Mississippian Period Statues from Sellars Farm

Oak Ridge High School lets their students go home at 1:50 p.m. on Wednesdays.  It was my job to pick up my son after school today. He had a haircut scheduled for 3:00 p.m., so we had some time to kill before his appointment. We both agreed to go across the street to the Oak Ridge Public Library, use the restroom, and watch the clock. On entering the library, I bolted for the magazine and journal section to look at the latest edition of The Tennessee Conservationist (TTC), a general environmental periodical put out six times per year by the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC).  Way back in the 1980s and early 1990s, I really looked forward to seeing each new edition of TTC because it usually contained at least one article related to Tennessee archaeology. True. I did not formally chart the tables of contents from one edition to the next across those many past years, but it appeared to me that someone at TDEC, in the 1990s, decided to make Tennessee archaeology a low priority for general TTC magazine articles and focus instead on many more articles about environmental management, zoology, and ecology. Although environmental management is one of my fields of expertise, along with southeastern archaeology, I quit reading the TTC when it became clear to me that Tennessee archaeology was no longer a high priority for articles. When I picked up the latest edition of the TTC at the public library this afternoon, I was amazed to see a new and richly illustrated article on the four famous Mississippian period statues found at the mound site on the Sellars Farm, which is located in Wilson County near Lebanon, Tennessee.  Two of these statues are shown in Figure 1.

Sellars Statues

Figure 1.  Two of the Ancestors at the Sellars Mound Site

The title of this new article is “Ancient Faces: Native American Stone Sculptures from Sellars Farm State Archaeological Area in Wilson County.”  Dr. Kevin E. Smith, Professor of Anthropology at Middle Tennessee State University, is the author.  This article is on pages 20–25 in the March/April 2017 edition of TTC.  It is a really good, well-written article, and the accompanying photographs are excellent. I encourage you to read it.  Your local public library may have a subscription to TTC, which means you may read the article there.  Information on how to subscribe to TTC is available at the following safe link:

Subscribe to The Tennessee Conservationist

Dr. Smith and his late friend, James G. Miller, did the comprehensive, seminal research on Mississippian stone statuary in the Tennessee-Middle Cumberland region. The results of their research were published in a 2009 book entitled Speaking with the Ancestors: Mississippian Stone Statuary of the Tennessee-Cumberland Region. This excellent book is available from its publisher, The University of Alabama Press.  In addition, you may obtain this book as a Kindle Edition or as a paperback book from Amazon.com.

In the years since the death of Jim Miller, Dr. Smith has continued his research on Mississippian statuary in Tennessee and the southeast region, and he has inspired an interest in related aspects of it by young, up-and-coming Tennessee archaeologists such as Ms. Sierra Bow, a Ph. D. graduate student at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Much to his credit, Dr. Smith has also been instrumental in creating widespread public interest in Mississippian statuary through his well-known commitment to public archaeology. This new article in TTC is part of that continuing and very valuable commitment.

I would like to close this blog post by praising TTC for publishing this recent article on Mississippian statuary and by encouraging TTC to include more general articles related to Tennessee prehistoric archaeology and historical archaeology in its future editions, like you did in the 1980s and early 1990s. Yes. The journal Tennessee Archaeology is published by the Tennessee Division of Archaeology under TDEC, and it is an excellent publication. I relish reading every new edition that comes out because I am a professional archaeologist.  However, it is primarily a technical journal that serves the interests of professional archaeologists and avocational archaeologists.  Most ordinary Tennessee citizens with no deep educational background in Tennessee archaeology or American archaeology would probably get lost in the technicalia of it. In my opinion, which is always open to change, most Tennessee citizens would be more likely to experience a sparked interest in Tennessee archaeology through more basic TTC articles such as this new one about the Mississippian statuary from the Sellars Farm.

Photo Credit: The Lebanon Democrat

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