The 1974-75 Excavations at Mound Bottom, a Palisaded Mississippian Center in Cheatham County, Tennessee

By O'Brien, Michael J.; Kuttruff, Carl | Southeastern Archaeology, Summer 2012 | Go to article overview

The 1974-75 Excavations at Mound Bottom, a Palisaded Mississippian Center in Cheatham County, Tennessee


O'Brien, Michael J., Kuttruff, Carl, Southeastern Archaeology


Mound Bottom (40CH8) is a large complex of 14 prehistoric mounds located in a horseshoe-shaped bend of the Harpeth River, a tributary of the Cumberland, in Cheatham County, Tennessee. It, together with another mound group 3 km to the south known as the Pack site (40CH1), received sporadic archaeological attention during the first half of the twentieth century, but it was not until 1974 that systematic work was carried out at either mound center. Over portions ofthat and the following year, Mound Bottom was mapped in detail and excavations were carried out to document the range in variability of mound construction and community structure. Six mounds were tested and 19 houses were partially or totally excavated. House types included both single-set-post structures and wall-trench structures. Calibrated radiocarbon dates from Mound Bottom span about a 600-year period from the eighth through the fourteenth centuries.

Mound Bottom (40CH8) is a complex of Mississippian mounds and village located on the Harpeth River, a tributary of the Cumberland, in Cheatham County, Tennessee (Figure 1). The setting is a horseshoe bend of the river in which the 14 mounds and associated plaza and residential areas are located. The river encircles the 40-plus ha of the bottom on the north, east, and south, and to the west the neck of the horseshoe is constricted to only a narrow strip of land that connects the bottomland to the uplands. Roughly 3 km to the south, and on the same side of the Harpeth, is another Mississippian mound group, the Pack site (40CH1), consisting of 15 mounds, some arranged around a large plaza. The site is encircled in part by the river, and the remainder by a palisade with bastions (see Figure l).1 How the two mound groups were related socially, politically, and chronologically is unknown.

On a broader scale, we also cannot accurately state how the Mound Bottom site was related to the larger context of Mississippian archaeology in the Middle Cumberland drainage. Probably of immediate concern would be an analysis of the information about the Pack site in an effort to determine the possible chronological and other relationship of the two sites. There are some 26 Mississippian mound sites in the Middle Cumberland drainage (see Smith 1992), along with many village sites and numerous stone-box-grave cemeteries. Since the 1970s' work at Mound Bottom, various excavations, many salvage in nature, have been carried out at several Mississippian mound sites as well as at other types of sites, not all of which have been adequately reported. Additional analysis and reporting on several of these, as well as a restudy of older information on various sites, would be important to an initial development of an overall settlement pattern.

William E. Myer of the Smithsonian Institution conducted extensive excavations at Pack in the early 1920s and also surveyed and photographed Mound Bottom (Kuttruff 1979). Over the next decade and a half, at least three excavations were carried out at Mound Bottom - one by state of Tennessee archaeologist P. E. Cox in 1924 (Cox 1926) and two by archaeologists connected with the University of Tennessee, first George Neumann and Stuart Neitzel in 1936-37, then Charles Nash in 1940 (Kuttruff 1979). A common thread throughout the early fieldwork was an emphasis on locating and excavating stone-box graves (Autry 1983).

The state of Tennessee purchased Mound Bottom in 1973 as part of a program to preserve important archaeological properties and to promote tourism. Kuttruff began working with the Tennessee Division of Archaeology (TDOA) in 1973 and developed plans to conduct excavations at the site the following summer using Vanderbilt University archaeological field school students and archaeologists employed by the TDOA. He returned with the field school in June 1975 and was joined by O'Brien's TDOA crew, which worked through mid-November. The results of those two field seasons of work formed the basis of a dissertation (O'Brien 1977), but they were never published in accessible form. …

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