Middle Mississippian Archaeology at Pile Mound, Upper Cumberland Plateau, Tennessee

30 Days of Tennessee Archaeology 2016, Day 29

Jay Franklin, East Tennessee State University
Jeremy Menzer, University of Arkansas

We reported on our initial archaeological testing and geophysical survey at the Pile Mound Site in this blog in 2014. William Myer of Carthage, Tennessee first recorded the site in the early 20th century, and mentioned the presence of one mound measuring approximately 5 feet high. Myer also described several other mound sites in the region; however, most of these were inundated by Dale Hollow Reservoir in 1943. Our 2014 work focused on geophysical survey of the mound and associated village site along with “ground-truthing” (archaeological testing) of certain anomalies discovered by magnetometer.


Geophysical Plan View Map of the Pile Mound and Associated Features (Jeremy Menzer)

The 2014 survey and testing revealed the presence of an elaborately constructed platform mound built using piles and pavements of large limestone clasts and a few non-local quartzite clasts. The mound space is clearly delineated from the village area. AMS radiocarbon dates indicate a village site dating to about AD 1250 and mound construction began just before AD 1300. Recovered artifacts included a chunkey stone and check stamped and cord-marked shell tempered pottery. A particular feature of the pottery at the Pile Mound site was the inclusion of crushed local chalcedony in the pottery temper along with shell. We suggest this is a holdover from the preceding Woodland Period and represents attempts by local communities to hang on to their identity in an ever-growing Mississippian world. This work is significant because it is a first look at Mississippian communities in the far upper reaches of the Cumberland Valley, specifically in the headwaters of the Wolf River near Pogue Creek Canyon State Natural Area where we have conducted years of archaeological survey and testing.


Ground-penetrating Radar (GPR) Image of Possible House Floor at the Pile Mound Site (Jeremy Menzer)

In May 2015 and this past summer, we continued with geophysical survey primarily using ground-penetrating radar (GPR). We were able to identify at least three possible house floors and a number of archaeological features. Archaeological investigations as part of ETSU’s annual summer field school focused on ground-truthing one of the house floors and excavation of two pit features. Our concentrated efforts were met with great success. We verified one house floor south of the mound. Associated pottery appears to represent the Middle Mississippian with shell temper and elongated loop handles. GPR survey identified at least two more potential house floors, too.


Photogrammetry Image of Structure 1 at the Pile Mound Site (Jeremy Menzer and Jay Franklin)

We excavated two anomalies discovered by the GPR. These turned out to be very large but relatively shallow pits. Most likely, these were initially borrow pits used to re-plaster house walls, etc. Such pits are typical of late prehistoric village sites and quickly become refuse pits. Feature 8 measures approximately 3.5 by 3 meters across and 30 cm deep. It contained numerous animal bone remains including white-tailed deer, black bear, and wild turkey. It also contained thousands of freshwater periwinkle gastropod shells. Shell tempered pottery and ceramic beads were also recovered. Feature 9 measured approximately 1.8 by 1.5 meters in diameter and 30 cm deep. It contained far less periwinkle shell but did possess numerous white-tailed deer and black bear fauna and shell tempered pottery.


Photogrammetry Image of West Profile of Feature 8 (Jeremy Menzer and Jay Franklin)


Photogrammetry Image of Feature 9 Excavated (Jeremy Menzer and Jay Franklin)

We are awaiting four new AMS radiocarbon dates but expect them to be similar to the previous two. Ground-truthing of Structure 1 indicates a probable domestic house of single set post construction measuring about 6 meters a side. The Mississippian pottery from the site appears to represent a transitional Middle Mississippian assemblage: (elongated) loop handles dominate, but we also recovered a few strap handle vessel fragments and a couple of flattened loop handles. Surface treatments are check stamped and cord-marked, and there is mostly Mississippi Plain.


Pot Break, Loop Handled Vessel, Structure 1, Pile Mound Site (Jay Franklin)

Beginning this winter, we will target new areas for GPR survey to try and locate the central plaza and more houses. We will also begin geophysical survey of the nearby West Mound site. The West Mound is approximately 6 meters high, and the associated borrow pit is still visible. We have also located several other mounds in the area, and all appear to be spatially associated with caves. A major focus of our work will be establishing the chronology and potential contemporaneity of these mound sites near the headwaters of the Wolf River in an effort to address regional socio-political relationships. We will also excavate Structure 1 at the Pile Mound site in summer 2016. Stay tuned. . .


West Mound and Associated Borrow Pit (Jay Franklin)



Archaeological Research and Protection during the Boone Reservoir Drawdown

30 Days of Tennessee Archaeology 2016, Day 22

Ted Wells
Tennessee Valley Authority

Jay Franklin
East Tennessee State University

Lauren Woelkers
East Tennessee State University

In 2014 the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) discovered a sink hole near the base of Boone Dam which is located near Johnson City, Tennessee. Inspections found that flowing ground water had created and would continue to create voids beneath the dam if not repaired. So in 2016 TVA began the 5 to 7 year Boone Dam Seepage Remediation project which involves injecting grout into the voids and constructing a concrete barrier wall inside the earthen dam. As a federal agency TVA is required under the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) to consider how projects like this will affect archaeological sites.


Proposed Repairs for the Boone Dam Remediation Project.

TVA’s lake levels normally fluctuate throughout the year to control flooding in the valley with “summer pool” being the highest level and “winter pool” being the lowest level. For safety reasons, the repair project will require an extended drawdown which means the lake level will be held at 10 feet below “winter pool” for the project duration. Archaeological sites in the exposed lakebed will be exceptionally vulnerable to looting, erosion, and unintentional damage until vegetation reestablishes itself. Where archaeological sites are not naturally revegetating, TVA will artificially revegetate them by applying a mix of seed and fertilizer to help prevent erosion and hide archaeological sites. Fortunately, natural revegetation has happened quicker and denser than we anticipated.

It is important to recognize that lower lake levels will also negatively impact the local economy, which benefits from lake recreation. Since East Tennessee State University (ETSU) is part of the affected community and has demonstrated archaeological interest at sites in and around Boone Reservoir, the repair project inadvertently presented an opportunity to survey and research highly significant archaeological sites normally inundated by water for much of the year. ETSU’s Sociology and Anthropology Department, under the direction of Dr. Jay Franklin, will be surveying the exposed lakebed in TVA’s custody and will synthesize the results with S.D. Dean’s survey of a privately owned lakebed. S.D. and Jay have long collaborated and advanced our understanding of the region’s prehistoric record.

ETSU Monitoring Archaeological Sites within the Exposed Lakebed.

TVA has also engaged the public to help protect the archaeological sites in their community. Select members of the public are participating in TVA’s Thousand Eyes Monitoring Program along with ETSU’s Sociology and Anthropology Department to monitor the condition of archaeological sites and report damage throughout the duration of the project.

Since all instances of damage cannot reasonably be prevented, TVA will offset losses by funding ETSU graduate level research. The goal will be to analyze ETSU’s prehistoric and historic ceramic collections to help us understand the types of ceramics being used locally and when they were used.  The results of the research will be presented to the local community and at future Current Research in Tennessee Archaeology Meetings.

One of the things that first generated interest in archaeology at Boone Reservoir for those of us at ETSU (Franklin, Dean, and students) was monitoring certain sites on private property that we believed had early historic Native American pottery. The pottery bore great resemblance to Qualla Cherokee pottery from western North Carolina and also Overhill Cherokee pottery, known better from 18th century sites in southeastern Tennessee. We had some of the pottery dated by optically stimulated luminescence (OSL). OSL dating allows for direct dating of pottery instead of relying on associations with archaeological carbon. Our dates came back mid to late 15th century and early 16th century – far earlier than we expected. We began to wonder if perhaps there were earlier Overhill Cherokee towns in upper East Tennessee long before the historically well-documented Tellico towns of the 18th century. So when TVA Cultural Resources invited us to participate in survey work on Boone, we were very excited about the opportunity.

Qualla cob roughened rim pottery.

Qualla Cob Roughened Rim from the Austin Springs Site.

Thus far, we have added 96 new (previously unrecorded) sites around Boone Reservoir (65 on the Holston River and 31 on the Watauga River). The new sites range from the Paleoindian through the Mississippian/protohistoric Cherokee and early historic Euroamerican. Based on the success of our initial OSL dating results, we now consider OSL dating an integral component to our survey level investigations at Boone Reservoir – something not possible with radiocarbon dating. This gives our survey finer-grained chronological resolution.

Punctated incised Qualla rim pottery.

Punctated Incised Qualla Rim from the Austin Springs Site.

For previously recorded sites at Boone Reservoir, we also added new chronological and historical information. Three previously recorded historic sites now also have prehistoric components, while two previously recorded prehistoric sites now also have historic components. Nine previously undetermined prehistoric sites now have particular culture historical components. There are two previously indeterminate historic sites that now have specific components. Eight prehistoric sites with known components now also have additional components, and the same holds true for 13 historic sites with known components.

We have also documented dozens of raw material (chert, quartzite, etc.) outcrops around the reservoir. We can therefore potentially discuss mobility and resource extraction in the region.

In sum, our new surveys have added greater chronological resolution to the prehistory and history of Boone Reservoir. We are also addressing early Cherokee history here and with our raw material surveys, and are attempting to address patterns of settlement along the Holston and Watauga Rivers.

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.

Archaeology at Rock Creek Mortar Shelter, Pickett State Forest

30 Days of Tennessee Archaeology 2015, Day 14

Jay Franklin
East Tennessee State University

Rock Creek Mortar Shelter Study Area.

Rock Creek Mortar Shelter Study Area.

We have now completed three field seasons at Rock Creek Mortar Shelter in Pickett State Forest on the Upper Cumberland Plateau.* The archaeological deposits here are very deep and extend back into the Paleolithic, or the last Ice Age. New radiocarbon dates from just this past winter confirm this to have occurred at least 12,500 years ago. The site was intermittently occupied over the course of the next 11,500 years until about AD 1000.

The Upper Cumberland Plateau was likely a very different environment 12,500 years ago at the end of the Pleistocene during an abortive return to ice age conditions called the Younger Dryas. Still, some early pioneers ventured their way up on the plateau, perhaps up the Wolf River and/or Big South Fork river valleys, the ends of early migration routes as noted by David Anderson. As the climate ameliorates beginning about 11, 600 years ago, hardwood forest communities migrate to higher elevations. People began to exploit the nut mast resources and associated game animals. A seasonal round, a way of doing, was established. This way of doing things in the uplands sets the tone for the next several millennia – indeed up to the arrival of Europeans in some places.

Early Holocene flat, blade-like flake.

Early Holocene flat, blade-like flake.

These early pioneers of Rock Creek Mortar Shelter traveled and stayed in family groups as evidenced by the range of activities that took place here. Microscopic use wear on stone tools indicates meat cutting (butchery), hide scraping, and wood working – a host of activities that go beyond simple short-term hunting camps. Perhaps more telling are the technological studies. Late Paleolithic peoples often practiced a highly skilled blade tool manufacturing process, and we can see some of this in the earliest levels at Rock Creek Mortar Shelter. However, we also see that while the idea was technically sound, the execution of blade production was often poor. Or, stone tools and cores were initially well-thought out and executed but then digressed in technical know-how and execution. This suggests that skilled adult knappers were teaching (probably younger) novices their technological knowhow on site with varying degrees of success.

We can also see a shift in technology. Late Paleolithic blade tool production was a very specific type of production that involved very precise preparation of cores and the production of long, straight blades with regular lateral edges. We see some of this at Rock Creek. However, we also see a shift in the production. Long flakes were still selected, but the manufacturing process changed. Cores were no longer intricately prepared. Flakes are long and flat but without the regular lateral margins. Widely available raw materials may have allowed early inhabitants of the plateau the luxury of spending much less time preparing their cores for stone tool manufacture in favor of more expedient methods for essentially the same end products.

Nutting Stone (top) and Bedrock Mortar Hole (bottom).

Nutting Stone (top) and Bedrock Mortar Hole (bottom).

As the Archaic Period progressed, climate continued to improve, populations grew, and people intensified their subsistence efforts. By 4,000 years ago, people really began to key onto nut mast resources. Perhaps this signifies the beginnings of matrilocal societies in Southern Appalachia given the more reliable nature of nut resources. This intensification is evidenced at Rock Creek Mortar Shelter, and many other sites on the plateau such as Pogue Creek Canyon, by bedrock mortar holes, nutting stones, and prepared, baked clay surfaces. Acorns require significant processing and leaching to be edible. Bedrock mortar holes were ground into the sandstone in order to process acorn meal then leach out the tannic acid. Portable nutting stones were likely used for nuts that require much less processing such as hickory and perhaps chestnut.

The baked clay surfaces involved bringing in clay from outside the shelter (rock shelter sediments on the plateau are sandy given that the parent bedrock is sandstone). The baked clay surfaces were then used to parch nuts. Parching allowed them to be stored for longer periods of time, and also kept insects out of the nut foods. Again, these intensive activities identified at Rock Creek Mortar Shelter suggest entire family groups lived in the shelter for extended periods of time on a seasonal basis. Research farther north on the plateau at Cliff Palace Pond in the Daniel Boone National Forest even suggests that later Archaic peoples managed these hardwood forests by using controlled fire. These burns would have fostered hardwood species and also increased the browse for key game animals like white-tailed deer, wild turkey, black bear, and squirrels.

Baked Clay Surface (hole is from a geologic micromorphology sample).

Baked Clay Surface (hole is from a geologic micromorphology sample).

By the end of the Archaic Period on the Upper Cumberland Plateau sometime after 2,700 years ago, use of Rock Creek Mortar Shelter became less intensive. This may because the shelter itself changed. We see a lot of roof fall in the form of large boulders that essentially divide the Archaic layers at the site from the later Woodland layers. Elsewhere in Southern Appalachia, a cold spell during this time has been documented, and this cooling event may have caused freezing and thawing that led to the roof fall. In short, the ground surface in the shelter may have been less stable and safe during this time. It may also have been less attractive for longer stays in the shelter due to much decreased floor space. Nonetheless, Woodland peoples occasionally used the shelter for the next two thousand years as evidenced by recovered pottery and hearth features, although this use may have been much less frequent and intensive than during the Archaic. All in all, though, population was highest during the Woodland Period on the Upper Cumberland Plateau. We will continue our work at Rock Creek in Summer 2016. Artifact analysis is ongoing at our archaeology labs at ETSU Valleybrook.

Large Breakdown Blocks on Surface of Shelter (note how some extend underneath the current ground surface and protrude from our profile walls). Photo: Cayla Cannon.

Large Breakdown Blocks on Surface of Shelter (note how some extend underneath the current ground surface and protrude from our profile walls). Photo: Cayla Cannon.

* Editor’s Note: You can find Jay Franklin’s 2014 post about work at the Rock Creek Mortar Shelter here.

30 Days of Tennessee Archaeology, Day 24

Archaeology of the Mississippian Pile Mound Site, Upper Cumberland Plateau

Jay Franklin
East Tennessee State University

The Mississippian Period is very poorly understood in the Upper Cumberland Plateau region of Tennessee. Outside of a few rock and cave art sites and some scattered shell tempered ceramics from perhaps two dozen rock shelters, we can say very little about late prehistoric cultures in the region. That is why our new work at the Pile Mound Site is so exciting.

View of the Pile Mound

View of the Pile Mound

The Pile Mound Site (40Fn180) has been known for more than 100 years. William Myer of the Smithsonian Institution, wrote about the site in the early 1900s and described the mound as being about five feet high and 100 feet in diameter. Near the mound were apparently found discoidals, pipe fragments, flint, and plain pottery. The property owners also have a chunkey stone that was recovered by a family member some decades ago. The mound largely remained unknown (but protected) until the mid-1990s when it was recorded as the Frogge Mound and village site. Given that the land has been in the Pile family since the late 18th century, we formally refer to it as the Pile Mound Site (in agreement with Suzanne Hoyal, TDOA Site File Manager).

A chunkey stone collected from the site by the landowner.

A chunkey stone collected from the site by the landowner.

With landowner permission, we developed a research plan last year to begin archaeological investigations of the site. We began with non-invasive magnetometer survey in March 2014. This survey revealed the presence of what appeared to be a 10-11 meter per side structure atop the mound (but see below). In May 2014, we conducted a ground penetrating radar (GPR) survey of the mound, which revealed the presence of at least two large rock concentrations on the east side of the mound, as well as a possible third concentration on the north side. Finally, we also did an electromagnetic induction (EMI) survey of the mound in July of this year in conjunction with our summer archaeological field school. Interestingly, the EMI did not reveal the presence of a structure atop the mound. However, the EMI only records to a maximum depth of 50 cm, while the magnetometer measures to a depth of 1.5 meters (to the base of the mound, in effect). Therefore, we hypothesize that the possible structure initially identified by the GPR survey preceded mound construction.

We also did magnetometer survey over much of the site area covering almost fifteen hectares. This survey revealed the possible presence of residential structures about 150 meters east of the mound, as well as several possible pit features. Some of these were “ground-truthed” with archaeological test excavations. One small pit feature with fire-cracked rock, burnt limestone, and shell tempered ceramics was AMS dated to the mid-13th century.

Refit ceramic sherds from the 2014 excavations

Refit ceramic sherds from the 2014 excavations

We also conducted some test excavations in what appears to be village midden deposited before construction of the mound. It contained the usual midden debris: animal bone, charcoal, lithics, and pottery. A piece of burnt walnut shell dates the midden to the late 13th century. Rim and body sherds to several jars were recovered from this context. The pottery is mostly shell and chalcedony grit tempered. Surface treatments are largely (zoned) check stamped and cord-marked with the typical Mississippi Plain, too. As such, the pottery is very unlike ceramic assemblages in the Middle Cumberland drainage, with the exception of except the Beasley Mounds in Smith County. The Pile Mound assemblage also bears some similarities to Mississippian sites in Southeastern Kentucky in the Upper Cumberland drainage. However, at sites likes Croley-Evans (15Kx24), the ceramic assemblage includes types indicative of the East Tennessee valley such as red-filmed, painted, and slipped vessels. We have none of this type of pottery, and therefore the Pile Mound assemblage does not seem to bear great resemblance to East Tennessee.

It appears that the Pile Mound site inhabitants likely maintained localized traditions, or communities of practice, by retaining chalcedony as a tempering agent (we have numerous well-dated Late Woodland ceramic assemblages in the immediate area of the Pile Mound that are largely chalcedony tempered). However, they shared Mississippian affinities and practices with neighboring communities in the eastern extremity of the Middle Cumberland and also perhaps with sites in the Upper Cumberland area of Kentucky. In sum, as with previous periods of prehistory in the Upper Cumberland Plateau regions, Mississippian peoples there defied traditional stereotypes of highland folks. They were not isolated, marginal communities. They were very much connected to the greater Mississippian world but also managed to maintain elements of their own traditions. We look forward to continuing our work at the Pile Mound site in 2016 with particular focus on residential and domestic areas of the site.

30 Days of Tennessee Archaeology, Day 6

Paleoindian Pioneers of the Upper Cumberland Plateau of Tennessee

Jay Franklin
Associate Professor of Anthropology
East Tennessee State University

Upland areas do not typically fit into conventional models of human exploitation, except in cases where they are invoked as marginal areas used for hunting and gathering forays by ancient peoples who then returned to their lowland homes. However, work on the Upper Cumberland Plateau (UCP) of Tennessee has demonstrated this is not the case, and we can add the earliest Tennesseans to the list.

East Tennessee State University students excavate a rockshelter site on the Upper Cumberland Plateau. Photo by Alan Cressler.

East Tennessee State University excavations at the Rock Creek Mortar Shelter site on the Upper Cumberland Plateau. Photo by Alan Cressler.

At Rock Creek Mortar Shelter on the UCP, we have recorded a more or less continuous record of human occupation from at least the end of the Pleistocene (around 11,500 years ago) to about AD 1000. In the late Pleistocene and early Holocene deposits about 1.25 – 2 meters below surface, we recovered more than a dozen blades from a restricted area under the drip line of the shelter. Most of the blades were made/prepared from unipolar cores using a mix of hard hammer and soft hammer percussion.

There also seems to be a mix of skill level and/or execution in producing the blades. A few of the well made examples would be at home in European Late & Epi-Paleolithic assemblages, while a others are poorly executed. This potentially suggests the site was occupied by a family group as opposed to simply a group of hunters. It may have been that older, skilled knappers were teaching younger novices to make blades on site. It may also be that these earliest inhabitants of the UCP were coping with the constraints of using the locally available small rounded cobbles of Monteagle Chert for blade production (as opposed to large tabular cherts encountered in the lower Tennessee River drainage). Our excavations also recovered numerous core edge flakes and crested blade fragments that were removed to prepare cores for blade production. We have some evidence for over shot biface thinning flaking at the site, which is a technique common in Paleoindian assemblages.

The entire range of lithic reduction is present in these early levels, indicating chert cobbles were brought to the shelter for core reduction and tool production. Like later Holocene assemblages all over the UCP, there is evidence of biface production at Rock Creek Mortar Shelter. However, unlike the myriad other shelters we have excavated, we have already recovered far more unifacial tools at this site than any other on the UCP. So far, 50 tools/pieces have been analyzed for microscopic use wear. Activities represented in the late Pleistocene/early Holocene levels include early stage hide and meat processing and scraping wood. In addition, two tools possess some sort of residue which we think may be blood.

We are excited to continue our work at this important site. We hope to recover blade cores in the coming field season so that we may reconstruct the entire blade production sequence. More generally, we will continue to explore why these early people ventured onto this rugged, upland landscape far removed from a major stream and tens of kilometers from primary raw material sources.