Stone box grave

Stone box graves were a method of burial employed by Native Americans of the Mississippian culture in the American Midwest and Southeast. Their construction was especially common in the Cumberland River Basin around Nashville, Tennessee

Mississippian culture stone box burial flexed HRoe 2011
A stone box grave with the body in the flexed position and a piece of "ritually killed" mortuary pottery


A stone box grave is a coffin of stone slabs arranged in the rectangular shape into which a deceased individual was then placed. Common materials used for construction of the graves were limestone and shale, both varieties of stone which naturally break into slab like shapes. The materials for the bottom of the graves often varies, with grave floors made of stone, pottery, shell, dirt, perishables, or some combination of those materials, while the tops are more slabs of stone. Grave goods were often interred with the deceased and included mortuary pottery, ceramic objects, stone implements such as celts, axes, and arrowheads, figurines, bone beads, dice, and awls, and personal ornaments including marine shell gorgets and freshwater pearls. Regional variations existed, with some being larger and roomier than others, some being built with right angles and some angled inward at the feet.[1] The people of the Middle Tennessee region tended to place bodies in an extended position, while in Eastern Tennessee a flexed position was more often favored.[2] In some instances small stone boxes would be used as a secondary burial, with the excarnated bones placed in as a bundle.[1] Some graves have been found to have been reused. The grave would be reopened and the bones of the previous occupant would be disarticulated and shoved to one end or side so the new occupant could be placed in the proper position. Instances of double burials have also been found, with two occupants interred simultaneously. This is thought to be a conjugal pairing as the occupants are usually of the opposite sex from one another.[2] This type of burial seems to have been reserved for adult members of these societies, with few known examples of child or subadult burials in this fashion. Burials for these individuals seems to take place under house floors or adjacent to houses.[2]


Stone box graves have been found at many different Mississippian sites from the American Bottom[3] to the deep South. The practice was especially prominent in the Cumberland River Valley of Kentucky and Tennessee, with thousands having been found in the Nashville area.[1] Sites such as Beasley,[4] Mound Bottom,[5] Brick Church Pike,[6] Old Town,[7] Castalian Springs[8] and Sellars Mound[9] all have examples of excavated stone box graves. They have also been found as far afield as the Prather Complex sites in the Louisville, Kentucky vicinity,[10] the Pennyroyal Region of Kentucky,[11] the Lower Illinois River Valley,[3] the Little Egypt region of Illinois,[12] in Missouri near St. Louis[13] and the Guntersville Basin area of Northern Alabama.[14]

In archaeology

Since the beginning of archaeological investigations in the region in the late nineteenth century the graves have been used as a means for understanding the prehistoric inhabitants of the area, with many even calling the people of the Middle Tennessee area the "Stone Grave People". Joseph Jones, under the auspices of the Smithsonian Institution, investigated the Middle Tennessee area and in his 1876 monograph he accurately describes the native remains (including the known Native American practice of artificial cranial deformation) and discussed the possible origins of the local populations and their connection to other peoples and regions such as the Natchez of the Lower Mississippi Valley. In the 1870s Frederick Ward Putnam of the Peabody Museum also excavated several large platform mounds with stone box graves in the vicinity of Nashville. In his 1877 report Putnam recorded burial placement and grave goods found during his excavations and speculated on the ancestry, culture, and age of the people who built the mounds. Putnam concluded that the people of the area were connected with groups from the central Mississippi River Valley. Gates P. Thrustons 1890 manuscript, which started as a piece on a stone box grave cemetery found in Nashville, was the first comprehensive analysis of artifacts for the state of Tennessee. Thruston's conclusions on the builders of the local mounds and box graves added to the nineteenth century myth of the "Moundbuilders", as he concluded a "superior race" from the local Native Americans had built the structures. Clarence Bloomfield Moore with his Gopher of Philadelphia riverboat expedition of 1914-1915 continued the tradition of extensive archaeological research in the area and like his predecessors he was also enthralled by the stone box graves. He made maps of sites showing the different varieties of stone graves in Middle Tennessee, Upper Tennessee Valley and nearby Northern Alabama regions[15]

See also


  1. ^ a b c Dowd, John T. (Fall 2008). Michael C. Moore (ed.). "The Cumberland Stone-box burials of Middle Tennessee" (PDF). Tennessee Archaeology. Tennessee Council for Professional Archaeology. 3 (2): 163–180.
  2. ^ a b c Braly, Bobby R.; Harle, Michaelyn S.; Koerner, Shannon D., Chapter 12: The Middle Mississippian Period (AD 1100-1350) (PDF), p. 14, retrieved 2011-02-20
  3. ^ a b Emerson, Thomas E.; Lewis, R. Barry, eds. (1999-10-15). Cahokia and the Hinterlands: Middle Mississippian Cultures of the Midwest. University of Illinois Press. p. 89. ISBN 978-0-252-06878-2.
  4. ^ Kevin E. Smith; James V. Miller (2009). Speaking with the Ancestors-Mississippian Stone Statuary of the Tennessee-Cumberland region. University of Alabama Press. pp. 53–67. ISBN 978-0-8173-5465-7.
  5. ^ Markuson, Kevin (1998-02-14). "Mound Bottom: Archaeological Investigations". Tennessee Archaeology Net. Retrieved 2011-02-18. Originally published in The Advocate, Volume 8, Number 7, Saturday, February 14, 1998
  6. ^ Barker, Gary; Kuttruff, Carl (Summer 2010). Michael C. Moore (ed.). "A Summary of Exploratory and Salvage Archaeological Investigations at the Brick Church Pike Mound Site (40DV39), Davidson County, Tennessee" (PDF). Tennessee Archaeology. Editors Corner. Tennessee Council for Professional Archaeology. 5 (1).
  7. ^ Gates Phillips Thruston (1890), The antiquities of Tennessee and the adjacent states, and the state of aboriginal society in the scale of civilization represented by them: A series of historical and ethnological studies. The R. Clarke Company. Pages 39-40.
  8. ^ Kevin E. Smith; James V. Miller (2009). Speaking with the Ancestors-Mississippian Stone Statuary of the Tennessee-Cumberland region. University of Alabama Press. pp. 68–77. ISBN 978-0-8173-5465-7.
  9. ^ Sellars Farm State Archaeological Area-walking tour brochure (PDF), retrieved 2011-02-18
  10. ^ Munson, Cheryl Ann; McCullough, Robert G., Topographic mapping and transect survey of the Prather Archaeological Site (12-CL-4), Clark County, Indiana (PDF), p. 8, retrieved 2011-02-16
  11. ^ National Register of Historic Places Nomination form-Dunklau Site (PDF), retrieved 2011-02-16
  12. ^ Brennan, Tamira K. (October 2009). Domestic Diversity at Kincaid Mounds. Midwest Archaeological Conference. Iowa City, Iowa. p. 2. Retrieved 2011-02-19.
  13. ^ Kauffman Site 23JE206, retrieved 2011-02-18
  14. ^ Walthall, John A. (1990-01-30). Prehistoric Indians of the Southeast: Archaeology of Alabama and the Middle South. p. 240. Retrieved 2011-02-18.
  15. ^ Braly, Bobby R.; Koerner, Shannon, Chapter 2: A History of Archaeology in Tennessee (PDF), retrieved 2011-02-20

External links

Bare Island projectile point

The Bare Island projectile point is a stone projectile point of prehistoric indigenous peoples of North America. It was named by Fred Kinsey in 1959 for examples recovered at the Kent-Halley site on Bare Island in Pennsylvania.

Celt (tool)

In archaeology, a celt is a long, thin, prehistoric, stone or bronze tool similar to an adze, a hoe or axe-like tool.

Cumberland point

A Cumberland point is a lithic projectile point, attached to a spear and used as a hunting tool. These sturdy points were intended for use as thrusting weapons and employed by various mid-Paleo-Indians (c. 11,000 BP) in the Southeastern US in the killing of large game mammals.

Earth/fertility cult

The Earth/fertility Mississippian cult was associated with earthen platform mounds.The act of rebuilding the mounds, of adding additional layers of earth over burials, served as a symbol of renewal, which renewed the earthwork as much as human life. The earthen platform served as the earth, a symbolism which endured into historic times. There are historically documented connections between additions to platforms mounds and the communal "Green Corn Ceremony", which celebrated the new harvest and the fertility of the earth. The quadrilateral, flat-topped design of many platform mounds may represent the Southeastern American Indian belief that the earth was a flat surface oriented towards four quarters of the world.

Etowah plates

The Etowah plates, including the Rogan Plates, are a collection of Mississippian copper plates discovered in Mound C at the Etowah Indian Mounds near Cartersville, Georgia. Many of the plates display iconography that archaeologists have classified as part of the Southeastern Ceremonial Complex (S.E.C.C.), specifically "Birdman" imagery associated with warriors and the priestly elite. The plates are a combination of foreign imports and local items manufactured in emulation of the imported style. The designs of the Rogan plates are in the Classic Braden style from the American Bottom area. It is generally thought that some of the plates were manufactured at Cahokia (in present-day Illinois near St Louis, Missouri) before ending up at sites in the Southeast.

The plates are similar to a number of other plates found in locations across the southeastern and midwestern United States, including the plates of the Wulfing cache found in southeast Missouri and the numerous plates found in the mortuary chamber of the Craig Mound at the Spiro site in eastern Oklahoma. The designs of the plates from these locations, together with the iconography found on artifacts at the Moundville Archaeological Site in Hale County, Alabama, were the basis from which archaeologists developed the concept of the S.E.C.C. beginning in 1945.

Folsom point

Folsom points are a distinct form of knapped stone projectile points associated with the Folsom tradition of North America. The style of tool-making was named after the Folsom Site located in Folsom, New Mexico, where the first sample was found by George McJunkin within the bone structure of a bison in 1908. The Folsom point was identified as a unique style of projectile point in 1926.

Grattoir de côté

A Grattoir de côté (translates from French as Side Scraper) is an archaeological term for a ridged variety of steep-scrapers distinguished by a working edge on one side. They were found at various archaeological sites in Lebanon including Ain Cheikh and Jdeideh II and are suggested to date to Upper Paleolithic stages three or four (Antelian).

Grinding slab

In archaeology, a grinding slab is a ground stone artifact generally used to grind plant materials into usable size, though some slabs were used to shape other ground stone artifacts. Some grinding stones are portable; others are not and, in fact, may be part of a stone outcropping.

Grinding slabs used for plant processing typically acted as a coarse surface against which plant materials were ground using a portable hand stone, or mano ("hand" in Spanish). Variant grinding slabs are referred to as metates or querns, and have a ground-out bowl. Like all ground stone artifacts, grinding slabs are made of large-grained materials such as granite, basalt, or similar tool stones.

Julice Mound

Julice Mound is an archaeological site in East Carroll Parish, Louisiana with a Plaquemine culture component dating to 1200–1541 CE and located less than one mile from Transylvania Mounds.

Lamoka projectile point

Lamoka projectile points are stone projectile points manufactured by Native Americans what is now the northeastern United States, generally in the time interval of 3500-2500 B.C. They predate the invention of the bow and arrow, and are therefore not true "arrowheads", but rather atlatl dart points. They derive their name from the specimens found at the Lamoka site in Schuyler County, New York.

Owl Creek Mounds

The Owl Creek Mounds are a Native American Ceremonial Complex located in Mississippi's Tombigbee National Forest. The mounds are believed to have been built between 800 and 900 years ago during the Mississippian era. Archaeological excavations from 1991-1992 by crews from Mississippi State University led by Janet Rafferty revealed structural remains on three of the mounds at the site.

Pesse canoe

The Pesse canoe is believed to be the world's oldest known boat, and certainly the oldest known canoe. Carbon dating indicates that the boat was constructed during the early mesolithic period between 8040 BCE and 7510 BCE. It is now in the Drents Museum in Assen, Netherlands.

Plano point

In archeology, Plano point is flaked stone projectile points and tools created by the various Plano cultures of the North American Great Plains between 9000 BC and 6000 BC for hunting, and possibly to kill other humans.

They are bifacially worked and have been divided into numerous sub-groups based on variations in size, shape and function including Alberta points, Cody points, Frederick points, Eden points and Scottsbluff points. Plano points do not include the hollowing or 'fluting' found in Clovis and Folsom points.


In archeology, a racloir, also known as racloirs sur talon (French for scraper on the platform), is a certain type of flint tool made by prehistoric peoples.

It is a type of side scraper distinctive of Mousterian assemblages. It is created from a flint flake and looks like a large scraper. As well as being used for scraping hides and bark, it may also have been used as a knife. Racloirs are most associated with the Neanderthal Mousterian industry. These racloirs are retouched along the ridge between the striking platform and the dorsal face. They have shaped edges and are modified by abrupt flaking from the dorsal face.

Routh Mounds

Routh Mounds is a Plaquemine culture archaeological site in Tensas Parish, Louisiana. It is the type site for the Routh Phase(1200 to 1350 CE) of the Tensas Basin Plaquemine Mississippian chronology. It is located approximately 2 miles (3.2 km) northwest of the Winter Quarters State Historic Site.

Sacred bundle

A sacred bundle or a medicine bundle is a wrapped collection of sacred items, held by a designated carrier, used in Indigenous American ceremonial cultures.

According to Patricia Deveraux, a member of the Blackfoot Confederacy in Alberta, "These are holy bundles given to us by the Creator to hold our people together... They're the same as the relics from the Catholic Church. They are a demonstration of the holy spirit. They can heal people."

Tool stone

In archaeology, a tool stone is a type of stone that is used to manufacture stone tools,

or stones used as the raw material for tools.Generally speaking, tools that require a sharp edge are made using cryptocrystalline materials that fracture in an easily controlled conchoidal manner.

Cryptocrystalline tool stones include flint and chert, which are fine-grained sedimentary materials; rhyolite and felsite, which are igneous flowstones; and obsidian, a form of natural glass created by igneous processes. These materials fracture in a predictable fashion, and are easily resharpened. For more information on this subject, see lithic reduction.

Large-grained materials, such as basalt, granite, and sandstone, may also be used as tool stones, but for a very different purpose: they are ideal for ground stone artifacts. Whereas cryptocrystalline materials are most useful for killing and processing animals, large-grained materials are usually used for processing plant matter. Their rough faces often make excellent surfaces for grinding plant seeds. With much effort, some large-grained stones may be ground down into awls, adzes, and axes.


In archeology, a uniface is a specific type of stone tool that has been flaked on one surface only. There are two general classes of uniface tools: modified flakes—and formalized tools, which display deliberate, systematic modification of the marginal edges, evidently formed for a specific purpose.

Yubetsu technique

The Yubetsu technique (湧別技法, Yūbetsu gihō) is a special technique to make microblades, proposed by Japanese scholar Yoshizaki in 1961, based on his finds in some Upper Palaeolithic sites in Hokkaido, Japan, which date from c. 13,000 bp.

The name comes from the Yūbetsu River (湧別川, Yubetsugawa), on the right bank of which the Shirataki (白滝遺跡, Shirataki Iseki) Palaeolithic sites were discovered.

To make microblades by this technique, a large biface is made into a core which looks like a tall carinated scraper. Then one lateral edge of the bifacial core is removed, producing at first a triangular spall. After, more edge removals will produce ski spalls of parallel surfaces.

This technique was also used from Mongolia to Kamchatka Peninsula during the later Pleistocene.

South Appalachian
Fort Walton culture
Pensacola culture
Upper Mississippian

This page is based on a Wikipedia article written by authors (here).
Text is available under the CC BY-SA 3.0 license; additional terms may apply.
Images, videos and audio are available under their respective licenses.