Day of Discovery presents archaeological finds at Etowah Indian Mounds
by Marie Nesmith
Jun 10, 2011 | 2190 views | 0 0 comments | 10 10 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Steve McCarty, interpretive park ranger for Etowah Indian Mounds, delivers a weapons and tool lecture to a group of students visiting the site. Etowah Indian Mounds Saturday will present Day of Discovery, featuring lectures by Adam King, a research associate professor with the South Carolina Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology. SKIP BUTLER/The Daily Tribune News
Steve McCarty, interpretive park ranger for Etowah Indian Mounds, delivers a weapons and tool lecture to a group of students visiting the site. Etowah Indian Mounds Saturday will present Day of Discovery, featuring lectures by Adam King, a research associate professor with the South Carolina Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology. SKIP BUTLER/The Daily Tribune News
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Electing for remote sensing techniques over trowels, Adam King has made significant archaeological discoveries at the Etowah Indian Mounds State Historic Site without breaking ground.

"We have been conducting remote sensing surveys at Etowah since 2005 and, to date, we have covered the entire site using one key instrument -- the gradiometer," said King, a research associate professor with the South Carolina Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology. "It measures small differences in magnetism and easily finds things like burned areas and holes dug and filled back in. Since that is most of what we find archaeologically as the remains of past behavior embedded into the earth, it is a valuable technique.

"I would like to survey the entire site with ground-penetrating radar (GPR) as well. It sends energy waves into the soil profile and reads their reflections as they are sent back by rocks and soils of different densities, textures and levels of moisture. It looks at the soil in a different way but is a very powerful way to find the remains of houses, mounds, pits, fireplaces, etc. The two different machines complement each other. They should find the same kinds of things but will see them in entirely different ways."

Based on their work, King and his archaeological team have 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 at 813 Indian Mounds Road in Cartersville features six earthen mounds, a village area, a plaza, borrow pits and a defensive ditch.

"There are some important benefits of these kinds of techniques -- called remote sensing," King said, referring to ground-penetrating radar, a gradiometer and a resistance meter. "For one thing, they don't destroy the archaeological record. Digging things up destroys that record. That is why we are so careful when we dig because we won't ever get that part of the site back again.

"These techniques also allow us to gather information over large areas continuously, so we can see a lot over a very large area. It would take years and millions and millions of dollars to dig up what we've exposed using the remote sensing at Etowah. Because these techniques can be tied directly to the ground using satellite-guided global positioning systems, if we want to dig some interesting thing we can get to it very easily, comparatively cheaply and with relatively little damage to the larger site. It makes our digging less destructive and more targeted."

On Saturday, King will be the featured speaker at the Etowah Indian Mounds' Day of Discovery at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. His addresses will range from sharing recent archaeological discoveries at the site to the meaning of symbols used by American Indians, like those residing at Etowah. Patrons also can tour the historic site during and between King's lectures.

The annual discussions tend to captivate those in attendance, said Steve McCarty, interpretive park ranger for Etowah Indian Mounds.

"When they talk to Adam, they're talking to someone who is an expert on Etowah, who has done extensive studies there, who has authored a book on Etowah," McCarty said. "[It is] a very accurate book, we feel. ... [So] it is a very, very informative lecture, very enlightening as to specific knowledge of Etowah, the type that you might not get in reading an article or book. It's much more specific and in depth."

While King has helped uncover numerous discoveries at Etowah Indian Mounds, two come to mind when speaking of his favorite finds.

"Back in 1994 I led a crew that uncovered the clay staircase on the ramp going up Mound A. We were doing some testing to help ensure that the new visitor access stairs to be built would cause minimal damage," King said. "The staircase was so well preserved and so large. It really brought the human factor to what I do. People built that staircase and it was made for grand processions up and down a grand mound.

"My other favorite discovery was of several small clusters of houses positioned around the site. We found them using the gradiometer and each consists of 10 [to] 12 houses grouped around a small plaza about 120 feet across. If we found something like this outside of Etowah we would call it a small village. It is interesting to think that at some point in its history Etowah was a community made up of a bunch of small communities."

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.