Duck River Temple Mounds

More than eight centuries ago a Native American town flourished atop the steep bluff overlooking the confluence of Sycamore Creek, Buffalo River, and Duck River in Humphreys County. By A.D. 1150 this prosperous town was the political, economic, and religious center for villagers and farmers throughout the Lower Tennessee River valley. This ancient settlement, prominent throughout eastern North America as a center of prehistoric trade, declined and disappeared by A.D. 1500.

In 1894 digging at this town produced the Duck River Cache, perhaps the most spectacular single collection of prehistoric Native American art ever discovered in the eastern United States. The cache included two human statues representing the community's ancestral founding couple along with nearly four dozen ceremonial stone knives, daggers, swords, maces, and other striking examples of prehistoric stonework. As sacred symbols of leadership, these objects were similar, in many ways, to the crowns of European monarchs.

Eastern Native American chiefs valued the ceremonial weapons manufactured by Duck River artisans. Items created by these master stoneworkers have been excavated at Toqua in East Tennessee, Etowah in Georgia, Moundville in Alabama, Kincaid in Illinois, and Spiro in Oklahoma. Today, the products of those artisans are the centerpieces of major museums throughout the eastern United States. The Duck River Cache is on permanent display at the McClung Museum in Knoxville. In 1974 the State of Tennessee purchased the ninety-acre core of this remarkable Native American town to preserve what remains of one of the most significant and impressive Native American civilizations of prehistoric Tennessee.

Suggested Reading

H. C. Brehm, ed., The Duck River Cache: Tennessees Great Archaeological Find (1984) and The History of the Duck River Cache (Miscellaneous Paper No. 6, Tennessee Anthropological Association, Knoxville)

Citation Information

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  • Article Title Duck River Temple Mounds
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  • Website Name Tennessee Encyclopedia
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  • Access Date July 21, 2024
  • Publisher Tennessee Historical Society
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update March 1, 2018