The Coats-Hines Pre-Clovis Site in Williamson County, Tennessee

Workers constructing the 13th hole of the Crockett Springs Golf Course in 1977 unearthed mastodon bones.  Paleontologists took note of the discovery and 17 years later when they learned lots adjacent to the golf course were going to be transmogrified into residential housing, they surveyed a nearby drainage ditch and found another partial mastodon skeleton along with fossils of horse, deer, a canid, muskrat, turkey, painted turtle, and frog.  This time they also discovered evidence that attracted archaeologists–10 stone tools and 24 lithic flakes.  The tools included a bifacial knife and hide scrapers made from local Fort Payne chert.  Moreover, there were butcher marks on the mastodon backbone, suggesting these ancient Americans removed the proboscidean’s tenderloin.  The apparently butchered mastodon bone yielded radiocarbon dates translated to ~14,000 calender years BP.  Archaeologists regard this as the pre-Clovis era.

Williamson County, Tennessee. 

Photo of the Nashville Golf and Country Club which was formerly known as the Crockett Springs Golf Course.  I couldn’t find a photo of the 13th hole where the mastodon bones were found.  I don’t know which hole this is.

A 3rd survey of the drainage ditch in 2005 found parts of yet another mastodon, and a few years later in this generous spot they found fragmentary evidence of a large Pleistocene mammal, but it was in such poor condition, it couldn’t be identified.  Underneath this, they recovered a Pleistocene-aged deer antler.  In 2010 the owners of the new house built next to the drainage ditch gave permission to the archaeologists to dig a deep trench in their backyard.  Here, the archaeologists found 1582 fragmented bones of mastodon, deer, turkey, turtle, and frog along with 11 more human made artifacts all located 10 feet below the surface of the yard.

Mastodon bones found in trench.

Mastodons roaming future golf course.

The home owners were nice enough to let archaeologists dig this deep trench in their backyard.  I had a trench like this dug in my backyard a few months ago.  Unfortunately, they didn’t find any fossils.  They were replacing the drainage line for my septic tank.  Cost me $5,000.

Geologists think the Coates-Hines site was an intermittent pond that existed between 22,000 BP-12,000 BP.  A stream periodically became blocked, creating the pond, then on occasion it drained.  I propose beavers were the agent that blocked the stream.  Every so often, predators would kill all the beavers in this locality, and the dam would fall into disuse and break down.  A new population of beavers would recolonize the site, and the cycle would begin anew.  About 12,000 years ago, rain washed soil down the adjacent hillside and buried the old pond site and stream with colluvial sediment.

The ancient beaver pond provided an ideal location for a Paleo-Indian base camp.  The ancient Americans opportunistically ambushed big game that browsed aquatic plants, but they also had easy access to muskrats, turtles, fish, frogs, and edible plants such as cattails.  All the species of fossil animals found at this site are notably edible.


Wolf, Aaron; Jesse Tune, and John Broster

“Excavations and Dating of Late Pleistocene and Paleoindian Deposits at the Coats-Hines Site, Williamson County, Tennessee”

Tennessee Archaeology 5 (2) Fall 2011


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9 Responses to “The Coats-Hines Pre-Clovis Site in Williamson County, Tennessee”

  1. jamesrobertsmith Says:

    With so many skeletons, bone fragments, and tools, was this probably a semi-permanent settlement?

    We would occasionally dig into garbage middens when digging sites in my dad’s never-ending hunt for Indian relics. However, I don’t ever recall any exciting bone finds–most of the stuff was pretty pedestrian–deer, turtles, that sort of thing. Once my dad did find some kind of canine remains…whether it was dog or wolf, I don’t know.

  2. markgelbart Says:

    If they left that much stuff, the Indians probably stayed there for a while.

  3. Steven Jordan Says:

    I would hypothecize that indeed it was occupied for quite a while looking at the opening of the site from the golfcourse it has a natural enclosure or box canyon the paleo indians would heard them to the ambush point kill and have this meat processing locale and probably their permanent camps are not far from there and still undiscovered at this point in time!!!!

  4. New Study Supposedly Debunks Proposed Pre-Clovis Evidence from the Coats-Hines and Topper Sites | GeorgiaBeforePeople Says:

    […] assumption the site includes evidence of human-butchered mastodon remains may be bogus.  (See:… […]

  5. Jason Says:


  6. Aaron Deter-Wolf Says:

    “…part of a bone spear tip embedded in a mastodon bone.” This is unfortunately a not supported in the report you cite. The original excavators of the Coats-Hines-Litchy site identified the presence of a bone point which they aid was recovered from within the bone bed (not embedded in a bone, as you write). Subsequent analysis of that bone has shown it is not actually an artifact.

    • markgelbart Says:

      I know. I updated this article later. See:

      • Aaron Deter-Wolf Says:

        Thanks for the reply! The updated article you linked doesn’t actually mention the supposed bone point or correct the statement that it was “embedded” in the skeletal material, which is something that was never asserted in the original site publication.

        The State of TN 5th grade social studies standards now include the Coats-Hines-Litchy site, and we’ve noticed that many of the teaching materials in support of that unit repeat this error. As best we can tell, it seems the issue originates here in your blog post. As you know, it has a decent Google footprint, and it seems to be the earliest online mention of the allegedly-embedded bone point. For what it’s worth, the authors of the earlier site studies and of the National Register nomination endorse the conclusions published in Quaternary Science Reviews.

      • markgelbart Says:

        I’ll edit in a correction soon. The whole article is kind of messed up now because of their more recent conclusion. I don’t know why I assumed it was embedded in bone…maybe I got it mixed up with the Manis mastodon bone.

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