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Recent Division Statement about Mound Bottom

TDOA Information Statement

October 26, 2017

The Tennessee Division of Archaeology (Division), a division of the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC), oversees the preservation and protection of prehistoric and historic archaeological resources in the state of Tennessee. The Division maintains important information on more than 26,000 recorded archaeological sites, including seven state-owned prehistoric sites managed by Tennessee State Parks. The Division performs these statutorily mandated responsibilities within the legal framework established by both state and federal laws.

Recently the Division proposed to conduct an excavation project and fee-based tour at Mound Bottom State Archaeological Area to take place in October 2017. However, the excavation and tour were cancelled due to the unfortunate circulation of inaccurate information regarding the nature and purpose of the project. It is the Division’s hope that this statement will provide a brief summary of the Mound Bottom site and the proposed excavation project.

Mound Bottom represents a state-owned mound center located in a severe meander bend of the Harpeth River in Cheatham County, TN. Few modern archaeological investigations have been conducted at Mound Bottom, and many aspects of the site remain poorly understood. This substantial site, managed by Harpeth River State Park, includes 14 late prehistoric Native American earthen mounds, as well as a plaza and adjacent habitation and cemetery areas. Most of the mounds, including the large primary mound, are platform/structure mounds; not burial mounds.

The excavation project and fee-based tour scheduled for October 2017 was designed to focus only on Mound L; a low, non-burial mound located in the center of the site plaza. Minimal excavations (through a series of 1 meter by 1 meter units) would target subsurface anomalies identified during previous noninvasive geophysical survey. The purpose of the excavation was to: (1) determine the nature of identified anomalies; (2) collect radiocarbon samples from controlled contexts in order to further delineate site chronology; (3) evaluate previous hypotheses regarding mound placement and temporal origin; and (4) gather archaeological data useful in interpreting the site formation and occupation. At no time was this project designed to locate, excavate, or remove human burials.

The fee-based public tour had been scheduled mid-way through the project to view the site area as well as interpret the on-going excavation. TDEC agencies (including State Parks, Natural Areas, and Archaeology) offer fee-based tours on occasion throughout the year. At no time would the Mound Bottom tour visitors have been exposed to, viewed, or participated in the excavation of human remains.

The Tennessee Archaeological Advisory Council (TAAC) will discuss this issue at their upcoming meeting on Friday afternoon, January 26, 2018 at Montgomery Bell State Park. Please check the TAAC website for meeting details as available.

For additional information about the Division, please see the Division’s web page. There you’ll find links to various Division services and assistance (such as permits and historic cemetery questions), Division reports and the Tennessee Archaeology e-journal, information about state-owned archaeological parks and archaeological areas, and other areas of interest regarding Tennessee archaeology. The Division also maintains a Facebook page, which provides information relative to various events of the Division and other archaeological organization, as well as other archaeological topics of interest from across the state, region, and world.

Please contact Michael C. Moore, State Archaeologist and Director of the Division of Archaeology, at mike.c.moore@tn.gov for any questions regarding Division programs or activities.