Propelled by the Georgia Department of Transportation’s need to widen Highway 113, excavations were coordinated along the road near the Etowah River starting in November 2004. From 300 B.C. to A.D. 650, the Leake site was considered by archaeologists to be a vital ceremonial and economic center for societies residing across the Southeastern and Midwestern U.S.
On Thursday, the Bartow History Museum will open its “Pieces of the Past: Bartow’s Leake Site” temporary exhibit at 6 p.m., followed by a 7 p.m. presentation from archaeologist Scot Keith. Earlier in the day, the public also is invited to attend a dedication ceremony at 12:15 p.m. for the Leake Mounds Interpretive Trail. To be held at the intersection at Highway 113 and the Etowah River, west of Cartersville, the gathering will introduce attendees to the about 1-mile walking trail developed on Bartow County greenspace property, which also contains 18 information panels furnished by Georgia DOT.
“The exhibit will incorporate the various artifacts that were excavated in the most recent excavations, the ones that took place between 2004 and 2006,” said Trey Gaines, director of the BHM, 4 E. Church St., Cartersville. “So the things that were found during those digs included pottery, stone projectile points, animal bone, some quartz and other minerals, effigy pieces. ... There were a lot of really interesting pieces that were found. Unfortunately, from our standpoint, they’ve been in the ground so long that a lot of the pieces are not complete or full pieces.
“So, for example ... it’s pottery shards that were found. But they really reveal a lot about the society and the people that lived there and how they lived,” he said, adding the exhibit’s artifacts are on loan from the Antonio J. Waring Jr. Archaeological Laboratory at the University of West Georgia. “... Some materials were local but some weren’t. Some were found, for example, along the coast in other regions of the country. So it really shows how the people were interacting with people in other areas of the country.”
Through viewing the exhibit — on display through Feb. 28, 2014 — and participating in the other offerings related to the Leake site, Gaines hopes the community will gain a better understanding of this ancient society.
“The site is very significant,” he said. “Everyone’s heard of the Etowah Indian Mounds and the culture and people that lived around that area, which is also very significant. [But] I think it’s important for people that come out and see the exhibit or walk the trail to understand and appreciate that this site predates the Etowah mounds. This site extends back to 300 B.C. and people lived there for a thousand years, whereas the Etowah Indian Mounds date back to around A.D. 1000.
“... They’re different cultures and societies of people, but [they were] people that were here in this area living and interacting with others around the region. I would want people to come and appreciate and understand more about our ancient history, our ancient past, those that were here thousands of years ago and lived on the landscape that we call home now.”
Echoing Gaines’ comments, Keith hopes his presentation will provide the public a greater appreciation of the Leake site’s history and preservation.Currently the senior archaeologist at New South Associates in Stone Mountain, he served as the senior archaeologist at Southern Research Historic Preservation Consultants during the Leake site excavations. As the co-principal investigator, Keith oversaw the fieldwork and laboratory analysis, and penned a report on the Leake site’s archaeological investigation.
“There have been many excavations over the years at the site, but the one I was involved in occurred in two stages and were funded by two different agencies,” Keith said. “Southern Research Historic Preservation Consultants Inc. is the company that did the work. The primary and largest excavation was funded by the Georgia Department of Transportation and occurred from November 2004 through September 2005, and we returned for the smaller Bartow County Water Department excavation for the month of December 2006. In all, we excavated approximately 50,000 square feet of the site, although this barely scratches the surface of this massive site.
“... I cannot stress enough the sheer volume of artifacts, and other important data, that have been generated through the various excavations at the site. The Leake site was an intensively occupied location over nearly a millennium during the Woodland prehistoric period, and much of the remains relate to this occupation. The archaeological remains of Leake are substantial, including three mounds, a monumental semi-circular ditch enclosure, extensive midden deposits and thousands of cultural features from diverse activities at the site.”
Among the wealth of artifacts that were recovered from the Leake site, Keith said they were able to gain awareness about how the items were made, and the society’s religious practices and interactions with other regions.
“In terms of artifacts, I would say that several artifacts from the site do stand out from others. The human and animal effigies made of ceramic are important items that may provide insight into the religious practices of these people, such as the veneration of ancestors — the human effigies — and possibly the telling and recreation of religious stories,” Keith said. “... We [also] found items from faraway places — Ohio, Florida, northern Mississippi, Indiana — that would have been brought by visitors to the site that inform us of where they may have been or visited. A particular pottery type found at the site, Swift Creek Complicated Stamped, has unique decorations that can be used to track the movements of the makers throughout Georgia and even into surrounding states by virtue of matching identical designs at different sites across this area, thereby allowing us a glimpse into the interaction network of these peoples.
“We found a large amount of artifacts that appear to represent the waste products of making specialized craft items that were likely taken away from the site and placed in burials or traded. We identified a pattern of rotted postmolds — radiocarbon dated to circa 500 A.D. — that remain from a large square structure that may have been a type of council house. We found the remains of large ceremonial feasts. We identified a vast ditch very similar to the one at Etowah [Indian] Mounds that may have enclosed Mounds A and B on an island. In short, the type and amount of data recovered from this excavation is and will be used to address a variety of research issues at many levels of analysis, including at the local, regional and interregional scales for decades to come.”
For more information about Thursday’s Leake site programs, call the Bartow History Museum at 770-382-3818 or visit www.bartowhistorymuseum.org. To obtain further details on the Leake site excavation and archaeological investigation, visit www.bartowdig.com.