Archaeological Test Excavations of the Pile Mound, Upper Cumberland Plateau, Tennessee

Location: Jamestown , Tennessee, United States

Sunday, July 13, 2014 to Saturday, August 2, 2014

Application Deadline: 
Thursday, May 15, 2014

Program Type

Field school


East Tennessee State University

Project Director:

Jay D. Franklin, PhD, East Tennessee State University

Project Description

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). 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. It looks to 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).


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.


Goals of the 2014 field season:


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.

Period(s) of Occupation: Mississippian, maybe Woodland

Project size: 
1-24 participants

Minimum Length of Stay for Volunteers: 3 weeks

Minimum age: 

Experience required: 

Room and Board Arrangements

Students will lodge in field houses in the project area. Houses have most or all amenities. Funding has been secured for the lodging, however, students will be responsible for their food/meals.

Students are resposible for their tuition, fees, & food costs only

Academic Credit

Name of institution offering credit: 
East Tennessee State University
Number of credits offered 3 to 6 hours
In-State rates are as follows: Undergraduates pay $235 per credit hour plus University fees (3 credit hours = $906.00 total). Graduates pay $378 per credit hour plus University fees (3 credit hours = $1326.00 total). Out-of-State rates for Summer 2013 are as follows: Undergraduates pay $610 per credit hour plus University fees (3 credit hours = $2736.00 total). Graduates pay $672.00 per credit hour plus University fees (3 credit hours = $3342.00 total). For non-ETSU students, there is a $25.00 University application fee as visiting students.


Contact Information
Jay Franklin, PhD
Box 70644, ETSU
Johnson City
U. S.
Recommended Bibliography: 

Franklin, J. D., M. E. Dennison, M. A. Hays, J. Navel, and A. D. Dye
2013 The Early and Middle Woodland of the Upper Cumberland Plateau, Tennessee. In Early and Middle Woodland Landscapes  of the Southeast, edited by A. Wright and E. Henry, pp. 71-88. University Press of Florida.
Franklin, Jay D., Maureen A. Hays, Sarah C. Sherwood, and Lucinda M. Langston
2012 An Integrated Approach: Lithic Analyses and Site Function, Eagle Drink Bluff Shelter, Upper Cumberland Plateau, Tennessee. In Contemporary Lithic Analysis in the Southeast: Problems, Solutions, and Interpretation, edited by Phillip J. Carr, Andrew P. Bradbury, and Sarah E. Price, pp. 128-145. University of Alabama Press, Tuscaloosa.
Franklin, Jay D., Renee Walker, Maureen A. Hays, and Chase Beck (2010) Late Archaic Site Use at Sachsen Cave Shelter, Upper Cumberland Plateau, Tennessee. North American Archaeologist 31(3-4): 447-479.
Franklin, Jay D., Luminescence Dates and Woodland Ceramics from Rock Shelters on the Upper Cumberland Plateau of Tennessee, Tennessee Archaeology, 3(1): 87-100, 2008
Des Jean, Tom and Joseph Benthall, A Lithic Based Prehistoric Cultural Chronology of the Upper Cumberland Plateau, Tennessee Anthropologist, 19(2): 115-147, 1994,
Franklin, Jay D., Big Cave Archaeology in the East Fork Obey River Gorge, Tennessee, Cave Archaeology in the Eastern Woodlands: Essays in Honor of Patty Jo Watson, 141-155, 2008, Knoxville, Tennessee
Franklin, Jay D. and Sierra Bow, Archaeological Exploration of Workshop Rock Shelters, Upper Cumberland Plateau, Tennessee, Tennessee Archaeology, 4(1, 2):145-162, 2009,
Simek, J.F., J.D. Franklin, and S.C. Sherwood, The Context of Early Southeastern Prehistoric Cave Art: A Report on the Archaeology of 3rd Unnamed Cave, American Antiquity, 63(4): 663-677, 1998,