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Student-Faculty Collaborative Grant - Beth Price

Elizabeth Price – an ETSU student with a major in biology and minor in anthropology – received funding for a Summer 2006 Student-Faculty Collaborative Grant from the Honors College for her research project proposal, Population Demographics in the Holston Valley During the Late Prehistoric Period.  Done in collaboration with Dr. Jay Franklin, Elizabeth’s project aims to analyze mortuary data from more than 660 burials as well as pottery fragments recovered from the Holliston Mills Site in an effort to explore the ethnicity and socio-political structure of the area’s inhabitants.

The Holliston Mills Site is one of only two late prehistoric towns known to exist in upper East Tennessee. The fortified town has been radiocarbon dated around AD 1400-1600 – a time period about whose inhabitants  little is known. Elizabeth notes that while the prehistoric residents of upper East Tennessee have long been assumed to be ancestors of the Cherokee based on anecdotal evidence, archaeological and ethnographic evidence to the contrary has surfaced.

Some of the evidence comes in the form of pottery recovered from the site, which forms the basis of Price’s work. “At Holliston Mills,” says Price, “we have recovered much Pisgah pottery, which archaeologists categorize as prehistoric Cherokee. It is grit and sand tempered and stamped with a rectilinear motif. We have also recovered large amounts of Dallas pottery, which is typical of the Tennessee Valley from about Knoxville southward into north Georgia.” Dallas Pottery – shell tempered and fabric cord-marked – is typical of the ethnic Muskogeans – ancestors of the Koasati Creek.

According to Price, the burial patterns and mix of pottery indicate three possibilities – that the inhabitants of the Holliston Mills Site were Pisgah pottery makers which would indicate that they were ancestral Cherokee and had significant interactions with the Dallas people, that they were Dallas pottery makers who interacted with the Pisgah, or that they were an as-yet-unidentified ethnic group (Yuchi, perhaps) who made and/or traded for both Pisgah and Dallas style pottery. Price notes that the third theory is a distinct possibility, “given [the Site’s] location at the fringes of two known powerful chiefdoms, Coosa in northwestern Georgia and Joara in the foothills of western North Carolina.” Peoples affiliated with these two chiefdoms referred to the inhabitants of upper East Tennessee as the Chiscas. Price hopes that this original research will reveal important information with regards to the socio-political structure of the area, as well as providing clues to the ethnicity of its inhabitants. In fact, she and Dr. Franklin have been invited to present their research findings in a book chapter entitled, “Mortuary Practices at the Holliston Mills Site, a Mississippian Town in Upper East Tennessee” for the edited volume, Mississippian Mortuary Practices: Beyond Hierarchy and the Representationist Perspective.

Elizabeth says that her interest has always been in physical anthropology, and that her decision to study biology helped give her a solid background for such work. Asked what drew her to this research, she replies, “I guess it’s an interest I have. I really want to know everything.” As for her experience working on undergraduate research, Price says that she has enjoyed the experience. “It’s been very eye-opening,” she says, “I feel that it’s given me a good foundation for the future, whatever field I choose to pursue.”

Dr. Franklin says that he has been very pleased working with Price and has been impressed by her dedication and enthusiasm for the work. Asked if he had any advice for other students thinking about pursuing undergraduate research, Dr. Franklin replies, “Be prepared to work, come into it with an open mind.” He goes on to say, “You don’t necessarily have to have an interest in grad school. If you have an interest in research, pursue it. If you do it and you decide not to go on in the field, you can always change your mind – but if you don’t pursue the research and decide that you want it, it’s difficult to make up that ground later.”

Price also suggests that students interested in undergraduate research speak to a professor.  “Most people don’t want to do that. But if you go and talk to a professor, you realize that it’s not that scary. Research really should not be  something that is  intimidating.” 


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