Chucalissa Indian Village
By MIKE BALDWIN
06.21.2001 -- CHUCALISSA (Choctaw word meaning "Abandoned House"): The ruins of this native American town sit on the Mississippi bluff five miles south of downtown Memphis.
At one time the population of Chucalissa could have been a thousand to fifteen hundred.
The town existed into the seventeenth century, when its townspeople left and never returned. Hence, the name Chucalissa. Since most native Americans north of the Rio Grande never developed a written language, we can never know the town's real name.
MAGS involvement in the development of Chucalissa
"In December, 1951, the Memphis Archaeological and Geological Society received the formal invitation from Mr. L.G. McLean, State Naturalist, to initiate and take charge of the excavations at the T.O. Fuller State Park site preliminary to its establishment as a State Archaeological Park." "These mounds were first called to the attention of the University of Tennessee in 1940 when the CCC project began clearing this area. During the summer of that year extensive testing operations were carried out to determine the nature of the site and its suitability for development into an exhibit. At this time, the national Park Service came into the picture, and plans were completed for a Natural Museum. All these plans and efforts were cancelled by World War II."
"After the war years, the Memphis Archaeological and Geological Society made repeated efforts to reactivate the program but with only moderate success until 1955, when Governor Clement granted a small appropriation which enabled the entire project to be resumed on a small scale." Actual work began in 1955 "The first actual archaeological work was started in July 1955. This work exposed the method by which this area was originally built up and gave a hint to the earlier period of occupancy of this site." Later visitors to the site could tell from this first excavation that there had been intense activity here by the Middle Mississippian Indians over a long period of time. "Pottery seriation at this site revealed that this site was occupied from the earliest Mississippian period until the final disappearance of the Mississippian culture on the Mississippi River."
By November 1955, a substantial amount of material had been removed from the site and the "lab" work of treating and cleaning specimens and skeletal remains had begun. At this point findings included ten pottery vessels and the burial remains of six individuals (two adults, one juvenile about twelve years old, and three infants). The early years were a huge success! On November 26, 1955 several members of the society began work on one of the Indian houses. An area fifteen feet square was leveled for the structure. The next step was to cut and set the wall poles, then bend them inward to form the roof. After three more sessions in December, 1955 and early 1956, society members had completed work on the house by weaving cane mats for the walls and plastering them with clay.
Work on the earthlodge exhibit area and the pyramidal mound continued through 1956. Among the artifacts found in the burial sites were a toy effigy pot found in the infant graves, and the skeleton of a coon, with the arrow still in him, lying in a red and white bowl. Visitor attendance at the "far-from complete" Chucalissa Archaeological Museum during July and August of 1956 was in excess of 15,000. It was a huge success!
Compiled from reports and newsletter articles found in the MAGS archives