Thursday, August 8, 2013

Etowah Indian Mounds

Most of my galavanting throughout Georgia is typically planned long in advance. By the time I actually make it to a venue, it's only because I'd already done my research weeks prior, read the brochures, perused the websites, etc. But every now and then, I experience something new completely by chance.
Two statues discovered on site. 
As it happens, I found myself in Cartersville one Saturday morning, assisting a friend. The town most often associated with the Tellus Science Museum (sorta like Fernbank, just impractically far away), had the feeling of a quiet little hick town that had been pulled suddenly into the 21st Century.

I'd really planned on driving out there, quickly doing what I'd been asked to do and immediately driving back but, an experienced knock-about-ist myself, my brain is constantly on the lookout for those handy, brown-coloured highway markers, the tell tale signs of nearby intrigue.

It was these same highway markers that pointed me in the direction of the Etowah Indian Mounds Historic Site, 54 acres of land that were once home to several thousand Native Americans for more than 500 years.

Established sometime in 1000 AD, it's believed (hopefully through some very thorough archaeological investigation) that the site was actively used until sometime in 1550, coincidentally not long after the coming of the Spanish conquistador Hernando de Soto. Please feel free to draw your own conclusions as to what happened then.

Etowah is largely regarded as the largest intact example of Mississippian culture anywhere in the south east. The Mississippians being a prehistoric indigenous Native American culture pre-dating the Cherokee and Muskogee (Creek) Indians who came centuries later. I'd visited Rock Eagle Effigy earlier which is thought to be at least 1000 years older than Etowah and built by yet another group of prehistoric Indians (the Woodland Indians).

 There are supposedly six mounds on the site, only three of which I could actually see. The first, creatively named Mound A, the largest of the three, most likely where the chief or high priest lived. Mound B possibly housed a lesser noble and the third and much smaller Mound C was a burial mound.

Standing 63 feet high, the primary mound is the prehistoric equivalent of a modern day 6-story building, made entirely of packed Georgia red clay.

Mound A as seen from the defensive ditch. 
The other two mounds are smaller by comparison but no less important especially mound C, the burial mound where most of the artifacts housed at the nearby museum were uncovered. It's also interesting to note by the way, that only the first two mounds are original. The burial mound had been completely excavated down to its base and had to be rebuilt by volunteers. Including the work done at the burial mound, only nine percent of the entire 54 acre site has been excavated.

It is very often said that you can tell a lot about a society by how they treat their dead. As such, most of what is known about the site's former residents was discovered at the burial mound. It is here too at Mound C, that archaeologists uncovered the two 125 pound stone statues presently housed at the museum (see pic above).

The Etowah Historic Site is definitely worth a visit. Apart from the mounds, the site features a stone weir/fish trap built in the nearby Etowah River, a 10 foot deep trench built either for defense or for mound building raw materials, and a thatch hut painstakingly rebuilt by volunteers. Nature trails and a museum filled with artifacts round out this unmistakably rewarding experience.  

Personally, I think the true value of Etowah is in being able to see, feel and experience the works of ancient peoples in the very places they lived their lives. The fact that the fish traps in particular are still here today still blows my mind. It's a bit of a drive, but I highly recommend taking some time to go see this place.


Etowah Indian Mounds Historic Site
813 Indian Mounds Road, S.W.
Cartersville, GA 30120

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