Some Quick Notes on Tennessee Archaeology

When an average citizen, avocational archaeologist, or artifact collector mentions something new about Tennessee archaeology that you have never heard, do you quickly grab the nearest piece of paper and pen to jot it down for future reference? The Archaeology in Tennessee blog thinks this is a wise and wonderful thing to do. As noted in a recent post to this blog, I have been in my home office sorting through some archaeology files that are 30-40 years old. One of those old files contained some of my Tennessee archaeology notes that were quickly jotted down during a casual conversation with a knowledgeable Nashville area artifact collector 30+ years ago. I have decided to share these notes with you just for fun. However, instead of offering you the jotted notes per se, which are a bit cryptic, I will offer up my best interpretation of what the notes say.

Quick Notation No. 1

Guy Stack, a famous Tennessee artifact collector in the middle 20th century, died while he was still in office as President of the Tennessee Archaeological Society. After he died his enormous artifact collection was sold in two separate portions. Mr. Malcolm Parker, a well-known artifact collector in Nashville, Tennessee, was retained to appraise the Stack collection prior to the sale. However, before he could appraise Portion No. 1, it was suddenly sold to a Mr. Fowler at the Period Furniture Company in Nashville, Tennessee. Mr. Parker appraised Portion No. 2 of the Stack collection, and it was sold to Mr. Porter Womack (now deceased), who lived in Sumner County, operated a large farm, and worked for many years as a high official in county government.

The Stack collection contained a sculpted statue made of either sandstone or steatite. It was a representation of an ancient Native American individual (male or female). This statue consisted of the ancient person’s head, shoulders, and trunk down to the waist level. It was 1 foot in height and about 6 inches wide. However, the most interesting aspect of this statue was its eyes. The pupils of the eyes were represented by imbedded European trade beads. These glass beads were either red or green in color, and they were somewhat cylindrical in shape, looking like an old wooden barrel. The surfaces of these glass beads had a dull, frosted texture. The statue was found in a farmer’s field along Yellow Creek in the Pond Creek community of Cheatham County, Tennessee.

In the early 1980s, I obtained some more information about this statue and followed up on it with a brief article written by the editor at The Ashland City Times newspaper in Ashland City, Cheatham County, Tennessee.

Archaeologist Seeks Local Info

A University of Tennessee archaeologist is asking for information from residents in the Pond Creek community about an ancient statuette once found in that area by a local farmer.

The statuette, a bust carved in the form of a man or woman and containing glass trade beads as eyes, was purchased from a farmer in the Pond Creek community in early 1963 by a collector [Guy Stack], says archaeologist Tracy Charles Brown.

He originally was trying to find more information about the archaeological site that had yielded what was known as the “Pond Creek Stones.”

The collector purchased the statuette after seeing it atop a wellhouse. It was about 1 foot tall and about six inches wide, Brown says. The collector died soon after he purchased the statuette, and it was sold with a large portion of the remainder of his collection. Brown says no one is sure where the statuette is, and no known photos are available.

He’s asking residents who may have seen or heard about the statuette to provide information for research he is doing on ancient objects such as steel knives, glass trade beads, and brass bells that date back to the Mississippian Period (A.D. 800-1600).

Most finds relating to this type of research have been done by families and farmers living in the area.

Brown asks that anyone remembering anything about the object, including when and where it was found and who found it, to contact him via this newspaper.

The archaeologist also is looking for any available photographs or precise descriptions of the artifact. He says even snapshots which accidentally include the statuette are valuable to the research.

And, he is looking for anyone who has found any other possible examples of those prehistoric items such as trade beads or steel knives.

Anyone with information should call The Ashland City Times at 792-4230 between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday, or write the newspaper at P.O. Box 158, Ashland City, Tenn. 37015. All information will be kept strictly confidential.

Quick Notation No. 2

This little archaeological event occurred in Allen County, Kentucky, in the middle 1930s. Allen County is located just across the state line from Sumner County, Tennessee. It involved a man by the name of Carl Hix. He and another man were pursuing a groundhog that ran for cover under a fairly large rock. The two men moved the rock by hand in hopes of getting the groundhog. A Native American burial was found under the rock. The buried individual was accompanied by a ceramic vessel with strap handles. It also contained a river cane basket that had been mashed flat. Disgusted with the condition of the basket, the men threw it into the Barren River. An iron tomahawk accompanied the ceramic vessel and basket in this human burial.

Quick Notation No. 3

The Haysboro site, which is called the Maddox site today, was a large site occupied during the Mississippian Period. It also has a substantial historical-era component. Fifteen to 20 feet away from something (not sure what?), a container of musket caps was dug out from 3 feet underground. David Parrish found a steel knife on this site.

Despite the fact that professional archaeologists have never found historic-era Euroamerican artifacts in situ in an undisturbed Mississippian Period burial in the Middle Cumberland region of Middle Tennessee, anecdotal stories about historic-era artifacts found in local Mississippian site contexts have persisted for many decades.  Considering the fact that the Mississippian Period was essentially over with and done in the Middle Cumberland region by about A.D. 1450-1475 and the fact that the once large Mississippian population in the region had vacated the land, it is hard to know what to do with these persistent stories.

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