About the Museum
The Pickett State Park Archaeology Museum and Archaeological Research Station opened in April 2017. The museum features the Native American prehistory of the Upper Cumberland Plateau region in and around Pickett State Park and Forest and Pogue Creek Canyon State Natural Area. The collaborative effort between Tennessee State Parks and ETSU represented the first State Park Public Facility devoted to archaeology and cultural resources outside of designated archaeological parks. The collaboration has now been extended to include the anthropology department at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. The two front rooms consist of a former living-dining room area that serves as our exhibit space, which focuses on the culture history of the Upper Cumberland Plateau and its geology, as well as prehistoric lifeways and how Native Americans made and used things. The back room is used to display presentations, short films, and host activities for the public.
Rock Creek Mortar Shelter Archaeological Site
Strong archeological evidence for human habitation in the area begins during the Archaic Period, which began in 8,000 BCE. During this long period, which spanned approximately 7,000 years, early people primarily still lived in small groups, but began to develop technologies that would allow them to stay in one place longer, such as gardening. Rock Creek Mortar Shelter Site is within very close proximity to the Pickett Archaeology Museum. Just a short trek away from the museum, guests are provided with tours of the fascinating site. Rock Creek Mortar Shelter is not only convenient; it features a rare 11,500 year-long archaeological sequence from the time of the earliest humans in the region to at least 1,000 years ago. It contains several bedrock mortars, which are circular depressions in stone that typically result from people grinding corn, acorns, or other nuts on the rock. The presence of bedrock mortars at Rock Creek Mortar Shelter, as well as other features, indicates that it may have been a base camp for families. It presents a unique research opportunity for us to learn about the culture history of the region at one site, and its proximity enables us to share this with the public.
Beginning in 2006, East Tennessee State University and former professor Jay Franklin, carried out excavations and research at Pickett State Park and Pogue Creek Canyon State Natural Area. They have documented several important prehistoric rock shelter sites that shed light on the lifestyles of the earliest people in the area. The Archaeological Research Station served as a base of operations for ETSU field schools while they carried out their research. While the site is not actively being excavated now, the museum provides both a place for recovered artifacts to be displayed as well as a place for archeologists and students to set up in the future to continue research. The fascinating artifacts on display in the museum range from approximately 13,000 years ago to about 400 years ago and include a wide array of stone tools, pottery fragments, and fossils. This research has highlighted unique patterns on the Upper Cumberland Plateau, such as bedrock mortar hole sites that were used to process acorns, hickory, and seeds, and the thousands of rock shelters in this distinctive landscape. Recovered artifacts have also shown that contrary to the popular belief that upland areas were isolated, the Upper Cumberland Plateau was actually a vibrant and connected place for thousands of years.
Hours of Operation
The museum is open from 8-4:30 Wednesday through Sunday from Memorial Day weekend to Labor Day weekend. Fall and spring schedules will be posted on the park’s website a few weeks in advance.
All photos courtesy of Jay Franklin.