Located on an ancient bank of the Tennessee River, the Eva site is a prehistoric Native American encampment named after the modern hamlet of Eva in Benton County. University of Tennessee archaeologists excavated the site in 1940 before the area was inundated by the Kentucky Lake reservoir. It was a favored living site for thousands of years during the prehistoric Archaic Period. This period, now known to date circa 8000 to 1000 B.C., was a time when prehistoric native people in North America adjusted to the post-glacial environment by hunting, fishing, and gathering. Thomas M. N. Lewis and Madeline Kneberg Lewis, anthropologists at the University of Tennessee, published a monograph on the Eva site in 1961.
One of the most important features of the Eva site was the stratified or “layered” nature of the soil deposits or midden, which could be correlated with cultural and environmental changes in early post-glacial Tennessee. The stratigraphy indicated that several distinct prehistoric populations lived in Tennessee during the long Archaic Period. The stratified midden also contained well-preserved animal remains; Lewis and Lewis were the first archaeologists in Tennessee to examine these bones and shells in an attempt to determine prehistoric dietary patterns and hunting strategies. The site's human burials are among the earliest Native American populations studied by anthropologists in Tennessee.
Archaeologists distinguished five strata based on differences in soil and artifact content. Strata V-VI (earliest in time) contained artifacts of a group of people who were called the Eva culture. These hunting and gathering people preferred a reddish flint for their broad-bladed projectile points, tipped “darts” hurled with a spear-thrower–white-tailed deer being the prime quarry. A radiocarbon date of 5,200 B.C. from these strata was the earliest obtained for a prehistoric culture in Tennessee at the time. Since 1961 archaeologists have obtained numerous radiocarbon dates for the Archaic Period. Some dates from the Tellico Reservoir in East Tennessee are earlier than 7,000 B.C.
The Three Mile component, represented in Stratum II, was the next major occupation of the Eva site. Short stemmed projectile points and ground stone pestles and grinding stones are common artifacts in this culture. Unlike the earlier Eva people, the Three Mile occupants ate large quantities of river mussels. The Lewises believed this change in dietary patterns was caused by a drier climate in the Tennessee Valley, which occurred about five thousand years ago. Such differences in subsistence patterns can also be caused by shifting seasonal occupation of sites and other social factors.
The Big Sandy culture, represented in Stratum I, was the latest major occupation on the site. A distinguishing feature of this stratum was the absence of river mussels, which was attributed to environmental change by the Lewises. Large stemmed and notched dart points characterize the weaponry of the Big Sandy hunters. Animal bone frequencies indicated that these people may have had to range further from their settlement in search of game.
The Eva site included 180 human burials. Study of the quantitative and pathological data on this population indicated that the Native Americans who lived at Eva were relatively healthy compared to later populations and were genetically as well as culturally related to other Archaic groups in the Mid-South.
Thomas M. N. Lewis and Madeline Kneberg Lewis, Eva: An Archaic Site (1961)