Monday, December 12, 2016

Etowah Indian Mounds

Etowah Indian Mounds are a 54-acre archaeological site in Bartow County, Georgia south of Cartersville, Georgia.  Built and occupied in three phases, from 1000–1550 CE, the prehistoric site is located on the north shore of the Etowah River.  It is the most intact Mississippian culture site in the Southeastern United States.

Mound A

Late 20th-century studies showed the mounds were built and occupied by prehistoric indigenous peoples of the South Appalachian Mississippian culture (a regional variation of the Mississippian culture) of eastern North America. They were ancestors of the historic Muskogean language-speaking Muscogee (Creek) people who later emerged in the area.  Etowah is a Muskogee word derived from italwa meaning "town".  The federally recognized Muscogee (Creek) Nation and Poarch Band of Creek Indians consider Etalwa to be their most important ancestral town.  From 1000–1550 CE, Etowah was occupied by a series of cycling chiefdoms over the course of five and a half centuries.

View from Mound A

Tykeon Wilkes used changes in ceramic styles across multiple sites in the Etowah River Valley to determine timelines for the region.  The ceramics found at Etowah and other regional sites have been reconstructed and allow Etowah to be placed into the following sequences.  The town was occupied in three distinct archaeological phases: ca. 1000–1200 CE, ca. 1250–1375 CE, and ca. 1375–1550 CE. It was at its peak roughly from 1325–1375 CE.

Etowah has three main platform mounds and three lesser mounds.  The Temple Mound, Mound A, is 63 feet  high, taller than a six-story building, and covers 3 acres at its base.  In 2005-2008 ground mapping with magnetometers revealed new information and data, showing that the site was much more complex than had previously been believed. The study team has identified a total of 140 buildings on the site.  In addition, Mound A was found to have had four major structures and a courtyard at the height of the community's power.  Mound B is 25 feet high; Mound C, which rises 10 feet, is the only one to have been completely excavated.  Magnetometers enabled archaeologists to determine the location of temples of log and thatch, which were originally built on top of the mounds.  Adjacent to the mounds is a raised ceremonial plaza, which was used for ceremonies, stickball and chunkey games, and as a bazaar for trade goods.

Mound B as seen from Mound A

Etowah River as seen from Mound B

Older pottery found on the site suggest that there was an earlier village (ca. 200 BCE–600 CE) associated with the Swift Creek culture.  This earlier Middle Woodland period occupation at Etowah may have been related to the major Swift Creek center of Leake Mounds, approximately two miles downstream (west) of Etowah.


War was commonplace; many archaeologists believe the people of Etowah battled for hegemony over the Alabama river basin with those of Moundville, a Mississippian site in present-day Alabama.  The town was protected by a sophisticated semicircular fortification system.  An outer band formed by nut tree orchards prevented enemy armies from shooting masses of flaming arrows into the town.  A 9 feet to 10 feet deep moat blocked direct contact by the enemy with the palisaded walls.  It also functioned as a drainage system during major floods, common for centuries, from this period and into the 20th century.  Workers formed the palisade by setting upright 12 feet high logs into a ditch approximately 12 inches on center and then back-filling around the timbers to form a levee.  Guard towers for archers were spaced approximately 80 feet apart.

Mound C as viewed from Mound A

The artifacts discovered in burials within the Etowah site indicate that its residents developed an artistically and technically advanced culture.  Numerous copper tools, weapons and ornamental copper plates accompanied the burials of members of Etowah's elite class.  Where proximity to copper protected the fibers from degeneration, archaeologists also found brightly colored cloth with ornate patterns.  These were the remnants of the clothing of social elites.  Numerous clay figurines and ten Mississippian stone statues have been found through the years in the vicinity of Etowah.  Many are paired statues, which portray a man sitting cross-legged and a woman kneeling.  The female figures wear wrap-around skirts and males are usually portrayed without visible clothing, although both usually have elaborate hairstyles.  The pair are thought to represent lineage ancestors.  The birdman, hand in eye, solar cross, and other symbols associated with the Southeastern Ceremonial Complex appear in many artifacts found at Etowah.

We have seen the rock weirbefore, but the river was up last week due to rain.

The Etowah River is a tributary of the Coosa and Alabama rivers, and forms the border between the southern edge of the Ridge and Valley Appalachians and the Piedmont Plateau.  Trade and tribute brought whelk shells from the Gulf of Mexico; copper, mica and flint from the Cumberland Plateau; and "galena, graphite, and an array of ochers to provide pigment for painting buildings, bodies, and works of art; greenstone and marble to furnish raw material for tools, weapons and ritual objects" from the Piedmont.  The loamy riverbed soil could be easily tilled with digging sticks and stone and shell hoes.  Its fertility was annually renewed by the river's floods.  Free of frost most of the year, the land yielded rich harvests of corn, beans, and squash.

There are walnut and hickory nut trees along the river.

Chestnut, walnut, hickory, and persimmon trees that grew in upland forests provided nuts and fruit for both the people of Etowah and the white-tailed deer, wild turkey, and smaller game they hunted.  Other plants that were gathered include stinging nettle, paper mulberry, and a native holly whose leaves and stems were brewed into the Black drink imbibed in ritual purification ceremonies.  River cane grew in dense thickets and was made into arrow shafts, thatching for roofs, splits for baskets, benches, and mats for walls and floors.

River shoals abounded in freshwater mussels and turtles.  The Mississippians built v-shaped rock weirs to pen and channel catfish, drum and gar, which they caught in rivercane baskets.  Researchers have found remains of more than 100 rock weirs along the Etowah River. One has been restored within the grounds of the historic site.

Archaeological research on the subject is not conclusive, but the Etowah site may be the same as a village of a similar name visited by Spanish conquistador Hernando de Soto in 1540. The chroniclers of the de Soto Expedition made no mention of any large mounds in their record of visiting a town named Itaba. Itaba means "boundary" or trail crossing in the Alabama language. The origin of the English name for the mounds, Etowah, is an archaic Muscogee place name, Etalwa. Etalwa probably referred to the solar cross symbol originally. In the modern Muskogee language it means "town."  Until studies of the late 20th century were publicized, most Georgians believed Etowah to have been built by the well-known historic Cherokee.  But, the Cherokee did not arrive in this part of Georgia until the late 18th century, two to seven centuries after the mounds' construction. Scholars have evaluated sufficient evidence to determine the mound complex was unquestionably built and occupied by peoples more closely related to the Muskogean-speaking Creeks.

Both the Muscogee (Creek) Nation and Poarch Band of Creek Indians consider Etalwa to be their most important ancestral town. Related to this, the official title of the Creek Nation's Principal Chief is Etalwa Mikko, from this source (the Creek word for chief is miko). A new, large-scale model of Etalwa is on permanent display in the rotunda of the Muskogee (Creek) Capitol in Okmulgee, Oklahoma.

All the materials found in the displays are from Mound C. The mound was excavated and all the items were remove. The current mound is a recreation.

Copy from Wikipedia. Photos by Jan Riser.

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