Old Stone Fort (Tennessee) - The Old Stone Fort's Builders and Function - Who Built The Old Stone Fort?

Who Built The Old Stone Fort?

The Old Stone Fort remained a mystery until the University of Tennessee conducted archaeological excavations in 1966. Throughout the 19th and early 20th century, various theories tried to identify the builders.

In 1823, the Pioneer, a Jackson, Tennessee newspaper, argued the Old Stone Fort was built by Buccaneers from Seville after one of their ships wrecked off the coast of Florida and forced them inland. In the mid-20th century, the discoveries at L'Anse aux Meadows and the discovery of apparent Viking artifacts in various parts of North America led many to believe the Vikings built stone structures in the Eastern U.S.A., including the Old Stone Fort. In 1950, Zella Armstrong hypothesized that the fort was built by "Welsh-Indian" descendants of Prince Madoc.

The first serious investigation of the Old Stone Fort was conducted by Joseph Jones for the Smithsonian Institution in 1876 and uncovered several prehistoric artifacts. He was followed by Tennessee State Archaeologist P.E. Cox in 1928, who dug several trenches and analyzed the fort's composition.

In 1966, after the purchase of the Old Stone Fort, the University of Tennessee Department of Anthropology investigated the structure's origins. Digging a series of trenches and test pits and conducting extensive research, the investigators determined the builders to be Native Americans of the Middle Woodland period. Charles Faulkner, a member of the excavation team, based this on three findings:

  • Radiocarbon analysis of charcoal samples found within the structure's walls all dated to approximately 30-430 AD, in the Middle Woodland period.
  • The structure's composition, setting, and layout is similar to other structures built by Middle Woodland cultures, such as the Hopewell people of Ohio and the Pinson Mound builders in West Tennessee.
  • Between 1966 and 1971, five Middle Woodland settlements were discovered within 20 miles (32 km) of the Old Stone Fort, including a substantial habitation area 3 miles (4.8 km) downstream.

The University of Tennessee determined the fort was built gradually over a period of several hundred years. The builders are believed to be two distinct local Middle Woodland cultures known as the McFarland and the Owl Hollow cultures, the first beginning work in the 1st century AD and the second completing it.

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