As the Mississippian Culture came to an end one of its last great cities was here near the juncture of the Etowah River and Pumpkinvine Creek at what today is called the Etowah Indian Mounds State Park. The 54-acre site includes 7 mounds, borrow pits, plaza, portions of the original village and a museum.
The Mississippian culture arrived at the Etowah Indian Mounds site about 950 AD. Moundbuilder chiefdoms probably moved east from the Mississippi and featured advanced agricultural techniques, a form of lineal government (the rulers belonged to the same family), religion, and commerce. The village at Etowah established relations with nearby Woodland Indians as well as Mound Builders from Ocmulgee.
As the civilizations further south and west encountered problems the Etowah site flourished. Artwork on pottery (both commercial and ceremonial ) showed incredible attention to detail with patterns becoming more elaborate. Satellite villages became smaller and more numerous and apparently began to construct defensive perimeters.
Headwaters near Dahlonega, Georgia, flows west southwest for 140 miles to Rome, Georgia where it forms the Coosa River when it joins the Oostanaula River
By the time Hernando deSoto arrived in 1540 archaeologists generally agree that the Mississippian culture was in decline in general and the Etowah Mounds site was abandoned. Control may have passed to a Mound Builder city northeast of Etowah Mounds near present-day Carters, Georgia.
First mention of the Indian mounds at Etowah was in a journal by Elias Cornelius, a Congregationalist minister who visited the Cherokee village of Hightower in 1817. Cornelius wrote
Such is the mound of High Tower a greater wonder I have not yet seen perhaps rendered more so by the obscurity in which every vestige of its history is lost That the Indians of the present race never constructed it is to my mind rendered certain for they have never had or known the use of those instruments which are indispensable in executing such a work And if they had possessed them they must have been far more enter prizing and industrious than their descendants now are to have accomplished...
Settlers understood the Creek Indians and later the Cherokee Indians called this site "Hightower," possibly for Itawa or Italwa (city?). The name Etowah may also be a corruption of this word. A Cherokee village took its name from these mounds. The "Hightower" Road was used to transport the saltpeter from the area of present-day Kingston, Georgia (History of Kingston, Georgia) to Savannah after 1808 and it ran by this ancient Mississippian Moundbuilder city.
During the 1870's Clarence C. Jones led an excavation of Mound C. His published conclusions were a landmark change in how the Mound Builders were viewed, although increased knowledge has disproved some of his conclusions. The floodwaters of 1886 exposed enough bones, stone, pottery and brass that Cyrus Thomas sent an investigator from the Smithsonian. In the 1925 Warren King Morehead of Phillips Academy excavated a portion of the Tumlin Indian Mounds, the name commonly applied to the area at the time.
A book published by the Works Progress Administration in 1938 featured directions on getting to the mounds, advising readers to stop at the Tumlin residence (a yellow house at the time) and ask permission before entering the mound area.
The area was purchased by the state of Georgia in 1953 for $30,000. Henry Tumlin was superintendent of the Etowah Indian Mounds from 1953 until 1981. His interest in preserving the mounds continues to this day; he donated additional land to be included in the park in 1994 and 1995. In 2000, the park was named as one of the most threatened in the nation.
Recent discoveries have been changing the way the Mound Builder culture is viewed. Originally, they were seen as a homogeneous (uniform or single) group. As archaeologists began to understand this vast inland empire, they realized a number of distinct cultures comprised the group that today we call Moundbuilders.
(14,000?) - 8000 BC
8000 - 1000 BC
1000BC - 1000AD
(800?) 900 - 1550
900 - 1150
1150 - 1350
The concept of a Mississippian culture is a recent addition to the science of archeology. In fact, as more is becoming known about all aboriginal cultures the timeframe of the cultures is being changed dramatically. The Etowah Indian Mounds were in use by 950AD and Etowah may have been the largest Mound Builder city at the end of the Middle Mississippian period.
The central, or temple, mound dominates the three larger mounds near the plaza and is commonly referred to as Mound A. No excavation of the mound has been done or is anticipated because temple mounds rarely yield important finds. A series of steps created with logs and clay led from a ceremonial plaza to the top of the mound in roughly the same place that the stairs are today. Although most literature lists the height of Mound A as 63 feet, we measured it with our GPS and found it to be slightly more than 61 feet in height. When you reach the top, turn around and face the steps. In front of you is the plaza. To the left and behind the plaza are four additional mounds, perhaps for the homes of high-ranking people.
The mound is the tallest structure in the area and the view of the Etowah River Valley is impressive. The top covers about an acre of land. Two other large mounds, called Mound B and Mound C are nearby. Mound B is another temple mound while Mound C is a burial mound. Of the three major mounds, only Mound C has been fully excavated and restored, although not in its original location.