View of the central plaza and platform mound at Mound Bottom
|Location||Cheatham County, Tennessee|
|NRHP Reference #||71000813|
|Added to NRHP||1971|
Mound Bottom is a prehistoric Native American complex in Cheatham County, Tennessee, located in the Southeastern United States. The complex, which consists of earthwork platform and burial mounds, a central plaza, and habitation areas, was built between 950 and 1300 AD, during the Mississippian period.
The Mound Bottom site is often grouped with another mound complex located just over a mile to the south known as the Pack Site, or Great Mound Division. Due to structural similarities in the mounds, the builders of the Pack site mounds are believed to have been contemporaries of Mound Bottom's inhabitants.
Mound Bottom is situated on a horseshoe bend of the Harpeth River at the river's confluence with Mound Creek, which approaches the riverbank opposite the site from the east. The Mound Bottom bend is one in a series of sharp bends found along the lower Harpeth as the river twists and turns through a steep gorge en route to its confluence with the Cumberland River several miles to the north. The Harpeth surrounds Mound Bottom on the north, south, and east, while the entry to the bend from the west is marked by rocky uplands.
Mound Bottom is today located approximately 1-mile (1.6 km) north of the point where U.S. Route 70 crosses the Harpeth River, on the outskirts of Kingston Springs. The site is managed by the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation as part of Harpeth River State Park. The Pack Site is located on private property approximately 1.5 miles (2.4 km) southwest of Mound Bottom, just south of US-70.
Archaeological features at Mound Bottom
In all, the Mound Bottom site and Pack Site together contain 29 mounds known to be of prehistoric construction. Some of the mounds are flat-topped platform mounds that supported superstructures including ceremonial buildings or elite residences. Other mounds were burial mounds. At Mound Bottom, the principal large flat-topped mound and at least 13 additional smaller mounds were scattered about a central plaza. The principal mound at Mound Bottom originally stood at least 36 feet tall and measured about 246 feet along each side of its base. The mound summit was originally accessed via a ramp located at the midpoint of the eastern face, which is no longer visible. The entire complex, which is believed to have included hundreds of houses, was surrounded by an earthen wall topped with a palisade of upright logs. In the early 19th century the footprint of the palisade wall was still visible, along with evenly spaced redoubts and two gateways.
The function of Mound Bottom
Like many Mississippian-era sites, Mound Bottom probably began as a ceremonial meeting place for scattered farms in the Harpeth Valley around 950 AD. Over time, the site developed as a fortified city with a population numbering in the thousands. Various exotic artifacts discovered at the site suggest that Mound Bottom was founded by outsiders to the region, possibly originating in the American Bottom east of the Mississippi River in present-day Illinois. Mound Bottom and the other Mississippian sites in Middle Tennessee were part of the Mississippian Ideological Interaction Sphere (previously known as the Southern Cult and Southeastern Ceremonial Complex), which connected late prehistoric cultures from the Great Lakes, Gulf Coast, and the Appalachian Mountains. Major occupation at Mound Bottom appears to have ended by around AD 1300, corresponding with a period when numerous smaller Mississippian chiefdoms began to spread throughout the Nashville Basin. While there is still some evidence of occupation at Mound Bottom around that time, it is believed that major mound building at the site ceased during the late 13th century.
Mound Bottom in recorded history
Early Tennessee historian John Haywood noted Mound Bottom's importance as an aboriginal site in 1823, and early settlers reported seeing large fortifications and towers at the site. In the late 1860s, Joseph Jones of the Smithsonian Institution investigated several prehistoric sites in Tennessee, and reported "extraordinary aboriginal works" at Mound Bottom.
In 1923, William E. Myer, also working with the Smithsonian, carried out the first modern investigation of the Mound Bottom site. Myer uncovered evidence of a structure and hearth atop one of the mounds at the Pack site and evidence of 10 ancient houses at Mound Bottom. Tennessee state archaeologist P.E. Cox followed up on Myer's finds in 1926, uncovering a number of stone box burials and baked clay floors. In the 1930s and early 1940s, excavations conducted by the University of Tennessee uncovered several house sites, graves, and sections of the palisade.
In 1972, the State of Tennessee purchased the Mound Bottom site to preserve it as a state archaeological area. The Tennessee Division of Archaeology dispatched Carl Kuttruff and Michael O'Brien to conduct major excavations at Mound Bottom in 1974 and 1975. Kutruff and O'Brien discovered another clay floor and excavated more of the palisade and a row of houses. The results of those excavations were published in 2012.
Over the years, various movements to establish a state archaeological park at Mound Bottom arose and fizzled. In 2005, Mound Bottom became part of Harpeth River State Park, a "linear park" connecting several archaeological, historical, and natural areas along the lower Harpeth. The site is closed to the public, although guided tours are available by request during the winter months.
Mound Bottom and the adjacent pictograph at May's Mace Bluff were the inspiration for the 2014 Tennessee Archaeology Awareness Month poster, created by the Tennessee Council for Professional Archaeology.
- Kevin Smith, "Mound Bottom." The Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture, 2002. Retrieved: 7 December 2007.
- Aaron Deter-Wolf, "30 Days of Tennessee Archaeology, Day 13: A Visit to Mound Bottom." Tennessee Council for Professional Archaeology, posted 13 September 2014.
- Kevin Markuson, "Mound Bottom: Archaeological Treasures in Cheatham County." Tennessee Archaeology Net. Originally published in The Advocate vol. 8, no. 5 (31 January 1998). Retrieved: 7 December 2007.
- Michael C. Moore and Kevin E. Smith, Archaeological Expeditions of the Peabody Museum in Middle Tennessee, 1877-1884. 2009, Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, Division of Archaeology, Research Series 16.
- George E. Lankford, "Regional Approaches to Iconographic Art." In Visualizing the Sacred: Cosmic Visions, Regionalism, and the Art of the Mississippian World, edited by George E. Lankford, F. Kent Reilly III, and James F. Garber, pp. 3-17. 2011, University of Texas Press, Austin.
- James Crutchfield, The Harpeth River: A Biography (Johnson City, Tenn.: The Overmountain Press, 1972), 117.
- Michael J. O’Brien and Carl Kuttruff, "Excavations at Mound Bottom, A Palisaded Mississippian Center in Cheatham County, Tennessee," Southeastern Archaeology, (2012) 31:pp. 70-86
- Kevin Markuson, "Mound Bottom Preserved: Yesterday and Today." Tennessee Archaeology Net. Originally published in The Advocate vol. 8, no. 8 (21 February 1998). Retrieved: 7 December 2007.
- Tanya M. Peres, "30 Days of Tennessee Archaeology, Day 14: The 2014 Tennessee Archaeology Awareness Month Poster!." Tennessee Council for Professional Archaeology, posted 14 September 2014.
- Harpeth River State Park — official site, includes map
- AN EXAMPLE OF INTENTIONAL LATE PREHISTORIC DENTAL MUTILATION FROM MIDDLE TENNESSEE by William O. Autry