Article and Link Site Photos by Ellis Whitt, G.I.R.S. Member
The two temple mounds in the background.
It was cold, cloudy, and misting snow on December 1, 2008, but Dwight Phillips of Lawrenceburg, Tennessee and I were excited and eager as we traveled to meet John Broster, Prehistoric Archaeological Supervisor in the Department of Environment & Conservation for the State of Tennessee. A couple of months earlier, Dwight had arranged with John for us to get a guided, narrated tour of the extraordinary Link Site, a well-known Mississippian period Native American site, located across more than 300 acres of rolling hills and overlooking the Duck River in Humphreys County, Tennessee. It is an attractive region for habitation, being situated perhaps 60 feet above the Duck River and a short distance from the Buffalo and Tennessee Rivers. The Banks Link family owned the farm where the site is located in the mid- to late 1800s when the site was named. Its extraordinary significance was recognized after 46 spectacular ceremonial chert artifacts, including sun discs, monolithic axes, maces or batons, hooks or claws, swords (one of which is 27’/2″ long), and two large effigy figures were unearthed in the late 1800s. This find by amateurs was identified as the ‘Duck River Cache’ and labeled then as the best single archaeological find in the United States. Although these artifacts changed hands over the years, the 46 ceremonial artifacts with the male effigy on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City are now on display at the University of Tennessee McClung Museum in Knoxville. The whereabouts of the second (female) effigy figure is unknown. The Duck River male ancestral shrine figure is made of quartz sandstone, weighs 99 pounds, and is 27″ high.
A photo of the Duck River looking northwest
toward the Link Site.
The June 1897 issue of The Antiquarian published in Columbus, Ohio, states that the employee on the farm of Mr. Banks Links who discovered the flint cache in December 1894, made further excavations beneath the exact spot in the following March, resulting in the discovery of the male (Adam) and female (Eve) images. The present whereabouts of the female image is unknown. The Antiquarian states that “it is . . . in a kneeling posture with both arms down and hands clasping the knees. . . . The hair is drawn closely behind the ears, terminating by a peculiar paddle-shaped fillet down the back. . . . The mouth is open, with thin, well-cut lips.”
One of several round shaped dome mounds on the
Much of the raw material for the stone artifacts is thought to have come from the Dover chert quarries in Stewart County, Tennessee sever miles away.
Ceremonial Temple Mound
Escorted by John, Dwight and I walked across the grassy rolling hills that were once the scene of numerous habitation structures amid a civilization fomous for construction of dirt mounds. The habitation structures were likely one-room homes characterized by corner wooden posts, cane reeds sliced in half along the sides, and reinforced by mud, which also provided insulation. The Link Site contains at least two cermonial temple mounds recognized by their definitive straight, slanted sides and corners, and several round-shaped dome mounds. With just a little imagination, as we walked across this rich archaeological area, we visualized the fervent daily activity which must have taken place at the peak of this civilization, during 1100-1400 A.D. In addition to hunting deer and other animals, and fishing, they did some farming; there is fertile, relatively flat land, ideal for agriculture just across the river to the south where they likely grew corn, beans, and squash. Much labor went into mound building; thousands of baskets of dirt were required to build these impressive structures, the two largest being flat-top mounds which probably had temples on top. John estimates the population of the site must have been perhaps 200 during the peak occupation period. Around 1450 A.D., probably because of environment changes, they moved away.
This photo is the only one
reasonably available to use at
this time. For better photos
and more detail, go to:
Photo and paragraphs in
italics are from p.86 of
Vol. XI, No. 2, 1955.
In 1974 the State of Tennessee, recognizing the significance of the site, was able to purchase some 90 acres. Due to lack of funding, there has been little professional excavation. Recently, Bill Lawrence, Tennessee State Parks Archaeologist, conducted limited excavation and a few artifacts were found, which are in State storage awaiting analysis. Plans are to protect the site and continue studying and selectively excavating it as funds are available.
We concluded our visit to this extraordinary site with a sense of fulfillment and reverence for the earlier inhabitants. We recognized that the exact areas we walked were the scenes of a highly developed, well organized society in the centuries just prior to the arrival of white immigrants from Europe. Dwight and I thank John for this tremendous opportunity.
John and Dwight