Ancient Civilizations of Georgia

Sapelo Shell Ring Complex1.SapeloShellRings Rock Eagle2.RockEagle ancient stone wall atop Fort Mountain3.FortMountain Kolomoki Mounds4.Kolomoki Ocmulgee Mounds5.Ocmulgee Etowah Mounds6.Etowah

Georgia’s Native Americans constructed impressive structures (referred to as Indian mounds) throughout the state for over 4,000 years. The building of these Ancient Civilizations of Georgia occurred across three

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separate archaeological time periods: the Archaic period, the Woodland period, and the Mississippian period.

The first monumental constructions, the Sapelo Shell Ring complex, were built along the Atlantic coast during the Archaic period. In fact, these structures are older than the pyramids in Egypt! These Native Americans also created some of the earliest pottery ever found in North America.

The next major constructions, Rock Eagle and Rock Hawk, were not built until the Woodland period.Along with these bird effigy mounds, other constructions during this time period  include mysterious stone walls such as Fort Mountain encircling the tops of many north Georgia mountains and

Kolomoki Mounds

the first major site to include truncated pyramid mounds– Kolomoki (in southwest Georgia.) Kolomoki’s inhabitants created the largest city north of Mexico during its time period and also created designs on pottery indicating a detailed knowledge of astronomy!

Ocmulgee MoundsThis building activity reached its height during the Mississippian period when more and larger truncated pyramid mounds, temple mounds, funeral mounds and circular earth lodges were constructed at places such as Ocmulgee and Etowah. This explosion of monumental building occurred after a new religious cult entered the southeast originating possibly in Mexico.

So come along and join us for the epic story of the Ancient Civilizations of Georgia’s Native Americans. Each site features several multimedia elements including a short video, 360 degree interactive panoramas, 3D computer animations, and an image gallery.
You can follow the story in chronological order or jump to the site that interests you most. Since we continually update this exhibit based on the latest research, please bookmark our site now to come back again and again to stay up-to-date on Georgia’s Moundbuilders.

 

Sapelo Shell Ring Complex Rock Eagle ancient stone wall atop Fort Mountain Kolomoki Mounds Ocmulgee Mounds Etowah Mounds
1.SapeloShellRings 2.RockEagle 3.FortMountain 4.Kolomoki 5.Ocmulgee 6.Etowah

 

Sapelo Shell Rings (2170 BC)

 

Sapelo Shell Ring Complex1.Sapelo Shell Rings Rock Eagle2.Rock Eagle ancient stone wall atop Fort Mountain3.Fort Mountain Kolomoki Mounds4.Kolomoki Ocmulgee Mounds5.Ocmulgee Etowah Mounds6.Etowah
Above: Watch an excerpt from the Lost Worlds: Georgia DVD.   Buy, download, or rent today or make a donation and help support LostWorlds.org. All sales help fund future videos and exhibits. Watch LostWorldsTV for more videos.

The oldest Native American civilization in the state of Georgia can be found along the Atlantic coast on Sapelo Island. Known as the Sapelo Island Shell Ring Complex, this site consists of three doughnut-shaped Indian mounds built from successive layers of different types of shells including oysters, conch, clams, and mussels. The rings rise approximately 20 feet above the tidal marsh and the largest of the three has a diameter of 255 feet. The site has been radiocarbon dated at 2170 B.C. making it older than many of Egypt’s pyramids! (Similar sites have been discovered in Florida such as the Horr’s Island Mounds and Guana River Shell Rings which are even older as well as in South Carolina.)

This 3D animation shows the shell rings constructed all-at-once as intentional monuments.

There are two theories regarding the formation of the Sapelo Shell Rings.  One theory holds that they were built purposefully, in a short burst of building activity, as intentional monuments and ceremonial centers. The other theory holds that they were unintentional monuments built up over many years as NativeAmericans discarded their trash. This theory holds that the circular shape of the shell rings was the result of Native Americans living in circular villages and discarding their trash behind their homes which resulted in a circular trash ring that gradually built up over time. (A third hybrid possibility, gradual but intentional, will be discussed later wherein the residents purposefully discarded their trash behind their homes knowing that it would slowly accumulate into a protective, surrounding wall.)

“How the Timucua Hunted Alligators,” Jacques Le Moyne, 1565. Buy this artwork framed or as a poster.

The latest research seems to support the gradual accumulation theory.  The Sapelo Shell Rings are filled with not only various types of shells but also the bones of fish such as catfish and mullet, mammals such as deer and raccoon, and reptiles such as alligator. In other words, the shell rings are built from the refuse of daily living and preliminary research shows that this refuse accumulated over a long period of time as opposed to being deposited in a single building event as one would expect if the rings were intentional monuments.

This 3D animation shows how the village would have originally looked before the shell rings had completely formed.

Archaeologist Victor Thompson researched and excavated this site over several years. His research showed that one of the shell rings first began as several pits spaced equally apart filled with shell and other refuse. Over time these trash pits turned into shell heaps and later the areas between these shell heaps were also utilized for dumping shells and other refuse. Thus the circular form of the ring took shape as the residents, over a long period of time, continued dumping their refuse between and on top of the original shell heaps. This process resulted in a less than perfect circle and also gave the ring a decidedly “lumpy” appearance. If this had been built as an intentional monument one would expect the circle to be more symmetrical and the height to be more uniform but they’re not which is exactly what you would expect to see if the rings accumulated over a long period of time.

Party Time at Sapelo

chief_receives_bride

“The Chief Receives His Bride” Jacques Le Moyne, 1565. Buy this artwork.

What does seem to be intentional is the central plaza within the shell rings.  Thus, even though the shell rings themselves may  be trash piles, their central plazas were indeed purposefully constructed as a location for ceremonies, feasts, dances, games and other activities of village life. In fact, Thompson noted that the interior of the shell ring was lower than the ground level outside the shell ring. He proposed this could have resulted from the villagers repeatedly cleaning the central plaza area by sweeping and dumping this refuse onto the shell ring. This would have added to the height of the ring while simultaneously lowering the ground level within the ring.

What’s For Dinner?

Timucua men cooking a variety of food items including fish, snakes, and alligator. (By Jacques Le Moyne, 1565)

By analyzing the bones and shells discarded in the shell ring, Thompson was able to discover not only what the people living at Sapelo ate but also when they ate it. The evidence showed that the villagers ate oysters primarily during the winter months. They ate clams throughout the year but more so in the warmer months. As to be expected, they also ate a lot of fish with two varieties of sea catfish being preferred based on the quantity of remains found. Fish in the drum family were the second most eaten fish including such varieties as  kingfish, silver perch, sea trout, Atlantic croaker and star drum. Interestingly, only one variety of freshwater fish was eaten: the sunfish. The remains of crabs, primarily blue crabs but also Florida stone crabs, were the second most abundant food source discovered in the shell trash heaps.

The Timucua dressed up as deer in order to get close to their prey. (By Jacques Le Moyne, 1565)

These villagers also ate white-tailed deer, opossum, raccoon, turkey, bottle-nosed dolphin, gray squirrel, Atlantic sea turtle and fresh water turtles, little green heron and domesticated dog. Minus the dolphins, dogs, turtles and herons much of the diet of these villagers 4,000 years ago is remarkably similar to those living in the area today. (Continues….)

Rock Eagle & Rock Hawk (100 AD)

Sapelo Shell Ring Complex1.SapeloShellRings Rock Eagle2.RockEagle ancient stone wall atop Fort Mountain3.FortMountain Kolomoki Mounds4.Kolomoki Ocmulgee Mounds5.Ocmulgee Etowah Mounds6.Etowah

Above: Watch an excerpt from the Lost Worlds: Georgia DVD.   Buy, download, or rent today or make a donation and help support LostWorlds.org. All sales help fund future videos and exhibits. Watch LostWorldsTV for more videos.

 

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. [View Gallery] It is believed to have been constructed by a Native American 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 [View Gallery] also located within Putnam county, the same Georgia county as Rock Eagle.

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. 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. Rock Eagle

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.

Zoom in to see the locations of Rock Eagle and Rock Hawk. Click on the markers for more info on the individual features.

Early European explorers in the region noted that Native Americans 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, Native Americans appear to have done the same thing.

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, Native American Indians seem to have honored their dead in a similar way.

No Native American leaders before or after have ever been afforded such magnificent burial monuments thus whoever were buried at Rock Eagle and Rock Hawk were clearly persons of great significance. Much later at the Etowah Mounds site in Cartersville, Georgia artifacts representing an Eagle Warrior or Bird Man were unearthed. Could Rock Eagle and Rock Hawk represent the burials of two of the founders of this cult?

Rock Eagle

The above artwork is available on a variety of gift items including t-shirts, posters, stickers, mouse pads, and more in our Rock Eagle Gift Shop. Buy today and help support future exhibits.

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 Native American 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.

Resouces & Further Reading:

  • Jeffries, Richard W. “Investigations of Two Stone Mound Localities, Monroe County, Georgia.” University of Georgia Laboratory of Archaeology Series, Report No. 17. Athens, GA: 1978.
  • Petrullo, Vincenzo. “Rock Eagle Effigy Mounds and Related Structures in Putnam County, Georgia.” Unpublished manuscript. Athens, GA: University of Georgia.
  • Kelly, Arthur R. “The Eatonton Effigy Eagle Mounds and Related Stone Structures in Putnam County, Georgia.” Unpublished manuscript. Athens, GA: University of Georgia, 1954.
  • Williams, Mark. “Rock Mounds and Structures.” New Georgia Encyclopedia. 2004.

 

Were the Maya Mining Gold in Georgia?

Is there evidence that the Maya were in Georgia and Florida? If so, why were they there? Were they mining gold and shipping it back to Mexico? Does a gold artifact discovered in a Florida mound in the 1800s offer positive proof of this? Let’s look at the evidence and see what it suggests about the true goings-on in the southeastern U.S. before the arrival of Europeans.

Maya in Florida and Georgia?

A site in Florida called Fort Center near Lake Okeechobee offers the earliest evidence of corn agriculture in the eastern United States. The question naturally arises as to how corn, a Mexican plant, showed up in Florida before it showed up elsewhere in the southeast. If it came by land you would expect to see evidence of its cultivation in Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama long before it arrived in south central Florida. The logical conclusion, then, is that it was brought by people who arrived by boat. The archaeologist who excavated the site, William Sears, asserted in his book/archaeological report, Fort Center: An Archaeological Site in the Lake Okeechobee Basin, that this is precisely how corn came to be at this site. But who brought it?

Interestingly, Lake Okeechobee was originally named Lake Mayaimi. It took its name from a tribe of Indians named the Mayaimi who lived around the lake. This is where the city of Miami gets its name. So in the same place where the first evidence of corn agriculture was discovered we find a tribe named Mayaimi. In nearby Cape Canaveral the Spanish recorded that a tribe named the Mayayuaca lived. Another nearby tribe recorded by the Spanish was the Mayaka. When the Spanish first reached the Yucatan in Mexico they encountered a tribe called Maia (Maya) living in a province called Maiam. Could the Maya have been responsible for bringing corn to Florida?

The migration legend of one Native American tribe, the Hitchiti, suggests this is the case. The Hitchiti migration legend as recorded in the book Creation Myths and Legends of the Creek Indians seems to place them in the Lake Okeechobee area after arriving on the coast of Florida:

Their ancestors first appeared in the country by coming out of a canebrake or reed thicket near the sea coast. They sunned and dried their children during four days, then set out, arrived at a lake and stopped there. Some thought it was the sea, but it was a lake; they set out again, traveled up stream and settled there for a permanency

At the time this legend was recorded, the Hitchiti lived in Georgia. Following this legend in reverse, the only place south or “down stream” from Georgia with a lake large enough to be confused with the sea is Lake Okeechobee. The fact they arrived at the sea coast suggests they arrived in Florida by boat.

Teotihuacan Pyramid of the Moon Courtesy Wikipedia

Pyramid of the Moon at Teotihuacan in Mexico. (Courtesy Wikipedia)

More importantly, this legend states  that the Hitchiti’s ancestors came out of a “reed thicket.” The actual Hitchiti word recorded in the legend is utski which translates literally as “reeds.” In the Mayan language, “reeds” or “place of reeds” is a metaphor for a large city. For instance, the Maya referred to the great Mesoamerican metropolis of Teotihuacan as Puh which means “reeds.” The great Toltec capital of Tula was also known as a “place of reeds.” “Place of Reeds” served as a metaphor relating the masses of reeds in a marsh to the masses of people in a metropolis thus a metropolis became a “place of reeds.”

The Hitchiti migration legend reference to their ancestors coming from “reeds” suggests they were Maya who left a major city in Mexico and then arrived on the coast of Florida and temporarily settled near Lake Okeechobee before heading upstream and settling in Georgia “for a pemanency.” Interestingly, the Itza Maya referred to their ancestors as Ah Puh which translates as “Reed People.” Could the Hitchiti be descendants of the Itza Maya?

Mayan Words and Glyphs Among the Hitchiti?

El Castillo at Chichen Itza (Courtesy Wikipedia)

If the Hitchiti were, indeed, descendants of the Itza Maya then there should be linguistic similarities between the Hitchiti and Mayan languages. And, in fact, there are. Chichen Itza, the great Mayan city in the Yucatan constructed by the Itza Maya, is translated as “Mouth of the Well of the Itza.”  Chichen means “mouth of the well” in Mayan with chi meaning “mouth” and chen meaning “well” as confirmed in an Itza Maya dictionary. According to a Hitchiti-English dictionarychi also means “mouth” and chahni means “well” thus chichahni means “mouth of the well” in Hitchiti.  (For more linguistic connections read: “Mayan Words Among Georgia’s Indians?“)

The Maya also had a writing system believed to have been passed down from the Olmecs which used glyphs to convey sounds and sometimes concepts. If the Hitchiti were related to the Itza Maya then you would expect to find evidence of this writing system among this tribe. In fact, there is. A pottery tradition known as Swift Creek pottery existed in the same areas of Georgia where the Hitchiti language is known to have been spoken. Designs on this pottery are similar and some cases identical to Mayan glyphs and symbols in Mexico. More importantly, this pottery tradition begins around the same time that corn first showed up around Lake Okeechobee.

For instance, one of the most important symbols among the Maya was that of Kukulkan, the plumed serpent. According to David Smith in his article “Quetzalcoatl- The Plumed Serpent,” (Quetzalcoatl was the Aztec name for this deity) this symbol also makes an appearance on Swift Creek pottery:

This Swift Creek design appears to represent Quetzalcoatl, the Plumed Serpent deity from Mexico.

Swift Creek design that appears to show the “plumed serpent.” (Courtesy David Smith)

Plumed Serpent at the Olmec site of La Venta near Veracruz, Mexico.

More importantly, Smith argues that the duck bill on this version of Quetzalcoatl represents a wind deity known as Ehecatl-Quetzalcoatl. (A gold duck bill pendant discovered near Lake Okeechobee will be discussed later which further supports a Mayan presence in Florida.)

In his article “Swift Creek Design Investigations” that appeared in the book A World Engraved: Archaeology of the Swift Creek Culture, researcher Frankie Snow notes that another Swift Creek design has an “Olmec look.” This design which he described simply as “unidentified creature” bares a striking resemblance to the Olmec Jaguar glyph:

Swift Creek design suggestive of the Olmec Jaguar Olmec Jaguar design

A quick perusal through the pages of A World Engraved reveals many other such designs. For instance, one design features a cartouche featuring two symbols, a diamond and cross. The fact that the Swift Creek potters decided to place both of these symbols in a cartouche reveals they believed these two symbols were closely associated. Among the Maya, these are both glyphs for the Mayan word Ek which means “star” or “Venus”:

Swift Creek diamond & cross design  Mayan cross-and-diamond Ek glyph

Another Swift Creek design appears to represent another version of the Mayan Ek glyph:

Swift Creek design Mayan Ek glyph

And this is just the tip of the iceberg. (Read “Mayan Glyphs on Georgia, Florida Pottery” for a more in-depth discussion.)

So to recap:

  1. There are Mayan words in the Hitchiti language
  2. A pottery tradition in the same areas of Georgia where the Hitchiti language was spoken contains designs identical to Mayan glyphs
  3.  The Hitchiti migration legend placed them arriving in Florida from a place of reeds, a known Mayan euphemism for a large city, and living at the very place where corn was first cultivated in the southeast.
  4. The pottery tradition and arrival of corn occur at the same time in the same areas where the Hitchiti are known to have lived

This is what the FBI would call “evidence.”

 

Getting here from there- Yucatan to Florida By Boat?

Now that it seems clear there was a Maya presence in Florida and Georgia the next question that must be answered is were the Itza Maya capable of crossing the Gulf of Mexico and reaching Florida? According to researcher Douglas Peck, the Maya most capable of crossing open ocean were the Chontal Maya. In his paper on the Chontal Maya and their seafaring accomplishments he noted they were great seafarers and navigators who controlled all the coastal trade routes from Mexico down to Central America. They also made voyages into the Caribbean. Thus the Chontal Maya were the most likely candidates to have traveled to Florida bringing corn along with them. Which begs the question: who were the Chontal Maya and what was their relationship with the Itza Maya? (Continues…)

Fort Mountain Stone Wall (400 AD)

Sapelo Shell Ring Complex1.SapeloShellRings Rock Eagle2.RockEagle ancient stone wall atop Fort Mountain3.FortMountain Kolomoki Mounds4.Kolomoki Ocmulgee Mounds5.Ocmulgee Etowah Mounds6.Etowah
Above: Watch an excerpt about Fort Mountain from the Lost Worlds: Georgia DVD.   Buy today or make a donation and help support LostWorlds.org. All sales help fund future videos and exhibits. For more videos visit our YouTube channel, LostWorldsTV.

Rock Eagle and Rock Hawk were not the only stone structures built during the Woodland period. Other stone structures can be found in north Georgia but this time they are not in the form of bird effigy mounds. Instead they are mysterious stone walls built atop several mountain peaks. Several of these walls, sometimes circular in design, existed throughout north Georgia including atop Stone Mountain, Alec Mountain, Ladd’s Mountain and others but many were demolished for road fill. A few of these walls still remain including at the top of Fort Mountain. The mountain derives its name from the stone structure which was originally believed to be a Native American fortification.

The structure varies in height from 3 to 10 feet though averages around four feet. It measures from 4.5 feet wide at its narrowest point to 16 feet at its widest point. It has an east-west orientation and extends for about 928 feet near the summit of Fort Mountain. There are four breaks in the wall as it zigzags between the 2750-2760 foot elevation level. It is thought that these breaks in the wall’s structure are recent additions added by European colonists and explorers. There are also between 19 – 29 pits in the wall which are also believed to have been added by looters searching for artifacts within the wall.

ancient stone wall atop Fort MountainThe wall is constructed of stones from the surrounding summit area of the mountain. [View Gallery] Though most of the stones are small or medium sized requiring no more than one or two individuals to lift them into place, a few large boulders weighing several tons are also part of the wall particularly on the eastern end. These boulders appear to have already been in place from natural rock falls and the Native American builders simply located the wall in such a way as to incorporate them into its structure. In some instances the wall seems to detour specifically to take advantage of these natural features.

Zoom in to view the Fort Mountain stone wall.

The wall is believed to have been built around 400 A.D. and to have had a ceremonial function since it lacks certain characteristics necessary for defensive purposes. First, the wall is so low in spots that people inside the wall would be completely exposed to danger from without. Second, there is no source of water within the wall to sustain its inhabitants during an extensive siege. Third, the wall fails to take advantage of strategic contours of the mountain slope and in some instances actually changes course and makes persons behind the wall more susceptible to hostile actions from persons outside the wall. For these reasons it is doubtful the wall was ever a true fort.

(Continues…)

Ancient Seeds Sow Debate Over Sunflower-Farming Origins

Scott Norris
for National Geographic News

April 28, 2008

Sunflowers were grown as a domesticated crop in Mexico more than 2,000 years ago, according to a new study. The new findings run counter to a theory that sunflower farming began in what is now the U.S. East and then trickled south into Mexico.

Plant remains discovered in a dry cave suggest that farmers in Mexico were cultivating sunflower strains with large seeds by around 300 B.C.

A 2001 study by the same team had found evidence of Mexican sunflower domestication as early as 2600 B.C., but that finding was controversial.

A Smithsonian Institution expert on early agriculture has argued that the remains described by the team in 2001 had been incorrectly identified as sunflowers.

Eastern U.S. Origins

Sunflowers were a cultivated food crop in what is now the eastern United States 4,000 to 5,000 years ago, most experts agree.

But did sunflower farming spread south from eastern North America to Mexico and beyond? Or did ancient Mexicans develop sunflower farming on their own?

The latest evidence supports an independent origin for Mexican sunflower farming, said study leader David Lentz of the University of Cincinnati.

Read the full story here:

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2008/04/080428-sunflowers-mexico.html

More early dwellings at Ocmulgee monument site, archaeologist finds

greater and lesser temple mounds at Ocmulgee Mounds

View of the Greater and Lesser Temple Mounds at Ocmulgee Mounds in Macon, GA.

An ancient civilization of mound builders who lived near the Ocmulgee River just northeast of what is now downtown Macon may have been home to more native people than originally thought.
Though the research, much of it done with a ground-scanning instrument to roughly map underground shapes and forms, is still under way, early analysis seems to indicate more unearthed dwellings at the site than were previously known to have existed.

Dan Bigman, an archaeologist and doctoral candidate at the University of Georgia, has charted 25 or so acres of the Ocmulgee National Monument grounds since the summer.
Passing back and forth across grid sections while holding a 5-foot-wide sensor, Bigman and his assistants have made underground scans without disturbing the surface.
“It seems like we are seeing (evidence of) a lot more structures … than I expected,” Bigman said Monday. “I was pretty blown away.”
He plans to wrap up his survey later this week with hopes of returning later with other ground-scanning equipment to further verify and, perhaps, enhance the imaging data he has already gathered.
He said a major excavation of the site in the 1930s examined just 17 percent of the property. Bigman’s scans have covered much more area of what is considered one of the largest native Mississippian-period settlements in the eastern U.S. The Macon mounds date back about 1,000 years.
Bigman, 31, set out to pinpoint where exactly the mounds-era inhabitants lived and how their dwellings were situated in relation to one another.
“You can map, in some cases, the cultural remains that are underneath the ground,” Bigman said as he took a break from charting a grassy stretch of Drakes Field, a rarely visited patch on the western edge of the grounds, about half a mile from the Macon Coliseum. “The things that we’re seeing mostly are house structures, house walls.”
The scanning device he uses can also detect long-buried fire pits or hearths, other signs of early dwellings. Once it is determined how densely populated spots are, Bigman said, “You can start looking at questions like what was the social structure, how was the community organized?”
Bigman said the area has “a very complicated occupational history,” which includes Creek occupation in the late 1600s, but he is more interested in the Mississippian culture seven or so centuries earlier.
“Was it continuous occupation or was there space between communities?” Bigman wonders. “How did people identify themselves? Were they part of a larger town or did they have sort of like neighborhoods they were affiliated with?”
His geophysical survey is something of an EKG of the underground. He can plot contour maps or gray-scale images of specks of post holes or rotted wood, pockets in the earth where water accumulates. Because organic material holds water well, Bigman’s ground scanner, which seeks out areas of electrical conductivity, can paint a sketchy picture of possible dwelling foundations, buildings’ footprints still detectable down the ages.
“From the excavations done in the ’30s, we know that they were square (dwellings), we know they were rectangular and we know the range of the sizes that they were. So you can go back and say, ‘Look, here’s a square that’s within the range,’ ” he said of deciphering what the data suggests to help in determining the distribution of people and how large their communities were.
“We just know so little about the site,” Bigman said, “and some of the basic things that you need to answer archaeological questions about communities or about political systems or about how people lived or organized themselves spatially or socially or economically. Where did they live and how did that change over time? Did the site expand over time? Did it contract over time?”
Such questions can be answered or best-guessed, he said, “If we know where they lived.”
“But until I work out the chronology, it’s going to be difficult to say. I can say where the people were, but the question is when,” Bigman said.
The Creeks, who lived there 400 or so years ago, had houses that “were pretty square, too,” he said, so it might be hard to tell which period the underground readings denote.
“The hope,” he said, “is to squeeze data out of here without destroying any more of the ground.”
Read more: http://www.macon.com/2010/12/07/1367701/more-early-dwellings-at-ocmulgee.html

45-Foot Ancient Canoe Stuck In The Muck Of Weedon Island

By KEITH MORELLI of The Tampa Tribune

ST. PETERSBURG – Stuck somewhere in the muck of Weedon Island is a significant piece of history.

weeden island canoeA 45-foot canoe, buried for more than a thousand years and used by a long-dead culture of Native Americans, worked its way to the surface, and now authorities are trying to figure out how best to preserve it.

The vessel is carved out of a single pine tree, and archaeologists say it was used to paddle over the open waters of the bay — unlike the other ancient canoes uncovered in Florida over the years, which were used to ply the calmer waters of lakes and rivers.

With the back end of the canoe broken off, it measures 39 feet, 11 inches. If the missing piece was attached, archaeologists estimate 5 more feet would be added to the length. The size of the vessel and configuration of the bow leads archaeologists to think the vessel may have been used to trade with people living some distance away.

“It’s the longest prehistoric canoe ever found in the state of Florida,” said Weedon Island Preserve Center manager Phyllis Kolianos.

“I think it’s fascinating,” she said this morning. “I think it’s a very important find, and it’s very significant. It gives us an understanding that these weren’t simple people living here, that they were probably trading with other cultures.”

The dugout is the first pre-Columbian seagoing vessel uncovered in Florida. It points to a culture that thrived in what would become the Tampa Bay area and traded with others along the Gulf of Mexico coast and beyond. The influence of the Weedon Island culture stretched to places as far away as Georgia, archaeologists say.

Kolianos said carbon dating of the canoe shows it to be about 1,100 years old.

Continue reading the full story here: http://www2.tbo.com/content/2008/may/05/051620/45-foot-ancient-canoe-stuck-muck-weedon-island/

Kolomoki Mounds (500 AD)

Sapelo Shell Ring Complex1.SapeloShellRings Rock Eagle2.RockEagle ancient stone wall atop Fort Mountain3.FortMountain Kolomoki Mounds4.Kolomoki Ocmulgee Mounds5.Ocmulgee Etowah Mounds6.Etowah
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Kolomoki Mounds are the next great accomplishment of Georgia’s Native Americans. 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.  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.  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.


View larger map  Zoom in to see the actual Kolomoki Mounds site. Click on the individual markers to learn more about each feature.

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

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.

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 lies 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. (Continues…)

Ocmulgee Mounds (1000 AD)

Sapelo Shell Ring Complex1.SapeloShellRings Rock Eagle2.RockEagle ancient stone wall atop Fort Mountain3.FortMountain Kolomoki Mounds4.Kolomoki Ocmulgee Mounds5.Ocmulgee Etowah Mounds6.Etowah
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As impressive as the previously discussed Kolomoki Mounds complex is, the NativeAmerican Mound Builders of Georgia would outdo themselves at the next site in our story: Ocmulgee Mounds. Located in Macon, this ancient civilization consists of seven Indian mounds and associated plazas.

The Great Temple Mound at Ocmulgee was built atop the Macon Plateau and rises 56 feet high from the surface of the plateau. Yet because the mound was ingeniously constructed on the edge of the plateau and the plateau itself was terraced and clay fill added to match the angle of the Temple Mound, the mound rises an impressive 90 feet from the river bank below. It was this imposing view that most visitors to Ocmulgee Indian Mounds saw in prehistoric times since most trade and travel was conducted by dugout canoes along the Ocmulgee river.


View larger map
Map of Ocmulgee Mounds. Zoom in to see individual mounds and other features. Click on the blue tabs  to learn more about each feature. Explore the site in 3D with the Google Earth plugin.

Due to its ingenious construction, the top of the Great Temple Mound is significantly higher than the surrounding tree line thus enabling anyone standing here to have a commanding view of the countryside for miles and miles around as well as an unobstructed view of the entire sky dome for astronomical observations. From here one could easily see signal fires or smoke signals from outlying villages warning of invaders or other trouble. Likewise traders could light signal fires atop the Great Temple Mound to announce the arrival of new trade goods. As its name suggests the Great Temple Mound was also home to a large temple which likely doubled as the Chief Priest’s home. Here he kept a perpetual fire burning which was an important element of their religion and myths.

This giant ground sloth on display at the University of Georgia was unearthed in Brunswick, GA during construction of I-95.

Giant ground sloth found in southeast Georgia on view at UGA.

The Ocmulgee Mounds site has been occupied for 12,000 years as evidenced by the Clovis spear point found during excavations. The Clovis people lived during the last Ice Age and used these spear points to hunt mastadons, wooly mammoths, giant ground sloths and other giant animals that once roamed Georgia. Around 2000 B.C., the same time period as the Sapelo Shell Rings, the first small shell mounds were constructed at the site but it wasn’t until 900 A.D. that the monumental constructions began. [View Gallery]

Who Built Ocmulgee Mounds?

At this time newcomers arrived in the region and brought with them corn agriculture, a new style of pottery, new types of arrowheads and a more complex economic, religious and political system. It is thought that these were Muskogean speakers who later were called Creek Indians by Europeans. According to Creek Indian tradition, Ocmulgee Mounds was the site where they “first sat down” after their long migration from the west. Other traditions hold that they originated near “the backbone of the earth” which was their name for the Rocky Mountains. In fact, as we’ll see below, they could have originated as far away as west Mexico and later migrated into the desert southwest before finally arriving at Ocmulgee.

Popocateptl Volcano erupting at nightOne tribe of Creek Indians, the Cussitaw (Cusseta/Kasihta), have a migration legend which might relate to the settlement of Ocmulgee Mounds. It tells how they originated in a place much farther west, a place where the earth would occasionally open up and swallow their children (a possible reference to earthquakes). Part of their tribe decided to leave this place and began an eastward migration in order to find where the sun rose. On their journey they came to a mountain that thundered and had red smoke coming from its summit which they later discovered was actually fire (a possible reference to a volcano.) Here they decided to settle down after meeting people from three nations (Chickasaws, Atilamas, & Obikaws) who taught them about herbs and “many other things.”

From these references one can speculate that these people migrated from Mexico which is west of Georgia and has both earthquakes and active volcanoes. (For a more in-depth analysis of the Creek migration legend, read “Were Georgia’s Muskogee Creek Indians from West Mexico?“) Mexico is also the birthplace of corn agriculture, a defining characteristic of these newcomers. It is also in Mexico where we find cities consisting of flat-topped pyramid mounds arranged around open plazas which is the most noticeable feature of town planning at Ocmulgee. (Continues…)

Etowah Mounds (1250 AD)

Sapelo Shell Ring Complex1.SapeloShellRings Rock Eagle2.RockEagle ancient stone wall atop Fort Mountain3.FortMountain Kolomoki Mounds4.Kolomoki Ocmulgee Mounds5.Ocmulgee Etowah Mounds6.Etowah

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.)

Etowah Mounds aerial view

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.

Shell gorgets from the Etowah Mounds site in Georgia.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 Etowah Mounds Bird Man copper plateNosed 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.

Native American dance demonstrationThese 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.

Marble human effigy statues from Etowah Mounds in Georgia.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…]