The Tchefuncte Culture

In 1938, the State of Louisiana began work on a new state park just outside of Mandeville on land that had once been the Fontainebleau Plantation.  The state was planning on naming it the Tchefuncte State Park, although it was several miles from the Tchefuncte River, between the Castine and Cane bayous.  An archeological team was sent there to investigate a shell midden that had been damaged by dredging, and they found a place rich in artifacts, including pottery, tools, and burial sites.  Determining that they had uncovered a new cultural period, they decided to use the name ‘Tchefuncte’ to describe it and similarly typed sites.

Using carbon dating, archeologists have determined that Tchefuncte culture lasted from about 600 BC to 1 AD.  Belonging to the wider Woodland Period in Eastern North American prehistory, Tchefuncte culture saw the first widespread use of pottery in the lower Mississippi region.  Most pottery shards that have been recovered are simple and unadorned, but some samples are richly imprinted, showing artistic motifs that would be replicated in later periods. Other manufactured goods uncovered included projectile points, adzes, pendants, and smoking pipes.

Judging by animal remains found there and similar sites, the Tchefuncte people relied on deer as a major food source and used deer bone in tools production.  Alligators, catfish, and gar were also important food sources.  However, crab and crawfish shells have not been found at any Tchefuncte culture site, suggesting that unlike modern Louisianians, these people did not consume our favorite crustaceans. Plant remains were not initially found at the original Tchefuncte site but digs in other southeastern Louisiana sites from the same time period indicate that the Tchefuncte people also ate squash, nuts, and fruits. 

The Tchefuncte site is off limits to the public, but artifacts can be viewed at the Fontainebleau State Park, opens a new window visitors center.  A more accessible site is Pottery Hill in Mandeville, opens a new window. As its name suggests, Pottery Hill, or “the pottery” as it was sometimes called, was known as such for the high-quality clay found in the vicinity which provided a rich source for local kilns. Archeological investigations suggest this area was used for pottery production as early as the Tchefuncte Period.

Read The Tchefuncte Culture, an Early Occupation of the Lower Mississippi Valley, opens a new window, one of the original reports (log into JSTOR from home here, opens a new window), or check out the books below to learn more.

An Introduction to Louisiana Archaeology

Archaeology of Louisiana

Louisiana Prehistory