Center For Transportation Research

Hancock County

Cool Branch Cemetery

The Cool Branch Cemetery (40HK9) is a historic cemetery located approximately 11 km south of Sneedville in Hancock County, Tennessee (Figure 2). The cemetery is situated on the southern slope of an unnamed hill in the War Ridge community. This slope overlooks the intersection of Cool Branch Road and State Route 31 (Figures 21 and 41). The hill is bounded on its southern side by a narrow valley containing Big War Creek and on its western side by Stony Fork Creek. At the time of investigations, the cemetery and the hill were covered in a mature forest of red oak, beech, red cedar, and elm. The current War Creek Baptist Church is located approximately 150 m west of the site.

Figure 41. Block excavation and distribution of graves on site 40HK9.

A surface survey of the cemetery determined that limestone grave markers was distributed across a triangular area encompassing no less than 161 m2 (Figure 42) There was no indication that a formal boundary separated the cemetery from the surrounding countryside, nor was there any evidence that the cemetery had been maintained recently.

Figure 42. Site 40HK9.

A minimum of 28 graves were identified in the cemetery (Figure 43). Graves were identified by the presence of very shallow oval shaped depressions in the ground surface or the placement of stone markers. All graves are positioned with the long dimensions oriented generally east-west. An examination of the spatial arrangement concluded that grave pits were placed in parallel rows. A potential row of graves formed by Features 1, 2, 4, and 28 indicates that orientation of rows in a north-south alignment may play a part in determining placement of a mortuary feature.

Figure 43. Distribution of graves in the Cool Branch Cemetery (40HK9).

A total of 33 in-situ stone markers, representing head and foot stones, were recorded among the 28 mortuary features. Most markers were barely visible above the ground surface and many were cracked and broken. Within the burial area there were also a number of loose stones. The possibility of displacement among markers is very high. These unassociated stones may indicate that other graves are present and have completely lost their surface designation. During surface clearing activities, three graves were recognized only after the ground surface had been removed. Other markers were below or broken at the ground surface. These were recognized only after vertical stone fragments were encountered during excavation. Surface mortuary features were clearly distinguishable in only a few graves. It cannot be expected that depressions and markers provide an accurate record of the number of graves present; more unrecognized graves are undoubtedly present in the cemetery.


Five graves were within the proposed right-of-way. Four potential graves were defined by the presence of vertically placed limestone slabs. A subsurface examination of the impact area confirmed that three of the stone clusters (Features 1, 2 and 3) were associated with intact mortuary features. The fourth rock cluster was determined to be part of a natural outcrop of Rome limestone. The surface of each potential grave was stripped of vegetation and surface humus in an effort to determine if any features or surface artifacts were present. With the exception of several loose limestone slabs, no other cultural debris was found which could be reliably associated with the mortuary facility. It is unclear if these stones represented displaced markers and which graves they may have originally accompanied. No evidence for architectural features could be located. The only surface treatments identified were the limestone markers.

To determine if unrecognized grave pits were present, the impact area was stripped with a backhoe to a depth of about 1 m below ground surface (Figure 44). Two additional mortuary features (Features 4 and 5) were identified. Feature 5 did not possess identifiable limestone markers. All mortuary features were excavated manually (Figure 45). Soils within 30 cm of the surface were sifted through a 6.4 mm (¼ inch) mesh hardware cloth. Grave fill was shovel sorted. All soils within the burial subfeatures were transported to The University of Tennessee for fine screening and flotation. Features were mapped, recorded, and photographed.

Figure 44. Backhoe excavation on site 40HK9.
Figure 45. Manual excavation and screening of feature fill on site 40HK9.

Five distinct mortuary features were found (Table 34). These represent a sample of nearly 20% of the known graves. While the sample is spatially biased by including only those graves from the western side of the cemetery, it is large enough to infer that mortuary features common to all graves in this sample are likely to be encountered elsewhere in the cemetery.

Table 34. Inventory of Individuals Recovered from the Cool Branch Cemetery on Site 40HK9.

Mortuary features at 40HK9 were divided into two components - the primary feature and a secondary or subfeature. Primary features consisted of rectangular-shaped vertical grave shafts that originated at the ground surface. Subfeatures represent distinct pits dug into the floor of the grave shaft for the purpose of holding the interment.

Feature 1

Feature 1 was represented on the surface by two undressed slabs of limestone placed vertically on either end of the grave shaft (Figure 46). Identification of the mortuary features indicated that the stones were positioned at the short ends of a rectangular burial pit (Figure 47). The north wall of the grave shaft formed a line intersecting at 103 and 280 from magnetic north. The grave was situated in a more or less east-west alignment. The shaft was distinguished from the surrounding matrix by its darker color. The fill was less consolidated than the surrounding soils and the pit possessed a higher moisture concentration. No stratigraphy was noted in this fill, indicating that it was deposited as a single episode. Feature 1 had a vertical wall and the shaft extended 78 cm below the ground surface (Figures 48 and 49). This primary pit was originally leveled to form a flat floor. No cultural residue was located in the grave shaft or on its floor.

Figure 46. Feature 1, Burial 1 prior to excavation on site 40HK9.
Figure 47. Plan and profile of Feature 1 on site 40HK9.
Figure 48. Feature 1, Burial 1 after excavation on site 40HK9.
Figure 49. Feature 2 prior to excavation on site 40HK9.

Within the grave shaft floor, a smaller rectangular pit had been dug an additional depth of 24 cm below the floor (Figures 48 and 49). At the base of this secondary feature (Subfeature 1), a scatter of 24 nails and nail fragments was encountered around the vertical edges of the pit. Some nails were noted to face downwards while other nails were observed to be oriented with their heads facing the walls. These orientations may indicate that the sides of the coffin had been nailed to the bottom and the top had been nailed to the sides. No human remains were encountered.

Feature 2

Feature 2 was located approximately 75 cm south of Feature 1. It was represented on the surface by two unmarked field stones (Figure 50). Unlike Feature 1, these stones were not placed in the center of the east and west walls but rather were south of the midline by as much as 18 cm (Figure 49). It is possible that the stones had been repositioned. The grave shaft was defined as a rectangular straight sided feature (Figures 50 and 51). The grave was situated in a more or less east-west alignment. The north wall of the grave shaft formed a line intersecting at 105 and 285 from magnetic north. This pit was about 50 cm shorter than Feature 1. The shaft extended to a depth of 74 cm below the ground surface. The fill of this pit was much softer than the surrounding soil and had a considerably higher moisture content. No soil differentiations or cultural materials were noted in the grave shaft or on its floor.

Figure 50. Plan and profile of Feature 2 on site 40HK9.
Figure 51. Feature 2, Burial 2 after excavation on site 40HK9.

As in Feature 1, the floor of the grave shaft was leveled and a secondary pit (Subfeature 2) had been excavated. The secondary pit was oval shaped and extended another 33 cm below the grave shaft floor (Figures 51 and 52). All cultural materials were recovered within the bottom few centimeters of this structure. Thirty-two nails and nail fragments were recovered. These were distributed in a rectangular pattern within the walls of the subfeature at depths varying between 3 cm and 0.5 cm above the feature floor. Most nails were recovered from the eastern and western ends of the pit. No human remains were encountered.

Figure 52. Plan and profile of Feature 3 on site 40HK9.

Feature 3

Feature 3 is located about 2 m east of Feature 5. No other graves were located farther to the west. Fragments from a single undressed limestone grave marker were located at the eastern edge of the grave shaft. The grave shaft was an irregularly sided rectangle (Figures 52 and 53). The south wall of the grave shaft formed a line intersecting at 120 and 300 from magnetic north indicating some continuity with the observed east-west orientation of graves in the cemetery. The western and southern sides of the grave shaft contained relatively vertical walls; however, the northern and eastern walls were cut into the undisturbed shale bedrock and highly subject to slippage along compromised bedding planes. Clearly this slippage would have been an issue during the initial excavation of the grave. Much of the pit fill consisted of loose fragments of broken shale. No cultural debris was encountered in the grave shaft or on its floor.

Figure 53. Feature 3, Burial 3 after excavation on site 40HK9.

The floor of the grave shaft had been leveled and a hexagonal secondary pit (Subfeature 3) was cut through it. Subfeature 3 appeared as an elongated polygon with the eastern and western ends being considerably shorter than the four sides comprising the north and south walls. A maximum width of 53 cm was obtained at the angled juncture of the north and south walls. The shape is very suggestive of a coffin. The subfeature extended another 48 cm below the grave shaft floor into the shale matrix. Thirty-two nails and nail fragments were recovered. Nearly all of the nails were found around the walls of the pit suggesting that the subfeature had been specifically dug to fit a coffin. Several skeletal elements were recovered from the base of Subfeature 3.

Feature 4

There were no surface indications of Feature 4. It was initially recognized as a cultural feature in the profile of the backhoe excavation block. At the eastern end of the feature, the broken base of a vertical stone was found several centimeters below the ground surface. It is unclear whether there was ever a stone at the western end. The grave shaft of Feature 4 was rectangular (Figures 54 and 55). The south wall of the grave shaft formed a line intersecting at 89 and 269 from magnetic north. The grave tended to follow an east-west orientation; however, its walls were less regular than Features 1, 2, and 5. Irregularity in the walls may be a product of the underlying bedding planes of the shale bedrock and not an intentional feature. The grave shaft extended 108 cm below the ground surface. As in Feature 3, the grave pit was originally excavated into the underlying shale deposit. The northern wall formed an irregular concave surface chipped out of the shale. The south wall was less irregular and more smoothly finished. Tool marks from the original excavation were still discernible in the western wall. The floor of the grave shaft had originally been leveled and a subfeature excavated. No soil differentiations or cultural features were noted in the grave shaft or on its floor.

Figure 54. Plan and profile of Feature 4 on site 40HK9.
Figure 55. Feature 4, Burial 4 after excavation on site 40HK9.

The floor of the grave shaft had been leveled and a hexagonal secondary pit (Subfeature 4) similar to that encountered in Feature 3 extended 65 cm below the grave shaft floor (Figures 54 and 55). Its fill consisted almost entirely of broken shale fragments. Forty-two nails and/or nail fragments were recovered from the bottom of Subfeature 4. These were distributed around the walls of the pit and conformed to the general coffin shape of the subfeature. Skeletal elements were recovered from the base of Subfeature 4. Five metal buttons were found in the central base of the subfeature.

Feature 5

Feature 5 was located between Features 3 and 4. There were no stones or depressions on the surface to indicate its presence. A rectangular grave pit was detected only after the ground surface had been completely removed (Figures 56 and 57). The north wall of the grave shaft formed a line intersecting at 87 and 267 from magnetic north. The Feature 5 fill consisted of a fine grained silty clay which retained a higher moisture content than the surrounding matrix. It was very visible against the subsoil. No stratigraphy was noted in the fill. Feature 5 had vertical to inslanting walls and the shaft extended to 25 cm below the base of the backhoe excavated power unit. No cultural material was recovered from the grave pit. The base of the grave pit was leveled and a rounded rectangular secondary pit (Subfeature 5) had been dug in its floor (Figures 56 and 57). Subfeature 5 extended another 30 cm below the grave shaft floor. The base of this feature contained 30 nails and nail fragments. Only a few small bone fragments were present at the base of the subfeature.

Figure 56. Plan and profile of Feature 5 on site 40HK9.
Figure 57. Feature 5, Burial 5 before and after excavation on site 40HK9.


Human remains were recovered from three of the five graves (Table 35). The skeletal material present was in extremely poor condition. Special care was taken to maximize the information recovered from these remains. Estimation of age, sex, stature, health, and ethnic affiliation were attempted.

Table 35. Inventory of Individuals Recovered from the Cool Branch Cemetery on Site 40HK9.

A battery of different osteological methods was applied to the bones; however, most were not applicable due to the highly fragmented condition of the skeletons. As a result, the data recovered could not be evaluated from a uniform set of observations. While this deficiency meant that the skeletal interpretations had to be based on the morphological features of different reference samples, collection and interpretation of these results provided some insight into the biological structure of the sample. To reduce the potential biases associated with pooling different reference samples, morphological analysis focused on the use of more than one evaluation technique to cross check each result whenever possible. Successfully applied techniques are described for each interment.

Feature 1, Burial 1

It can be assumed from the distribution of coffin nails that Feature 1 did contain an interment despite the fact that no skeletal remains were actually recovered. The size of the subfeature, where all the nails were found would indicate that the remains represented those of an infant or subadult.

Historical and ethnographic data indicate that noncommercially produced coffins were built to the size of the individual and did not represent standardized sizes (Lang 1984; Montell 1975; Wigginton 1973). This allowed an approximate determination of the age of the individual by measuring the length of the coffin or subfeature. Similar attempts to estimate age using standardized coffin length have been developed for later period burials but require assumptions that are not applicable to the Cool Branch Cemetery (Blakely and Beck 1982). Similar examinations of grave shaft length by Pfeiffer et al. (1989) concluded that grave shafts under 150 cm in length probably represented juvenile interments.

An age for Burial 1 in Feature 1 was obtained by treating the coffin length as a maximum standing height (maximum body length) and comparing it with the developmental height of a normally maturing modern human (U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare 1978a, 1978b). This estimate represents the maximum age attainable based on body length measurements for males and females within the 95th percentile of the reference population. It is recognized that secular changes in adult dimensions have occurred and that modern populations should not be treated as empirical models for past populations (Meadows Jantz 1996). While modern growth standards are based on populations that are undoubtedly taller and better nourished than the population represented at 40HK9, a comparison is capable of providing a conservative estimate of the maximum level of maturation expressed.

Coffin length for Burial 1, as estimated by the length of the subfeature, was 50 cm (19.7 inches). Using body length standards, the maximum age of this individual is estimated as being less than birth (Figure 58 and Table 35). Burial 1 probably contained the remains of a stillborn or late term fetus.

Figure 58. Comparison of coffin lengths at the Cool Branch Cemetery (40HK9).

Feature 2, Burial 2

No skeletal material was recovered from Feature 2. From the dimensions of Subfeature 2 it can also be assumed that the interment represented that of a child. Since the irregular shape of the subfeature is larger than the coffin outline, as defined by the nail concentrations, measurements from nails along the eastern and western walls were used to estimate coffin length. This estimate was applied to the same age formulae outlined for Burial 1.

Coffin length was 73 cm (28.76 inches). This corresponds to the development of male child of 6-7 months or a female child of 7-8 months in age. An age of less than or equal to 8 months was assigned to Burial 2 (Figure 58 and Table 35).

Feature 3, Burial 3

Feature 3 contained the remains of Burial 3, an adult female. The body had been placed in an extended position with the head at the western end of the grave (Figure 53). The legs appear to have been crossed at the shins (Figure 59), however skeletal preservation was poor and limb orientation was almost impossible to verify. The skull was positioned with the foramen magnum facing up, indicating that the skull had rolled within the coffin after the attached soft tissue had decayed substantially (Figure 60).

Figure 59. Legs of Burial 3 on site 40HK9.
Figure 60. Skull of Burial 3 on site 40HK9.

A dense layer of dark waxy organic material was recovered immediately beneath the skull. Similar materials recovered in forensic environments are attributed to the development of adipocere (Krogman and Iscan 1986). This material is an indication that the burial environment was saturated long enough for hydrolysis and hydrogenation of body fats to form a moderately inert organic compound (Stewart 1979). A similar concentration of clay and dark organic material was also encountered in the bottom centimeter of the eastern third of the feature; however, no discernible outline of the body could be differentiated from it.

Portions of the body which were identifiable in the field consisted of the head, chest, and legs. An organic stain corresponding to the approximate locations of the trunk and lower legs was noted; however, no bone was recovered to verify this interpretation. Using the skeletal condition criteria outlined in the Appendix, an average skeletal condition score of 7.5 (out of a possible 8) was achieved for Burial 3. This indicated that the skeleton represented little more than an organic stain. There are no indications that this loss occurred from agents other than natural weathering and root invasion.

Much of the body was not preserved well enough to be transported and examined in the lab. All soils from the bottom of the grave were floated. Material available for examination in a laboratory setting included portions of both femora, the frontal and mandible, parietals, occipital, temporals, and a near complete set of dentition (Figure 61). Among the recovered fragments, the cortical bone was observed to be severely leached. The numerous shattered surfaces were badly eroded and possessed no sharp edges. All trabecular bone was absent.

Figure 61. Skeletal inventory of Burial 3 on site 40HK9.

Despite the poor condition of the skeleton, age and sex features were observable. In general, all bone fragments displayed a very gracile appearance. No strong muscle attachment sites were noted. The mastoid processes were very small and positioned with their bases oriented medially. The chin was very pointed and almost no mental eminence was present. These are features commonly associated with female skeletons (Krogman and Iscan 1986).

Burial 3 represents a mature adult. Following the standards of Meindl and Lovejoy (1985), an average age for the observable ectocranial sutures is 42.35 years. By accepting a one standard deviation range of variation in ectocranial suture closure, parsimony between scores for various suture closure sites can be reached if the individual died between the ages of 35 and 47. Lapsed fusion of the endocranial sagittal and coronal sutures was noted. The lambdoid suture was completely unfused. These features indicate an age range of 35-48 years (Cobb 1955). It seems most likely that Burial 3 died between the ages of 35 and 50 years.

Burial 3 skeletal remains were not complete enough to obtain a skeletal stature estimate. Likewise a body length stature estimate, such as obtained for Burial 4, could not be determined due to poor preservation of the legs and feet. It is doubtful that this individual over 182.9 cm (6 feet) based on the length of the secondary pit (Subfeature 3).

The oral health of Burial 3 can best be described as mediocre. Most of the teeth display a moderate amount of dentine exposure along the occlusal surfaces. Dental wear was scored following Smith (1984) for anterior teeth and Scott (1979) for posterior teeth. Wear on the right side was considerably greater than on the left. This differential exposure to abrasives may have been partly due to loss of the first and second mandibular molars on the left side (Figure 62). The adjacent alveolar bone was in an advanced state of resorption, indicating that these teeth were missing for a notable period of time before death. There are no clear indications why these teeth were lost; however, there are numerous features that suggest periodontal disease as a contributing agent. Very minor amounts of dental calculus were noted and 13 dental caries were observed. Many small caries were noted in the occlusal surfaces but larger more devastating caries were located along the inter-proximal cemento-enamel junctions between adjacent teeth. These dental lesions resulted in partial collapse of the dental enamel, as evidenced by the polished margins of a collapsed caries in the left mandibular third molar. Most caries had invaded into the dentin at the time of the individual's death. These conditions by themselves were not life threatening but they do indicate that immunological resources were being drawn to combat pathogens in the oral cavity.

Figure 62. Dental inventory of Burial 3 on site 40HK9.

The state of oral hygiene in this individual indicates that diet among members of the War Creek community may have been placing additional stress on the individual's health. Burial 3 was observed with moderate amounts of wear - certainly not enough to imply that wear may have been a critical factor in dental loss. What is important about her teeth, however, is the high incidence of dental caries and relative absence of dental plaque.

Dental caries are formed from invasion of the oral cavity by streptococcal bacteria capable of withstanding the body's immunological defense systems (Pindborg 1970). The presence of these organisms, ineffective dental hygiene, and diet work in concert to enable fissures in the dental enamel to be created. Consumption of foods rich in carbohydrates, particularly sucrose, promote the proliferation of streptococcus and increase the risk of dental caries (Hillson 1979). Plaque is formed when the diet contains a high concentration of protein; this results in a bacterial deposition of mineralized byproducts (Hillson 1979, Pindborg 1970). In a diet containing large quantities of abrasive foods, carious fissures are worn down prior to obtaining any great depth (Cran 1959).

The high incidence of dental caries in Burial 3 is indicative of a diet containing large amounts of carbohydrates and a relatively small amount of abrasive foods. There is only a minor amount of plaque present, which may indicate that her diet concentrated more on carbohydrate than protein consumption. These dietary features are consistent with the diet of corn meal, molasses syrup, and occasional pork products common among economically disadvantaged Southern populations (Etheridge 1988). These foodstuffs comprise a substantial portion of the agricultural yield among Appalachian farmers for this time period (Gray 1941; Lev Tov 1994). Similar findings have been reported in other nineteenth century period assemblages (Larson et al. 1995).

It is unclear what the health of the Burial 3 individual was like at the time of death. There were no indications of the cause of death nor could any evidence for non-oral chronic health problems be located. At lambda, a concentration of small foramina were observed. It may represent an anemic condition which developed earlier in life (Grauer 1993). The rounded partially resorbed nature of these pits indicate that the condition was inactive at the time of death.

Feature 4, Burial 4

The partial remains of an adult male were encountered in Feature 4. The individual was placed in an extended position with the head at the western end of Subfeature 4 (Figure 63). Both shoulders and the innominates were resting on the dorsal surfaces. The knees were parallel to each other (Figure 64) and the left arm was folded across the chest (Figure 65). The skull was resting on the right temporal (Figure 64). Most portions of the body were identifiable in the field either as organic stains or by skeletal remains. Aspects of the right forearm could not be positively identified in the grave but there were no indications that this missing limb resulted from any pre-recovery disturbances. The average skeletal condition score for Burial 4 is 6.8, indicating that the skeleton was severely decomposed. Over 50 percent of the bone was lost, principally to natural weathering processes. All durable organic material was retained and examined in the lab.

Figure 63. Burial 4 on site 40HK9.
Figure 64. Legs of Burial 4 on site 40HK9.
Figure 65. Skull and arms of Burial 4 on site 40HK9.

The greatest amount of skeletal material recovered at 40HK9 was from Burial 4. Fragments from the legs, ankles, left arm, right shoulder, cranial vault, mandible, upper face, and anterior teeth were recovered and available for analysis (Figure 66). When present, trabecular portions of the skeleton were only faintly visible as a light scatter of tiny decomposed bone fragments. Aspects of the hips and left forearm were also recovered but were too fragmentary to be defined in the laboratory. All materials were severely leached and badly fragmented (Figure 67). Cortical aspects of the skeleton, such as the long bone shafts, were shattered and the broken edges were noted as being eroded. Many cortical bone surfaces were not present.

Figure 66. Skeletal inventory of Burial 4 on site 40HK9.
Figure 67. Left femoral midshaft from Burial 4 on site 40HK9.

A battery of different osteological methods was used to identify the age and sex of the interment. Overall, the skeleton exhibited a considerable degree of robusticity; the bones were very large and muscle attachment sites were prominent. The orbital region featured thickened orbital margins and a heightened supraorbital torus. The mastoid process was large and its tip pointed laterally, away from the skull. The pubic bone was triangular shaped. These features are commonly associated with a male skeletal morphology (Bass 1987; Krogman and Iscan 1986; Phenice 1969). A left femoral midshaft circumference of no less than 90 mm falls well within Black's (1978) range for male individuals. Finally, a tibial circumference (95 mm), measured approximately at the nutrient foramen, is well above the male-female sectioning point described in Symes and Jantz (1983).

Age estimates were obtained by following the methods of Meindl and Lovejoy (1985) scoring ectocranial suture closure. Eight suture sites were examined and an average closure age of 41.66 was calculated. By accepting a one standard deviation range of variation in ectocranial suture closure, parsimony in closure between independent observation sites would indicate that the individual died in the 35-45 year old age range. All endocranial sutures were completely closed. Cobb (1955) reports that this phenomena indicates an individual of no less than 42 years. Lack of fusion in the anterio-medial palatine suture is evidence that Burial 4 probably died prior to about age 50 (Mann et al. 1991). The evidence best suggests that death occurred between 35 and 50 years of age. If suture closure between Burials 3 and 4 follow the same trajectory, it seems very likely that Burial 4 is the older of the two individuals.

The dentition of Burial 4 had reached an advanced stage of deterioration (Figure 68). Fully resorbed alveolar margins in both the maxillary and mandibular arcades were indications that a complete loss of the posterior dentition had occurred long before the individual died. Loss of the posterior alveolar margin reduced the mandible to a "sagging" configuration. Dental wear among the incisors indicate that these remaining teeth had been substantially used. Nearly all anterior teeth had shifted lingually. The worn partial roots among the mandibular first premolars were indications that mechanical failure was also an agent of dental deterioration. The state of this individual's dentition is evidence that his ability to consume foods was restricted. The individual would not have been able to eat many foods without manually crushing them prior to consumption. This would have reduced the number of foods available for consumption and consequently what nutrients these items would have provided.

Figure 68. Dental inventory of Burial 4 on site 40HK9.

Associated with this advanced state of dental degeneration are changes in the temporomandibular joint. On the anterior margin of the right temporomandibular articular fossa, a small patch of polished bone was observed (Figure 69). This eburnation indicated that the connective tissue had eroded to a point where the mandibular condyle was rubbing against the skull. The left temporal displays an extension of the articular facet over the articular tubercle. This condition, the result of chronic hyperextension of the mandible, probably was caused by the loss of the posterior dentition. Without molars, effective mastication would have focused on the anterior teeth and changed the manner in which the mandible was manipulated. To use the anterior teeth for grinding and crushing food, the mandible must have been moved forward, placing greater articular stress on the anterior portions of the joint. Both eburnation of the anterior joint and hyperextension facets are predictable outcomes of this behavior.

Figure 69. Temporomandibular joint degeneration in Burial 4 on site 40HK9.

An estimate of the individual's stature was made by simply measuring the distance between the base of the right calcaneus and bregma. This measurement produced a stature point estimate of 171.5 cm (5 feet 5 inches).

Given that a genetic minimum and maximum are possible for the acquired height of an individual, stature is a reflection of the nutritional status of the subject during the period of maturation (Relethford 1992, Scrimshaw 1968). Mean stature reflects the nutritional and economic conditions during the period of growth and have been demonstrated to accurately reflect the extent of malnutrition in a population (Evenleth and Tanner 1976). By comparing the stature of Burial 4 to data obtained for white males born between 1750 and 1800, an indication of the potential nutritional status of the community can be obtained.

It is important to recognize that several important assumptions were necessary to make this assessment. First it is assumed that the stature of Burial 4 (171 cm) has been properly estimated. It is also assumed that the phenotype of Burial 4 produces a similar stature to those in the reference population. The reference sample consists of statures obtained from native born white male United States military recruits between the years of 1770 and 1830. As reported in Fogel (1986:510-511), these individuals ranged in age from 25 to 49 years old. Even if Burial 4 was not a member of the U.S. military during this period in time, these data represent information from his contemporaries. It seems likely that he represents an individual with a relatively close genetic affiliation to the reference population. Finally, it is assumed that the stature of Burial 4 is characteristic of the community conditions. The standing height of Burial 4 is treated as representative of both the genetic and the environmental state present at Cool Branch.

The period in question represents a time of relative economic stability. This is reflected in a mean adult height of 173.2 cm in the 1790-1795 period and 173.1 in the 1835-1839 period (Fogel 1986:511). Burial 4 is no less than 1.6 cm shorter than these estimates (Figure 70).

Figure 70. Comparison of Burial 4 on site 40HK9 and U.S. recruit statures.

Within the limits of the outlined assumptions, this suggests that the nutritional status of the community was less than that elsewhere in the United States. However, it must be recognized that Fogel only provides a point estimate; there is no indication of the range of variation expressed in the Fogel data. It may be possible that individuals in Cool Branch may have been shorter than their contemporaries.

Cranial measurements were taken to determine the race of Burial 4. Cranial measurements from the Terry and Todd anatomical collections were extracted from Moore-Jansen (1989) and applied to a modified version of Fordisc 1.0 (Jantz and Ousley 1993). Thirteen measurements common to Burial 4 and a sample of 164 white, black, and native American males were compared to determine whether these measurements could differentiate race (Table 36). In the reference sample, no less than 82% of any racial assemblage could be correctly assigned to the appropriate category; this is an indication that this particular measurement battery can attribute race reliably (Table 37).

Table 36. Comparison of Cranial Measurements from Burial 4 on Site 40HK9 to Reference Sample Means.
Table 37. Racial Affiliation for Burial 4 on Site 40HK9.

Burial 4 was then compared to this reference sample. To interpret these data, racial affiliation was considered relative to the "typicality" of the reference population. Over one-half (51%) of the white male sample was farther from the white male centroid than Burial 4. Comparisons with black and native American centroids indicate that less than 1.5% of these populations were farther from the respective centroids. Burial 4 appears to be more centrally positioned in measurement distribution for whites than other ethnic groups. Burial 4 is more typical of crania of Caucasians. A canonical plot of the biological distance of Burial 4 emphasizes that biological distance falls closest to that of a white male (Figure 71).

Figure 71. Biological distance map of Burial 4 on site 40HK9.

Feature 5, Burial 5

Burial 5 was too deteriorated to define how the individual was situated in the grave. No organic stain was observed. Skeletal material, however, was recovered in Feature 5. It consisted of three small fragments from the vertebral neural arch. These epiphyses were not fused together nor had they fused to a centra. These are indications that the individual died prior to their third year of life (Bass 1987). Size of these vertebra, however, is closer to that observed in a newborn-to-first year infant. It was very clear that the interment represented that of a child. Age was also estimated using body length. Nail concentrations corresponded with the edges of the subfeature, so the maximum length of Subfeature 5 was substituted for the maximum coffin length. A length of 70 cm (27.58 inches) indicated that the child's age was less than 5 months if the child was a male and less than 4 months if the child was a female. Burial 5 was conservatively assigned to a less-than-six-months-old category. No indications of health or sex could be found in these remains.


The durable remains recovered from the Cool Branch Cemetery provide a wealth of socio-cultural as well as the historical information about how the mortuary assemblage was formed (Brown 1995; Warner 1959). There was a poor understanding locally of who was responsible for establishing this mortuary facility and artifact data were a critical resource for narrowing down the temporal and social affinities needed to define this assemblage.

Pre-Funerary and Non-Grave Site Behavior

Very little is actually known about how the dead at the Cool Branch Cemetery were prepared for burial. Burial, before perfection of embalming techniques, typically occurred very soon after death to avoid the unpleasentries of decomposition and as a means of preventing the spread of disease (Montell 1975; Richardson 1987). The skeletal material at 40HK9 shows evidence of skeletal articulation, indicating that the bodies were reasonably intact at burial. It can be assumed then that burial occurred before advanced decomposition of the body. Physical remains would have been present for a funerary event and in need of decoration.

Clothing is an important part of the funeral ritual; it helps to define the roles of the mourners and deceased in a community setting (Hillerman 1980). Information about the attire used to clothe interments at Cool Branch Cemetery was provided by Burial 4. Five buttons were recovered from the lower abdomen (Figure 72 and Table 38). All buttons consist of soldered single shank solid metal artifacts with no visible markings on the obverse on front sides. This lack of decoration is an indicator that the buttons were manufactured for distribution among civilian consumers and probably did not originate from a military uniform (McGuinn and Bazelon 1984). Each button fell within a size range that Trubitt and Smith (1993) attribute to "large" size buttons; these would have been used to button coats and vests. The lack of maker's marks prevents identifying an exact manufacturing locality; however, McGuinn and Bazelon (1984) noted that early nineteenth century shortages in metal manufacturing technology in America were responsible for importation of most metal buttons from Europe. It is very likely that these artifacts may be foreign imports. Three of the buttons (Numbers 1, 2, and 3) were made from a yellow metal alloy and have a small wreath stamped into the base of the reverse side. These have words stamped above and below the wreath but the surfaces are too corroded to interpret these words clearly. The button size, composition, and markings correspond to Type G and Type H buttons as defined by Olsen (1963) and Type 18 buttons as defined by South (1964). Olsen (1963) places the date of manufacture and distribution between 1785 and 1820 and South (1964) notes a range between 1800 and 1865. These buttons are analogous to the Type VI button of Russ and McDaniel, which is dated to after 1793 (Faulkner 1984). Similar buttons were recovered at Tellico Blockhouse, suggesting that these artifacts were present in East Tennessee in the late eighteenth century (Polhemus 1979).

Figure 72. Buttons recovered from Burial 4 on site 40HK9.
Table 38. Attributes of Buttons Recovered from Burial 4 on Site 40HK9.

The remaining two buttons (Numbers 4 and 5) are made from a white metal blend of several alloys. One of the buttons is blank, while the reverse side of the other has several words. In general, these buttons correspond to Type D buttons (1760-1785) as defined by Olsen (1963). They are also very similar to Type III buttons as defined by Russ and McDaniel, which places the manufacturing and distribution dates to between 1793 and about 1803 (Faulkner 1984). These dates are slightly earlier than temporal estimates obtained from nails; however, they are consistent with the general time period of the early nineteenth century. Trubitt and Smith (1993) noted the recovery of a button stamped "Double Gilt Stand Colour," which is extremely similar to button Number 5. Similar buttons were recovered from excavations at the second James White house, indicating that these artifacts were present elsewhere in the region at the beginning of the nineteenth century (Faulkner 1984).

Grave Site Funerary Behavior

In North America, burial can be viewed as a socially appropriate compromise between keeping the dead's symbolic power within the community and overcoming the problems associated with storage of a biohazard (Binford 1971; Warner 1959). Digging a grave is not as simple as creating a hole in the ground. The form and dimensions of the facility are based on a host of complex interactive variables. These include the deceased's social position, age, sex, mortuary fashion, and the capital available within the community. Permanent storage facilities for the dead in historic American populations frequently involve the use of a host of mortuary feature types (Huntington and Metcalf 1979). These include the facility for storing the dead and a container to encapsulate the dead. Evidence for both aspects of the mortuary facility are found in the Cool Branch Cemetery assemblage.


The functional and symbolic basis for use of coffins in American cultures are extremely complex (Lang 1984). Coffins enable the dead to be displayed within an arrangement of mortuary symbols and facilitate transport of the dead. Containerization of the dead hides the natural processes of decomposition and provides a separation between the deceased and the soil used to fill the grave (Gittings 1984).

Evidence of the form of burial container used at 40HK9 includes wood, nails, and feature morphology. As noted earlier, each mortuary feature consisted of a primary grave pit with a secondary pit excavated into its floor. The oblong hexagonal shape of these subfeatures are characteristic of adult coffin styles prevalent in North America prior to 1870 (Lang 1984). It can be inferred from these that adults were buried in hexagonal shaped coffins.

Subfeatures for infants tended towards linearity suggesting that infants were interred in a more rectangular shaped container. Use of a distinct coffin form for children in rural Appalachian communities has been noted by Wigginton (1973) and among nineteenth century civilians buried in the U.S. military cemetery at Ft. Myers Florida (Deming et al. 1994).

A total of 160 nails and nail fragments was recovered from 40HK9. Most nails were not well preserved. These iron artifacts were completely corroded and covered with a coating of iron oxide. Nails were encountered in every grave. Most of the nails lined the margins of each subfeature. This distribution suggests that they were used in the construction of coffins.

From the nail pattern it can be inferred that these coffins were of a simple breakside design. Differences in the grains of wood preserved in the rust formed around a number of nails indicate that the sides of the coffins were made by nailing the vertical margins of a plank to a flat wooden base. Greater numbers of nails were recovered around the head and foot of a coffin than along the sides. These may indicate where greater support was provided. Some nails were recovered several centimeters above the floor of the subfeature indicating that the coffin was nailed shut after its contents had been prepared for burial. No other coffin hardware was encountered indicating that lids were not hinged and that coffins were devoid of durable ornamentation. This is consistent with coffin remains recovered from other nineteenth century Appalachian burials (Bass and Bass 1975).

Changes in nail technology have occurred in North America over the last 200 years and can be used to apply a temporal affiliation to these mortuary deposits (Loveday 1983). While poor preservation prevented an accurate classification of every nail, each grave contained nails with enough features preserved to suggest approximate burial dates.

Feature 2 contained a number of machine cut nails with hand hammered heads. Nelson (1968) attributes North American manufacturing of these artifacts to between 1790 and the 1820s. In the region, these early machine cut nails have been recovered from Carmichael Inn in Loudon County (Dr. Charles Faulkner, personal communication 1996). This structure was built in the late 1790s.

Coffins constructed with these nails also contained nails with compression scars on their shanks. These are features associated with machine headed machine cut nails (Young 1991). Manufacture and distribution of these nails occurred between 1815 and 1830 (Nelson 1968). As among nails with hand hammered heads, the initial occurrence of these artifacts in East Tennessee has some degree of temporal lag. Investigations at the Luttrell House in east Knox County place these nails in the region no earlier than about 1819 (Dr. Charles Faulkner, personal communication 1996).

The presence of these mixed assemblages suggest a later date than implied by the early machine cut nails. Mixed use of two nail types may indicate that coffin manufacturing occurred prior to the coffin maker's exhaustion of the older stocks. Exclusive use of the machine headed nail form would be evidence of construction after the hand hammered nails were no longer available. The graves from 40HK9 appear to show that a gradual transition in nail technology occurred during the grave accumulation period.

Nail data suggest that the graves sampled form a single accumulation phase and not multiple periods of use. Fully machine cut nails could be identified in every mortuary feature, indicating that all five coffins were constructed during a similar period in time. Coffins in Features 3, 4, and 5 appear to have been deposited later in time than those in Features 1 and 2; however, the mixed nail forms found in these latter assemblages is evidence that continuous use of the cemetery occurred over a period of time. Nail types would place the accumulation period for 40HK9 within the first 30 years of the nineteenth century.

Complete nails were examined to determine if a uniform size was used in coffin manufacture. Recognizing that one of the advantages to machine cutting nail technology was a standardization of nail sizes and that all definable nails were machine cut, nails were measured and classified according to their penny weight. Table 39 demonstrates that a variety of nail sizes were used. A graphic comparison demonstrates that adult graves contained a much higher concentration of larger sized nails and smaller nails were more prevalent in the infant coffins (Figure 73). A Kolomogorov-Smirov 2 Sample Test was used to determine whether nail sizes between adult and infant coffins were drawn from the same population. A value of 0.8005 was calculated, indicating that there are substantial differences between samples. The probability of achieving this value through random means is less than 0.0001. We can be confident that different nail sizes were used for adult and subadult graves. It is suggested that the differences in nail size between adult and infant graves are related to the greater need for mechanical stability in the larger adult coffins.

Table 39. Nail Distribution by Pennyweight on Site 40HK9.
Figure 73. Comparison of nails by penny weight on site 40HK9.

Grave Features

The construction of a "vaulted" grave (a mortuary feature with a form fitting chamber for the coffin) has not been encountered often in the archaeological records of East Tennessee. However there are a few reports in other locations. Larson et al. (1995) recorded the presence of two-stage shaft excavations in a mid-nineteenth century family cemetery on the outskirts of Springfield, Illinois. Swauger (1959) reported the presence of a similar grave form in excavations at the Ravenscroft Cemetery in southwestern Pennsylvania. These graves date to the first quarter of the nineteenth century. Graves employing the vaulted feature pattern were noted to contain open faced coffins which were lowered into form fitted subfeatures. These coffins were then covered by wooden planks which rested on the floor of the feature and served to separate the deceased from the grave fill. In Appalachia, these planks were believed to reduce the possibility of animal intrusion and prevent earth pressure from causing the coffin to collapse (Crissman 1994). Similar grave features occurred in late nineteenth and early twentieth century graves from the Nancy Creek Primitive Baptist Church near Atlanta (Garrow et al. 1985) and in mid-nineteenth century graves in the Mt. Gilead Cemetery at Ft. Benning, Georgia (Wood and Braley 1986). Archaeological evidence of vaulted graves in East Tennessee was noted during testing operations at a mid-nineteenth century cemetery in Union County (Henry McKelway, personal communication 1996).

Ethnographically, vaulted graves were noted in several Appalachian accounts (Anonymous 1974; Crissman 1994; Montell 1975). It is unclear how early this mortuary feature extends into the past. Its distribution seems to be most associated with American white communities.

Post-Funerary Behavior

Six verifiable grave markers and marker fragments were encountered within the right of way (Table 40). These consisted of slabs of Rome limestone set vertically at the east and west ends of the graves. Natural outcrops of this limestone were observed in exposures on the hills underneath and around the cemetery (Rogers 1953). This indicates that the material used for marking graves could be obtained locally with a minimum investment of capital and labor.

Table 40. Marker data from the Cool Branch Cemetery on Site 40HK9.

None of the examined stones were inscribed and there is little evidence among other stones in the cemetery that these markers were dressed. Obvious deterioration of the stones precluded use of any quantitative examination of marker morphology.

Placement of these markers at the head and foot of the mortuary features communicated the exact location of existing graves. The use of undressed field stone as a form of communication can be observed in numerous mortuary sites in the Eastern United States (Crissman 1994). They are a common feature in Eastern Tennessee burial grounds. Temporal affiliations of the undressed field stone is problematic. Archaeological investigations note a tendency for these stones to be present in cemeteries dating to the late eighteenth century and early nineteenth century (Faulkner and Roberts 1984; Swauger 1959). However, the use of these markers can be found among rural and lower socioeconomic status community members well into the twentieth century. These artifacts cannot be treated as distinct cultural or ethnic markers. They do, however, indicate that recognition of places for the dead have a long standing place in the southeastern American landscape.


Practically every artifact form provided some data useful for establishing a temporal affiliation for the Cool Branch Cemetery. It is important to recognize that while each mortuary feature represents a unique cultural event, these events occur over time. Cemeteries are not single event deposits but are accumulations of events. Temporal affiliations cannot be expressed in terms of specific dates, rather must reflect ranges as a result of differing deposit events.

Dr. Charles Faulkner, historic archaeologist at The University of Tennessee, was consulted about the artifacts recovered from the Cool Branch Cemetery. Independent estimates of the period of use for the cemetery were obtained from the nails and buttons. The nails used in construction of the coffins are square and conform to standardized lengths. The heads appear to have been hammered flat. These are features indicative of early fully machine cut nails. In East Tennessee, these early nails can be found on sites dating between 1815-1830. Buttons recovered from Burial 4 have a uniform diameter of 19 mm. Their location suggests coat buttons. The backs contain a maker's stamp consisting of a wreath and several corroded letters. Similar buttons have been recovered from East Tennessee sites which date to between 1790 and 1820.

Table 41 provides the estimate provided by each artifact form recovered from Cool Branch Cemetery. Transitions in button form indicate a potential accumulation prior to 1800; however, since these artifacts were recovered from the same interment, this estimate more reasonably reflects artifact accumulation prior to implementation in a funeral ritual. A more realistic approximation is provided by nail data. A comparison between standardized American cultural affiliations and those that relate specifically to East Tennessee indicate a distinct time lag from the minimum diffusion date. This is probably a reflection of the isolated nature of East Tennessee. Nail transition is recorded in several graves. A parsimonious relationship between all artifact forms can be achieved by placing the mortuary accumulation period in the first quarter of the nineteenth century (ca. 1800-1830).

Table 41. Artifact Temporal Affiliations on Site 40HK9.


The data obtained in this investigation suggest that the people in the Cool Branch Cemetery were the pioneers who arrived in the area during the latter part of the eighteenth century. These early pioneers established a community network and built the War Creek community's first public structures; including the Cool Branch Cemetery. The community operated in relative isolation, drawing upon itself and neighbors for support and on its own cultural tradition to express itself.

The Cool Branch Cemetery is a vestige of a long past community. It is a physical expression of a community and how it saw itself. Even in the isolation of nineteenth century Appalachia, the need to express a unit among the inhabitants was paramount. This expression has had a permanent effect on the cultural landscape. Nearly 200 years after its formation, the Cool Branch Cemetery is still recognizable and interpretable as a people expressing who they were.

It is our recommendation that this expression be recognized as an important part of the past of Hancock County. The cemetery occupies an important place in local history and is one of the few surviving early nineteenth century cemeteries in East Tennessee which has largely remained undisturbed by modern development.

No further archaeological investigations are recommended on site 40HK9. All graves within the proposed right-of-way have been excavated and the skeletal remains removed.

Southern Appalachian Burial Customs
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This page was last updated on 4 Aug 2006.

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