Archaeological dig aims to save Native American burial mounds

Toye Heape stood on the slope of an ancient Native American burial mound, confident in the significance of what was beneath his feet.

MTSU students Courtney Croft, left, and Abigail Hyndman sift dirt as JoBeth Simon and Kate McKinney measure the depth of a hole they excavated at one of two ancient Native American burial mounds in Franklin’s Westhaven community.

The 1,800-year-old site has long been known to historians. But Heape, vice president of the Native History Association, was still excited to see state archaeologists slowly burrowing into the dirt last week.

The excavation, scheduled to end Friday, was never intended to prove specifically what rests within the two small hills that sit just south of Highway 96 in the Westhaven subdivision. The intent is simply to preserve them.

“For the Native American community, whether (the site) gets on the National Register (of Historic Places) or not, it’s still a sacred place,” Heape said. “Our feelings about it won’t change.”

The Tennessee Division of Archaeology is working with several organizations to have the ancient burial sites formally acknowledged by having them placed on the National Register. The small-scale excavations, conducted with the help of archaeology students from Middle Tennessee State University, are in support of that effort. What they’re looking for is evidence that the burial sites are still intact.

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