Pinson Mounds State Archaeological Area

Pinson Mounds State Archaeological Area

Brian Madeira, Connor Simmons

Spring 2016
ES341 Wetland Environments
Dr. James S. Aber

Table of Contents
Wildlife and Vegetation
Native History


The Forked Deer River system is located in Tennessee and and is made up of many streams and tributaries. The system makes up the majority of drainage in central west Tennessee. At one point the system was one large wetland environment, however it has been heavily drained for agricultural use. Much of the remaining system eventually runs into the Obion River. The river itself is relatively slow moving and dotted with small finger lakes that are popular fishing spots.

Pinson Mounds State Park is located within the wetland area, about 10 miles south of Jackson, and is a National Park. Native American burial mounds range in size from 7-72 feet in the area. The park is about 400 acres and includes at least 12 mounds, including the second tallest in the united states, and several ritual areas.

This area is a part of the Chickasaw National Wildlife Refuge, which in total covers 94 acres of administravtive land, 1,186 acres of agriculturale and moist soil open lands, 1874 acres of cypress forest, 18,419 acres of mixed bottomland hardwood forest, 966 acres of open water, 1018 acres of sandbars, 515 acres of osage orange savanna, 431 acres of scrub-shrub, and 503 acres of upland forest equaling up to 26000 total acres.

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Wildlife and Vegetation


The bottomland hardwood forest has great biodiversity in that it is nutrient rich from its frequent flooding and leaf decay, welcoming many different organisms for feeding and nesting grounds. The vegetation has adapted to this constant flooding, shown in some of the cypress trees pnematophors.

Pinson mounds are located on a plateau that is surrounded by wetlands that form the banks of the South Fork of the Forked Deer River. There are three basic zones to the mound area. 1) Oak forest atop the plateau 2) Beech forests on the slopes between the bottonlands and uplands 3) And finally the area of focus, the cypress forest in the wetland area

Cypress Forest.

Figure 1. Cypress forest characterized by its pneumatophore structures.
(Photo by Brian Madeira, 2016).


Waterfowl - mallards, pintail, gadwall, widgeon (most abundantly seen in the winter months) - The wood duck is seen here and is not like most waterfowl for it likes to nest in the trees.

Wood Duck.

Figure 2. Male Wood Duck. (Modified from Wikimedia Commons, 2008).

Songbirds - warbler, scarlet tanager

Scarlet Tanager.

Figure 3. Scarlet Tanager. (Modified from Wikimedia Commons, 2012).

Eastern Box Turtle is Tennessee's state reptile and of course is seen here. Notably it's plastron is hinged allowing it to completely tuck in its head and legs, making it impossible for predators to get at them.

Eastern Box Turtle.

Figure 4. Eastern Box Turtle. (Modified from Wikimedia Commons, 2007).

Other such animals include raptors ranging from the typically seenbarrel owl, to the rarely seen bald eagle. Also included are vasrious frogs, including the spring peeper and the American bullfrog

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Native History

The Pinson Mound area occupies 500 acres and contains at least 17 man-made mound structures. These mounds, built around 200 BC to 500 AD by Native American tribes were used for agricultural means and also for burial. It is evident that some of the mounds were built in stages with the largest one, Saul's Mound, standing 22 meters tall. At first the Pinson area started off as a community for the tribe, but eventually become a ceremonial site, with the mounds being built purposely to follow the spring and fall equinoxes. One meaningful reason to there planned dirt dumbing is for a signal when the tribe needs to plant (spring) and when they need to harvest (fall). Watching from Saul's Mound, when the sun rising behind Mound 29 that is the sign of the fall equinox. This means that the prehistoric native tribe had to be highly inclined in astronomy (Mainfort et al. 2011; Perttula 2014).

Sual's Mound.

Figure 5. Sual's Mound is the largest mound in the area standing about 22 meters. (Modified from Wikimedia Commons, 2007)

However, some of these mounds were created just for mass graves. The Ozier Mound, Twin Mounds, and the unnamed Mound 31 have been shown to hold human remains and cremations. Some single tombs have been found holding large groups of people, for example a tomb was found holding 8 woman who were all dressed in decorative ornaments. Further digging was haulted and previously dug up tombs were recovered as to not disturb the area any further, and no such digging has occured in recent decades on the Twin Mounds. But with the findings of the copper ornaments and other such decorations found on the bodies, it is evident that large trade routes came through that area in the Woodland Era for those items could only been found in other areas, including the Gulf of Mexico and the Great Lakes region (Mainfort et al. 2011; Perttula 2014).

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Management and Recreation

Activities in the park include archeological digs and many native american ceremonial sites and of course the mounds. Demonstrations of native american crafts are also performed, such as pottery, basketry, leatherwork, flintknapping and chipping, and jewelry making. All of this is of course offered in addition to the beautiful scenery and interesting history of the area which you can learn all about in the on-site museum.

Photograph of the mound museum.

Photograph of the museum within Pinson Mounds, located inside a mound

The wetland is in the Tigrett Wildlife Management Area and this organization is actively seeking to purchase land in the area to further restore the wetland. They believe that further restoration of the area would be beneficial to flaura and fauna in the area, especially waterfowl and shorebirds.

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Kimbro, Ellen. "Pinson Mounds State Archaeological Area." Outdoors. Web. 1 May 2016.

Mainfort Jr., Robert C., Mary L. Kwas, and Andrew M. Mickelson. "Mapping Never-Never Land: An Examination Of Pinson Mounds Cartography." Southeastern Archaeology 30.1 (2011): 148-165. Academic Search Premier. Web. 21 Apr. 2016.

Perttula, Timothy K. "Pinson Mounds: Middle Woodland Ceremonialism In The Midsouth." Southeastern Archaeology 33.2 (2014): 283-284. Academic Search Premier. Web. 21 Apr. 2016.

Photo Sources

Eastern Box Turtle. Wikimedia Commons. 2007. Accessed on April 25, 2016.

Scarlet Tanager. Wikimedia Commons. 2012. Accessed on April 25, 2016.

Wood Duck. Wikimedia Commons. 2008. Accessed on April 25, 2016.

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