ETSU Archaeological Field School SUMMER 2014

Archaeological Test Excavations at the Pile Mound, TN

July 13, 2014 - August 2, 2014

The Pile Mound was recorded by William Edward Myer in the early 20th century nearly 100 years ago in his Catalog of Archaeological Remains of Tennessee (~1924):

 “There is a mound about 100 feet in diameter and five feet in height. It has never been explored. Around this a large number of discoidals, pipes, beads, and plain pottery have been found.” (Myer n. d: 38)

 The mound has been on the property of the same family for more than 200 years, descendants of one of the first long hunters to come through the region in the middle of the 18th century. To this day, the mound remains protected and has not been excavated. Only the surrounding fields have been plowed. 

 The Pile Mound lies at the foot of the western escarpment of the Upper Cumberland Plateau in Fentress County, Tennessee. It is situated on a large rolling rise between the Rotten Fork of the Wolf River and the Wolf River.

 We believe the mound likely dates to the Mississippian Period (late prehistory, anywhere from perhaps AD 1000 – 1600, though I suspect the mound dates to between AD 1200-1400). The recovery of discoidals is one clue. However, we have completed a preliminary magnetometer survey of the mound and some of the surrounding pasture. There are at least the remains of one square structure located on top of the mound. There is an anomaly in the northeast corner of the structure which currently prevents an accurate approximation of the structure’s dimensions. However, it looks to either be about 6-7 meters a side (typical for domestic structures) or it could be 10-11 meters a side, typical for large public or civic structures (or for the residence of an elite individual and/or family).

If the mound site dates to the Mississippian Period, this would be exciting and novel. We know nothing of the Mississippian in this area of Southern Appalachia. Myer (n. d.) makes mention of two other nearby mound sites, the Hassler Mounds and the mounds near the junctions of the East and West forks of the Obey. Unfortunately, both of the sites have long since lie under Dale Hollow Reservoir. Neither was ever explored professionally. There are some dark zone cave art sites in the region which date to the Mississippian and also some rock shelter sites, but many of these sites have been dug up by artifact hunters. Thus we have a great opportunity to see what Mississippian settlement and socio-political structure may have looked like along some of the major tributaries of the Upper Cumberland River (e. g., the Wolf and Obey river systems).

Goals of the 2014 SUMMER field season

Our test excavation plans for Summer 2014 are to open up three excavation areas: 1) a 2x2 meter square on the southeastern corner of the mound structure, 2) a slot trench in the eastern rampart of the mound, and 3) a small block over an area of anamolies revealed by the magnetometer survey that look to be a concentration of prehistoric pit features southeast of the mound.

 1] overall, to gain some understanding about the chronology of the site. We hope to date the mound structure and also episode of mound construction.

2] determine the size and nature of the structure(s) atop the mound

 3] gain some insight into the ceramic assemblage from the site, especially in order to make some inferences regarding cultural connections and influences.

4] continue with magnetometer and GPR surveys of the surrounding pastureland to determine site extent and to define domestic structures, etc.



Course Goals
The course is intended to introduce the student to the conduct of field archaeology. Students will be given the opportunity to apply what they have learned in the classroom to field situations. Students will learn to orient themselves in the field and how to maintain three dimensional control in their excavations. Aspects of archaeological survey, testing, and excavation will be addressed. Proper mapping and cataloging techniques will also be taught. Students should gain insight into why archaeologists go into the field to excavate the archaeological record.

Archaeological field investigations must be problem oriented. We will discuss how to design important research questions and then properly design methods to answer them in a field setting. We will also explore the concerns of archaeologists, cultural resource managers (including federal and state agencies), and native peoples regarding the archaeological record. Artifacts removed from their original context or matrix are of limited use to the archaeologist. Students will learn how to assess archaeological context and integrity. Students will learn how to conduct archaeological field investigations. Click on this link to see course syllabus.

students mapping using laser transit

What Students May Expect - SORT OF (every field season is different)
field school video image and link

2009 Field School video by Jeffrey W. Navel (click on image above to see it - takes a minute or two to load)

Students should register for ANTH 4407: Archaeological Field School (OR 5407 for graduate students).

Students will lodge in field houses in the project area. Houses have most or all amenities. Lodging costs may be covered for students depending on funding. If not, lodging costs should be about $250-300.00/student. Meals are not covered.

Cost: Students are resposible for their tuition, fees, & food costs only (maybe lodging, too, depending on funding)

Students will be responsible for their tuition costs and meals (maybe lodging, too, depending on funding). In an effort to make the field experience more affordable for students, the course is offered as three (3) credit hours OR 6 credit hours (If the 3 credit hour option is chosen, students may later repeat the course for a total of six credit hours). In-State rates for Summer 2014 are as follows: In-State undergraduates pay $246 per credit hour plus University fees (3 credit hours = $738.00 total). Graduates pay $395 per credit hour plus University fees (3 credit hours = $1185.00 total). Out-of-State rates for are as follows: Undergraduates pay $369 per credit hour plus University fees (3 credit hours = $1107.00 total). Graduates pay $593.00 per credit hour plus University fees (3 credit hours = $1779.00 total). For non-ETSU students, there is a $25.00 University application fee as visiting students. See Visiting Students

Enrollment is open to students from any university, although priority may be given to ETSU students. No one will be admitted for enrollment without completely filling out and agreeing to the terms of this application form. Applications are to be accompanied by a $250.00 materials fee and deposit for each student (This is non-refundable: $50.00 is for a materials fee and $200.00 is for the housing deposit. If you attend field school and my funding comes through, I will then refund the $200.00). Forms are due no later than MAY 15th, 2014. Students who submit applications after this date may be placed on a waiting/alternate list. Enrollment is limited to 12 students for 2014, and is open only to students taking the course for credit - no audit students or volunteers will be accepted. Download application form.


Sachsen Cave Shelter Field Crew 2010

Student comments from previous field seasons

"I would fully recommend . . . field school to any student with an interest in archaeology. It is a chance to broaden one's knowledge in a way that is impossible to do sitting in a classroom. It is an experience I will never forget. . . Attending field school has been the climax of my college career."

"This is the best class I have ever had."

"The field school is a valuable experience on many levels. Students not only learn about archaeology techniques and methods, but also social skills and group participation. The field school was by far one of the best experiences that I have had at ETSU. . . I have also learned to function better in a group. Group skills are very important to students entering the work force, and I feel that the ability to cooperate and be productive with co workers is not emphasized enough in the college curriculum."

The Upper Cumberland Plateau of Tennessee
The Cumberland Plateau rises some 1000 feet above the adjacent Tennessee River Valley. It is part of a larger region referred to as the “‘great Wilderness’, that dark and mysterious forest” in early historic times (Campbell 1921:32). For reasons not entirely clear (although the above quote may offer some clues), however, the region has traditionally been viewed as a cultural backwater (e. g., Swanton 1946). I have been conducting archaeological and historical research on the Upper Cumberland Plateau for ten years now, and it is my contention that the notion of “cultural backwater” could not be farther from the truth. Campbell (1921:xxi) underscores this by calling the region (the Southern Highlands), “a land of promise, a land of romance, and a land about which, perhaps, more things are known that are not true than of any part of our country.” It is certainly a land of archaeological promise for underneath the sandstone bluff lines and in the myriad hardwood coves and box canyons of the plateau are thousands of rock shelters and hundreds of caves. These karstic features are not only part of the natural landscape but also part of the cultural landscape. Prehistoric Native Americans used and occupied these rock shelters and caves for 12,000 years. “Throughout Appalachia, almost by definition, rock shelters are extremely important repositories of archaeological materials” (Watson 2001:320). In fact, people have lived on the plateau year-round since Late Archaic times, about 4000 years ago.
It is my hope and belief that students will not only have a meaningful archaeological experience, but also a meaningful cultural experience during their stay on the Upper Cumberland Plateau. Below you will find links to some interesting and fun places to visit in your “down time”.

Web sites of Interest:

Pisgah National Forest

North Carolina Rock Art Survey

Contact information:

Dr. Jay D. Franklin
Associate Professor of Archaeology
Department of Sociology & Anthropology
Box 70644
East Tennessee State University
Johnson City TN 37614-1702
423-430-4370 (main office)

423-833-6249 (cell)


Dr. Franklin's homepage

References Cited

Campbell, John C.
1921 The Southern Highlander and His Homeland. Russell Sage Foundation, New York.

Franklin, Jay D. (2008) Luminescence Dates and Woodland Ceramics from Rock Shelters on the Upper Cumberland Plateau of Tennessee. Tennessee Archaeology 3(1):87-100.

Swanton, J. R.
1946 Indians of the Southeastern United States. Bureau of American Ethnology Bulletin No. 137. Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D. C.

Watson, Patty Jo
2001 Ridges, Rises, and Rocks; Caves, Coves, Terraces, and Hollows: Appalachian Archaeology at the Millennium. In Archaeology of the Appalachian Highlands, edited by L. P. Sullivan and S. C. Prezzano, pp. 319-322. The University of Tennessee Press, Knoxville.


Roundleaf Catchfly: native

wildflower of the Cumberland Plateau