23 September 2011

Etowah Mounds, Georgia

Gimme That Old Time Religion, based on the Rogan Plates, 1995
The Etowah Mounds, near Cartersville, Georgia, was built between 800 and 1550 CE by ancestral members of the Muscogee Creek Confederacy (NPS). Situated near the Etowah River, the site housed several thousand people at its peak, around 1300 CE, making it one of the largest Middle Mississippian communities in the southeast (NPS). It is also the most intact of these sites (GDNR).

The entire site had seven mounds; six of which remain today (GDNR). The largest is Mound A, second Mound B, and third Mound C, all of which are platform mounds — that is, they have flat surfaces. Mound C, the burial mound, was the only mound to be excavated. The signage at the mound site today actually mentions NAGPRA and repatriation efforts.

This is the home of the famous Rogan Plates, a pair copper repoussé plates of a dancing bird-human, wielding a mace and a severed head, and dating from 1300 CE. They are easily some of the most famous of Mississippian artworks. Some believe these plates were manufactured at Cahokia, and similar plates with slight stylistic variations imply these plates were then copied by local Etowah artists.

Female and male marble effigy statues
Etowah also boasts a pair of painted marble statues, depicting a woman and a man—22 and 24 inches high respectively—thought to be carved between 1250 and 1375 CE. Carved in the round, these effigies shed light on clothing and hairstyles of Etowah society.

A large school group was picnicking at the museum when we arrived. The museum displays a wide range of artifacts, including the marble statues, copper plats, mica ornaments, pottery, bone and shell beads, stone pipes, and even woven cloth fragments.

Wattle-and-daub hut with a thatch roof
Outside are the remains of a defensive ditch that surrounded three sides of the community — the river runs along the fourth side. There's an impressive reconstruction of a wattle-and-daub hut, typical of the time. It was constructed in the traditional way with poles bent over each other to form the rectangular frame of the house, with green cane woven in and out of the poles and covered with clay daub to form the walls. These are capped with conical thatch roof.

Mound B, as viewed from Mound A
The grounds have a small garden and signage mentions that the museum is dedicated to eventually replacing the turf grass with native plants. Some plants have signage with Muscogee Creeks plant names. Mounds A and B have stairways leading up, and Mound A towers at 63-feet. The river is gorgeous, and nature walks leads out towards it, for those who brought bug spray.

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