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Rock Eagle effigy mound is the next oldest Indian mound site in Georgia after the Sapelo Shell Ring Complex. This Indian mound is an effigy in the shape of a bird with its wings spread. It is believed to have been constructed by a NativeAmerican group around 2,000 years ago although originally it was thought to be more than 5,000 years old. It is one of only two such Indian effigy mounds known to exist east of the Mississippi river with the second Indian mound known as Rock Hawk also located within Putnam county, the same Georgia county as Rock Eagle. (Watch video)
Rock Eagle effigy mound has a 120 feet wingspan and is 102 feet long from head to tail. It has a vertical height of 8 feet from the ground to the top of the chest. The bird’s head faces east, the direction of the rising sun.(Watch animation) It is constructed entirely of white quartzite rock of various sizes. Many of the rocks were too large for one person to carry by hand and thus archaeologists believe they were dragged to the site on deerskins. It also contains several types of clay that were brought in from other locations since these clays are not found in Putnam county.
A. R. Kelly and the University of Georgia excavated the effigy mound site in the 1950s. During this excavation Mr. Kelly found a single quartz projectile point and the cremated remains of a human burial.
Other rock Indian mounds exist in the state of Georgia that also feature human burials. These tend to be circular mounds of piled rock. Interestingly, the main body of the eagle is a circular pile of rocks over eight feet high. The wings, head, and tail are much flatter and don’t rise more than a couple of feet above ground level. Thus this mound may have started as a typical round rock burial mound and then with a flash of creative inspiration evolved into the present bird shape.
Early European explorers in the region noted that NativeAmericans continued building rock mounds even into the early contact period. Sometimes these Indian mounds were built over the permanent burial spots of prominent warriors or chiefs. Other times the burials were temporary with the bones being exhumed later and the rock mound left as a type of memorial. Sometimes the rocks were piled on the spot where a warrior had been wounded in battle. Just as we build battlefield monuments and monuments to our fallen leaders, NativeAmericans appear to have done the same thing.
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These same early explorers also noted that rocks were continually added to these Indian mounds by passing NativeAmericans. It was a sign of respect to add a rock to the mound of a fallen warrior or chief. Just as we add flowers to the graves of loved ones for years after they have passed away, NativeAmerican Indians seem to have honored their dead in a similar way.
It is important to note that although these two Indian mounds are referred to as an “eagle” and a “hawk”, no one knows for sure if this is what the builders intended. In fact, they could just as well represent buzzards rather than either eagles or hawks. Considering that buzzards have traditionally been seen as symbols of death due to their black color and their diet of dead, decaying animals, it is not completely unbelievable that the NativeAmerican builders would have constructed a burial mound in the shape of such a bird.
Both Rock Eagle and Rock Hawk are located on the highest points in Putnam county. Interestingly, Mr. Kelly also noted that both Rock Eagle and Rock Hawk may have been enclosed by a rock wall made of the same type of rock as the mounds themselves. This pattern of building rock structures, particularly walls, at high points in the landscape would reach its zenith at the next site in our chronology: Fort Mountain.
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