Etowah Mounds is one of the final and perhaps the finest accomplishments of the ancient NativeAmerican moundbuilders of Georgia. This is one of the four most important Mississippian sites along with Moundville in Alabama, Spiro in Oklahoma, and Cahokia in Illinois.
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The Etowah Mounds complex consists of six earthen Indian mounds all in the traditional Mississippian truncated pyramid shape. These Indian mounds were built between 950 A.D. and 1450 A.D. although major construction didn’t truly begin until around A.D. 1250. The Etowah Indian Mounds site is surrounded by a deep moat on three sides and the Etowah River on the fourth. A palisade wall stood just inside the moat adding further protection to the site. Just like our previous site, Ocmulgee Indian Mounds, the major structures are believed to have been built by Muskogee Creek Indians. Also like Ocmulgee Mounds, the site appears to have been inhabited by another group of people first who were later displaced. It is possible that after the massacre at Ocmulgee Mounds mentioned in the previous article, the surrounding Hitchiti Creek Indian tribes moved further north and inhabited the Etowah region before once again being forced out.
The largest structure at the Etowah Mounds site was the Great Temple Mound and it has the distinction of being the tallest Indian mound in Georgia. It rose 67 feet high (over seven stories tall) and was oriented to the cardinal points (as were the other Indian mounds at the site.)
The temple mound was probed with ground penetrating radar but nothing worth investigating was found and thus this Indian mound has never been fully excavated. Archaeologists did find evidence of at least one large structure on top of the Great Temple Mound. A log wall or fence surrounded the summit. Curiously, the summit is pentagonal in form.
The Lesser Temple Mound, or Mound B, is a more circular or oval Indian mound. It is possible this temple mound was originally square and later plowing by farmers in the 1800’s and 1900’s softened the edges to create the current rounded form. It also appears to have had a large structure on top. This Indian mound is approximately 30 feet tall.
|Zoom in to see the Etowah Mounds site. Click on the blue markers to learn more about individual features of the site.|
The Funeral Mound, on the other hand, has been completely excavated and some of North America’s most important Native American and Mississippian artifacts have been discovered there. Among these were ceremonial copper axes, copper-covered earspools, necklaces and pendants of shell and engraved shell gorgets. These shell gorgets were circular medallions worn around the neck made from large seashells and inscribed or carved with various designs. [View Gallery]
Many of these shell gorget designs belong to a complex known as the Southeastern Ceremonial Complex, once referred to as the Southern Cult or Southern Death Cult. It has been repeatedly noted that many of these Southeastern Ceremonial Complex designs have strong Mesoamerican influences such as the Long Nosed God and the Bird Man or Eagle Warrior. It should be remembered that if the Creek Indian Migration Legend is correct, the Muskogee Indian tribe did have its origin in west Mexico. Yet by the time of the major construction period at Etowah Mounds these people had not lived in Mexico for over 300 years. The original Mesoamerican ideas would have evolved in that amount of time and would have been influenced by the people they had come into contact with in the eastern woodlands. Thus ideas such as the Feathered Serpent remained but evolved into their own unique expression. Likewise for the Long Nosed God and the Bird Man/Eagle Warrior.
These symbols were also portrayed on copper breastplates worn by high status individuals. One such copper breastplate was found buried with an individual in Mound C, the burial mound. It shows a Bird Man or Eagle Warrior dancing. Amazingly, dancers at modern powwows can be seen performing dances that look remarkably similar to the dances portrayed in these copper designs.
The most important artifacts discovered at the Etowah Mounds site are undoubtedly the two carved marble statues of a man and woman. They are each about two feet tall and are in sitting positions. Early Spanish explorers noted that similar statues were part of an ancestor worship cult and were housed in Funerary Temples where offerings were made to them. These particular statues were discovered buried in their own grave at the base of Mound C. It appears that they were hastily buried without a lot of care since they were broken into pieces when discovered.
This hasty burial corresponds with another piece of archaeological evidence: the palisade wall appears to have burned down. Often times Native Americans would bury important objects when they came under attack in order to keep the items out of the hands of their enemies. It is probable that an attack serious enough to burn down the major defensive work of the massive Etowah Mounds site would have been the inspiration for such a hasty burial of these important objects. It is also possible that the attackers smashed the statues, thereby ritually killing them, and buried them to prevent them from ever being used again.[Continues…]