Thursday, June 03, 2010


Excerpts from an article by Johannes (Jannie) Loubser (Stratum Unlimited, LLC) and Douglas Frink (Worcester State College). From Early Georgia, Vol 38 (1), 2010. Thanks to Norman Muller for finding this.

Here is a picture from Norman of one of the piles.
"A complex of piled stone mounds and walls, labeled site 9UN367, is located on a mountain slope 500 m southeast of the well-known Track Rock Gap petroglyph boulder complex (9UN3) in Union County of far northern Georgia (Figure 1). Both the stone feature complex and the petroglyph boulder complex are on land administered by the United States of America Department of Agriculture Forest Service. During an initial mapping of site 9UN367, Carey Waldrip and Jack Wynn (then of the Forest Service) identified a Lower and an Upper Concentration of stone features, although terraced walls link the two concentrations (Figure 2). Even though some of the stone walls and stone piles at 9UN367 resemble known historic period agricultural field clearing and terracing activities (see thorough overviews in Gresham [1990] and Ledbetter et al. [2006]), other stone features have no obvious analog in the historic record...."

The authors then go on to discuss all aspects of the history of the area, of the Cherokee, of the actual excavations. Accounts of the stone piles predate European occupation of the area.

"...For example, in 1834, a Doctor Stevenson observed “large and extensive heaps of loose rocks” (White 1854:658) near the petroglyph boulders. Some 37 years later, a Matthew Stephenson (1871:200) mentioned “extensive piles of rocks” near the same petroglyph complex. An 1832 land lottery survey map of Indian land in what was then Cherokee County, Section 1, District 17 (Torrence 1832) shows the Choestoe Indian trail running through the narrow gap, between the petroglyph boulders and the stone feature complex. Today the asphalted Track Rock Gap Road runs more-or-less along the same alignment as the ancient Indian trail..."
I think each dot on this map represent a sparate stone pile or short wall, but it is not clearly labeled. The similarity to some of our New England sites is clear.

"Traditions relate the stone feature near Yahula Creek to a Cherokee stock trader named Yahula, who conversed with the Immortal spirit beings from his isolated stone-walled enclosure. In both stories, the stone walls were places where these seers could view and even interact with spirit beings. The observation that these locales are located near creek heads conforms to the Cherokee conception of “the streams that come down from the mountains are the trails by which we reach this underworld [of the spirit beings], and the springs at their heads are the doorways by which we enter it” (Mooney 1900:240)."

"Even if the locale did not mark a battle site in one form or another, Cherokees nonetheless viewed stone pile concentrations of this nature with respect and trepidation. In a sense, ethnohistorically documented stone features are associated with the world of the dead below the ground."

The authors excavated in and around one of the stone walls and excavated a single rock pile. They were careful to keep track of how the rocks were removed and were able to replace them afterwards. They did dating:
"the wall was constructed during the latter part of the Etowah cultural phase (dating to between 1100 and 800 BP in the tentative chronology outlined by Cable and Gard 2000)."

Since some of the stone piles may be newer than others the picture above may not show a pile which is quite that old but still...

What struck me as the most interesting was the rock pile excavation. Here was what gets me going:

"Whereas the slabs along the edge of the pile mostly face up towards the center of the pile, those slabs closer to the center tend to face down. The downward facing slabs closer to the center of the pile create the impression of collapse or disturbance."

In other words they found what I call a "hollow". And what do you think they found inside?

"Excavation of Feature 1 and Stone Pile 1 was terminated as soon as prehistoric ceramics and lithics were recovered from the feature fill. The shape and dark coloring of the central Feature 1, together with a ceramic pipe bowl fragment recovered from within, strongly suggested that the feature represented a prehistoric Native American Indian grave. In compliance with NAGPRA and Georgia State laws concerning cemeteries, all work was terminated and the Forest Service was notified..."

During various excavations they found prehistoric stone flakes and ceramics as well as 1930 era ceramics. People from different time periods had interacted with the piles. The authors postulated picnickers.

"From the available evidence it appears that Stone Wall 13 probably dates to the Early Mississippian period and Stone Pile 1 probably dates to the Middle Woodland or Late Woodland/Early Mississippian periods. The proposed dates for these stone features are significantly younger than the so called “Hopewellian Period” (200 B.C. – A.D. 400)..."

The article includes many details, tables, and references. They mention other excavated stone mounds from Georgia and there being a mixture of modern and ancient, some containing human remains, others nothing. All in all it sounds just like up here in New England with the notable and exceptional difference: up here (with a few exceptions) the archaeologists do not have their eyes open.


Geophile said...

"the streams that come down from the mountains are the trails by which we reach this underworld [of the spirit beings], and the springs at their heads are the doorways by which we enter it” !!

Great stuff. I hope no one reads the post and goes out digging, though.

Tim MacSweeney said...