Friday, January 29, 2010

The Great Southeast American Indian Mound Tour of 2010. Part XVII. Etowah (cont.)

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This is the last post in this series. It’s been a wonderful experience. But now it’s time to return home. Good to travel; good to get back home.

Figures Today it’s raining and blustery outside. So let’s take the opportunity to look through the exhibits in the Etowah Mound Site Museum. First, though, a caveat. I forgot to bring a large tripod for the camera on this trip. So, since flash is forbidden, I’ve had to hand-hold Andrew’s huge camera in only moderate light throughout the museum. Not good! But a few of the photos may be sharp enough to display here. Sorry about that.

The two figures you see above are perhaps the best known from this site. Both are marble. Each weighs over 100 pounds. Both were found near the base of Mound C. Archeologists have learned much about personal dress and decoration at the time from these incredible figures.

Water Jug Not all of the pieces in this collection are as dramatic as the two marble figures above. Indeed, many, if not most, of them, are everyday objects, such as the water jar pictured above. Perhaps an everyday piece. But still tastefully decorated.

Grind Stones And here’s an even more mundane piece. If that’s the word. A corn grinding stone. Probably used daily by one or more families to prepare their meals. Imagine how surprised the last owner of this grinding stone would be were she to learn that her simple tool would be preserved in a museum like this!

Ritual Objects The collection includes interesting ritual objects as well. This photo doesn’t offer much detail, unfortunately. But the axe in the center is carved from one piece of stone. Clearly it was never intended for use other than ceremonial. The plate at the left too is carved from stone. It’s thought to have served as a palate for mixing the paints used for body decoration at ceremonial events. And the conch shell dipper at the left bottom is especially interesting. It’s from Florida, and was used as a ceremonial ladle. One more evidence of contact between this site and others at some distance.

Bowl Here is a very special piece. A bowl from the late Archaic period. That’s somewhere between 8000 and 1000 BC! Quite a spread. But that’s what it says on the sign. Incredibly, it was discovered by a Bartow County farmer while plowing. It’s made of soapstone, or steatite, and shows evidence of use over a fire. A remarkable piece.

This museum is chuck-full of interesting objects and exhibits. And, as we saw at the Fort Walton Beach Museum, most of the pieces have been placed by the curators in context that makes them easier for non-archeologists to appreciate.

The photos I took here simply don’t do them justice. So, you’ll have to go to see them yourself. I’m certain you will appreciate what you find. If you intend to take photos, don’t forget the tripod! Good photos here will require quite long exposures!

Special thanks to the overworked staff of the Etowah Mound Site. Both employees and volunteers. DNR budget cuts have pared personnel and operating expenditures here to the bone. Yet the staff remains helpful and enthusiastic. Dedicated to their jobs, and to preservation of the site.

You know you’ve encountered a special group when you learn that one reception desk “volunteer” is actually a recently laid-off full-time employee! Working as usual. But now on a for-free volunteer basis. That’s dedication to the mission!

Time Line Artifacts Here too, as at Ocmulgee and Fort Walton Beach, I was only able to scratch the surface of all the Site has to offer. There’s so much more here to learn, and to enjoy. I hope to return in the not too distant future after further study. And hope some of you in the meantime will be able to visit Etowah, Fort Walton Beach, and Ocmulgee. You won’t be disappointed!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Great Southeast American Indian Mound Tour of 2010. Part XVI. Etowah Site (cont.)

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Mound A 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.

Switchback 2 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.

Mound C 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?

C Dig 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.

Woods 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.

Canoe 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.

Fish DamThis 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.

Plaza 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.

Wattle and Daub Building 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.

Inside Building 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.

Site Model 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.

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The Great Southeast American Indian Mound Tour of 2010. Part XV. The Etowah Mound Site.

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The drive from the McKinney COE Campground to the Etowah Mounds Historic Site took about a half-hour this morning. Mostly through four-lane highway. Next time I’ll look for a more scenic route.

Though the route goes straight through the middle of Cartersville, Georgia. Cartersville is an inviting town. Home of the Booth Western Art Museum and the Tellus Science Museum, or Weinman Mineral Museum, among other things. Its historic district streets are lined with interesting-looking shops and restaurants. Tempting. But wait to stop and look around on your way back from the Mounds!

Front SignIt was the Mounds I came to see. So I drove straight through. Slave to the GPS! And soon arrived at the front gate sign. Georgia’s Department of Natural Resources has maintained this Site since the early 1950s, when it was acquired by the State from the Tumlin family.

Tumlin Henry Tumlin, pictured above, then served as Superintendent of the Site, and its protector, for thirty years, while continuing to farm the surrounding fields. He was a dedicated conservator, following the example set by his grandmother, Georgia Secession Roberts Tumlin. Click here for information about the Site when it was known as the “Tumlin Mounds.”

Mounds A and B During your first visit, If possible, go straight back through the hallway to the left of the reception desk [after paying your modest admission fee, of course!] and out the back door. Then walk straight back along the path toward the Mounds. For the view you see above.

These are Mounds A and B. A on the right; B on the left. They’re quite a spectacle viewed from this angle. And give what to me is the best introduction to the overall Site and what you will see and learn while here. This clearly was an important cultural center. One worth learning more about.

MoatThen cross the small bridge over a fairly deep ditch, or defensive moat. Estimated to have been up to 10 feet deep. This moat continues in both directions clear around the core of the Site, down to the river’s edge on both sides. According to the nearby sign, archeologists have found evidence of a 12-foot high log palisade throughout its length, complete with watch towers.

Grasses These planting boxes lie just beyond the moat. Stop to look closely and read the signs. Each box contains plantings of the grasses and plants that covered this area before the arrival of Europeans. Grasses native to northwest Georgia. There eight or nine types growing here. DNR hopes eventually to cover the whole site with them.

Path to Mounds Then continue along this path toward Mounds A and B. By now you can see the spots here and there on the side of Mound A more clearly. They are tree stumps. Some of them huge. A year or so ago, after much controversy, DNR decided to remove all of the trees on the steeply sloped mounds. Created quite a stir at the time, I was told!

Mound A Steps Don’t miss the opportunity of walking up Mound A’s steps that you see in the photo above. There are 150-some steps to the top, if memory serves. But the view is worth it. The mound originally included a 22-foot-wide stairway made of logs and clay, according to one sign. Today’s steps make for a much easier climb.

Mound A Ramp There’s another way to the top of Mound A. Though it isn’t open to the public. It’s a ramp with a switch-back half-way up at the rear of the mound. It may be difficult to see in the photo above. It was taken from the rear edge of the mound, looking down across the ramp. An interesting feature I’d like to know more about. In the background you can see the more regular features of Mound C. More on that in a moment, and why its features are so much more regular.

Mound B You may recall that the Ocmulgee site had both a main mound and a nearby smaller mound. Well, the same pattern has been followed here at Etowah. This photo is of Mound B, taken from the top of Mound A. Probably, in its day, grand real estate. But nowhere near as grand as that atop Mound A. Archeologists have found evidence of buildings atop Mound B too. Called “Structure 3.” With a diameter of around 42 feet.

That’s all we have time for now. But stay tuned as we continue our tour of the impressive Etowah Mound Site in the next post.

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The Great Southeast American Indian Mound Tour of 2010. Part XIV. Drive to McKinney COE Campground

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Etowah Mound A Up unusually early yesterday morning to drive to the next Mound Site. The Etowah Mounds near Cartersville, Georgia. At 4:30 a.m.! The drive would take about 7 hours, according to directions printed out from MapQuest prior to departure. It’s never any fun to unhook and set up in the dark at an unfamiliar campground. So, up and at it at 4:30!

Highway In the event, the drive didn’t take seven hours. Rather than follow the printed MapQuest directions, I relied on the GPS. It routed me up through Alabama much of the way. Very nice highway for quite a ways. Then on to heavily traveled interstates, around Atlanta. And finally northwest toward Cartersville.

McKinney Gate The McKinney Corps of Engineers Campground is on Corps-maintained Lake Allatoona. A delightful find. Camp Host, Ms. Charlotte, was at the gate when I arrived. Southern Alabama friendly, she was full of helpful information about the Park, the area, and even the Etowah Mounds.

Host Charlotte and her husband, George, shared duties at McKinney with Marvin and JoAnne. Both couples long-term McKinney hosts who know the ins-and-outs of the campground and the area. The importance of competent, effective camp hosts can’t be over-estimated.

Aliner on Site 144 I selected # 144 site-unseen, so to speak, when making the three Tour reservations a few months ago. And it proved ideal in every way. Well, almost every way. It had an excellent view of the Lake. The site’s parking surface was paved and smooth. Although other sites were close by, they weren’t occupied while I was there.

The site’s only drawbacks were the narrowness of the paved portion of the site, and the slight downward grade of the paved area. The Aliner Mobile Studio is light enough to maneuver by hand on a smooth level surface. So I normally turn it 180 degrees, to face the water. And did that here.

Sunrise The narrowness of the raised paved part of the site, though, made turning the Aliner around more of a chore than usual. Though the lake view, especially in the morning, was worth every bit of it.

Bath House Corps of Engineers campgrounds nearly always have well maintained facilities. McKinney was no exception. Here you see the bath house. That included a convenient coin-operated washer-dryer. All in working order. I visited the bath house several times during my stay and never found it anything but spotless.

Deer On-line reviews of the McKinney Campground often describe how convenient it is to I-75. Ideal for a one-day in-and-out rest on the way to another location. Well, don’t be misled. This Park has nothing in common with those paved parking-lot-with-hookups sorts of places we sometimes find near large super highway intersections. Click the photo above to see part of the herd of deer at breakfast along the road.

Park roads at McKinney are well paved and well maintained. But they are curvy mountain roads! Some quite steep. With tight turns in places that must give fits to drivers of those enormous Class A motorhomes. So, if you drive a big motorhome, be sure to reserve one of their many motorhome-friendly sites.

This morning, on the way to the Etowah Mound Site, I chanced to meet maintenance crew member, Ms. Jane. I asked her assessment of the weather for the next couple of days. And then told her of plans to visit the Etowah Mounds.

Ms. Jane was full of useful information. She’s a member of the Georgia Tribe of Eastern Cherokee. A recorded interview would have been nice. But that she declined. I later learned that she’s a celebrated Cherokee dancer. Often performing at public festivals.

Ms. Jane kindly took time this morning to describe the history of the area, the significance of the Etowah Mounds from her perspective, and the relationship between the area of the Campground to those mounds. It was a valuable chance meeting.

Thanks again to all the folks at McKinney Campground. Hosts Charlotte and George, Marvin and JoAnne. And especially to Ms. Jane. You all helped to make my stay enjoyable and productive. Hope to see you again one day.

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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Great Southeast American Indian Mound Tour of 2010. Part XIII. Museum (cont.)

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ArrowHeads Continuing on with our tour of the Fort Walton Beach Mound Museum. No exhibit dedicated to the American Indian worth its salt would be without a display of arrowheads. Well, here’s one of several at Fort Walton Beach. Note the diversity of type here. Lots more in the back room, I’ll bet!

Deptford Pot Now, this piece certainly isn’t common. To say the least! Labeled a “Clay Tetrapod Vessel,” it dates to the Deptford Culture. Estimated at around 1170 BC. About the time of the Trojan War, isn’t it? One of the oldest pieces found in this area. Click on the photo above so you can see the pattern impressed around the rim. And the care with which it was made.

Woodland Context Display Here in this Woodland era display is an example of just how the pieces displayed in this Museum have been placed within a context that helps non-archeologists like me to make better sense of them. Designing such displays can’t be easy. The line between explanation and entertainment, or exploitation, is fine. I think they’ve managed here to achieve an excellent balance.

A warning, though. It takes a long time to absorb the information available at even one of these displays. And there are many. It’s no glance, click, and move-on sort of thing. Be sure to allow enough time when you visit, or you’ll miss a lot. You’ll be viewing some of the most important archeological artifacts available from this part of the world. Quite an experience. So take your time, and enjoy.

Buck Mound Artifacts In addition to the Temple Mound and its immediate environs, William Lazarus and his teams excavated many other sites around the area. One of the most productive was the Buck Burial Mound. Just a quarter-mile southwest of the Temple Mound. Click the photo above to see some of the Buck Mound artifacts. This also is where the remarkable Buck-Long Effigy Urn mentioned in the last post was discovered.

Dog BurialHere’s another remarkable find. The intact skeleton of a young dog. Buried with food and water utensils. Suggesting the animal may have been a beloved pet. I understand this skeleton created quite a stir in the world of archeology at the time of its discovery.

DecorationDecoration 2 Click on the photos above and look closely at the delicate decorations and and graceful shapes. Remarkable work from any era. Imagine the excitement of uncovering such a piece during an archeological dig!

There are many more artifacts on display here. Most of them quite important. So you’ll just have to come to see for yourself.

Touch Table And when you do, have a look at the “Touch Table,” especially popular with the younger visitors.

Library And look through the Museum’s Library. Here’s a glimpse through the door.

ClickToListen The Library collection isn’t very large. But it’s highly concentrated. I saw dozens of books and pamphlets related to the archeology of the Mound and surrounding area. Here’s Museum Manager Gail Meyer again to describe the Library.

If you don’t have time to sit here and read, take note of the titles and look for them elsewhere later on. Really useful material here for those of interested in this period of American history.

Well, it’s time to leave the Fort Walton Beach Temple Mound and Museum. It’s been a wonderful visit. Special thanks to Museum Manager Gail Meyer. And to Programming Coordinator Mike Thomin. Both were most generous with their time and expertise. I’m certain that William and Yulee Lazarus would be pleased to know their creation is in such capable hands.

Off early tomorrow morning to Cartersville, Georgia, and the Etowah Mound Site there. The last stop on the Great Southeast American Indian Mound Tour of 2010. So, stay tuned.

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Monday, January 25, 2010

The Great Southeast American Indian Mound Tour of 2010. Part XII. Fort Walton Beach Museum

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Continuing the conversation with Museum Manager Gail Meyer, I asked her about the museum’s origins.

ClickToListen Gail related an inspiring story of dedication, determination, and public entrepreneurial skill. Initially driven by William and Yulee Lazarus of Fort Walton Beach.

William C. Lazarus didn’t begin his career as an archeologist. Born in 1911 in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, Lazarus pursued a distinguished career as a military, and then civilian, aeronautical engineer, making especially important contributions to glider technology and development.

Museum Founders He arrived at Florida’s Eglin Air Force Base in the 1950s, where he and his wife began finding bits of ancient pottery around the yard of their Fort Walton Beach home. Thereafter, until his untimely death in 1965, Lazarus and his wife devoted much of their time to preservation of the Fort Walton Beach Temple Mound, and to creation of this museum.

This is where public entrepreneurial skill comes in. Can you imagine how difficult it would have been to persuade the development-minded civic leaders of Fort Walton Beach that a large portion of their downtown area should be off limits to development? Preserved, rather, as an important historical site! Well, William and Yulee Lazarus did just that. And I’m here today benefiting from their efforts. An incredible story.

Lazarus Award Here’s a plaque commemorating Lazarus’s efforts by the State of Florida in 2000. Though I’ll bet he didn’t receive many civic awards locally during the early years of his efforts to save the Mound from destruction.

The first Mound-related museum opened in 1962, and Yulee Lazarus assumed its directorship in 1965 not long after her husband’s death. Serving until her retirement in 1985.

ClickToListen The Museum is small, if compared with Smithsonian counterparts. But it is full of interesting artifacts skillfully displayed. I asked Gail for a general description of the collection. Here is her response.

Paleolithic The collection extends from earliest Paleolithic items to Civil War-era artifacts. With items from Archaic, Woodland, and Mississippian in between.

Mississipian It is the Mississippian era that is of most interest to us at the moment, of course. Since the people of that era were the builders of these mounds.

Collection 1 This museum manages to display an enormous amount of material in quite a small space. And to do so within context. So that it makes sense even to non-archeologists with little background, like me.

ClickToListen I asked Gail Meyer just how many pieces the Museum displays, and the size of their overall collection. Her response was surprising.

Ware Vessel Speaking of the Museum’s “fancy or exotic pieces, here’s one of the most interesting. The Ware Human Effigy Vessel. Named for the couple who discovered it in 1971, J.C. and Inez Ware, it’s from the Weeden Island Culture, around 600 to 900 A.D.

Ware Vessel 2 Although broken into more than 60 pieces, possibly purposely as part of a ritual, the painstakingly reconstructed piece includes details such as hair style, jewelry, and overall appearance.

Buck Burial Urn But as remarkable as the Ware Human effigy is, it’s not the Museum’s most widely recognized piece. That honor goes to the Buck Burial Urn. Or, the Buck-Long Effigy Urn.

ClickToListen This piece is impressive by any standards. Here’s Gail Meyer’s description of its significance. Discovered in 1961, it too was shattered into more than 100 pieces. Archeologists are not sure just what this vessel was used for. It may have contained cremated human remains. It may have been a family heirloom, or symbol of authority. Or all of the above. Whatever it was, it’s an impressive piece of work!

While at the Museum I took over 100 photos. Most of which came out as I intended, since they were taken with our son’s Nikon DSLR camera. [Thanks for the loan of the camera, Andrew!]

Six-Sided Plates So I could go on and on here. But one more display requires mention before we end this post. That is the six-sided plates you see in the photo above. These plates are said to be specific to the Fort Walton Culture. Their use too is not yet, if ever, known. Ceremonial? Practical? Decorative? But at least 50 of them have been found in the Panhandle area. With several on display in the Museum.

That’s enough for now. Lots more information; lots more photos. So stay tuned for one more post on this remarkable facility.

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