Kolomoki Mounds (500 AD)

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Kolomoki Mounds are the next great accomplishment of Georgia’s Native Americans.(Watch Video) The Kolomoki Mounds site is believed to have been the most populous Native American community north of Mexico during its time period. The site consists of nine earthen mounds built between the years A.D. 350 and 750. The largest of Kolomoki’s nine mounds is Mound A and it rises to a height of 57 feet. (View QTVR) Its base is larger than a football field thus making it the Indian mound with the largest land base in the state of Georgia. The mound takes the form of a truncated or flat-topped pyramid. Although today the mound is covered with grass and a few trees, it originally would have been swept clear of any vegetation and covered with different colored clays. The final capping layer was made from red clay. Years before this red capping layer was added the mound had been completely covered with white clay. (Watch Animation) These clay capping layers are so thick and hard that early archaeologists joked it would take an earthquake and dynamite to ever break through them.

The southern half of the summit of Mound A is elevated three feet higher than the northern half. No


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evidence of structures has been found on the summit of the mound thus it may have served solely as a ceremonial platform or stage for public rituals. It also could have served as a platform for astronomical observations since pottery from this time period suggests such observations were being made and accurate calendars were being produced.

It is also not certain how people reached the summit of the mound since no ramp led to the top. It is possible that steps were incorporated into the plaza-side of the mound’s steep face but this has not been investigated.

In the center of the Kolomoki site is a conical mound rising to a height of 20 feet at its apex. (View QTVR) Known as Mound D, this mound contained 77 burials and a cache of exquisite ceremonial pottery. In fact, it is the unique nature of these mortuary pottery vessels that the Kolomoki site has become noted. This cache consisted of effigy pottery in the shapes of various animals including deer, quail and owls.

Mounds D & Mound A at Kolomoki Mounds in Blakely, Georgia
This computer reconstruction shows how Mound D & Mound A might have appeared in 600 AD. This artwork is available on t-shirts, stickers, mugs, and other items in our LostWorlds Gift Store. (Click the image to shop now and help support LostWorlds.org.)

The burial mound itself was constructed over a long period of time and consists of several stages. The first stage was a rectangular platform mound about six feet high created from yellow clay. A cache of 60 pottery vessels, including the aforementioned effigy pottery, was placed against the eastern side of this mound. Many burials later, the mound evolved into a circular platform mound about 10 feet high, still covered in yellow clay. After the final burial activity, the mound was completely covered with red clay and took its present form. These final burials were all placed in the east side of the mound with the skulls facing eastward. Burial objects made from copper and iron as well as pearl beads were included with these burials.

Between the burial mound and Mound A lay a central plaza of red clay. The people of the village most likely lived in houses surrounding this plaza. Their houses were of wattle-and-daub construction with thatched roofs made from local grasses.

Kolomoki Mounds: Burial Mound

Swift Creek Burial Mound at Kolomoki Mounds
This burial mound on the western side of the Kolomoki Mounds complex was filled with burials and Swift Creek pottery.

At the far western end of the site is located a circular, dome shaped burial mound known as Mound E. The mound is about 11 feet high and constructed from soil and rocks with a final capping layer of red clay and rocks. Within it was found the graves of several people along with their grave goods. Some of these grave goods included a copper-covered wooden ornament and a mass of fifty-four complete pottery vessels. One individual was interred with a mass of shell beads and copper ear ornaments with pearls at their centers.

Another mound, Mound B, located at the southeastern end of the central plaza near Mound A, has perplexed archaeologists since its discovery. It seems to have been created solely to hold up very large posts. Some have suggested that these posts were the goal posts of an Indian ball game while others suggested they were possibly totem poles. A more likely explanation, though, comes from written observations during the historic era of Hitchiti Indian practices in this same region. Hitchiti (or lower Creek) towns were divided into “White (peace) Towns” and “Red (war) Towns.” At every public assembly, each town would erect either a white “Peace Post” or red “War Post” at the southeast corner of their central plaza to indicate their present political orientation. Thus, it is likely that Kolomoki’s “mysterious” mound reflects an earlier Woodland version of this same ritual or is a later addition by the Lamar culture.

Astronomical alignments have been noted for several mounds at the Kolomoki site. Mounds A, D, and E which form the central axis of the site form an alignment with the sun at the spring equinox. Mounds F and D form an alignment with the sun at the summer solstice. Other mounds were thought to have been aligned in order to predict the arrival of these solar events.

As was noted previously during the Fort Mountain discussion, pottery manufactured during this time period seems to reflect a detailed knowledge of astronomical events. This pottery, called Weeden Island sacred pottery, includes designs that have been interpreted as being:

  • a solar calendar divided into twelve months including indicators for equinoxes and solstices
  • a star map of the night sky including constellations
  • representations of the paths of Mercury and Venus in the eastern predawn sky
Weeden Island pot thought to be a calendar This Weeden Island pot is thought to have representations of the night sky. This Weeden Island pottery is thought to represent the paths of Venus and Mercury in the night sky.

 

Thus clearly the people who built Kolomoki Mounds were a sophisticated people with knowledge of astronomy.

Who built Kolomoki?

Map of Swift Creek culture area
Map showing the distribution of Swift Creek (purple) and Santa Rosa Swift Creek (orange) culture areas. (Courtesy Herb Roe.)

The primary evidence comes from the two types of pottery that have been found at the site: Swift Creek pottery and Weeden Island pottery. The Swift Creek culture is the older and more wide-spread of the two and it is believed that the Weeden Island culture evolved directly from the Swift Creek. A map of the Swift Creek culture area shows that it was once spread across most of the state of Georgia. The distribution of this culture and its pottery seems to match the distribution of the Hitchiti Native American language family thus it is likely that Hitchiti was the language of the Swift Creek Culture.

One of the few modern-day speakers of this language is the Miccosukee Indian Tribe in south Florida. They were once part of a larger tribe known as the Chiaha who lived in Georgia and Tennessee. As was noted in our previous discussion on Fort Mountain there is mounting evidence that the Chiaha were Maya immigrants from Mexico. According to one Hitchiti migration legend they arrived by boat in the Lake Okeechobee area of Florida before migrating north into Georgia. Archaeologists have found the earliest evidence of corn agriculture in North America in the area around Lake Okeechobee dating to at least 200 AD, the same time period that construction began at Kolomoki. Corn originated in Mexico thus its arrival in Florida suggests Mexican natives brought it there by boat.

This Swift Creek design appears to represent Quetzalcoatl, the Plumed Serpent deity from Mexico.
Swift Creek design that appears to show Quetzalcoatl, the “plumed serpent.” (Courtesy David Smith)

Additionally, linguistic connections between Hitchiti and Mayan also exist. For instance, Chiaha is a Mayan word that means “edge water” or “water’s edge.” This is precisely where most Swift Creek villages were constructed and thus a fitting name for this tribe. The Hitchiti word for “house” is chiki, the same as it is for the Totonacs in Mexico.

In both Mayan and Hitchiti chi means “mouth.” These are just a few examples of the linguistic connections.

But further connections can be found in the Swift Creek pottery itself. It appears that Mesoamerican glyphs are represented in many of the design motifs carved and stamped into the surfaces of these pots. The most famous and widespread mythological symbol in Mexico is that of Quetzalcoatl, the plumed or feathered serpent. Images of this mythological being have been discovered on Swift Creek pottery.

Swift Creek design representing the 2 Cane Glyph from Mexico.
Swift Creek design on left is similar to the “2 Cane” glyph from Mexico. (Courtesy David Smith, Atlanta Antiquity, 2009.)

Also, in pre-Hispanic Mexican mythology the year “2 Cane” is associated with the beginning of time. The glyph for “2 Cane” has been found on Swift Creek pottery. Further research will undoubtedly reveal even more such connections.

Is there any evidence for long-distance ocean travel during this time period? In fact, there is. An ocean-going dugout canoe was discovered at Weedon Island, Florida in 2008. Coincidentally, this is the island which gives the aforementioned Weeden Island pottery its name. The canoe was discovered buried on the shore below the high tide mark. Two features immediately suggested to archaeologists that this canoe was used for long distance travel across the open ocean. [Continues...]

One thought on “Kolomoki Mounds (500 AD)

  1. [...] constructed at this time such as the Crystal River Mounds and Letchworth Mounds in Florida and Kolomoki Mounds in Georgia which is where much of this Swift Creek pottery has been found. The discovery of one of [...]

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