ETSU Archaeological Field School SUMMER 2015

Archaeological Excavations at the Cane Notch Site,

a Protohistoric Town on the Nolichucky River in Upper East Tennessee

July 17 - August 7, 2015

Cane Notch Site looking north

“only two resting places, in their emigration before they finally reached on the lands of their rest: and the first of which is mentioned was at ah, nee, cah, yungh, lee, yeh, which has reference to some large mountains lying somewhere between the head waters of the Holston, the Clinch, & the Cumberland waters: and their other was somewhere near noh, nah, cloock, ungh (Spruce Tree Place or Nolichucky); and from this rest it is presumable the nation seperated. . . .” Charles Hicks, Cherokee leader, (1826)



We propose archaeological excavations of the Cane Notch Site on the Nolichucky River in upper East Tennessee. Cherokee traditional histories indicate settlements here before 1690. Cherokees during the 1750s asserted claims to the Watauga and Nolichucky valleys by virtue of their former settlements. Our work is significant because Cherokee origins have been a topic of research for decades without much revelation. Despite Cherokee traditional histories, upper East Tennessee remains largely uninvestigated. Archaeological surveys on the Nolichucky and Watauga recovered contemporaneous pottery assemblages characterized by multiple regional pottery traditions that date from the mid-16th to mid-17th century. In fact, it is likely the De Soto entrada spent at least a couple of days in the Middle Nolichucky Valley and may have crossed the ford in the river at Cane Notch.We believe these assemblages represent early coalescent communities that later became the historical Overhill Cherokee polities farther south down the Tennessee Valley by the late 17th century. We recovered vessels which bear resemblance to later Overhill pottery in Southeast Tennessee but in the same archaeological context as earlier types of pottery that typically characterize different archaeological traditions. There is much greater diversity in the pottery at Cane Notch than in later Overhill towns. We hypothesize greater diversity in pottery assemblages is indicative of earlier coalescent communities. As communities mature, they become more homogeneous. Our observations are based on surface collected and riverbank-eroded materials thus far. Larger, well-dated samples from controlled stratigraphic excavations are critical to understand Overhill origins. Our samples will be characterized with respect to intraassemblage diversity and compared to contemporaneous assemblages from the greater region to determine if the Cane Notch collection exhibits significantly greater diversity. 


Goals of the 2015 SUMMER field season

The 2015 investigations will target three block areas across the site with the aim of recovering coherent ceramic assemblages from discrete, dateable contexts. The geophysical work allows us to more accurately target excavation areas. We will excavate three 20 x 20 meter blocks where the plow zone will be mechanically stripped away with a smooth-bladed bucket to reveal sub-surface features. Block 1 will be located farthest southwest in the area of where most of the Qualla component seems to be located based on controlled surface collections. European trade items (beads, brass tinklers) have been recovered here. too. Block 2 will be the most centrally located. Based on surface collections, Block 2 will allow us to capture the greatest protohistoric ceramic diversity - we have also identified by GPR a house floor in Block 2 (see image below). Block 3 will be placed the farthest northeast portion of the site and should allow us to capture the late prehistoric Pisgah component at the site. We will target closed finds, ones that are self-contained, such as pit features and discrete house floors. The features and associated wares will be dated by both radiocarbon and luminescence. The pottery assemblages (and other associated artifact classes like trade beads) will then be analytically characterized (surface treatments, temper, rim treatments, etc.) with respect to intraassemblage variability and diversity, and compared to contemporaneous assemblages from the greater region to determine if the Cane Notch collection exhibits significantly greater diversity than those in the core Overhill, Qualla, and Burke phase areas. Cane Notch appears to be one of perhaps two dozen protohistoric towns in a rather tight geographical are of the Middle Nolichucky.  

Block 2 house floor

Overhill-looking flared rim

Qualla Complicated Stamped rim cane styles notche rim





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.


non-faceted chevron bead

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). A 3 or 6 hour section is available.

ETSU students may commute to the site daily (we will meet up together each day). Non-ETSU students should contact Jay Franklin to arrange lodging if needed. 

Cost: Students are resposible for their tuition & fees only (again, room & board are covered)

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 $50.00 materials fee. Forms are due no later than MAY 20th, 2015. Students who submit applications after this date may be placed on a waiting/alternate list. Enrollment is limited to 15 students for 2015, and is open only to students taking the course for credit - no audit students or volunteers will be accepted. Download application form.


Nolichucky River

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