The Lyon's Bluff Site

 Introduction

The Lyon's Bluff Site (22OK520) is a large mound and village site located in Oktibbeha County, Mississippi. Archaeological investigations have demonstrated that occupation of the site dates predominately to the Mississippi and Protohistoric periods (ca. A.D. 1000-1650). Several seasons of investigations have occurred at the site beginning in the 1930s with the work of Moreau Chambers, continuing in the late 1960s and early 1970s under the direction of Richard Marshall of MSU, and most recently during the summers of 2001 and 2003 by Dr. Evan Peacock of MSU.

Most sincere thanks are due to Ed, Bill, Joyce, and John Clark Sorrels for permitting our investigations at the site during the 2001, 2003 seasons, and all subsequent returns to the site since then. The help of Jason Robinson for bringing an eroding deposit at the site to attention is also appreciated. Credit is also due to the dedicated team of field school students, field assistants, colleagues, and volunteers who participated in the work. Thanks also to everyone who has contributed to the Lyon's Bluff Fund.

The 2001 Season

During the summer of 2001, archaeological investigations were undertaken at the Lyon's Bluff site in conjunction with the Department of Sociology, Anthropology, and Social Work's archaeological field school under the direction of Cobb Research Associate and Associate Professor of Anthropology Evan Peacock. Jeffrey Alvey, who was a graduate student in the M.A. program in Applied Anthropology, served as Field Assistant.

Several reasons prompted the return to Lyon's Bluff, including especially the opportunity to employ more modern recovery and sampling techniques to extract information of a higher quality than previously obtained and to provide a more certain stratigraphic and environmental frame within which to study materials from the earlier work of Richard Marshall. Because of the site's alkaline soils, it was anticipated that the preservation of animal bones and other organic remains would be exceptional. This was confirmed by excavations which recovered vast amounts of faunal materials found to be in an excellent state of preservation. The faunal remains recovered from the site will be used to investigate questions of feasting and other social behavior. Finally, work at Lyon's Bluff also complements recent projects undertaken on small, prehistoric sites in the vicinity of Starkville prior to highway bypass construction. Those small sites date to the Mississippi and Protohistoric periods and are coeval with occupations at Lyon's Bluff.

Fourteen students participated in the 2001 excavations, which provided a great deal of interesting information on the site's internal structure. During this season, work focused on the vicinity of the central platform mound. Several series of units were dug at twenty-meter intervals in four directions to provide basic data on stratigraphy. Surprisingly, cultural deposits near the mound go down nearly a meter, with clearly separated zones of occupation. Another interesting find was a deep wall trench, the foundation of a prehistoric bastioned palisade, which was identified through magnetic gradiometer survey as encircling the mound and village. A magnetic gradiometer is a type of remote sensing device used to locate sub-surface archaeological features which exist as magnetic anomalies. Archaeological targets may include fired structures, such as kilns or hearths, and structures with an enhanced magnetic susceptibility such as pits, ditches, enclosures, etc. Nearer to the mound itself, evidence for prehistoric, rectangular structures was provided by the magnetic gradiometer survey. The gradiometer survey was conducted by Dr. Jay Johnson and students from the University of Mississippi. Dr. Johnson is a Professor of Anthropology and director of the Center for Archaeological Research at the University of Mississippi. The results of the magnetic gradiometer survey were excellent as the locations of at least five structures were revealed.

Based on the results of the magnetic gradiometer survey, a large block of units was opened just north of the mound. Here, just below the plow zone, a sand-covered house floor was discovered, with deer bone, painted pottery, and other artifacts still in place. All artifacts were carefully mapped and microartifact samples were taken to try and determine what activities took place within the structure.

Besides large quantities of artifacts, truly amazing amounts of animal bone were recovered. Deer, bear, snake, turtle and fish are some of the species identified so far. Whole cobs of charred corn and charred beans also were found. The excavations produced dozens of radiocarbon samples, so that the chronological placement of the various occupations will be known with a high degree of confidence.

The 2003 Season

In the summer of 2003 a second season of investigations took place again in conjunction with MSU's archaeological field school and under the direction of Dr. Evan Peacock. Valerie Davis and Tom James, graduate students in the M.A. program in Applied Anthropology, served as Field Assistants. Continuing the work begun in 2001, the main goal of the 2003 season was to get a complete stratigraphic profile down to bedrock in the main part of the site. The deposits proved to be much deeper than previously thought. In the area west of the central mound over two meters of deposits were probed. At least two distinct midden zones, separated by layers of soil with reduced artifact density, were identified in this area.

In one of the deepest units, located several meters west of the central mound, an ash layer about 40 cm thick was encountered. Within this feature individual basketloads of ash were quite evident. Based on the slope of the stratum, it is clear that this deposition is only the edge of what must be a very large ash pile. In addition to a large quantity of charcoal, this ash also contained hundreds of whole mussel valves.

Excavation in another nearby unit exposed the west side of the central mound, and revealed three different episodes of daub disposal. Apparently buildings on top of the mound had burned and the burned daub had been pushed off onto the mound slope. Daub was created by mixing mud, clay, and plant materials, such as grass or straw, to create a plaster-like material that could be applied to the walls of wooden houses. Equally intriguing was evidence of the prehistoric use of chalk over the mound. In at least six separate episodes, the mound was covered with a thin coat of pulverized chalk, which must have given it a glaring white appearance.

Just before the 2003 season the Department of Sociology, Anthropology, and Social Work purchased a new FM-256 Fluxgate Gradiometer from Geoscan Research, Inc. This instrument was immediately employed at Lyon's Bluff to survey the remainder of the site that had not been surveyed in the 2001 season. This work was undertaken by Kevin McMahon, who was a graduate student in the School of Architecture's M.A. program in Computer Visualization. The survey proved to be very productive as it identified a number of linear features. Some of these were suspected of being natural joints in the chalk bedrock while others looked like palisade lines. Test trenches across these features proved both of these suppositions to be correct. The palisade trenches have now been plotted with a high degree of certainty providing solid data to help unravel the sequence of fortifications over time at the site. Subsequent magnetic gradiometer surveys occurred in November 2003 and March 2004 in an effort to survey the remaining areas which had not been surveyed in the summers of 2001 and 2003. These surveys have provided even more useful information concerning the site structure at Lyon's Bluff by demonstrating the southern extent of the palisade wall. These surveys also verified at least two episodes of palisade construction took place at the site. One of the palisades appears to surround the central mound area, while a separate palisade (probably constructed much later than the other palisade) is located about 50 meters northwest of the central mound area. This palisade appears to be much smaller in the area it encompasses, and only two structures are visible within its perimeter. The complete results of gradiometer survey at the Lyon's Bluff site can be seen by clicking here.

As the season was closing an effort was made to find one of the units Moreau Chambers excavated on the central mound during the mid-1930s. The plan was to clean it out and re-record his profiles. However, far more disturbance was encountered during excavation than had been anticipated. Pieces of modern glass were still appearing at 1.5 meters deep when excavation time ran out and back filling operations got underway.

Because of the large accumulation of artifacts, adding to those already in hand from 2001 work, plans for a third season in 2005 were laid aside. Current efforts are focused on processing and analytical work, and on final reporting of the recovered data.

Bibliography

Alvey, Jeffrey, Evelyn Brown, Justin Byrnes, Lacey Culpepper, and Brandy Leggett
2004 - A Comparison of Field Methods in Magnetic Gradiometer Survery. Mississippi Archaeology 39(1): 25-38.

Bierly, Scott M.
2007 - Terminal-Occupation Community Patterns at Lyon's Bluff (22OK520) in Oktibbeha County, Mississippi: Sedimentological, Molluscan, Artifactual and Geophysical Evidence. Department of Sociology, Anthropology, and Social Work, Mississippi State University. Download

Galloway, Patricia K.
2000 - Archaeology from the Archives: The Chambers Excavations at Lyon's Bluff, 1934-35. Mississippi Archaeology 35(1): 23-90.

Lolley, Terry
2000 - Archaeology at the Lyon's Bluff Site, a Mississippian and Protohistoric Settlement in Oktibbeha County, Mississippi. Mississippi Archaeology 35(1): 1-14.

Marshall, Richard A.
1986 - The Protohistoric Component at the Lyon's Bluff Site Complex, Oktibbeha County, Mississippi. In, The Protohistoric Period in the Mid-South: 1500-1700 -- Proceedings of the 1983 Mid-South Archaeological Conference, edited by David H. Dye and Ronald C. Brister, Mississippi Department of Archives and History, Archaeological Report NO. 18, Jackson, Mississippi.

Peacock, Evan
2002 - "Prehistoric and Protohistoric occupations at the Lyon's Bluff site, Mississippi." Paper presented at the 59th Southeastern Archaeological Conference, Biloxi, Mississippi.

2002 - "Geological sourcing of sand used for Mississippian house floors at the Lyon's Bluff site, Oktibbeha County, Mississippi." Paper presented at the Mississippi Archaeological Association annual meeting, Columbus, Mississippi.

Peacock, Evan, and S. Homes Hogue
2005 - A New Series of Absolute Dates from Lyon's Bluff (22OK520), East-Central Mississippi. Southeastern Archaeology 24(1): 46-58.

Peacock, Evan, and Matthew Reynolds
2001 - "Remote sensing at Lyons Bluff, a Mississippian mound and village site in Oktibbeha County, Mississippi." Paper presented at the 58th Southeastern Archaeological Conference, Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Rafferty, Janet, Thomas R. James, Kevin McMahon, Jeffrey Alvey, and Evan Peacock
2003 - "Geophysical Evidence Bearing on the Community Plan at a Mississippian Mound Site, Oktibbeha County, Mississippi." Poster presented at the 60th Southeastern Archaeological Conference, Charlotte, North Carolina.