Backyard History

With all my travels to ancient places, I sometimes forget about the ancient history here in Middle Tennessee. While we don’t have any Medieval cathedrals or Romanesque ruins, we do have the remnants of a Native American culture called the Mississippians.

The Mississippians started somewhere around 800 AD in the Mississippi and spread west into Missouri and south and east into Tennessee, Mississippi and Alabama, among other states. They were mound builders, and today those mounds dot the area. No doubt that thousands have been lost due to erosion and cultivation, but the ones that remain are protected and preserved.

One of the best examples of a Mississippi settlement near here is called Mound Bottom along the Harpeth River. In this area, the Harpeth snakes along bluffs and meadows, curling almost back on itself in places. Mound Bottom–which is maybe 20-30 acres–is in a horseshoe bend and is encircleled by the river except for one thin neck of land that leads out and up onto the ridge behind it. It was easy to defend and because the land is so close to the river, it’s very fertile.

What’s left today is one very large mound and several smaller ones around it.

We hiked out to the mounds a couple of weeks ago with a guide from the state park that oversees them. The area is not usually accessible, so we were happy to see it.

From the top of the largest mound, you can see several others around it.

(I am fighting with WordPress today–this photo really isn’t this blurry.)

So, from the top of the mound, you can see others around it. Most of these mounds were ceremonial, not used for burials. Each of these smaller mounds would’ve been part of a plaza where a family lived–probably in homes built of logs and mud. Additionally, a large fence, or palisade was erected along the border.

Mound Bottom was probably built around 950 and it is thought that it’s original purpose was as a meeting place. It evolved into quite a city and was then abandoned about 400 years later.

It wasn’t until 1823 that the site was rediscovered and about a hundred years after that archaeologists from the Smithsonian conducted extensive research here. Lots of artifacts were unearthed and much was learned about this early culture.

People often decry the lack of historical culture and significance of the United States. History snobs should remember though that our patch of land is exactly the same age as the patches where Druids roamed, where Alexander the Great battled and where caves were painted. You don’t have to travel far to see ancient history. It’s in your own backyard.


Filed under At Home, Travel

12 responses to “Backyard History

  1. This sunny, fall afternoon we took a walk across the site where the Battle of Monmouth took place. It was the first time the British army was sent into retreat by a ragged Revolutionary army, headed by George Washington. It was the turning point in the battle for independence. This doesn’t stretch as far back as Mound Bottom, but it’s a historically significant patch of land. I love this stuff!

  2. Julie

    I just think that around here people can’t see the ancient history a.k.a. “the forest” for the Civil War a.k.a. “the trees”.

  3. UB–It’s so much better to experience history where it happened instead of reading about it in a book. Good for you for giving your daughters that experience.
    Julie–That’s so true! The “old South” is our bread and butter, but we really must not forget that history didn’t begin with succession.

  4. I’ve lived here 87 years and never heard of these mounds. All we heard about were the Indian mounds. If I ask MapQuest, will it tell me how to get there?

  5. stumbled upon Hopewell mounds within a local park last weekend – and was reminded that i really don’t need to travel halfway around the world to find “old”….

  6. I suppose we’re all the same age.

    Is mother really 87 and commenting on blogs. I am darned impressed.

  7. Mother–You have a fan in Spain! It’s Ellie–see her comment below.
    DF–I read up on the Hopewells. Looks like they predated the Mississippians by several centuries. I think these mounds are fascinating!
    Ellie–Mother is actually very close to 88 and quite handy with the computer. She went to Switzerland with us in May and “hiked” a couple of miles with us in the Alps!

  8. Mounds make me happy. I miss mounds in Spain – England’s full of them and their mystery. History snobs? I think it’s a lot to do with what you value: here in Spain, the Romans and Catholicism are the two historical aspects which receive most attention – you won’t hear much about Moorish remains, despite their 600 year rule (except of course, the Alhambra), or prehistoric remains (except of course Altamira and Atapuerca). Perhaps people in the States haven’t really valued Indian remains until relatively recently?

  9. One of my pet peeves is when American travelers criticize people who have never left the US because everywhere else has more “history” and “culture” and they just can’t see it around them.

  10. PG–I think the Native American ruins are more valued in other parts of the country where they’re more visible. Here, the Civil War dominates everything–heritage tourism is the number one industry in Franklin–it’s worth a lot of money.

    Rassles–That the exact point I’m trying to make. Our history isn’t less worthy of studying…it’s just different.

  11. our back pasture is full of this type of mounds. I took a walk back there with the family after looking at an aerial map of our land and noticed what looks like HUGE circles in the pasture. Sure enough when you get there it is raised mounds about 4ft from the ground to the center of the mound. They are far to round and far to many in what seems to be a pattern to be naturally occurring … do you think I have a legitimate mound site. We are located in Arkansas right at the Oklahoma border known habitat for native Americans.

  12. Jeannie–so sorry I didn’t respond to this sooner. You should talk to your state archeologists and get them to come survey. Please let me know what you find out!

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