The Glass Mounds site, located near Franklin, Tennessee, is a Native American sacred site that dates to the Middle Woodland Period, around 2,000 years ago. It includes two existing Native American burial mounds. Originally a large Native town with at least four mounds, the site suffered from looting and 19th-century excavations by the Peabody Museum and the Smithsonian Institution, and was severely impacted by phosphate mining in the mid-20th century.
Artifacts from the Glass Mounds include a copper mask, copper panpipe, and copper ear spools, mica sheets, and marine shell beads. These objects or the materials they were made from came from long distances – the Great Lakes region, North Carolina, and the Gulf coast. They connect the site with an ancient trade and cultural network associated with the Hopewell culture of the Ohio River Valley.
The Glass Mounds site is unique as the only known Middle Woodland mound complex in the Cumberland River drainage of Middle Tennessee, and the only site in Tennessee where copper panpipes have been found. Recent test excavations done to prepare for nominating the site for the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) indicate the site still contains intact archaeological deposits. As the NRHP nomination form says “the Glass Mounds are a resource of great significance for expanding our understanding of the prehistory of Williamson County and Middle Tennessee".
In 2000, after acquiring the property where the Glass Mounds Site is located, Southern Land Company announced plans to construct what would eventually be a 2,000 unit housing development called Westhaven. The following year, during meetings with members of the local Native community, the Alliance for Native American Indian Rights (ANAIR), the Tennessee Commission of Indian Affairs, and the Tennessee Division of Archaeology (TDOA), the developers made commitments to protect and preserve the site and expressed interest in utilizing it as an educational resource. They also expressed support for getting the site listed on the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP).
During the planning phase for Westhaven, Southern Land Company commissioned an archaeological survey of the entire project area, which included the Glass Mounds. The report from that survey recommended complete avoidance of any ground disturbing activities in a specific area around each mound. The developers honored their commitment to protect the site and followed that recommendation, erecting a construction barrier around each mound. The mounds weren't disturbed during subsequent construction of an adjacent golf course and landscaping maintenance facility.
Through an agreement worked out with ANAIR in 2001, the developers agreed to transfer a conservation easement on the Glass Mounds Site to the Tennessee Ancient Sites Conservancy (TASC), a preservation-minded organization that includes Native representation on it's board of directors. TASC has continued discussions with the developers about the details of the conservation easement since that time.
In early 2012, TASC, with the cooperation of the Westhaven Golf Course, which manages the Glass Mounds Site, and with assistance from TDOA, began cleanup efforts at the site. Over the course of the year, a group of volunteers, including several residents of the Westhaven community, removed most of the heavy brush and undergrowth from the area around both mounds. The cleanup effort was covered by local news media and regenerated interest in using the site to interpret the Native history of the area.
In the fall of 2012, representatives from the golf course, TASC, TDOA, the Native History Association, and members of the local Native community met to discuss plans for the Glass Mounds Site. Having the site listed on the NRHP was a point of discussion, and TDOA agreed to take on the task of performing the archaeological testing necessary to establish the site's eligibility.
With the assistance of student volunteers on spring break from the Middle Tennessee State University archaeology program, and working under the supervision of TDOA, the NRHP eligibility testing was done during the week of March 11, 2013. The MTSU students and their TDOA supervisor endured cold, wind, and occasional incoming golf balls to do the first legitimate excavations of the mounds since 1879.
The purposes of the excavations were to identify intact archaeological deposits necessary for inclusion on the NRHP. Square test units were opened on the surface of each mound and manual core samples were also taken. At first the excavations revealed only disturbed soils from the previous excavations, but eventually intact layers of the original mound surface were located. Once the intact deposits were identified and recorded the excavations were stopped and the archaeologists filled in the test units, packed up their equipment, and went home on March 15th, 2013.
In 2014 The Tennessee Ancient Sites Conservancy provided funding for a Tennessee Historical Commission marker placed at the Glass Mounds site. The marker is visible on State Highway 96, which runs through the site.
On January 28, 2015, the State National Register Review Board approved the nomination of the Glass Mounds to the National Register of Historic Places. The nomination was based partly on the testing done in 2013 by the Tennessee Division of Archaeology and Middle Tennessee State University. Dr. Kevin Smith of the MTSU Department of Anthropology prepared the nomination application and gave an excellent presentation to the Board. The nomination was then sent to the National Park Service for final review, and on June 4, 2015, The Glass Mounds Discontiguous Archeological District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The Glass Mounds Site isn't included on our list of accessible Native historical sites because the site is currently in an undeveloped condition. The property owners discourage visitors because of the rough ground surface and the danger of being hit by stray golf balls at the larger mound.
Visit the National Park Service's National Register of Historic Places website for more information on the National Register.
Glass Mounds Poster - Tennessee Division of Archaeology
The Woodland Period - Native History Association
Prehistoric American Indians in Tennessee - University of Tennessee, McClung Museum
The Woodland Period - Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture Version 2.0
The Woodland Period - The National Park Service
Old Stone Fort - Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture Version 2.0
Old Stone Fort Virtual Tour - Tennessee History For Kids
Pinson Mounds - Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture Version 2.0
Pinson Mounds Virtual Tour - Tennessee History For Kids
Newark Earthworks - Ohio History Central
Hopewell Mound Group - Ohio History Central
Chillicothe Earthworks - Ohio History Central