02 October 2011

Pinson Mounds, Tennessee

Incised greenstone pendant
The two-thousand-year-old Middle Woodland site, Pinson Mounds has my vote, hands down, for the creepiest site we've visited. This is probably due to the rain, the mist rising from the forests, the echoing insect calls, or the incised human skull rattles found on a male burial and on display in the museum. Built near the southern fork of the Forked Deer River, Pinson Mounds were constructed from 200 BCE through the 400 CE (Mainfort and Kwas).

Pinson is part of the Miller sub-tradition, a precolumbian culture that settled along the Tombigbee River in western Alabama, northeastern Mississippi, and western Tennessee, that flourished from 250 BCE to 550 CE (Peregrine and Ember 327). The Miller diet featured hickory nuts, goosefoot, maygrass, deer, turtles, fish, and shellfish (328-9). Miller peoples were part of the Hopewellian exchange. Many of the ceramics interred at Pinson were imported from throughout the southeast, while some of the Pinson stone artifacts came from as far away as Ohio (328, 333).

Pinson contains possibly 30 mounds, including five platform mounds. Unlike later Mississippian mounds, these early mounds have no conclusive evidence of buildings on their surface (328). Only three of the mounds were burial mounds; one of these being the Twin Mounds (Mainfort and Kwas). Few people are believed to have lived at the site; instead, it was a ceremonial center for the region (Peregrine and Ember 333).

Saul's Mound, Pinson Mound #9
At 72 feet tall, Saul's Mound, or Mound 9, is the second-tallest mound in the United States. Currently by trees and foliage, the mound is actually rectangular, with the corners corresponding to the four cardinal directions.

The park's museum is quite large and resembles a mound on the outside with turf-covered earth shored on its side. I can't help but think this architecture is genius and must help with their heating and air conditioning bills. They have an extensive collection of pottery, lithic tools, a dugout canoe, and other artifacts. The outside of the museum is covered with yucca plants, which seems incongruous, but as I found out, Yucca filamentosa is actually common throughout the south, growing as far east as Virginia.

As we drove away, we passed the amusing site of a flock of wild turkeys foraging on a mound, which lifted some of the creepiness of the site.

back entrance of the museum, covered in yucca plants


Anonymous said...

I really enjoy visiting mounds. Many I have visited I have located on the geocaching site, as this mound is also a listing on that site.

This is a nice site, and I'm very glad to have found it. Seems we have similar interests. I too am a historical researcher and writer.

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