LEBANON, Tennessee (WKRN) – Phil Hodge, originally from Lebanon, is a state archaeologist whose lifelong job is to discover, preserve and understand the natives who have come before us.
Hodge guided News 2 to 10 acres of undeveloped land tucked along a horseshoe bend in Spring Creek into the Sellars Farm State Archaeological Area. “It’s a place where you can experience, to some degree, what it was like a thousand years ago,” Hodge said.
In the distance, a large site was built by pre-contact Native Americans. “The centerpiece of the site would have been the large platform mound that would have housed the chief,” Hodge explained.
The renderings reimagine the village with huts, open space for gatherings, and fields of corn, squash, and beans where more than 500 people lived. “It was very sophisticated. Filled with art, life, music and energy,” Hodge explained.
Then came an untimely end.
“There’s a debate about what happened to them,” Hodge said. “When the Europeans came here in the 1500s, there was nobody in central Tennessee. All these places like Sellars were abandoned.
The reason is still speculative but widely accepted.
“We think there was a mega-drought that started between 1100 and 1400 AD and by mega-drought a drought that lasted for decades. So you have starvation, which leads to war, and ill health. We feel like everything has fallen apart,” Hodge said.
The 20th century will uncover part of what remained of the village, buried for about 500 years, four statues.
“Sellars’ single statue is probably the finest example of Native American art produced in North America,” Hodge referring to what is now Tennessee’s state artifact, a man, made of sandstone, seated 18 inches from above.
“If you look closely, you can see there are bands around the eyes. If you flip the statue over, you see braids on the back of the head. You flip it over and you see the legs tucked underneath.
Its meaning pays homage to an ancestor of the Native Americans who inhabited Sellars and relates to all of us as a link to the ancient Tennesseans who also called this state.
The Tennessee State Artifact is on permanent display at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville.