Notes on Mississippi Collections at the Smithsonian Institution Museum
of Natural History Anthropological Collections
In September 1999, I made a second trip to the Smithsonian Institution's Museum of Natural History in Maryland to continue my research on the collections from the Mid-South made by the Bureau of (American) Ethnology's 1880s archaeological survey. The collections are part of the massive late nineteenth century "mound builders" project. I described my first visit in the Mississippi Archaeology Newsletter. The anthropological collections at the Museum of Natural History's storage facility are vast, but considering that the collections are more than a century old, provenience control is still pretty good.
Jeter (1990) discusses some of the work carried out by the Bureau of Ethnography in Mississippi. Palmer traveled from Jonestown, Mississippi, to Helena, Arkansas, in January 1882, viewing some Coahoma County sites, but P.W. Norris was responsible for most of the work in this section. Norris worked at the Carson mounds and, apparently, at Dickerson and Parchman, also in Coahoma County (Thomas 1894). W.H. Holmes later returned to map the Carson site complex mounds and other features. Excavations were made on the Montgomery mound and at other locations (B, C, D, E, and F on the site map) at Carson. Mounds were dug into at Dickerson, with less than 100 aboriginal graves, some with fragmentary vessels, were investigated, in addition to numerous recent White and Black graves. At Clarksdale a typical mound was investigated; the site was believed to be "less ancient" than Carson. A scalloped rim bowl was found with a skeleton under a burned layer and two complete pots were found in Mound 7 of the group. A trench trouhj Mound 4 showed it to be composed of heaped ashes and soil while trenches cut into the Sunflower River bank revealed many burials. Daub and celts were found throughout the site and John Clark donated a clay pipe from the site.
Thomas (1894) also notes that "many" mounds in Bolivar and Sunflower counties, up to 30 miles south of Clarksdale, were also opened. A site at the shoals of the Sunflower River produced a skull on a "broken platter," a scalloped rim vessel, a broken bottle with female head on top of the neck, a pottery tube, and a shell dipper. Trenching at Avondale (Leland) revealed daub, but no graves.
DeSoto County. A cylindrical roller pestle (A239060) is very smooth and shiny. It is 25 cm long and 5.5 cm in diameter, tapering towards the broken ends. A tag reads "No. 35-Miss.-Ranslle [?]Coll."
N.C. Banks Place, 5 miles NW of Tunica, Tunica County: A cold hammered or native annealed copper celt (A345949) was donated by Andrew J. Gholson. This very interesting prehistoric artifact is a small, rectangular mass of copper nuggets beaten together into a platy substance. The celt measures 10.4 cm long, 4 to 4.5 cm wide, and is 1.4 cm thick in the center. One eroding, delaminating end is 6 mm thick and the other, worn and polished is 5 mm thick.
Dundee, Tunica County: Specimens from one of the Mississippian sites near Dundee are a chipped hoe (A324641) and a limonitic clay concretion carved to shape it like a frog (A324642), donated by William H. Harrison. The Mill Creek hoe measures 19 cm long by 12 cm wide and is 2 cm thick. It is of simple spatulate form, with slightly flaring bit, and has extensive earth polish on the bit. The block of limonitic/hematitic clay has been hollowed to make a pipe. Minimal modification of the lump includes scraping and polishing and the bas relief carving a the forelimbs.
Carson's Fort, Coahoma County: Sherds from the extensive, long-term Carson mound group are cataloged under A135950 and A367199 and daub is cataloged as A135952 and A367200. A135953 contains a large clay disc, perhaps a chunky stone. It is 11 cm in diameter, 4.5 cm thick, and burned to a bright red. The edges and surfaces are flat. Carson Mounds ceramics at the Smithsonian are:
The Bell Plain sherds include several forms of rim punctation: small and circular (n=1), nicked or notched (n=1), and long, tooled parallel to and on top of lip(n=2). The Barton sherds include 7 examples of the line-filled triangle, one with lower border line and fingernail punctations and one with simple line lower border. The Togo sherd has alternating blank and punctate-filled triangles. The Parkin Punctate sherd bears randon, tooled circular punctations and the Owens Punctate sherd has curvilinear, concentric zoning lines, some filled with small circular punctations. One sooted Mississippi Plain sherd has a loop handle with two nodes atop it.
A135952 contains four fragments of daub collected by W. H. Holmes. They are 1) 5.5 cm thick, grass tempered, smooth exterior with sand, no interior; 2)5 cm thick, rough, wet exterior, parallel 1.2 cm-wide split can impressions on interior; 3) slag with no distinguishing characteristics preserved; and 4) 2-4 cm thick, smooth, sandy exterior, and wet, lumpy interior. A367200 consists of three fragments of daub: 1) a small lump of slag, 2)another unidentifiable lump with grass temper, and 3) a 3 cm-thick with lumpy, wet-smoothed exterior and split cane impressions on the interior. An additional daub sample consists of very light, bubbly masses of slagged or scoriaceous daub (AO71722) labeled "Norris-Miss."
Mound near Friar's Point, Coahoma County: A basin-shaped vessel (AO71802) and a broken bowl (A071803) are stated to come from a mound near Friar's Point. This could be one of several sites, such as Carson, Dickerson, Parchman, or Saloman. Specimens collected by W.H. Holmes from Carson are cataloged as A135951 and A135953. A13591 is a large fragment of burned quartzite. One edge is roughly chipped as if used for a chopper. The remainder of the surface is unmodified cortex. Two sherds from "Friar's Point" are cataloged as AO87805. The first is a thick, polished sherd of Addis Plain from a scalloped, nicked, flaring rim bowl. The ware is yellow and 1.4 cm thick at the rim. The rim-body inflection is marked on the interior by a slight line and the body is .6 cm thick. The second sherd comes from the rim of a Barton Incised jar. It has abundant coarse shell temper. The motif is alternating line-filled triangles.
Six miles east of Friar's Point, Coahoma County. Thomas's #3388 (AO87808) and #3386 (AO87806) may also come from the Parchman or Saloman mound groups and Late Mississippian/Protohistoric villages. AO87808 has a tag with "Thomas-3388." It is a "pillow" or "loaf" shaped mass of baked clay. It measures 11.5 cm long and is 6 cm wide in the middle and 3 cm wide at the ends. It is roughly shaped and somewhat cresentic in form. The "under" side bears a string impression perpendicular to the long axis and a series of grooves, as if from parallel rods crossing the cord. This unusual artifact class has been reported from other Mississippian sites. It is sometimes suggested that these are hearth furniture or loom weights. AO87806 is a small petrified wood celt fragment. It is 5.5 cm long and 4 cm wide and dates to the Mississippi period. AO87807 consists of 8 large daub fragments (Table).
Flat-topped mound at Clarkesdale (sic), Coahoma County. Material from the now-destroyed Clarksdale Mound includes a ceramic pipe (A071805), a vessel (A071806), a "jasper" celt (AO71713), and a fragmentary celt reused as hammerstone (AO71715). AO71805 is made of Mississippi ware. It is a simple, large elbow pipe with bowl and reed end consisting of two cones joined by a punched-through draw. It is labeled in ink "Norris" and has a tag with "Thomas-216" glued to it. AO71713 is a tan gravel pebble celt. It is highly polished, with few flake scars and a rough poll remaining unpolished. It measures 2.6 cm wide by 7.5 cm long and is labeled "Norris-Miss." AO71715 is a rectangular quartzite celt measuring 6 cm wide, 7 cm long, and 2 cm thick. It is labeled "Thomas-132" and stamped "188-."
Alcorn Mound, Coahoma County? A fine shell and grog tempered animal (raccoon?) pipe is labeled "Hon. J. L. Alcorn." This pipe (AO11649) has a circular bowl in the animal's back and two separate reed holes in the animals haunches. The limbs are shaped and the face is carefully modeled and incised. The pipe is 13 cm long, 8.5 cm wide, and 10 cm tall. Jeter (1990) notes that the Alcorn Mound in Coahoma County (22-Co-508) is not included in Thomas' 1891 catalog.
Round Lake, Bolivar County: Polished stone spade-shaped implement (A209720), donated by A. J. Gholson. This artifact is a classic unperforated "spud." It is made of a slab of grey quartzite. The "poll" sides are square while the "bit" margins taper. The poll is 5 cm wide and the blade 15; the spud is 19 cm long. This is a Mississippi period find.
Sunflower County: Otherwise unprovienienced finds supposedly from Sunflower County include a red quartzite celt (AO71683), a broken syenite celt (AO71684), an expended celt (AO71728), and a boatstone (AO71729). In addition, a box of Mulberry Creek Cordmarked and Baytown Plain potsherds is cataloged as A364404. Celt AO71683 is a 3.3 cm-long, tabular pebble celt with very sharp bit, ground poll, and faceted sides. It is not a typical Mississippi period celt in that it is completely ground. It measures 10 cm long by 4.6 cm wide and is 3.3 cm thick. It is well polished and the bit has been partially destroyed by fire spalling. Celt AO71684 has a flaring bit 7.5 cm wide. The fragment is 7.5 cm long and 3.9 cm thick. It has a rounded rectangular cross-section. A tag says "Thomas-118-Miss." Celt AO71728 is made of gray and dark brown cryptocrystaline stone, probably from the Magnet Cove, Arkansas, igneous intrusion. It is a short, broken and battered section of a rectangular celt, measuring 5 cm long, 4.6 cm wide, and 3.8 cm thick. It is labeled "Norris-71728" and has a tag labeled "Thomas-Miss.-142." The boatstone (AO71729) is also made of igneous stone. It measures 8 cm long, 3.4 cm tall, and has a 2 cm-deep depression in the flat face. It has tag on it labeled "Thomas-Miss.-143."
A number of items appear in the catalog as "Flat topped mound, Sunflower County" (AO71808, AO71809, AO71811, and AO71807) but are labeled on the artifacts as Norris' Missouri specimens. The artifacts are consistent with a Middle Mississippi period site in southeast Missouri. Perhaps the other items cataloged as coming from Sunflower County and having catalog numbers in series with those just mentioned (AO71810, AO71812, AO71813, and AO71814) are also from Missouri. However, an effigy fragment (modeled opossum?) included with AO71811 is labeled "Norris-Sunflower Co. Miss." Another most unusual modeled effigy fragment from AO71812 is labeled in ink "Thomas-223-Sunflower Co., Miss." and has a "1882" stamp. This vessel fragment is 12 cm high and 6 cm wide. It has a grog-tempered paste and a small rim with a large breast- or snout-like protrusion with molded features, probably an animal effigy. AO71813 consists of three potsherds. One is labeled "Norris-Sunflower Co.", stamped "1882", and bears a tag with "Thomas-224." This interesting shell tempered sherd comes from a jar with straight neck and pronounced interior rim bevel. The decoration consists of a band of triangular fields formed by the application of ridges of clay which were further embellished by cane punctations. The second sherd is Mississippi Plain, var. Mitchell (shell and grog tempered). The last sherd appears to be untempered, with some unmixed clay and hematite evident in the fabric. It is from a helmet-like of deep flaring rim bowl with a square lip. The Barton Incised motif consists of alternating plain and punctate filled triangles. The bounding lines are about 1 mm wide and the close-spaced, random punctations were made with a spatulate tool. AO71814 is also labeled "Norris-Sunflower County, Miss., Mound-71814" and stamped "1882." It includes a large sherd of a Barton Incised jar. The rim has a distinct interior bevel and has fingernail punctations around the exterior. The motif consists of steep, wet-cut line-filled triangles. A second rim sherd comes from a large, coarse shell-tempered jar with down-turned, nicked lug 10 cm wide and 3.5 cm wide
Village 1 mile east of Deasonville. Catalog number A349947 includes Mulberry Creek Cordmarked, Larto Red, the rare Late Woodland type Quafalorma Red and White, charred corn, and daub. The potential Late Woodland corn should be examined and dated if possible.
Yazoo County. A cast of grey stone "panther" pipe from Yazoo County was made from a specimen loaned by W. S. Vaux (AO10024). A "fire clay" human effigy pipe, from near Champlin, is cataloged as A526397. It depicts a stylized kneeling person, with hands on knees. The head is missing. The soft material is not well smoothed and there is a small hole where the material has been sampled for petrography, but I did not determine who made the study or when. Hopefully the facts are recorded somewhere in the literature.
Lake George. Catalog number A349939 includes material from the famous Lake George mound group in the lowermost Yazoo Basin (Williams and Brain 19--).
Haynes Bluff shell midden. Catalog number A349940 includes silty-paste grog tempered pottery, one Mulberry Creek Cordmarked sherd, and a gourd effigy. Jars and bowls are the main vessel forms represented.
North Central Hills and Tombigbee
Ingomar Mound, Union County. Rafferty (19--) has described the BAR excavations and collection from this Middle woodland mound group in Mississippi Archaeology, so I did not re-examine the collection. The site also included an intrusive historic (late eighteenth-early nineteenth century Chickasaw?) grave.
Oktibeeha County. There are several drawers of ceramics and lithics from Oktibbeeha County sites, ranging from Wheeler Fiber Tempered and Tallahatta Quartzite bifaces to Mississippi Plain, probably from so-called Chackchiuma sites. A trade or "Biscayan" ax from northeastern Oktibeeha County may come from the Early Contact period Rolling Hills complex. It has a 2.2 cm wide, 5 mm thick welded eye. The eye has been bent and the weld broken from hammering on the back of the eye loop. The eye is noticeably flattened, measuring 2.3 cm by 3.6 cm, and the metal of the back of the eye is cracked. The flaring blade is 8 cm long and 8 cm wide. It ranges from 9 mm thick at the weld to 5 mm thick at the ground bit. The metal is well-preserved, probably by burning.
Fatherland Plantation, west side of St. Catharines Creek, Adams County. Catalog number A349942 includes Chickachae Combed as well as Fatherland Incised sherds.
Coosa, W.E. Fredrickson farm, 2 miles NW of Lockhart, Lauderdale County. Henry B. Collins' catalog for his Lauderdale County excavations are filed in cabinet 2144B01402 along with the associated artifacts. These include white seed beads mixed with rust, shell tempered pottery, and small Exogyra fossils (At22125) and marine shell disc beads (AT22126). An incomplete rendering of Collins' catalog list includes:
330994-chipped points and rejects--1 lot
330995-chipped gunflints ¾ x ¾"--2
330996-flint lock 4 x 3 ½"-1
330998-331001-Graves at Coosha
331002-cup and saucer, cup 3 ¾" diameter, saucer 5 5/8"
331003-child's mug, 2 ¾ x 2 ½" "token of loves"
331004-gold brooch, 1 1/8 x 5/8"
331005-gold ring, diameter ¾" x 1/16"
331006-gold stickpin, 1 7/8", blue glass set
331007-glass beads, blue and black, 2 conic silver pendants
331008-glass beads, red, mostly globular, horizontal grooves
331009-porcelain beads, small, whole, globular
331010-porcelain beads, very small, white, globular
331011-silver buckles-diameter 7/8", plain ring with pin
331012-silver buckles-diameter ½" disc, triangular perforations near edge-2
331013-silver buttons-diameter 5/8:, disc with eye missing-2
331014-chipped gunflint ¾" square
331015-brown molded glass bottle fragments
331016-spoons (1 pewter, rest iron), knife, fork, nails-1 lot
331017-iron pot and cover-diameter 5" x 4" high, broken lid and handle
Other Mississippi sites investigated by the BAE include the Selsertown or Emerald Mounds (22-Ad-504) at Washington in Adams County and the Leland/Avondale/Stoneville site (22-Ws-501).
Contact: Mary Evelyn Starr
Box 39, Sledge MS 38670
Phone (662) 444-5254
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