Central States Archaeological Societies
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A Drilled Greenstone Southern Spatulate

by Bob Reeves

Central States Archaeological Societies 2010 October Journal

Knoxville, Tennessee



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 riverbanks .

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 of Tennessee.
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. ISSN 1060-0965.

3. The Mississippian Culture from Wikipedia, the free online encyclopedia, http:// en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mississippian_culture

< 4. Southeastern Ceremonial Complex from Wikipedia, the free online encyclopedia, (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Southeastern_Ceremonial_Complex)