Archeologists are like detectives. They gather evidence, look for clues, and make educated assumptions. The people who lived here did not leave behind any written records. But they did leave earthen mounds, pieces of pottery, stone tools, bits of mica, and other artifacts.
Archeologists look at this evidence piece by piece and compare it with what has been found at other American Indian sites. Gradually, they develop the story of everyday life at Shiloh Indian Mounds-a saga that continues to unfold as investigative techniques improve.
Most of what we know about this ancient community comes from archeological excavations in 1899, the 1930s, 1970s, and in recent years. Today, all archeological research in the park is done in consultation with the Chickasaw Nation. The object is to get maximum amount of information with the least amount of disturbance. Here are three examples of how archeologists arrived at certain conclusions-which, of course, can change with new evidence.
A Line of Holes
Archeologists uncovered one posthole after another. They staked the holes and realized they formed a semicircular fence line on the northern and western sides of the townsite opposite the Tennessee River. Wooden walls would have rotted within a few years, requiring replacement, but the palisade was built only once. This community must have been peaceful most of the time.
An Unusual Game Piece
Over the years archeologists discovered several small, stone disks in various places in the settlement. They knew, from accounts written by European explorers and settlers, that southeastern American Indians played a game called chunkey with such stones. One chunkey stone, found in the 1930s on the north side of the town's plaza, was made of coquina shell (far left). This kind of stone is found only in Florida. Presumably, the people who lived here received that chunkey stone in trade with people from that area or from others who had dealt with them.
A Rainbow of Colors
In recent years the National Park Service has conducted excavations on the largest mound, which was eroding into the Tennessee River. By examining the walls of their trench and studying radar images, archeologist discovered the mound's original rounded top had been turned into a flat top, the mound had been created with different layers of black, yellow, and gray soil, and the exterior had been coated with red clay.