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About the Ancient Native American Statues from Sellars Farm, Tennessee

About the Ancient Native American Statues from Sellars Farm, Tennessee

Pair of 700-year-old statues represent real people — ancestors who have crossed into the spirit world

A brief look at the 700 year-old stone statues from Sellars Farm State Archaeological Area in middle Tennessee, about a half-hour drive outside downtown Nashville. This is one of my favorite local places to hike and find solitude because I’m always alone in the park — yet I always feel the eerie presence of someone around me when I’m there.

The Sellars Farm property was a large mound site and village in the Mississippian era (A.D. 800 to 1600). It was occupied for about 400 years and contained a mound in a central plaza, surrounded by huts, contained within a protective wooden palisade. There was room for growing corn, and a stream nearby (now called Spring Creek).


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Native American carved sandstone statues

One or more talented artists were at home in the Sellars Farm Native American village. At least three significant stone statues were discovered there.

These are sandstone (siltstone) statues carved between 1250-1350 AD by a Native American artist. The male is nicknamed “Sandy,” and he is the official Tennessee state artifact. The statues were uncovered by a tenant farmer in 1939, and were separated for nearly 80 years, only reunited at the McClung Museum in Knoxville in 2017.

They were a matched pair, which means they were important figures in the village, possibly founders. Their faces were probably carved to resemble real people, and the wrinkles indicate advanced age.

The faces are slightly upturned so a seated person could look into the faces of their ancestors, perhaps having communication or prayer? They have carved lines indicating wrinkles, symbols of age. The faces show the most care and attention to detail, whereas the torsos are much less defined.

Most male figures were portrayed cross-legged, so his pose with one knee up is not typical. The significance isn’t understood. He has remnants of face paint, and a an unusual hair style, with a ponytail running down onto his back. 

She is sitting on her knees, a common characteristic of female statues of the culture. She has a typical hair knot. Her hair is painted black. Females were often made of darker stone than males.

They feature drilled holes for holding perishable items like flowers or wooden objects. They may have been dressed in garments.

Most of the details supplied in this blog post and video were culled from the book Speaking with the Ancestors: Mississippian Stone Statuary of the Tennessee-Cumberland Region. Full details are available in the sources at bottom.

"Sandy" gets his close-up: this photograph shows remnants of face paint and protruding tongue that indicates he has crossed over to the supernatural realm and is now an ancestor spirit. I couldn't find much definitive information about his head dress (or hairstyle).
“Sandy” gets his close-up: this photograph shows remnants of face paint and protruding tongue that indicates he has crossed over to the supernatural realm and is now an ancestor spirit. I couldn’t find much definitive information about his head dress (or hairstyle).
The female of the pair is carved of darker stone. Doesn't she have a sweet-natured, grandmotherly look in her eyes? The wrinkles and drooping breasts are indicators of age (wisdom?). The drilled holes may have held decorations or other perishable items.
The female of the pair is carved of darker stone. Doesn’t she have a sweet-natured, grandmotherly look in her eyes? The wrinkles and drooping breasts are indicators of age (wisdom?). The drilled holes may have held decorations or other perishable items.
A look at "Sandy's" braided ponytail. This is not a common feature of male statues of the era, according to Smith and Miller.
A look at “Sandy’s” braided ponytail. This is not a common feature of male statues of the era, according to Smith and Miller.
A model cross-section of what a Mississippian era home may have looked like. Seen at the McClung Museum of Natural History and Culture at University of Tennessee, Knoxville.
A model cross-section of what a Mississippian era home may have looked like. Seen at the McClung Museum of Natural History and Culture at University of Tennessee, Knoxville.
A model Mississippian era village, like the Sellars Farm site where Sandy and his wife were discovered. Note the dark, shining river on the far perimeter and the palisade wall all around. Seen at the McClung Museum of Natural History and Culture at University of Tennessee, Knoxville.
A model Mississippian era village, like the Sellars Farm site where Sandy and his wife were discovered. Note the dark, shining river on the far perimeter and the palisade wall all around. Seen at the McClung Museum of Natural History and Culture at University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

Also found at Sellars Farm site: a statue of the Earth Mother

Less lauded but just as interesting, a third statue was discovered at Middle Tennessee’s Sellars Farm site. This statue may represent the “Old Woman,” or Earth Mother. She is the giver of life. To me, the statue seems to be looking to the heavens in song, but that’s not a trained interpretation. Notice that her facial features are less defined — she probably was not drawn from the features of a real person from the village.

This statue, also found at Sellars Farm, represents the Old Woman, or Earth Mother.
This statue, also found at Sellars Farm, represents the Old Woman, or Earth Mother.

Sources

Speaking with the Ancestors: Mississippian Stone Statuary of the Tennessee-Cumberland Region, Kevin E. Smith, James V. Miller, University of Alabama Press, Tuscaloosa, 2009. Buy it on Amazon .*

Tennessee’s State Artifact

McClung Museum of Natural History and Culture at University of Tennessee, Knoxville

Thanks for reading!

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~ Keith

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