If one ceramic artifact can reveal the history of Tennessee’s earliest inhabitants, what can thousands of them tell us about the region’s history? By identifying the source of the clay, the form of a pot, and its exterior decorations, researchers can determine who created it and begin to answer questions about the lives of past people. Christian Allen, a graduate student in archaeological anthropology, is one of the researchers piecing together this bigger picture at the University of Tennessee.
Allen is particularly interested in the Cherokee people who lived at a historic site known commonly as Mialoquo (40MR3). The site—which dates back over 250 years—was excavated by UT archaeologists between 1974 and 1979. Much of what was uncovered from neighboring archaeological sites at the same time can now be seen on display in the Native Peoples of Tennessee exhibit in UT’s McClung Museum of Natural History and Culture, but thousands of artifacts remain unexamined. Focusing on the ceramics and pottery sherds recovered from the site, Allen can begin to understand how the spatial distribution of pottery relates to the formation of Mialoquo.