Driving down the Ocmulgee Site’s exit road a week or so ago, I thought I’d seen it all. That no other Mississippian Era mound site could match what Ocmulgee has to offer. Well, I was wrong! This Etowah site is just as awe-inspiring. Just as interesting.
In different ways, of course. The Etowah Site offers different views and different lessons. No, I’m not suggesting an American Idol-style “Wow! factor” contest here. I mention the comparison only to caution readers against the “If you’ve seen one; you’ve seen ‘em all” syndrome. If you’ve seen one ….. Well, you’ve seen one! It’s necessary to visit each available site, and its affiliated museum, to begin to compile the larger picture.
And that makes sense. Just consider how few of these sites we have! Each offering only a quick glimpse into the lives and cultures of our predecessors here in the Southeast. Somehow, I must find the time and resources necessary to visit several more of these excavated Mississippian Sites. The Spiro Mounds, Alabama’s Moundville, Maybe even the Indiana Angel Mounds. And, of course, the largest, Cahokia, in Illinois. There are more. But we can’t get obsessive here! Each name above is linked to its home page. So have a quick tour, as I just did. Fascinating stuff.
Speaking of fascinating stuff, let’s continue our look around the Etowah Mounds. Here’s another view of the ramp at the rear of Mound A. It’s switchback construction is easier to see here. This was part of the original Mound design too.
I took that ramp photo from just in front of Mound C, mentioned in the last post. Now, here is Mound C. Notice the more regular shape of this mound. The corners appear to be less eroded. It’s more regular all around. Hmmm. What accounts for that?
Well, there’s an explanation. This actually is a reconstruction of Mound C. This mound is the only one of the three to have been completely excavated. Top to bottom. Here you see a photo taken during the dig. It’s from the sign beside the Mound C steps.
Mound C is called the Ceremonial Mortuary Mound, since it was used as a burial site. Remember the Funeral Mound at Ocmulgee? Similarities here. Many of the artifacts found at this site, the materials that help us to understand the Mound Builders’ culture, were found here. According to the sign, this Mound was built in seven stages from around 1250 to 1375 A.D. And was as high as 19 feet. It too from time was home to large ceremonial buildings.
So, those are the three main Mounds at this site. But we’re far from done outside. There’s much more to see and learn here. The view above is from the top of Mound C, looking south toward the river. With another interesting display.
Here’s the canoe-in-process that you see toward the center of the previous photo. This is the result of an interesting project at Etowah. Creation of a canoe using the tools and techniques available during the Mississippian era.
Artist Drew Moats served as creator. Here’s an extensive explanation from the Etowah Homepage that’s beautifully written and well worth reading. The project, it seems, was never completed. But enough was done to learn a good deal about this critical Mississippian-era technology.
This photo didn’t turn out very well. The river’s just too high. But it is the site of a large fish trap dam used by this community during the Mississippian era. Park personnel told me they’ve rebuilt the dam several times, since the rocks of which it is made are inclined to wash downstream. But it’s based on solid archeological evidence. Another example of simple-yet-effective technology from the period. Fishhooks, nets, and spears all were used to harvest the fish, once contained by the fish trap.
There’s much more to see in this area. More mounds and more middens, or barrow pits. But time is running short. So I’ll walk back across the beautifully flat field to the east of Mound A toward the Site Headquarters. Even this field has something to tell us about community life during the Mound Building era.
According to relatively recent archeological work, this field was a smooth clay covered “plaza” of sorts. Used for ceremonial purposes, as a playing field, and as a general gathering place. Not just a field! I wonder how many people gathered. What they thought of as they looked up toward the top of the Mounds. Whether markets were conducted here. And so on.
Back across the footbridge, to the Site Headquarters. Before going in, have a look at this reconstruction of the sorts of wattle and daub structures that surrounded the Site’s mounds. Here again, based on the latest archeological evidence, every effort has been made to recreate structures just they appeared during the Mississippian era. This isn’t just a flashy tourist attraction, by any means.
Here’s a photo taken through the door of the building. Note the fire pit in the center of the floor. And the low benches around the sides. Hardly luxury digs. But according to accompanying explanations, these structures were used primarily for sleeping, and during inclement weather when the central fire would be welcome. So, again, simple is good.
This model of the central area of the Site gives some idea what all of this may have looked like. Note the three mounds, the plaza extending in front of Mound A, the moat and palisade surrounding whle area, with the river flowing on the left. Be sure to look carefully at this model on the way back in. Very instructive.
Well, again we’re way over time. This will be all for this visit. Stay tuned, though, for a brief tour of the Museum collection next time.