Lyon’s Bluff is a large prehistoric to early historic period Indian mound and village complex in northeastern Oktibbeha County. It is located in the Black Prairie region, where the chalk bedrock weathers into a rich soil with relatively low acidity, leading to extraordinarily good preservation of bone and shell remains. The site was occupied over several centuries, providing a long-term record of a remarkably stable native farming community.
Excavations at Lyon’s Bluff began in the mid-1930s, when Moreau Chambers of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History spent two seasons digging in the single mound and in the deep village deposits. Chambers uncovered numerous human burials and encountered many house floors, marked by layers of clean, white sand obtained by the Indians from the bed of Line Creek, a Tibbee Creek tributary that flanks the site on the north. Chambers also discovered something unique in the archaeology of Mississippi—an alligator skull resting on a bed of turtle shells. Local folklore that the site was the scene of a massacre of the Chakchiuma Indians by a combined force of Choctaw and Chickasaw warriors was not substantiated by Chambers’s or later work.
Further excavations at Lyon Bluff took place from the mid-1960s through the early 1970s, including one “amateur” dig and a joint Mississippi State University–University of Mississippi field school. Most of the work from this period took place under the direction of Richard Marshall from Mississippi State University. In 2001 and 2003 summer digs directed by the university’s Evan Peacock were again held at the site. This work focused on establishing basic site chronology and community layout, especially during the final phase of occupation. Radiocarbon dating indicates that the site was occupied continuously from about AD 1200 to 1650. It certainly was inhabited when Hernando de Soto passed through the area in AD 1540 and continued to be inhabited for a century or more thereafter. Although a very few artifacts of European origin have been found at the site, no certain de Soto–period diagnostics have been recovered. The effects, if any, of de Soto’s expedition on the occupants of the site have yet to be determined.
A mixture of English-made and Indian ceramics recovered from the western part of the site shows that it was reoccupied for a time during the early 1800s. No ethnic identification of these inhabitants has yet been made.
One striking feature found during the most recent work at Lyon’s Bluff is a series of palisade lines. The main palisade was discovered fortuitously in the summer of 2001, when an excavation unit encountered a deep, narrow ditch that had been dug through the clay subsoil down into the chalk bedrock. This suspected palisade trench was confirmed through the use of a magnetic gradiometer, a device that detects changes in the earth’s residual magnetic signature. The gradiometer image clearly revealed the palisade trench, which encircles the main part of the site containing the mound. The palisade had at least one four-sided defensive tower or bastion protruding outward. This would have allowed archers to defend the wall, which would have been made of upright wooden posts. The palisade enclosed an area of more than three acres that included the mound and the densest concentrations of village debris. Extensive archaeological remains are found outside the palisaded areas as well and cover an area of more than twenty acres.
The gradiometer image also shows the locations of at least six houses, some well inside the palisades and some abutting the inner palisade walls. These structures are visible because, like the palisades, they were built by setting upright wooden posts in narrow ditches known as wall trenches. Excavation has confirmed that magnetic anomalies in the centers of these rectangular structures represent central fire hearths. The houses were coated in a thick layer of mud packed on interwoven cane mats lashed to the posts, a construction method known as wattle and daub.
Excavations have shown the existence of hundreds of smaller sites in the Black Prairie not far from Lyon’s Bluff—one- or two-household sites whose occupants practiced a mixed economy of maize-based agriculture supplemented by hunting and fishing. Lyon’s Bluff was central to these smaller farmsteads and likely served as a political and religious center and as a place of refuge in times of war. Chemical and stylistic analysis of pottery from Lyon’s Bluff indicates trade with other settlements in the region. Large amounts of artifacts, animal bones, freshwater mussel shells, and charred plant remains reveal that the inhabitants enjoyed a long period of stability.
- Samuel O. Brookes, Mississippi Archaeology, no. 1 (2000)
- Patricia K. Galloway, Mississippi Archaeology, no. 1 (2000)
- Terry Lolley, Mississippi Archaeology, no. 1 (2000)
- Richard A. Marshall, Journal of Alabama Archaeology (1977, 1986)
- Evan Peacock and S. Homes Hogue, Southeastern Archaeology, no. 1 (2005)