CATEGORY: Chickasaw County
HED:Owl Creek Mounds
By Eileen Bailey
HOULKA – Water rushes over rocks in Goodfood Creek past the Owl Creek Mounds and south through pasture land.
The creek provided water to Indians who lived on small farming plots near the Owl Creek Mounds about 700 years ago.
As far as archaeologists can tell, these Indians, who lived during the Mississippian Period of the Paleozoic Era, would build one or two huts on small plots of land near the creeks. They would then travel back to the mounds, located on what is now Davis Lake Road, for ceremonies.
The Indians lived in what is now Chickasaw County for about 100 years before abandoning the site, said Evan Peacock, district archaeologist with the Tombigbee Ranger District of the U.S. Forest Service in Ackerman.
The abandoned mounds, last excavated in 1992, are located three miles west of the Natchez Trace Parkway. To help motorists and history enthusiasts better understand the history of these mounds, the U.S. Forest Service will be placing interpretive signs at the site later this spring.
There are several questions regarding the mounds that may not be answered on the signs, including why farming Indians, who normally were found in the Mississippi Delta and the Tombigbee River drainage areas, were in the hilly country of Chickasaw County.
These Indians, Peacock said, are “virtually unknown in the hills.” He added that Owl Creek Mounds, named for a creek located a mile east of the mounds, is the largest site of its kind outside the major river valleys.
Excavations in 1991 and 1992, led by Dr. Janet Rafferty and conducted by students in the Department of Sociology, Anthropology and Social Work at Mississippi State University, helped to answer some of the questions surrounding the mounds – but not all of them.
During the excavation, researchers conducted a carbon dating test that showed the mounds were constructed sometime around 1200 A.D., Peacock said. It was determined that the mounds were not burial mounds and were not used as a place to live because no skeletal remains were found, he said.
Experts believe the Indians of the Mississippian Period buried their dead beneath the floors of their homes, Peacock said.
“We don’t know why it was built or why it was abandoned,” he said. Also unanswered is what type of ceremonies were held at the mounds.
Recent excavations of the mounds, which went down about 4 feet, also unearthed artifacts, including pottery shards. There was a type of “painted pottery that had not been reported outside of Tennessee before.”
Also discovered during the excavation was a small pit filled with charred cobs of a type of corn, Peacock said. Corn, or maize, was a staple crop for these Indians.
This corn and the other artifacts found at the site are being stored at Mississippi State University in a climate-controlled room.
Researchers also found shards of pottery and other items that once belonged at a house built in the late 1880s not far from the mounds.
Artifacts were found at several possible home sites for the Indians along the creeks in the area.
Peacock said they discovered that buildings, probably used as temples, were constructed by the Indians on the site, but later taken down. The mound would be covered with a layer of colored dirt, then a new building would be constructed, he said.
The first excavations of the site were conducted by Moreau Chambers, who worked for the state Department of Archives and History, in 1935.
Chambers, Peacock said, learned little from his visit to the mounds. He did leave behind a bottle with a note in it explaining that he had excavated the mounds in 1935.
That bottle and note were discovered by the MSU researchers during their excavations, he said.
For the most part, these mounds, two of which remain on Forest Service property and three on private property, are in “great shape,” Peacock said.
But there have been some changes. One of the mounds on private property was cut in half to construct Davis Lake Road several decades ago.
Wooden steps also were added many years ago to the tallest of the five flat-topped mounds, but the original grass and dirt ramp up to the top made by the Indians still can be seen.
Peacock said they have learned a lot about the mysteries of the mounds, but there is still more to learn.
“Our main goal is to preserve the site,” he said. “We hope to get as much information as possible without much damage.”
And through the new signs, Peacock said the “one thing we hope to do is to get folks to realize what a nice site this is.”