Mississippian Artifacts Collection

Below, sacred collections from the Mississippian culture are respectfully shared. We at Old Town acknowledge and honor those who came and dwelled here before us, including the Mississippian, Shawnee, Cherokee, Chickasaw, and other peoples. We strive with humility, accuracy, reverence, and ongoing consultation to expand the knowledge and understanding of these cultures. We share these reflections of culture and humanity with appreciation and deep respect for those before us that have called the land at Old Town home. 

Above: Conversation with Owen Gray on his family’s history with Mississippian ceramic pottery, ancient Old Town, and growing up as a child fishing in the Harpeth River at Old Town.

Above: The female effigy bottle was previously stewarded by Byron McDonald (1946-2022), a long-time member and former officer of the Middle Cumberland Archaeological Society.

“This small vessel, made in the image of a kneeling female figure, is reported to have been found in the early 1900s on a family farm on Vivrett Creek, a tributary of the Stones River, not far from the Davidson County–Wilson County line. While these details of its discovery may seem simple enough, even for a family keepsake, several facts suggest that this bottle is a significant cultural artifact: first, archaeologists know that a number of such effigy bottles were made by indigenous women in small communities across this region of Middle Tennessee for about 200 years during the Mississippian period. Second, they recognize that this female—kneeling with her legs tucked under, her ropelike arms resting along her sides, and her hands held in front of her midriff—has been depicted with an extremely exaggerated spinal hump, delicately notched with vertebrae. Together, these attributes signify that this is not a representation of any human individual, but is much more like to be an idealization or visualization of a long-lived supernatural guardian or deity, such as an Earth Mother, believed to have been responsible for the full cycle of life, including health and well-being as well as women’s fertility and the caring of the souls of the dead. Thus, the woman who made this female effigy bottle may have done so to venerate the Earth Mother and solicit her for aid, comfort, and some assurance that the loved one she has lost may someday be reborn or otherwise restored to her and her community.” This description was written by Robert Sharp, independent scholar, researcher, writer, and former Executive Director of Publications at The Art Institute of Chicago.

Below are highlights that demonstrate the variety of the Collection. The entire Mississippian Mound Artifacts Collection can be viewed here.