Alternate Perceptions Magazine, March 2019
Mound Bottom Mound Complex of Tennessee
by: Jim Windisch
I was accompanying Dr. Greg Little (author of The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Native American Mounds & Earthworks, 2016) on our way to my first visit of the Mound Bottom Complex in Tennessee. As we drove to the site, Greg prepped me on the difficult climb that lay ahead of us. Despite a torn meniscus I was nursing, I was not bothered. There were two routes that could take us to the overlook where we were headed: one in which we could go along a run off, but would be very muddy from rains earlier in the week. The second was a direct path up the hillside slope, which would avoid the mud, but not be any less difficult. We chose the secondary route to hopefully keep our shoes clean, as we had no other pairs to switch out.
Travelling easterly on Highway 70, west of Nashville, we meandered through tiny towns, filled with turns through the rolling hills that dominate this portion of Tennessee. Turning off Highway 70, to Cedar Hill Rd. we travelled a few more miles to Mound Creek Rd. which led to the complex. It was difficult to view the complex from where the road winds, as tree lines obscured the view and the Harpeth River kept the road too far away from the southern side in which we approached.
Going a bit easterly, we pulled off to the side of the road, and ducked into a stand of trees where the path began. Immediately heading upward, I understood what Greg had prepped me for. The thin line of dirt was a bit complicated from leaves that had fallen earlier, still containing moisture from the earlier rains, but our shoes remained relatively clean.. Guessing that this still was still the easier path, we climbed on. At about 250 feet, we had our first sign of the historic grounds we were treading upon: a posted archaeological marker indicating from this point on to not disturb anything along the way. We took a brief look around, and climbed on.
As we approached the highest point, a rocky overlook presented itself. Greg alerted me right away to watch where I stepped. Pointing to a spot on the rock was a beautiful etching of a mace. A symbol of power, mace have been found in numerous sites across the Mississippi Valley, and beyond. Why would this be here, 300 ft above the complex, some ¼ of a mile away from the actual grounds? No others were seen at this spot.
Looking up, the breathtaking valley before us overtook my senses. On this hillside across from the Mound Bottom Complex, I was happy to have this view from a bird’s eye view. The Harpeth River rushed along 300 feet below, making a horseshoe turn, nearly encircling this ancient complex. Being mid-November, the mounds were still covered in a lush green covering of grass, grasping my full attention. Looking southwesterly, a large main mound dominated the site, with smaller ones spreading out easterly in no apparent form of pattern. And lastly, approaching the river, there were long ripples in the earth, perhaps walls at one time?
Very little is known about the occupation of Mound Bottom. Sporadic excavations, with one of the last in 1974 – 1975 by Michael J. O’Brien and Carl Kuttruff (Southeastern Archaeology 31 – 1, Summer). There is another ancient site approximately 2 miles to the South of Mound Bottom called Pack(40CH1), that also may have been connected with Mound Bottom, but is nearly destroyed. So little is known about either site, it is hard to tell at this point what connections there were.
Leaving Mound Bottom, I was filled with the wonder of the civilization that constructed this, and so many other similar places. What else would be discovered if further excavations were carried out? And what of the mace symbol etched in stone overlooking this ancient place? How, or what purpose did it fill for the ancient civilians? Only time may tell as further investigations are completed, unlocking further potential secrets of this valley.
The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Native American Indian Mounds & Earthworks, Little, Gregory L., 2016, pps. 363-364 The 1974 – 75 Excavations at Mound Bottom, A Palisaded Mississippian Center in Cheatham Count, Tennessee. Southeastern Archaeology 31-1: pps. 70-86