Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Major Professor

Jan F. Simek

Committee Members

Charles H. Faulkner, Walter E. Klippel, Paul A. Delcourt


This dissertation presents a synthesis of recent and ongoing archaeological investigations of the caves, rock shelters, and open air uplands of the Upper Cumberland Plateau of Tennessee. The primary working hypothesis of this research is that existing culture histories applied to this region are inadequate. Existing culture histories for Middle and East Tennessee were developed in adjacent regions, primarily lowland river flood plains. These culture histories have been boiler-plated onto the Cumberland Plateau even though comparatively little systematic archaeological research has actually been conducted in the region. Furthermore, upland regions, such as the Cumberland Plateau, have often been characterized as marginal zones. I submit that this was simply not the case during the prehistory of this region. Reasonable evidence is presented in support of these hypotheses.

A total of 145 newly identified prehistoric archaeological sites was recorded, and 17 previously recorded sites were revisited. Rock shelter sites constitute the bulk of sites surveyed in the project area, and 119 new prehistoric rock shelter sites were recorded. These features dominated this landscape. Twenty-nine dark zone caves were also surveyed. Finally, a total of 35 open air sites was either recorded or revisited.

In short, 183 rock shelters, caves, and open air sites were surveyed. Virtually every rock shelter encountered bore evidence of prehistoric occupation. Eight of 29 caves surveyed contained evidence of prehistoric use. Thirty-five open air sites were also recorded. Together, these represent 216 prehistoric cultural components in the project area. These components span the entire range of prehistory from Clovis through the Late Mississippian.

In sum, the goals of this project were to identify and document as many major prehistoric sites in the project area as possible, to use these to establish a chronology and culture history for the area, to find and analyze new dark zone cave sites in light of these contextual data, and to examine patterns of raw material use and subsistence practices in the area. It is argued that the Upper Cumberland Plateau possesses its own unique and long culture history that is significantly different than those of adjacent lowland regions.

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