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Artists conception of Town Creek Indian Mound during the late Town Creek-early Leak phases circa 1350 CE.
Location within North Carolina today
Town Creek Indian Mound (the United States)
|Location||Mount Gilead, North Carolina, Montgomery County, North Carolina, USA|
|Region||Montgomery County, North Carolina|
|Cultures||South Appalachian Mississippian culture|
|Architectural styles||platform mound, plaza|
|Architectural details||Number of temples: 1|
Town Creek Indian Mound
|NRHP reference #||66000594 |
|Added to NRHP||October 15, 1966|
Town Creek Indian Mound (31 MG 2) is a prehistoric Native American archaeological site located near present-day Mount Gilead, Montgomery County, North Carolina, in the United States. The site, whose main features are a platform mound with a surrounding village and wooden defensive palisade, was built by the Pee Dee, a South Appalachian Mississippian culture people (a regional variation of the Mississippian culture) that developed in the region as early as 980 CE. They thrived in the Pee Dee River region of North and South Carolina during the Pre-Columbian era. The Town Creek site was an important ceremonial site occupied from about 1150—1400 CE. It was abandoned for unknown reasons. It is the only ceremonial mound and village center of that culture located within North Carolina.
The Pee Dee were part of a larger complex society known for building earthwork mounds for spiritual and political purposes. They participated in a widespread network of trading that stretched from Georgia through South Carolina, eastern Tennessee, and as well as the mountain and Piedmont regions of North Carolina. The Town Creek site is not large by Mississippian standards. The earthwork mound was built over the remains of a rectangular-shaped earth lodge. The site was declared a National Historic Landmark on October 15, 1966 as reference number 66000594.
The site is the only national historic landmark in North Carolina that commemorates American Indian culture. It is owned by the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources and is operated by the Division of State Historic Sites. Today the Pee Dee people are based in South Carolina, where the state has recognized four bands and one group.
The Pee Dee people built their mound on a low bluff at the confluence of Town Creek and the Little River. The Town Creek site was a major center of Pee Dee habitation, religion and trade. Discussions regarding trade among the local clans were held at Town Creek. Many of the highest-ranking members of the tribe lived, died, and were buried at Town Creek; the elite served both political and religious roles. The site in Montgomery County was the location of important religious ceremonies and tribal feasts.
The clans in the surrounding area would gather at Town Creek for periodic gatherings known as "busks". During a busk, the temple, homes, and grounds of the village were cleaned and repaired as needed. Debts and grievances were resolved. Ritual purification ceremonies took place at Town Creek Indian Mound. The ceremonies included fasting, bathing, the ingestion of cathartic medicine, and ritual scratching of the skin with the teeth of the garfish. The busk gathering concluded with a celebration known as a poskito, in which the neighboring tribes feasted on new corn. The clans would return to their villages with embers from the sacred fire to stoke their hearths. Scholars believe that the sharing of the fire symbolized unity among the Pee Dee.
Archaeologic excavation began at Town Creek in 1927 on an amateur basis before professional archaeologists took over in 1937 as a Works Progress Administration (WPA)-funded project during the Great Depression. The scholarly excavations continued regularly until 1987. In the years prior to 1927, local residents had known the site to be a place to collect Indian arrowheads and other relics. With little knowledge of archaeological practices, they likely caused some permanent damage to the site. The amateur group used a scraper pulled by a mule to uncover artifacts, including animal and human bones, and shards of pottery. Today excavations continue on a limited basis.
During the 1930s the land was owned by L. D. Frutchey. He allowed exploratory work to begin in 1937 by a team from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, funded by the Works Progress Administration of the President Franklin D. Roosevelt administration. Frutchey donated the mound and about an acre of surrounding land to the state of North Carolina, and it was called Frutchey State Park for several years. The name was changed to Town Creek in the 1940s, and it has been administered by the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources. Town Creek was the first state historic site to be developed for interpretation for visitors.
The Pee Dee left no written record, meaning that archaeology was vital in uncovering their history. Dr. Joffre Coe of the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill was the lead archaeologist at Town Creek beginning in 1937. Dr. Coe and his team uncovered various artifacts and burial vaults, and also found the remains of the defensive palisade that once surrounded Town Creek Indian Mound. Evidence suggests this palisade was rebuilt at least five times.
Further excavations revealed that the mound, which had not been destroyed over the years despite widespread farming in the area, was the site of three separate structures. The earliest structure was a rectangular earth lodge that had collapsed with age. The second structure was built over the fallen lodge; it was a temple. After the temple burned, the Pee Dee built another ceremonial structure on the same spot. This building had an eastward-facing ramp that provided access to the surrounding plaza.
The flat, graded plaza in front of the mound served as the site for ceremonies and other public meetings. The archaeologists discovered the remains of several support buildings in the vicinity of the plaza, including a burial and mortuary house. It is believed that the burial house was significant for a specific clan. The mound, burial, mortuary houses and many family homes were surrounded by a protective palisade. The remains of two gates and guard towers have been discovered on the north and south ends of the palisade, with archaeological evidence pointing to the successive construction and destruction of at least five protective walls. This is a pattern seen at other Mississippian sites, such as Cahokia, a major center located in present-day southwestern Illinois near Saint Louis, Missouri.
A total of 563 burials have been found at Town Creek Indian Mound; they are believed to be Pee Dee people. Many of the burial sites appear to have been fairly simple and common, with the bodies casually placed in the graves. Some were found buried with their bodies fully extended, while others may have been re-buried in a bundle of bones. The remains of young children and infants have been found tightly wrapped in deerskins and placed within large pottery vessels archeologists have called burial urns.
Dr. Coe served as the lead archaeologist for Town Creek Indian Mound for more than 50 years. His extensive work at Town Creek has led to development of deep knowledge about the past of Town Creek. Traditionally, historic excavations had taken place over a much shorter period of time, with the artifacts being removed to a distant research facility. Dr. Coe maintained his center of operations at Town Creek for over 50 years, allowing him to establish a consistent plan of research and study.
The state has developed several facilities at Town Creek Indian Mound that are open to the public. It built a reconstructed ceremonial center, restoring the platform mound and reconstructing a temple on it, a minor temple, and the mortuary.
The visitor center houses interpretive exhibits, a gift shop, and audiovisual programs. The visitor center, minor temple, and mortuary are handicapped accessible. Several trails and outdoor monuments are located on the property. Fourteen picnic tables are located on the grounds.
Group tours are available with advance scheduling. Groups are led through some hands-on activities. Various special events held throughout the year focus on the lifestyle of the Pee Dee. Self-guided tours of the rebuilt structures and mound occur during normal operational hours, and admission to Town Creek Indian Mound is free.
- "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. January 23, 2007.
- Pursell, Corin (2004). Geographic Distribution and Symbolism of Colored Mound Architecture in the Mississippian Southeast (Masters thesis). Southern Illinois University Carbondale. p. 101.
- "Town Creek Indian Mound: An American Indian Legacy". North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources, Office of Archives & History. Archived from the original on 2007-08-10. Retrieved 2007-07-31.
- Cunningham, Sarah L (2010). "Biological and Cultural Stress in a South Appalachian Mississippian Settlement: Town Creek Indian Mound, Mt. Gilead, NC" (PDF). North Carolina State University. Retrieved 2012-04-12.
- "The Woodland and Mississippian Periods in North Carolina: Southern Piedmont Late Woodland". The Archaeology of North Carolina. Research Laboratories of Archaeology, UNC. Retrieved 24 March 2012.
- "Town Creek Indian Mound". Sandhills Online. Retrieved 2007-07-31.
- "The Pee Dee Culture". North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources, Office of Archives & History. Retrieved 2007-07-31.
- Leland G. Ferguson. "About the site: Town Creek Indian Mound". North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources, Office of Archives & History. Retrieved 2007-07-31.
- "Facilities at Town Creek Indian Mound". North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources, Office of Archives & History. Archived from the original on 2007-06-16. Retrieved 2007-07-31.
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