Doctoral Dissertations

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Major Professor

Barbara J. Heath

Committee Members

Elizabeth J. Kellar, Gerald F. Schroedl, Derek H. Alderman


This dissertation examines pit cellars in Tennessee. Pit cellars are pits excavated into the ground typically underneath historic structures and are often referred to as subfloor pits, root cellars, or hidey holes. Archaeologists believe these pits were generally used for the storage of food or personal items and can provide valuable household-level information normally not obtained from other features. These pits were usually filled quickly after their use and often contain artifacts which provide data on diet, personal space, kinship, gender, race, ethnicity, class, spiritual beliefs, and the conditions of slavery. Pit cellars were also regularly constructed by their users and offer a unique perspective to examine identity. Previous excavations within Tennessee have revealed a number of these features at a variety of sites. The following study contextualizes pit cellars to determine if there were similarities between their use and design between different groups of people within the state. While identity is multi-faceted, this research focuses on ethnic and regional identity. Using household data from previous archaeological excavations, patterns in pit location, morphology, content, and function are compared through time between different regions and ethnicities to understand how identity is expressed in the construction and use of pit cellars throughout the state. These data contribute to a regional understanding of when and why pit cellars were used, how they were constructed, and the ethnic identity of those who used them in Tennessee.

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