Excavations at the Pharr Mounds and the Bear Creek Site
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Pharr Mounds


Two areas of comparison are dealt with in this section. First, the Pharr, Bynum, and Miller sites will be compared; and secondly, the relationships of the Hopewellian components of the Miller sequence to other archeological units will be explored.

The three excavated sites of the Miller sequence are situated reasonably close to one another geographically. Pharr and Bynum are 40 to 50 air miles apart, with Miller roughly midway between the two. The temporal dimension must also be considered since the Miller Site yielded a Miller II pottery assemblage. No sherd counts for the two mounds are presented in the excavator's report, but the statement that Furrs Cordmarked and Baldwin Plain predominated in the fill of both mounds (Jennings, 1952, p. 264) supports this assignment.

Examination of the mounds at the three sites shows that there is little or no similarity in specific structural details. There are, however, certain broader resemblances present, particularly between Pharr and Bynum, which may indicate a similarity of purpose or function. To put it another way, there would seem to have been a number of commonly held cultural ideals or concepts which were carried out by different structural means.

The most widely shared concept was that the raising of the mounds (or their components) was a signal event; i.e., they were built as a result of continuous effort over a short period of time. The only exception to this was Miller Mound A, which was an accretional structure.

Corollary to the above, inclusive burials were not common. This trait occurred at Pharr only at Mound A, where two cremations were found in the fill and not recorded for Bynum at all. Miller Mound B contained 3 inclusive burials and Mound A, the accretional earthwork, contained 27 inclusive burials.

Another such idea or concept present at Pharr and Bynum, but not at Miller, is mass interment in a prepared facility. This is represented at Pharr by the burial platform beneath Mound E. At Bynum, it occurs in Mounds B and D, where burials were deposited in the ashes of a burned charnel house or crematory structure (Cotter and Corbett, 1951, pp 6-11).

The concept of mounds being built to cover crematory facilities appears at Bynum where, at Mound B, the fire basin and associated superstructure were located (Cotter and Corbett, 1951, fig. 3). It is represented at Pharr in the fired basins beneath Mound H and E and also perhaps by the burned and ash-stained area on the mound base beneath Mound D. At Miller, a large burned area was found beneath Mound B, but this seems to have had some function in preparing the mound base rather than having anything to do with cremation (Jennings, 1941, pp. 192-193).

The interment of three or four individuals in a single grave is common to Pharr and Bynum but absent at Miller. At Pharr, graves apparently intended for multiple interment were found beneath Mounds A and E. The three burials flanked by logs at the mound base beneath Bynum Mound A reflect the same custom (Cotter and Corbett, 1951, fig. 4).

Little can be said in regard to burial traits at the three sites because, virtually no skeletal remains were uncovered at Pharr, and most of those found at Miller were extremely fragmentary. However, some observations on the frequency of cremations and inhumations can be made.

Inhumation seems to have predominated at Pharr. We assume that the scraps of bone found on the mound base at Mound H and on the platform at Mound E, and also the empty graves in the latter mound originally contained inhumations. Cremation was represented only in two of the graves and by the inclusive deposits at Mound A. In contrast, more cremations than inhumations were encountered in the Bynum mounds (Cotter and Corbett, 1951, pp. 5-11). All of the interments at the Miller Site were inhumations.

The artifact assemblages of the three sites exhibit a number of correspondences, as indicated in the following tabulation.

Pots as grave goodsx
xJennings, 1941, pl. 10
Conch shell dipper

xJennings, 1941, p. 194
Platform pipesx
xJennings, 1941, pl. 10
Cotter and Corbett, 1951, p. 41
Copper spoolsxxx Cotter and Corbett, 1951, pl. 11
Jennings, 1941, p. 203
Conjoined tubesx

Cotter and Corbett, 1951, p. 39
Galenaxx xJennings, 1941, p. 203

The above table does not tell the complete story, however, for it is equally significant that grave goods (as most of the above were) were much more common at Pharr and Bynum than they were at Miller. Two vessels, a conch shell dipper, one platform pipe, and the remnants of what may have been a copper spool were the only items found in the two mounds at Miller. This is in sharp contrast to the caches of celts, flint blades, and spools at Bynum and the variety of goods found at the Pharr Site.

The chipped stone industries at Pharr and Bynum show many similarities, as shown in the tabulation below. Much of the material at both sites is from the surface or the habitation area excavations, however, and are of little value in relating the mounds.

Pharr Bynum
(references in Cotter and Corbett, 1951)
Point Type A (fig. 14a-c)Plate 10, nos. 18; 22-24
Point Type F (fig. 15f-g)Plate 5, nos. 1-4
Point Type J (fig. 14o-p)Plate 13, nos. 1, 2, 4 and 5
Blades (fig. 17k-l)Plate 10, nos. 26, 27
Ovate cores (fig. 17i-j)Plate 13, nos. 16, 17
Lamellar blades (not illus.)Plate 13, fig. 11

Some artifact types may also be shared with the Miller Site but the provenience of those depicted (Jennings, 1941, p1. 7a-c) is not clear.

The comparisons cited above suggest that the Pharr and Bynum sites shared a body of mortuary concepts which is only dimly reflected at Miller. The outstanding traits of this complex are the use of prepared depositories, the raising of mounds as an important event, and the relatively common inclusion of artifacts with the dead. Both cremation and inhumation were a part of the complex. In contrast, the Miller mounds show signs of evolving into structures which were added to merely as the occasion arose, grave goods were sparse, and cremation was not practiced.

Up to this point in the report, the terms Miller I and Miller II have been used by me to designate ceramic assemblages and/or time periods. The preceding discussions have added flesh to these bare outlines, however, with a description of the mortuary customs which accompanied the pottery types. I propose that the two units may now be designated Phases, as that term has been defined by Willey and Phillips (1962, p. 22). The Miller I Phase may be defined by the ceramic assemblage and distinctive mortuary tradition shared by the Pharr and Bynum sites. The Miller II Phase is on shakier ground, resting solely on the data from one site, but is quite distinct from the earlier phase both in pottery and in mortuary tradition.

Certain of the artifacts and mound construction traits described above indicate that the Miller I Phase sites share yet another trait; both were receiving influence from Hopewellian units. A brief review of appropriate nearby units is thus in order.

Geographically, the nearest possible source of these Hopewellian influences is the Copena Focus of northwest Alabama. As summarized by DeJarnette (1952, pp. 278-279), however, Copena shows little resemblance to Pharr or Bynum. Copena mounds cover individual graves. Large multiple individual graves and mass burial repositories are not reported. There are a few correspondences in the artifact assemblage, such as copper spools, celts, and raw galena, but they are more than outweighed by the differences. The flat copper reels, copper beads, copena blades, elbow pipes, and greenstone spades which are characteristic of the Alabama complex are not recorded for the Miller I Phase sites.

The Marksville Culture of the Lower Mississippi Alluvial Valley has been summarized by Jennings (1952, p. 261). The mounds at both the Marksville and Crooks sites bear a striking resemblance to Pharr Mound E. A low platform, covered by a primary mound which in turn was covered by a secondary mantle, occurred at both sites. Log tombs had been let down into the platform at Marksville, and at Crooks the burials were placed on the platform itself. The two sites featured inhumation to the exclusion of cremation, and inclusive burials were also present. Both traits depart significantly from the tradition at Pharr and Bynum.

The Helena Crossing Site (Ford, 1963), which had Marksville pottery, should also be mentioned. The mounds here were erected over large log-covered tombs. Additional burials were placed on the surface of the mounds and were then covered by secondary additions. Grave goods, with possible counterparts at Pharr, included conjoined tubes which were silver-plated, bicymbal spools, and lamellar blades. The latter were of Harrison County, Indiana, flint (Ford, 1963, p. 47) and not of Ohio and Kentucky material as were the identifiable examples from Pharr. Cremation was not practiced at Helena Crossing, unless the single burned tomb beneath Mound C is a reflection of this custom.

A detailed comparison of the Miller I Phase with Midwestern Hopewellian units is beyond the author's purview and will not be attempted. That Pharr and Bynum were influenced by these units is plain. Contact through trade is represented by the lamellar blades of Ohio and Kentucky flint and, perhaps, by the silver-plated spools and conjoined tubes, all found at Pharr. Cultural concepts as well appear to have spread from the Midwest. This is most obviously represented by the burned crematory structure beneath the Bynum mounds, an Ohio Hopewell trait (Jaines B. Griffin, 1967, p. 183). Cremation may also be traceable to a northern center, where it was common (op. cit., p. 183).

The Miller I Phase thus had ties with both Ohio Hopewell and Marksville. Of the two influences, the stronger seems to have come from the north. The importance of cremation, not recorded at Marksville sites, and the preponderance of northern trade goods suggest this. Southern influence, seen in the trade pottery and possibly the burial platform at Pharr, seems to be less strong.

The foregoing discussion is intended only to point out the Hopewellian traits which occur in the Miller I Phase and to determine the possible sources of these influences. There is no possibility of defining formalized cultural relationships between the various units at this stage. Satisfactory conclusions involve larger questions, including the entire "Hopewellian" tradition. For the present, the Miller I Phase is best described as a discrete archeological unit which was receiving Hopewellian artifacts and ideas. As such, it is on a par with Marksville, Copena, and other "cultures" insofar as separateness is concerned, if not in geographic spread or in richness. Its niche in the scheme of things may well involve other nearby sand tempered pottery complexes such as the Porter Hopewellian of southwest Alabama (DeJarnette, 1952, p. 277) and the sand tempered tradition in the Lower Mississippi Alluvial Valley (Phillips, Ford, and Griffin, 1951, p. 432).

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Last Updated: 15-May-2008