Caves as Mortuary Contexts in the Southeast

Jan F. Simek and Alan Cressler

in Mississippian Mortuary Practices

Published by University Press of Florida

Published in print April 2010 | ISBN: 9780813034263
Published online September 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780813039619 | DOI:
Caves as Mortuary Contexts in the Southeast

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From early in the history of European settlement in the Southeast, it was observed that the region's caves and karsts were used by the ancients as places for interring the dead. At the dawn of the nineteenth century, discoveries in the deep caves of Tennessee and Kentucky caught the imagination of the American intelligentsia. Sites in Kentucky and in Tennessee yielded extraordinary evidence of past use as mortuaries, and as time went on, it became clear that the complexity of prehistoric cave use was considerable, including use as burial locales. Despite this growing evidence for complexity, however, archaeologists only rarely concerned themselves with cave burials in considering regional mortuary practices. Cave burials were clearly solemn and significant for the people who produced them and they were distinctive in relation to contemporary exterior interments. This essay discusses historical views of archaeological caves in Appalachia from 1800 to 1950, current research on Southeastern cave burials (1950 to the present), and human burials and cave art.

Keywords: Southeast; archaeological caves; mortuaries; mortuary practices; cave burials; cave art; Appalachia; Kentucky; Tennessee; interments

Chapter.  7209 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Prehistoric Archaeology

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