Location: Johnson City, Tennessee, United States
“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 will conduct 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.
Period(s) of Occupation: Protohistoric Cherokee/Mississippian
Minimum Length of Stay for Volunteers: 3 weeks
Room and Board Arrangements
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.