Before the completion of Nickajack Dam in 1964, the Tennessee River wound its way south, away from modern-day Chattanooga and toward Alabama (Figure 1).
At an archaeological site located on the Nickajack reservoir, archaeologists uncovered worked stones that would have been used as weights for fishing nets (Figure 2). Much like people living near lakes and rivers today, indigenous peoples made use of the river’s large fish population and used tools and technologies to make catching fish easier.
The pictured artifacts show two grooves carved into the middle of relatively small limestone fragments. This made fastening the rope of fishing nets easier, and the stones kept the net weighed down to the bottom of the river (Figure 3).
These fishing weights, or sinker stones, are recorded within the archaeological record during the Archaic Period (starting roughly 8,000 years ago) and were a commonly used fishing technique. It was only in the Woodland Period (roughly 3,000 years ago) that they began to fall out of favor as different technologies were developed. These weights were found locally in the Tennessee River Valley, but similar artifacts have been recorded in sites across the United States.
While an assortment of fish and other edible river creatures, such as the freshwater mussel, would have been consumed, one was seemingly more popular than others. Remains of the freshwater drum were most frequently identified in association with the fishing that occurred around Nickajack Reservoir during this period (Figure 4).
Learning about the technologies used for fishing during this time can help archaeologists better understand the historic ways people used tools to interact with their environment.
Faulkner, Charles H and J.B. Graham
1965 Excavations in the Nickajack Reservoir Season 1 University of Tennessee, Department of Anthropology. Report of Investigations.
2020 Arkansas Archeological Survey, Notched Stone Net Sinkers: Artifact of the Month. University of Arkansas System. https://archeology.uark.edu/artifacts/netsinkers/ Accessed November 17, 2022