View of the central plaza and platform mound at Mound Bottom, from May's Mace Bluff
|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 earthen platform and burial mounds, a 7-acre central plaza, and habitation areas, was occupied between approximately 1000 and 1300 AD, during the Mississippian period.
The Mound Bottom site is likely associated with another mound complex located just over a mile to the south known as the Pack Site, or Great Mound Division, and together they have been called the "Great Mound Group." Due to structural similarities in the mounds and ceramic chronologies, these sites are believed to have been contemporaneous.
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. Site access is prohibited without accompaniment by park rangers or the Tennessee Division of Archaeology. The Pack Site is located on private property approximately 1.5 miles (2.4 km) southwest of Mound Bottom, just south of US-70, and is not open for visitation.
Archaeological history of Mound Bottom
Together the Mound Bottom site and Pack Site contain up to 34 earthen mounds, including between 11 and 14 at Mound Bottom and 20 at Pack. Some of these are flat-topped platform mounds that supported structures including ceremonial buildings or elite residences, while others were burial mounds. At Mound Bottom, the principal large flat-topped mound and up to 13 additional smaller mounds were arranged around 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, and is oriented approximately 11 degrees east of north. The mound summit was originally accessed via a ramp or staircase located at the midpoint of the eastern face. According to early historical reports the Mound Bottom complex was surrounded by an earthen wall topped with a palisade of upright logs. However, any sign of the palisade had been plowed away by the early 1920s. In addition to the earthen, mounds, the site also included hundreds of houses, cemeteries, and agricultural fields.
The late prehistoric Native American culture of the Nashville Basin has been referenced in older and non-scholarly sources as being either the Mound Builders or the Stone Graves Race. Today archaeologists understand that Mound Bottom, Pack, and other late prehistoric mound sites in the area surrounding Nashville were constructed by a regional Mississippian culture known as Middle Cumberland Mississippian. This regional culture was first defined in the 1970s based on distinctive mortuary offerings and the presence of stone box burials, and has since been refined using ceramic typologies  A recent reassessment of the Middle Cumberland Mississippian by Moore and Smith  resulted in a revised chronology and new understanding of Mound Bottom's placement in the regional cultural sequence. Both Mound Bottom and Pack appear to have been initially established early in the Mississippian period (ca. A.D. 1000) by individuals from outside the region. Based on artifact types and skeletal examinations, it appears these founders may have come from the American Bottom, and possibly from the site of Cahokia. As a result of this connection, the Middle Cumberland Culture in Tennessee was part of the larger 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.
By A.D. 1350, Mound Bottom and Pack appear to have been abandoned as a major centers, and while mound building and repair ceased, both sites continued to be used as burial locations. This change corresponds to a period of apparent political destabilization in the region, as the centralized authority of Mound Bottom and other large early sites gave way to fortified, autonomous village centers. This is followed in turn by a gradual abandonment of the region toward the end of the fourteenth century. According to Moore and Smith (2009, page 210), by A.D. 1475, Mississippian settlement of the region drop well below the level of archaeological visibility.
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. Parmenio Edward Cox, Tennessee’s first State Archaeologist, conducted a month of fieldwork at Mound Bottom in 1926. Cox excavated at least 70 graves and tested nine mounds No report on those excavations was published. In 1936, 1937, and 1940 the University of Tennessee conducted excavations at both Mound Bottom and the Pack Site under the auspices of the Works Progress Administration. Those excavations were directed by Charles Nash, and examined several cemeteries and a burial mound.
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 excavations at Mound Bottom in 1974 and 1975. Kuttruff and O'Brien tested six mounds and 19 houses. The results of those excavations were published in 2012 in the journal Southeastern Archaeology.
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. In 2008 an adjacent 65-acre parcel including additional site area was purchased with the assistance of Tennessee Parks and Greenways Foundation.
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.
- Michael C. Moore, David H. Dye, and Kevin E. Smith, "WPA Excavations at the Mound Bottom and Pack Sites in Middle Tennessee, 1936-1940." In New Deal Archaeology in Tennessee: Intellectual, Methodological, and Theoretical Contributions, edited by David H. Dye, pp. 116-137. University of Alabama Press, 2016.
- 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.
- 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: Archaeological Treasures in Cheatham County." Tennessee Archaeology Net. Originally published in The Advocate vol. 8, no. 5 (31 January 1998). Retrieved: 7 December 2007.
- Wiliam Edward Myer, "Archaeological Field Work in Tennessee," Smithsonian Miscellaneous Collections, 76-1. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution. 1924
- Michael C. Moore and Kevin E. Smith, Archaeological Expeditions of the Peabody Museum in Middle Tennessee, 1877-1884. Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, Division of Archaeology, Research Series 16. 2009.
- Michael C. Moore, Emanuel Breitburg, Kevin E. Smith, and Mary Beth Trubitt. One Hundred Years of Archaeology at Gordontown: A Fortified Mississippian Town in Middle Tennessee. Southeastern Archaeology 25(1):89–109. 2006.
- William O. Autry, "An Example of Intentional Late Prehistoric Dental Mutilation from Middle Tennessee." McClung Museum of Natural History and Culture, posted 1 August 1991.
- 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.
- Joseph Jones, Explorations of the Aboriginal Remains of Tennessee. Smithsonian Contributions to Knowledge 22(259):1–171. Washington DC, 1876
- 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.
- Mound bottom State Archaeological Area — Includes images, video, and PDFs of research articles
- Harpeth River State Park — official site, includes map
- An Example of Intentional Late Prehistoric Dental Mutilation from Middle Tennessee by William O. Autry