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.
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.