Way back in November of 1966, I was surface hunting along the banks of
the French Broad River in Jefferson County, Tennessee when I found what
I then called a ceremonial celt. It was a tremendous find, the best artifact I
had ever found at the time, and still is one of my best. It is made
of greenstone and is 7” long, 3 1/2” at the widest point,
1 1/8” wide across the slightly rounded poll end, and 5/8” thick.
It has an 11/16: dia. hole which tapers to 5/16” where it penetrates,
and is 2 7/16” across the face at the center of the hole, and the
top of the hole is 3” down from the top of the poll. It is complete
and with only one very small modern ding on the poll, but the prehistoric
craftsman did not quite finish polishing out all the peck marks, a few of which still remain. Regardless, this is truly a rare artifact and the slight imperfections
are easily overlooked.
It was not until many years later tha later that I learned that
it is one of a group of artifacts referred to as a Drilled Greenstone
Southern Spatulate and is thought to be associated with the Southeastern
Ceremonial Complex (SECC, also known as the Southern Cult)) dating from 1200
AD on into the early contact phase of the late Mississippian period in
the southeastern United States. This particular artifact is impressive
for two reasons. The first is that this type artifact is rare under any
circumstances, and the second is that the area from which it was found has never produced many Mississippian artifacts.
I found this in a pile of dirt next to a hole that had been dug to make
a duck blind. I did look around for more artifacts, but found none. Since
this is not the normal Archaic or Woodland artifact found in this area,
I should have dug around some to see if it had come from a later Mississippian
burial or other feature, but did not realize what I had at the time. Near
where this spatulate was found, about two hundred yards from the river’s edge, a mound
once stood. The bottom land around the mound had been cultivated for about
one hundred years and the mound had
been slowly reduced to just a low rise above the surrounding level flood
plain. Then in the mid 1940’s,
the Tennessee Valley Authority built the Douglas Dam and flooded the site.
During low levels of the lake back in the fifties and on until the late
sixties, the mound could still be seen as the highest point in the silted
flood plain, maybe eighteen inches higher than the surrounding area, but
by the early seventies, all vestiges of it was gone and was soon forgotten.
Few people today are even aware that it once existed.
During my research of this type artifact, I happened to come across an
old archaeological site survey which sheds some light on my find. In February
of 1972, Dr. Major C. R. McCollough, research assistant professor for
the Department of Anthropology at the University of Tennessee, conducted
an archaeological survey of the area for the Tennessee Valley Authority
who had proposed building a steam plant on the higher elevations above
the site where the mound stood. Dr. McCollough noted mainly Woodland sites
in the adjacent area of the proposed steam
plant site, but there was one brief mention of some Mississippian cultural
material. In his report he wrote “A “substructure” (presumably
Mississippian) mound (site 17Je9) and a stray find of a raptorial bird
pendant were reported in the downstream end of the site.” He also
mentioned “Cherokee types [of pottery shards] from the lower end of the site from an earlier site survey found
by local collectors.”
That may explain this artifact being where I found it,
but even with this explanation, I am left with several questions. I have
talked to several local collectors who have hunted this area for years
and few of them have any Mississippian artifacts other than a few pottery
shards and a handful of small triangular points that might even be
late Woodland types. Could that mound have actually been a Woodland structure and was misidentified? Why so few Mississippian
culture artifacts from this area if the mound was indeed of Mississippian
origin? Is it possible that the few artifacts that have been found were
all left behind by one group of Mississippian Indians passing through
the area? Possibly all of the artifacts were from one grave or cache that
had been plowed out and scattered during the many years of cultivation
prior to the lake being formed.
I’ll never know the answer to these questions, but the mysteries
surrounding such finds is so intriguing that it will keep me hunting and
collecting Indian artifacts as long as I am able to walk the fields and
1. Archaeological Survey of the Taylor Bend Steam Plant site on Douglas
Lake near White Pine, Jefferson County, Tennessee. By Dr. Major C. R.
mcCollough, Research Assistant Professor, Department of Anthropology, The University
Conducted for the Tennessee Valley Authority in Accordance with Contract TV-36493A. February 15, 1973.
2. Prehistoric America, Vol. XL, No. 2, 2006. The Official Publication
for the Genuine Indian Relic Society, Inc. Library of Congress No.
3. The Mississippian Culture from Wikipedia, the free online encyclopedia,
4. Southeastern Ceremonial Complex from Wikipedia, the free online