History of Thelma, Owl Creek mounds told
HOUSTON – Chickasaw County is dotted with Indian mounds with the Owl Creek, Bynum and Thelma mounds giving a little insight on how people lived in this area thousands of years ago.
The Chickasaw County Historical & Genealogical Society hosted Dr. Janet Rafferty, professor of the Department of Anthropology and Middle Eastern Culture at Mississippi State University, and Nicole Erickson, a graduate student at MSU, at a program last week at the Chickasaw County Heritage Museum.
“The Owl Creek Mound has been extensively studied and a survey was conducted of the Thelma Mound several years ago,” said Rafferty. “We have no written history or even stories about the people who built these mounds and all we know is what we have learned from archeology.”
Rafferty said the Indian mounds in Chickasaw County probably raise more questions than they can ever answer.
“We believe these people used these sites for religious ceremonies and didn’t live at these sites,” said Rafferty. “For that reason you will not find a lot of arrowheads, pottery or beads at these sites.”
Rafferty presented slides of photos taken during a 1930 excavation. She said that work established a baseline for Indian mounds in the area.
“These are pretty impressive structures when you realize it was all done literally by hand,” said Raffety. “They didn’t have shovels and they moved this earth one basket load at a time.”
Rafferty said the Owl Creek mounds were probably active from 800 to 1200 A.D. She said the forest grew over it when it was abandoned and the WPA surveyed and restored the sites in the 1930s.
Erickson said the five mounds that make up the Thelma site have seen a lot of deterioration since it is not on public land. She did point out the Gray property has been privately restored and preserved.
“We did not find a lot of artifacts when we surveyed this site and we really didn’t expect to,” said Erickson. “We were able to map the site and will use that to preserve it.”
Rafferty pointed out the Bynum Mounds are listed as burial mounds and can not be excavated or disturbed.
Owl Creek Mounds is located just off the Natchez Trace at milepost 243 and is protected by the U.S. Forest Service. It is an important Native American ceremonial site and the two current mounds are part of what used to be a 5-mound complex.
The mounds were built and used by farming people belonging to the Mississippian culture, A.D. 1000 to 1500. The archaeological site includes two large mounds, walkways and interpretive panels.
No one knows why the mounds were abandoned after only about 100 years, although theories range from disease to some natural catastrophe such as drought.
Thelma Mound is a restricted site on private property and is listed as such to stop poaching of Indian relics from the mound.
It is linked to the Early Mississippian/Late Woodland era. Details about this mound are spotty as no extensive excavation has ever been conducted at the site.
Rafferty said it is critical for people in Chickasaw County to come forward with their artifacts and get them documented.
“People love their artifacts and if they found them on their property, those artifacts belong to them,” said Rafferty. “The problem comes with poachers taking things off people’s land without asking. And it also comes when artifacts that belong to an aunt or uncle who dies are carried off by someone else.
“Once you no longer know where these artifacts come from, you lose their history and they lose a large part of their value,” said Rafferty. “We encourage people to bring their artifacts to the Chickasaw County Museum for documentation and then think about leaving those artifacts to the museum once they die.”
For more information about donating items to the Chickasaw County Historical Museum please contact Chickasaw County Historical Society President Larry Davis at 456-9787.
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