Stone Box Burials in Faraway Places

Earlier in the week, I took my son to a scheduled appointment and sat in a small lobby with a wicker basket nearly full of magazines. Peering into the basket, I spotted an interesting-looking magazine called Country. It contained a small article on the tiny vacation destination of Helen, Georgia. Helen is a village of about 500 people, and its major tourist draw is its architectural expression as a typical Alpine village in the Bavarian Alps of Germany. It looked like a fun place to visit, so I later searched for more information about it on-line. Lo and behold, a short article on Helen in Wikipedia clued me into the presence of a prehistoric Native American mound—a Mississippian period platform mound that just happens to have a German-style gazebo planted squarely on top of it (Figure 1).  I was more than a little surprised to learn that the large Mississippian component on this archaeological site [Nacoochee Mound site (9WH3)] has a few stone box burials somewhat similar to some of the Mississippian stone box burials found in the Middle Cumberland region of Tennessee.


Figure 1.  Platform Mound on the Nacoochee Mound Site in Helen, Georgia

The principal mode of Mississippian burial in the Middle Cumberland region was the “body-fitted” stone box burial wherein the interred individuals are usually lying on their backs in a fully extended position. Occasionally, square to slightly rectangular stone boxes containing partially flexed or tightly flexed individuals are also found in this region of Tennessee.  That was true at the Hart site (40DV434) in Nashville. A few stone box burials have also been found in the Chattanooga area of Tennessee. Some archaeologists in the Tennessee past have tried to tie these burials to the small Yuchi tribe of Native Americans who lived in that area of the state in early historic times. Mississippian stone box burials are also found in Central and Western Kentucky, Southern Illinois, Southwestern Indiana, and some parts of Eastern Missouri.

I feel sure that occasional Mississippian stone box burials, occurring either singly or in extremely small numbers, are found on Mississippian archaeological sites in locations outside of the foregoing areas.  The stone box burials at 9WH3 are an example of this. However, the stone box burials on the outer rim of the Mississippian world at 9WH3 are the farthest away ones that I have ever encountered. These stone boxes are few in number, and they appear to be larger and far less well constructed than the body-fitted stone box burials in the Middle Cumberland region. The articulated individuals are buried in extended or flexed positions. Other stone boxes appear to contain bundles of mixed bones from different individuals, possibly ritually defleshed individuals from charnel houses.

If you would like to read in more detail about the stone box burials and other archaeological findings at 9WH3, you may do so by clicking on the following safe links:

The Nacoochee Mound in Georgia

Nacoochee Revisited: The 2004 Project

2 thoughts on “Stone Box Burials in Faraway Places

  1. Lanny Glick

    Did you run across the articles by Richard Thornton that suggest a Mayan contact period? I have no idea if it holds water, but it is an intriguing thesis. And it is certainly possible. The Crystal River site in Fla has a pyramidal mound and plaza layout that very much echoes the types of things I have seen in the Yucatan. Columbus notes in his logs the presence of sail powered large trading vessels manned by Native Americans far out to sea. Of course his articles set off a firestorm of denial, but his follow up pieces certainly raise some questions…And we all know what happens to folks who go against the establishment….

  2. hbsuefred

    Seems like a lot of intervening civilizations may have been passed over in going directly from the mound to the building on top of it. Did the builders of the latter have any idea what was beneath the former at the time?


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