Academic journal article Southeastern Archaeology

A Reassessment of the Chronology of Mound a at Toqua

Academic journal article Southeastern Archaeology

A Reassessment of the Chronology of Mound a at Toqua

Article excerpt

The name Toqua derives from the Cherokee word Dakwa'yi, which means "place of a mythic great fish" (Mooney 1900:320-321). The fish, or "Dakwa," lived at the mouth of Toqua Creek in Monroe County, Tennessee, which is now incorporated into the Tennessee Valley Authority's (TVA) Tellico Reservoir. The University of Tennessee (UT) as part of the TVA's Tellico Reservoir Project excavated the Toqua site (40MR6), a large late prehistoric town, extensively from 1967 to 1975 (Figure 1). A sizable report edited by Richard Polhemus (1987b) documents the UT/TVA excavations and subsequent analyses.

The original suite of radiometric dates obtained for Toqua in the late 1970s is now proving to be problematic for placing this important site in a regional perspective (Table 1). While important for providing independent means of dating cultural contexts at Toqua, the original radiocarbon and archaeomagnetic dates with their substantial error ranges are not presently conducive for tracking short temporal intervals. Archaeomagnetic dates from Toqua were reanalyzed in the 1990s with reference to the most recent midcontinent paleomagnetic curve (Lengyel et al. 1999). It is possible that future advances in the MCCV190 curve used to date the Toqua archaeomagnetic samples will yield more precise date ranges. Until then, the original set of radiometric and archaeomagnetic dates for Toqua is ill suited to further the authors' goal of establishing a more refined internal site chronology for Toqua.

A newly obtained AMS date reported here and the reassessment of the Toqua Mound A occupational sequence is part of a larger study by the authors to resolve chronological issues for the late prehistoric period in eastern Tennessee (Sullivan et al. 2009). Our effort to provide an updated regional culture chronology is accomplished through the use of extant collections from past fieldwork projects in addition to a recently obtained suite of high-precision dates for significant cultural contexts. Many of the sites in the regional study had no absolute dates. We chose to use available resources conservatively so as to obtain dates for as many sites as possible. While additional dates from Toqua are warranted, the AMS date reported here in combination with the existing suite of assays establish a sound foundation for inferring the Mound A sequence and provide a means of interpreting the changing role of the town over time.

A more refined understanding of the timing of individual sites and their occupations is essential for reconstructing settlement patterns and for interpreting social and political interactions among contemporaneous sites in the upper Tennessee Valley as well as the greater Southeast (Blitz 2010). Inasmuch as interpretations of the Toqua site have been highly influential in shaping archaeological perceptions of late prehistory in eastern Tennessee (see Schroedl 1998), a reinterpretation and refinement of chronology of this site's main platform mound is important for placing this significant site in regional perspective.

Historical Context of the Toqua Investigations

Much of the current body of research focused on the Mississippian period in the Great Valley of eastern Tennessee derives from excavation efforts in conjunction with the construction of TVA reservoirs. The most extensive of these efforts was a series of make-work civil projects organized by federal agencies during the height of the Great Depression from 1934 through 1941. Depression-era supervisors were intent on collecting data from sites that would provide a representative sample from the area of impact, which were primarily along low alluvial terrace floodplains (Lyon 1996:143). Their goal was to construct a culture history for the valley tied to material and behavioral traits, but they did not have the luxury of using radiometric dating methods routinely applied today (Lewis et al. 1995:267).

The most recent TVA reservoir project in the valley was the Tellico Reservoir Project, initiated in the 1960s to mitigate the impact of damming the Little Tennessee River (Chapman 1994). …

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