LEBANON, Tenn. (WKRN) – Lebanon native Phil Hodge, is a state archeologist whose life’s work is spent uncovering, preserving, and understanding the natives who came before.

Hodge guided News 2 to 10 acres of undeveloped land nestled along a horseshoe bend of Spring Creek at 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 grand 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.

Renderings re-imagine the village with huts, an open space for gatherings, and fields yielding corn, squash, and beans where upwards of 500 people lived. “It was very sophisticated. Filled with art, and life, and music, and energy,” explained Hodge.

Then came an untimely end.

“There’s some debate as to what happened to them,” Hodge said. “When the Europeans got here in the 1500s, there was nobody living in Middle Tennessee. All these places like Sellars were abandoned.”

The reason is still speculation but widely accepted.

“We think there was a megadrought that started between AD 1100 to 1400 and by mega-drought a drought that lasted decades. So you have famine, which leads to warfare, and bad health. We feel like everything just collapsed,” Hodge said.

The 20th century would uncover some of what remained of the village, buried for roughly 500 years, four statues.

“The one statue from Sellars is probably the finest example of Native American art produced in North America,” Hodge referring to what is now the State Artifact of Tennessee a man, made of sandstone, sitting 18 inches tall.

“If you look closely you can see there’s banding around the eyes. If you turn the statue around, you see braids on the back of the head. You flip it upside down you see the feet folded underneath it.”

State Artifact of Tennessee
(Courtesy: David H. Dye)

Its meaning honors a forebear of the Native Americans who dwelled on Sellars and bears a connection to all of us as a link to ancient Tennesseans who also called this state home.

The State Artifact of Tennessee is permanently displayed at the University of Tennessee Knoxville.