Etowah Indian Mounds presents Day of Discovery
by Marie Nesmith
May 30, 2012 | 1761 views | 0 0 comments | 12 12 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Chris Thornock lays in grid points as part of the underground research being conducted in 2008 by archaeologists at the Etowah Indian Mounds.
SKIP BUTLER/The Daily Tribune News, File
Chris Thornock lays in grid points as part of the underground research being conducted in 2008 by archaeologists at the Etowah Indian Mounds. SKIP BUTLER/The Daily Tribune News, File
While less than 10 percent of the Etowah Indian Mounds State Historic Site has been excavated, Adam King and his archaeological teams have surveyed the whole site without breaking ground. By using remote sensing techniques instead of trowels, King -- the research associate professor with the South Carolina Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology -- has detected significant elements in soil profiles, such as remnants of homes or fireplaces.

"I think we started doing the remote sensing surveys in 2005 and at this point we have surveyed the entire site using what is called a gradiometer," King said in an email. "It measures slight differences in magnetism across the site and is great for finding burned earth and disturbed areas like holes that have been filled back in. One of the things I am trying to do is understand how the site changed through its 500-year occupation.

"The remote sensing lets us see a huge area without digging, but it compresses that stacked history into a single plane. I know what we see in the gradiometer data is much more complicated under the ground. Ground penetrating radar (GPR), which sends sound waves through the soil profile, actually gives you data by depth so you can see that some houses and pits and other features are deeper than others. I would also like to survey the whole site using GPR to try to understand how the site might have looked during different periods of its occupation."

Starting in the mid-2000s, King and his archaeological teams have conducted 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 at 813 Indian Mounds Road in Cartersville features six earthen mounds, a village area, a plaza, borrow pits and a defensive ditch.

"This sounds like a pat answer that archaeologists always give, but every time I learn something new about the site it is fun," King said. "So much has been excavated at the site already, going back to the 1880s, that there is always something new to learn. Probably the coolest thing I've found personally at the site is the staircase that was built on the face of Mound A's ramp.

"We suspected it might be there, but to find it and it expose it was really exciting. That came from excavations sponsored by the state of Georgia in 1994 when they were preparing to put some new steps on Mounds A and B. We wanted to see what was there before new stairs were designed so that they could be installed without damaging the important deposits beneath them. We found something incredible and we got to help preserve the site while facilitating visits too."

On Saturday, King will be the featured speaker at the Etowah Indian Mounds' Day of Discovery at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. His addresses will range from sharing about the site's history and archaeological discoveries to the meaning of symbols used by Etowah Indian Mound's former inhabitants. Patrons also can tour the historic site during and between King's lectures.

"He will be speaking on information derived from the study of the site," said Steve McCarty, interpretive park ranger for Etowah Indian Mounds. "What he will present this time, along with his associates, will be a more in-depth analysis of this information. It will be more in depth, more complex in a way but also much more simplified and easier to understand. It will broaden the history of what we know about Etowah and it will reinforce some of the things that we already knew.

"Some of Adam's studies and information derived from his studies reinforce earlier studies from previous archaeologists over many, many years. It clarifies some information. It makes it much easier for us to give a tour, to answer questions. ... One thing that he found was an area that we commonly refer to as the plaza area, which is in front of Mound A, the large mound. He found that that area was as we described it and in addition did have a rock wall around it to help hold it together, to prevent erosion. And that is still there underneath the ground, the river silt that has accumulated from the floods over many, many, many years. But that is still there underground."

For more information about the Day of Discovery, call 770-387-3747. Admission will be $5 for adults, $4.50 for senior adults and $3.50 for youth.