January 27, 2012

More Mounds

The native peoples of North America built earth mounds over a period of thousands of years, and these mounds can be seen today in a number of places throughout the Southeast and Midwest.  Tim and I visited mounds in Florida earlier this month, and Jane and I stopped at the Hopewell mounds in Ohio during the first part of this trip.  Today, Tim and I made our way to Macon, Georgia, and the mounds at Ocmulgee.  

Ocmulgee National Monument preserves a continuous record of human activity in the Southeast from ancient times to the present day.  The Mississippian culture arrived here around 900 BCE (Before Current Era) and constructed a series of mounds near the river.  These mounds were important places in the religion and politics of the Mississippians, and the mounds evolved to their full height over the years.  Various types of mounds are found here, including temple mounds, funeral mounds and a cornfield mound.

Great and Lesser Temple Mounds Were Originally Topped by Rectangular Structures
For me, the most fascinating aspect of the site was the earthlodge, a ceremonial meeting place for the town’s religious and political leaders.  The earthlodge here is one of the oldest, largest and best-preserved Native American ceremonial lodges in North America. Although the existing structure is a reconstruction, the clay floor is original and is approximately a thousand years old.  Being able to actually walk inside the lodge and gaze at a millennium of history was an incredible experience.

Entrance to the Earthlodge
Interior of the Earthlodge with Its Thousand Year Old Clay Floor
(Note the Bird Shape on the Floor at the Center Rear)
Sadly, a large section of the site, including a portion of the funeral mound, was destroyed by a railroad cut in the 1870s.  The railroad also split the site in two parts, separating the area around the earthlodge from the mounds along the river.  The mounds were finally preserved in the 1930s, and the archeological excavation that followed was the largest of its scope in the country.

The visitor center at Ocmulgee National Monument is a wonderful example of Art Moderne style architecture and houses a wonderful archeological museum.  Incredible examples of pottery, effigies and other artifacts are on display.

Visitor Center and Museum
Ceremonial Headdress
Gorget Made of Shell
Copper Sun Disks

Of all the mounds we have visited, this was by far my favorite.  We came here almost by accident, and I’m so glad that we decided to make this detour on our way north.

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