergraduates are currently helping to process the excavation’s artifact collection back in the lab on the MTSU campus, identifying and cataloging objects such as pieces of the plates and teacups that once decorated the tables of Clover Bottom’s resident families. We will soon be plotting the results of our shovel test survey on a site map, looking for patterns in clusters of artifacts that may indicate other long forgotten buildings or yard spaces. When the study is complete, we will produce a final report that integrates archival and archaeological evidence and submit it to the Tennessee Division of Archaeology with the excavation’s artifact collection for permanent curation.

Snake Monster Gorgets of the Southern Appalachians

30 Days of Tennessee Archaeology 2015, Day 27

Mark M. Crawford III
Williamson County Archaeological Society

Snake Monster, Brakebill South variety. Picture courtesy of Jon Muller.

Snake Monster, Brakebill South variety. Picture courtesy of Jon Muller.

Archaeological research is entering a golden age and it’s not because archaeologists are digging. As most of you probably know, excavation in a prehistoric or historic site is a destructive process. Once the site has been excavated, it is gone forever. Thus, non-destructive techniques are the preferred method as researchers attempt to glean new insights into the past. One exciting and fun aspect of modern archaeology is re-examining older collections of artifacts with more modern techniques and technology. This process generates new data and, often, new insights. When you add the fact that museums are increasingly providing free online pictures of their collections, it becomes possible for the modern researcher to assemble a modest data set of any particular artifact genre of his/her choice and examine them for patterns without ever disturbing the remaining precious time capsules of our collective past. In this post I discuss my examination of the iconography of over 340 examples of “rattlesnake” gorgets and what they can tell us about the differing, regionally sensitive ways Native Americans visualized a fascinating animal, the snake, during the 15th, 16th , and 17th centuries in the prehistoric East Tennessee region of the Southern Appalachians.

Snake Monster field illustration. Drawing by Mark M. Crawford III.

Snake Monster field illustration. Drawing by Mark M. Crawford III.

We’ll start off with a little background first. The subject of my undergraduate thesis research at Middle Tennessee State University in 2012-2013 was the iconographic analysis of complex images of snake monsters engraved on marine shell, created during the late prehistoric and proto historic time periods of the southeast (AD 1400-1650) They are known popularly as “rattlesnake” gorgets, but are perhaps more accurately viewed as “snake monsters” because with their human-looking teeth and odd whisker-like appendages, they appear to be something more than a simple depiction of a rattlesnake. These artifacts are part of a tradition of engraved shell gorget manufacture that numbered in the thousands during the Mississippian era of the southeast (AD 900-1540). Snake monsters were only one type of engraved gorget. Artisans engraved incredible depictions of humans, humans with animal features, birds, spiders, and abstract designs (such as the triskeles of the Nashville area) on their concave or convex surfaces.

The two geographic concentrations of the Brakebill variety of Snake Monster. Illlustration by Mark M. Crawford III.

The two geographic concentrations of the Brakebill variety of Snake Monster. Illlustration by Mark M. Crawford III.

These engraved circular pieces of cut shell were most likely suspended below the neck on a string that passed through two holes drilled in the top of the gorget. Some researchers have suggested these designs were engraved only on a particular marine shell species native to the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic, known as the Left-Handed Lightning Whelk. These whelks were probably traded whole to the inland regions of Tennessee, where the gorget then was cut out of the whelk and engraved. Astonishingly, these whelks traveled by land over 300 miles from their native habitats before they were engraved! There are at least five different variations of snake monster recognized by Jeffrey P. Brain and Phillip Phillips in their work Shell Gorgets: Styles of the Late Prehistoric and Protohistoric Southeast. They built these catagories based on Jon Muller’s earlier 1966 Ph.D. dissertation that defined three varieties. Phillips and Brain’s list included the Lick Creek, Brakebill, Saltville, Carters Creek, and Citico types. All variations feature the “head” of the snake visualized in profile view (from the side) with the body of the snake curling around the “eye” and “teeth” in a naturalistic coil, most profiles faced to the right , and engravings were always on the concave side. This tradition of carving snake monsters on shell lasted over two hundred years (AD 1400-1600+).

Chronology model for snake monster gorgets. Illustration by Mark M. Crawford III.

Chronology model for snake monster gorgets. Illustration by Mark M. Crawford III.

In its simplest form, Iconography is the study of visual elements that combine to make a design. Examining the snake monster gorgets iconographically required the division of the complex image into separate fields. Once isolated, the elements were examined in space and time and patterns emerged. One such pattern was the differing geographical concentrations of design elements. These regions used different combinations of elements to complete a similar image of a snake monster. For instance, based on these differences, the Brakebill variation appeared to have two sub variations. As shown in the map above, one combination of element usage was concentrated southeast of the Knoxville area and another concentration of element usage was located in Northern Georgia. Based on the iconographic analysis, the southern Brakebill variety appeared to be much more closely related to the Citico/Carters Quarter variety then its northern sibling. This data suggested that there were separate, regionally appropriate design elements used to refer to the snake monster theme. Another pattern to emerge was based on accepted date ranges for sites where snake monster gorgets were found. My analysis revealed that certain elements occurred earlier in the archaeological record while others appeared later.

Recognizing these patterns allowed former chronologies developed for snake monster gorgets in the 1960’s by Muller and the 1990’s by Brain and Phillips to be tested and refined. Based on my analysis I was able to corroborate Muller’s assertion of a late prehistoric emergence and reject Phillips and Brain’s later proto-historically centered time frame. Chronologically and geographically, the Lick Creek variety appears first around AD 1400 at the site of Toqua on the Little Tennessee River in Monroe County, TN. The two Brakebill varieties and the Saltville category all developed around AD 1450. The Brakebill North variety first emerged near the Lick Creek site, northeast of Knoxville, while the Brakebill South variety appeared in northern Georgia, and the Saltville type was made near Saltville, West Virginia. Ultimately, these styles were followed by the popular and similar varieties of Citico/Carters Quarter. Both of these appeared simultaneously as early as the late fifteenth century AD in the Chattanooga area (including the David Davis site), and circulated until the late seventeenth century AD.

For further reading and more pictures of the snake monster gorgets, check out my thesis research via Academia.edu.

The Changing Landscape of Slavery at Tipton-Haynes

30 Days of Tennessee Archaeology 2015, Day 26

Daniel Brock
Department of Anthropology, University of Tennessee, Knoxville

Architectural Historian Robbie Jones inspecting the law office fireplace.

Architectural Historian Robbie Jones inspecting the law office fireplace.

The Tipton-Haynes State Historic Site, located in Johnson City, is an upland south farmstead that was inhabited from the frontier to modern era.  Tipton-Haynes has been described as one of the most historic sites in Tennessee due to its association with two prominent families who resided there from the late eighteenth through mid-nineteenth centuries including Colonel John Tipton, his son John Tipton Junior, and Landon Carter Haynes.  Later, the Simerly family, relatives of the Haynes’, also lived in the house during the later part of the nineteenth century until the state acquired the property in the 1960s.

Because of the site’s long history and its ability to inform on a variety of questions associated with change over time at historic farmsteads, the Tipton-Haynes Landscape Archaeological Project (THLAP) was undertaken to examine the history of construction on site.  Research consisted of using multiple methods of investigation including documentary research, architectural survey, dendrochronology, multi-instrument geophysical survey, and archaeological excavation to discover and explain transformations at the Tipton-Haynes site and obtain an understanding as to why these changes occurred on the landscape.  While the larger project scope focused on the entire site’s landscape history, it also afforded me the opportunity to examine changes in the built environment associated with enslaved African Americans on the property.

Dendrochronogical core collection at the Tipton-Haynes farmhouse.

Dendrochronogical core collection at the Tipton-Haynes farmhouse.

Changing attitudes towards space and living conditions for the enslaved can be seen at Tipton-Haynes.  Results of the project identified the movement of slave living spaces across the property and a decrease in the slave population from five or six individuals owned by the Tipton family to only three during Haynes’ tenancy.  Over time the slave workforce was reduced and removed farther from the Tipton and Haynes household into larger quarters closer to their work responsibilities.

Col. Tipton acquired the property in 1784 and shortly after is believed to have constructed a log cabin for his home based on historical documentation.  When Tipton first moved into his home, his slaves are thought to have resided in a loft space within the frontier cabin.  Tipton rebuilt his log home in 1799 based on dendrochronological investigations.  The cellar is thought to have been expanded at this time and the slaves are believed to have been housed in the renovated cellar which had an exterior entrance and a fireplace.

During the early 1820s, John Tipton Jr. moved back to the site and made renovations to the cabin altering it to a Federal-style farmhouse.  The cabin remained as the core of the house and a frame addition was added to its western edge.  Ground-penetrating radar and archaeological excavation near the rear of the farmhouse revealed a roughly 12 x 12 foot anomaly that was identified as a kitchen outbuilding for Tipton Jr.’s family that was also used as a slave quarter.  Other outbuildings were also constructed towards the rear of the property which were misaligned with the farmhouse.

Dustin Lawson excavating the remains of a chimney fall.

Dustin Lawson excavating the remains of a chimney fall.

Landon Carter Haynes obtained the property in 1839 and eventually renovated the home constructing a Greek-Revival farmhouse with a rear ell addition that contained a kitchen and dining room.  Haynes also built numerous outbuildings and dismantled the kitchen/slave quarter built during Tipton Jr’s tenure.  The slaves were then moved to a larger cabin constructed behind the new ell addition.

Ground penetrating radar data and test unit locations over a previously standing Kitchen/Slave Quarter.

Ground penetrating radar data and test unit locations over a previously standing Kitchen/Slave Quarter.

Modification of the landscape can be related to production on the farm and the influence of progressive farming ideals.  Many farmers were influenced by progressive reform movements meant to increase efficient production.  These movements included ideas about to what to grow, what types of animals to raise, as well as what structures to build and how to place them.  This also included advice on the living conditions of slaves such as proper construction techniques for their quarters as well as their size and arrangement.  While meant to be “progressive,” these farming movements were more concerned with increasing production on a farm or plantation and reinforcing the institution of slavery rather than the well-being of enslaved individuals.

The construction of slave quarters at Tipton-Haynes follows progressive principles which were meant to improve the quality of slave life by providing larger living quarters which prevented overcrowding and created a healthier environment.  The location of the enslaved on the property was also meant to increase efficiency by placing them near their respective duties.  Placement away from the house also underscored the residents’ ideas about racial separation during the nineteenth century.

Map of archaeologically exposed portion of the Kitchen/Slave Quarter.

Map of archaeologically exposed portion of the Kitchen/Slave Quarter.

The arrangement of the farm over time shows the influence of progressive movements with the creation of a nucleated, or consolidated, landscape with specialized outbuildings for production.  When Col. John Tipton constructed his farm in the late eighteenth century, it was a vernacular dispersed landscape fronting the Buffalo Trace.  Later, the property had more specialized outbuildings, including slave quarters, in a consolidated asymmetrical fashion creating a nucleated landscape inspired by progressive farming ideals.  This included the placement of outbuildings and associated work areas to the side and/or rear of the house.

A noticeable difference in the alignment of structures also occurred at the site which follows this same trend.  The construction of outbuildings askew from the farmhouse occurred during Col. Tipton’s and Tipton, Jr.’s tenancy reflecting the segregation between formal space and work space.  Haynes is believed to have followed this same paradigm by continuing to construct more formalized outbuildings such as a law office aligned with the farmhouse as well as informal outbuildings such as the slave quarters and corn crib aligned with other outbuildings in the barn yard.  The placement of structures on the landscape again aims to reinforce social hierarchy and increase efficient production on the farm and reflect the changing face of slavery at Tipton-Haynes.

The Tipton-Haynes landscape from the late-eighteenth to mid-nineteenth centuries (slave living spaces are highlighted in red).

The Tipton-Haynes landscape from the late-eighteenth to mid-nineteenth centuries (slave living spaces are highlighted in red).

The Tipton-Haynes Landscape Archaeological Project was made possible with funding from the Tennessee Historical Commission and the Tennessee Council for Professional ArchaeologyAssistance was also provided by Penny McLaughlin, Site Manager at Tipton-Haynes, Robbie Jones, who served as Architectural Consultant, as well as the Laboratory of Tree-Ring Science and the Department of Anthropology at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

Exploring Agricultural Lands and Crop Failure around Mississippian Period Sites in Middle Tennessee

30 Days of Tennessee Archaeology 2015, Day 25

Andrew Gillreath-Brown
University of North Texas

Digital Elevation Model (DEM) of two subbasins - the Harpeth and the Lower-Cumberland – in Middle Tennessee with three archaeological sites – Mound Bottom, White’s Creek, and Kellytown. Map created by Andrew Gillreath-Brown.

Digital Elevation Model (DEM) of the Harpeth and the Lower-Cumberland subbasins in Middle Tennessee with three archaeological sites – Mound Bottom, White’s Creek, and Kellytown. Map created by Andrew Gillreath-Brown.

The Mississippian Period has long been seen as a time of extreme and rapid change, from intensive agriculture to the growth of large population centers and then ultimately to the collapse of the Mississippian polities in the Southeast. The collapse around AD 1500 to AD 1700 represents a complex synergy of causal processes, such as environmental degradation, conflict, drought induced water and food resource stress, and of course European contact. People react to environmental change in many different ways. These reactions do not happen on a global scale, but rather on a level where people are living their daily lives.

To examine these decisions requires a closer look at the changes in agriculture over time, especially as related to drought. One way to do this is to determine the amount of moisture that was available to crops, then determine whether crops may have failed within a given year, or at least to what degree they may have failed. Examining locations of agricultural lands near villages and the amount of potentially productive land can provide valuable information on the local environment and to the Mississippian people’s subsistence. Studying soil moisture and crop failure can complement the field of paleoethnobotany, which we saw on Day 11. My ongoing research focuses on several major sites around Nashville in two watershed subbasins – the Harpeth and the Lower-Cumberland. However, for today, I want to focus on the Mississipppian site of Mound Bottom, located just to the west of Nashville and by the Harpeth River.

Aerial photo of Mound Bottom from 1972 (image courtesy of the Tennessee Division of Archaeology)

Aerial photo of Mound Bottom from 1972 (image courtesy of the Tennessee Division of Archaeology)

The amount of crops that fail within a year can a have tremendous impact on a village’s decisions of whether to stay or migrate elsewhere, or in further developing and refining food storage/preservation techniques or trade decisions. Some scholars have examined changes in climate and crop production during the Mississippian time period (see Anderson 1996, 2001). The changes in crop production seem to coincide with large societal shifts, such as with shifts to larger aggregated and fortified villages.

An example of precipitation variability in the Southeast (i.e., North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia) that was derived from tree-ring data, showing the mean with the dotted line and the shaded area showing the standard deviation (Stahle and Cleveland 1992; see additional information below).

An example of precipitation variability in the Southeast (i.e., North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia) that was derived from tree-ring data, showing the mean with the dotted line and the shaded area showing the standard deviation (Stahle and Cleveland 1992; see additional information below).

During the Mississippian period, there was significant annual and intra-annual variability in precipitation, which may have had a major impact on agricultural productivity (Aharon et al. 2012; Anderson 1996, 2001; Anderson et al. 1995; Stahle and Cleveland 1992). If precipitation is significantly high, soil can become saturated; if significantly low, crops will reach wilting point. Both scenarios result in crop failure. Using hydrological modeling, or examining the science behind water available to crops, we examine changes in the spatial and temporal distribution of soil moisture around sites to evaluate the impact of fluctuating precipitation amounts on agricultural potential. To assess the impacts of climate on food resources, I am evaluating water conditions across the landscape to identify areas that were not suitable for crops during drought conditions, and therefore would have impacted food production. Soil moisture is the amount of water present within a defined space, like a soil column. It is essentially the inputs, like precipitation, minus the outputs, like evaporation, or water running off the surface.

The angles (degrees) of hillslopes in the area of Mound Bottom. Map created by Andrew Gillreath-Brown.

The angles (degrees) of hillslopes in the area of Mound Bottom. Map created by Andrew Gillreath-Brown.

To determine moisture conditions that may have been available to crops, we take into account four different variables including soils, topography, vegetation, and climate (annual precipitation and temperature). To determine annual precipitation and temperature, we use data from tree-rings that was collected and analyzed by dendrochronologists, or someone who studies tree-rings. By focusing on crop failure, we will be able to tell whether declines in agricultural productivity were due to a loss of plants or a decrease in the overall production of individual maize stalks. This allows us to determine whether certain areas within a watershed, surrounding major human population centers, were more or less susceptible to crop failure and how that relates to population movements. Let’s look at the area surrounding Mound Bottom.

Northern and southern aspects shown with aerial imagery. Map created by Andrew Gillreath-Brown.

Northern and southern aspects surrounding Mound Bottom shown with aerial imagery. Map created by Andrew Gillreath-Brown.

Soils can affect these inputs and outputs because differing size sediments affect how long water remains in a particular place. For example, in a sandy soil, water will quickly drain, thus it is not available very long for crops. In addition, we must also consider slope and topography. The angle of a slope can also highly affect outputs, since a steeper slope would cause water to move more quickly downhill, thus, a flat area would be better for soil moisture. Aspect – or the direction that a slope faces – can also affect evaporation and transpiration, thus moisture retention. Solar radiation is more intense with a southern facing slope, thus less moisture is retained. In the figure to the left, you can see the places that will have the most evaporation in red, thus less moisture. If you have a really dry year or several dry years, then the red areas are not going to be very good for having water available to crops. However, if you have a really wet year or several wet years, then the blue areas may end up having too much water for crops.

One drought period recorded by Meeks and Anderson (2013) occurred around AD 1288 to AD 1308. Before this period, the Middle Cumberland area had a period of large mound building – including Mound Bottom – in addition to many scattered smaller villages. However, around the AD 1250s, settlements shifted from smaller spread out villages, to larger aggregated villages with larger and more intensive fortifications. People began abandoning the lower and central portions of the Harpeth subbasin, and moved to the south to places such as Fewkes Site in Williamson County.

This project is in its early stages but it will be able to reveal new insights into the impacts of drought on the prehistoric peoples’ farmlands, and whether it was a major contributing factor to societal shifts in the Mississippian society of Middle Tennessee.


References Cited

Aharon, Paul, David Aldridge, and John Hellstrom. 2012. Rainfall Variability and the Rise and Collapse of the Mississippian Chiefdoms: Evidence from a DeSoto Caverns Stalagmite. Climates, Landscapes, and Civilizations 198:35-42.

Anderson, David G. 1996. Chiefly Cycling and Large-Scale Abandonments as Viewed from the Savannah River Basin. In Political Structure and Change in the Prehistoric Southeastern United States, edited by John F. Scarry, pp. 150-191. University of Florida Press, Florida.

Anderson, David G. 2001. Climate and Culture Change in Prehistoric and Early Historic Eastern North America. Archaeology of Eastern North America 29:143-186.

Anderson, David G., David W. Stahle, and Malcolm K. Cleaveland. 1995. Paleoclimate and the Potential Food Reserves of Mississippian Societies: A Case Study from the Savannah River Valley. American Antiquity 60(2):258-286.

Meeks, Scott C., and David G. Anderson. 2013. Drought, Subsistence Stress, and Population Dynamics. In Soils, Climate and Society: Archaeological Investigations in Ancient America, eds. John D. Wingard, and Sue E. Hayes, pp. 61-83. University Press of Colorado, Boulder, Colorado.

David W. Stahle and Malcolm K. Cleaveland. 1992. Reconstruction and Analysis of Spring Rainfall over the Southeastern U.S. for the Past 1000 Years. Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, 73(12), 1947-1961. doi: 10.1175/1520-0477(1992)073<1947:RAAOSR>2.0.CO;2. Available at: https://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/cdo/f?p=519:1:0::::P1_STUDY_ID:16458. Accessed on August 31, 2015.