"It is funny because the general public tends to focus on the really cool stuff that archaeologists sometimes find -- artifacts, great pieces of artwork, really old things," said King, a research associate professor with the University of South Carolina. "The two things I've discovered at Etowah that I think are the coolest aren't artifacts. They are things the Native Americans built. One of these was ... revealed by the gradiometer data. Based on excavations in the region, most villages from this time period, A.D. 1000 [to] 1600, were made up of clusters of houses arranged around little courtyards. These were family compounds made up of three or four buildings around a small area 50 feet on a side. In any village there might be dozens or more of these courtyard groups representing the many families that lived in the community.
"The gradiometer data from Etowah shows that at least during some part of the time Etowah was a community, the arrangement of houses was different. What we see are larger groupings of houses, maybe 20 or more, arranged around a larger open area some 150 to 200 feet across. These look like small communities within the larger community of Etowah, as if the site was a series of neighborhoods clustered together. That may not sound that exciting, but it is. [It] tells us that Etowah was somewhat different, at least at certain times, as a community. It may mean that people from different areas, maybe from northern Georgia and maybe from father away, settled and lived together at Etowah. It reinforces the fact that Etowah was a special place."
On Saturday, King will be one of the speakers at the Etowah Indian Mounds' Day of Discovery, sharing recent archaeological discoveries at the site at 1 and 2:30 p.m. Patrons also can tour the Etowah Indian Mounds during the event from 1 to 4 p.m.
The annual lectures tend to captivate those in attendance, including the site's staff, said Steve McCarty, interpretive park ranger for Etowah Indian Mounds.
"They're very informative. If you have the slightest interest in history or archaeology or the site itself, you would enjoy [it] and there may be some new information this year," McCarty said. "Again, we're not privy to what they will speak about or how much they will release, but there may well be some new information this year."
In the past five years, the archaeological team has completed an Etowah Archaeo-geophysical Survey of the 54-acre property to gain insight into how thousands of American Indians lived from A.D. 1000 to A.D. 1550. Regarded as the most intact Mississippian Culture site in the Southeast, Etowah Indian Mounds, 813 Indian Mounds Road S.W., Cartersville, features six earthen mounds, a village area, a plaza, borrow pits and a defensive ditch.
"We have called it the Etowah Archaeo-geophysical Survey because we are using geophysical prospecting or remote sensing techniques to explore the site," said King, adding that ground-penetrating radar can detect traces of previous fire hearths or house posts by releasing energy waves more than 60 feet below the surface. "These techniques look at deposits beneath the ground without digging, using physical principles like magnetism, the conduction and resistance to the flow of an electrical current and the traveling of energy waves. The group includes me and graduate students from the University of South Carolina, Kent Reilly and students from Texas State University at San Marcos, Chester P. Walker of Archaeo-Geophysical Associates in Austin, Texas, and members of the Cultural Preservation Office of the Muscogee Nation of Oklahoma. It has been funded principally by the Lannan Foundation of Santa Fe, N.M.
"The goal of our project is to learn as much about Etowah using methods that cause the least destruction to the site. Archaeology is the traditional way we have learned about places like Etowah, but in the process of digging we actually do destroy what we dig up. So we are trying to learn as much as possible while doing as little digging as possible. This approach is important to Native Americans who see Etowah as sacred ground."
For McCarty, one of the most intriguing things the archaeological group has discovered are the remnants of buildings that were constructed on top of other burned structures on Mound A, where the priest chief resided.
"When I say 'remnants,' I mean the floor area shows up," McCarty said. "These ground-penetrating radar, magnetometers and things like that, they show where the floor was on each level and it goes down several feet. So they get readings on each level there and they can see the floor plan basically of the structure that was there. On some levels there's more than one structure. It's actually three or four structures.
"That's the way that the mounds are built, layer by layer. It's a layering effect. When you have the chief [die], he's taken to the burial mound. Then the structure, the house that he lived in, is burned. Then you add another layer of dirt just a few feet thick, 2 [or] 3 feet. Then once that's completed, you have another series of structures when the new chief moves in."
For more information about the Day of Discovery at the Etowah Indian Mounds, call 770-387-3747. Admission will be $5 for adults, $4.50 for senior adults and $3.50 for youths.