Thursday, January 17, 2013

Georgia's Kolomoki Mounds State Park

My imagination has always been fired by thoughts of native American cultures before the advent of the Europeans. When I learned that Kolomoki Mounds was one of Georgia's largest prehistoric mound complexes, and that the state park was just a little over an hour south of Providence Canyon, I included it in my itinerary for the Florida trip. The park, like Providence Canyon, is easily accessible from US 27. A good map or GPS is advisable, as once you turn off US  27 just north of Blakely, the road snakes through a small town and farmland on the way to the park. I approached from the east, driving past Mounds A (or the Great Temple Mound) and D to the Visitor's Center.

Sign at Visitor's Center
Just as the sign says, the Visitor's Center incorporates a museum and an excavated portion of Mound E. The smell of earth was strong as I walked along the wooden walkways and sat on the bleachers to watch an informational film about the complex, the excavation process, and the burial it revealed. The scene below, left just as it was found by the excavators, other than the plastic copies of the bones, had a profound impact on me. More than a thousand years ago an important chief, seen in the lower left, died naturally, but the skeleton in the upper right was of a wife who was probably strangled and buried here so that the chief would not be alone in the afterlife. Do you suppose that was in the pre-nup?

The film explained that the mounds were constructed with clay that was carried to the sites by baskets. This burial mound (E) was dome shaped, about 11 feet high and constructed from soil and rocks with a final capping layer of red clay and rocks. Fifty-four complete pottery vessels were found by the excavators. Mound D, not displayed, contained 77 burials and a cache of ceremonial pottery, pieces of which are on display in the museum. Unique to Kolomoki is the effigy pottery in the shapes of various animals including deer, quail and owls. 

Mound A, or the Great Temple Mound
 The largest of Kolomoki’s nine mounds is Mound A, or the Great Temple Mound, which rises to a height of 57 feet. With a base larger than a football field, it has the distinction of being the Indian mound with the largest land base in Georgia. It originally would have been swept clear of any vegetation and covered with different colored clays. The final capping layer was made from red clay, although years before it was completely covered with white clay. Since there is no evidence of structures on its top, theories state that it may have served solely as a ceremonial platform or stage for public rituals. 

Interesting to me, since my husband is an amateur astronomer, is the idea that it may have served as a platform for astronomical observations, since pottery from this time period suggests such observations were being made and that accurate calendars were being produced. Astronomical alignments have been noted for several mounds at the Kolomoki site. Mounds A, D, and E which form the central axis of the site form an alignment with the sun at the spring equinox. Mounds F and D form an alignment with the sun at the summer solstice. Other mounds were thought to have been aligned in order to predict the arrival of these solar events.*

Although it looked daunting, I climbed up the stairs seen in the photo. By hanging onto the railing and not looking up, I was soon at the top, rewarded with this view. 

View the the west , including Mound D, from the top of Mound A
I was intrigued to learn that Kolomoki is one of the  native American sites that was abandoned well before the Europeans arrived. Without written records, the reason for this can only be a matter for speculation, but interesting ideas are presented in the reference material cited at the end of this post. I shot one more photo as I left the park, with my mind full of what I had seen and wishing that I could go back in time to observe this "highly complex culture that was rich in art, craft and tradition".

View of Mounds A and D from the road

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