Ocmulgee Mounds National Historic Park has been a place of human habitation for 12,000-17,000 years. The first peoples here alongside the Ocmulgee (oak-muhl -ghee) River near what is now Macon, Georgia, were Paleo-Indians – big game hunters just after the last ice age. A broken Clovis point arrowhead dating back at least 13,000 years, found in a fire pit during a major archeological excavation, tells us of that early occupation. Then as the earth warmed and the mammoths and mastodons went extinct, the humans adapted. They modified their hunting skills to take down deer and other smaller faster mammals using the atlatls and beginning to grow some of their own vegetables. In this era they would heat stones to drop into water vessels to cook food, the original stone soup! As the millennia passed these Woodlands peoples grew more adept at farming and developed amazing pottery skills. By the end of first millennium CE the Moundbuilders civilization was predominate here. The huge platform mounds, crafted by hauling soil one basketful at a time, still dominate the landscape. They served ceremonial and spiritual purposes. We learned much of this from Ranger Makayla on the Earth Lodge tour. As we walked the grounds with her we learned more about the Green Corn Ceremony that was practiced widely at the end of the growing season. The people feasted, then fasted and drank a strong Yaupon Holly tea to cleanse their bodies. All fires in the village were extinguished before a new ceremonial fire was built and used to light all the cooking fires and mark the beginning of a new year. Descendents of these Moundbuilders, the Muscogee (Creek), even now practice a New Fire Ceremony. We had the opportunity to humble ourselves by stooping to walk through the passage to the rebuilt Earth Lodge to see the original thousand year old floor with a Bird of Prey effigy opposite the entry, the original fire pit, and the fifty seats arranged in a circle. The lodge is oriented so that every February 22nd and October 22nd the rising sun shines straight through the entry and illuminates the Bird of Prey effigy and the Seat of the Chief. More recent human activity has caused destruction to these mounds. In 1843 and 1873 railroad construction removed a large portion of the Funeral Mound and much of the Lesser Temple Mound. Civil War trenches and earthworks as well as pot hunters and looters removed a lot of material but in the 1930’s the Smithsonian, the CCC ,and the WPA conducted the largest ever archeological dig under the supervision of archeologist Arthur Kelly. Thus began the protection of this recognized national historic site. We truly enjoyed walking the grounds, climbing to the top of the Great Funeral Mound, perusing the museum in the Visitors Center, and learning as much as we could in this our first visit.

The Visitors Center with orientation film and impressive museum spanning the ages of human habitation
The earliest inhabitants were Paleo-Indians who followed the big game and hunted with spears.
This broken weapon was discarded into a cooking fire at least 13,000 years ago as the family gathered to prepare a meal and tell tales of the hunt.
Pottery made here through the ages have ranged from simple to large and impressively decorated.
We find Ranger Talks always worth our while. Ranger Makayla did an excellent job of orienting us to four major eras of human habitation here.
The entry is low enough to require all who enter to stoop and to humble themselves as they make their way into this ceremonial and community meeting area.
The floor of the Earth Lodge was protected for a thousand years by the burnt remains of the lodge. It is thought that the burning of the structure may have been ceremonial.
Three seats upon the effigy were for the Chief, the head Warrior, and the Speaker.
Archeology is an ever expanding pool of knowledge. New evidence suggests the current reconstruction of the Earth Lodge may be inaccurate.
The Great Temple Mound is a most imposing structure and one of spiritual significance to the descendants of the Mississippian Mound Builders. When in use it may have been clad in brightly colored clay.
From atop Great Temple Mound we saw the Lesser Temple Mound, six feet of which was removed for railroad construction in 1873. The park road in the photo follows the railroad route to the Funeral Mound.
The modern view from Great Temple Mound, the center of the Mound Builders spiritual life, looks out over modern Macon, GA
Mississippian Mound Building culture was quite advanced with a city that was the spiritual center and political capital of the area and with a population that rivaled many European cities at the time.
All the mounds here at Ocmulgee and at all the Mound Builders sites in central and eastern North America were built one basketful of soil at a time.
Modern day Muscogee (their own name for themselves) or Creek (the European name for them) are descendants of those peoples who have inhabited these lands for so many millennia.
Since the arrival of Europeans not only has the Muscogee Nation experienced population decimation and removal to Oklahoma, but modern progress has destroyed portions of the record of their history.
The construction of the railroad provided modern convenience but destroyed some significant portions of the Lesser Temple Mound and of the Funeral Mound.
Thankfully the Smithsonian stepped in to excavate the Ocmulgee Old Fields in the early 1930’s. Two New Deal programs, the WPA and the CCC, provided much of the manpower. Archeologist Arthur Kelly and his workers uncovered a vast array of artifacts. Some are on display at the Visitors Center.

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2 Comments

  1. Ray Davis

    I’m so happy you got to see Ocmulgee and the great city of Macon. Hope you enjoyed H&H and possibly some Allman Brothers, Little Richard, or Otis Redding tunes while there!
    I’m thoroughly enjoying your travel log!

    Ray Davis
    Volunteering
    Congaree National Park

    Reply
    • Steve & Karen

      Had a fabulous and yummy time at H&H and we’re making a list of more things to do/see another time.

      Reply

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