Kolomoki Mounds

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Kolomoki Mounds

Kolomoki Mounds are the next great accomplishment in the story of the ancient architects of Georgia. This site is believed to have been the most populous Native American community north of Mexico during its time period. The site consists of nine earthen mounds built between the years A.D. 350 and 750. The largest of the nine mounds is Mound A and it rises to a height of 57 feet. Its base is larger than a football field thus making it the mound with the largest land base in the state of Georgia. The mound takes the form of a truncated or flat-topped pyramid. Although today the mound is covered with grass and a few trees, it originally would have been swept clear of any vegetation and covered with different colored clays. The final capping layer was made from red clay. Years before this red capping layer was added the mound had been completely covered with white clay. These clay capping layers are so thick and hard that early archaeologists joked it would take an earthquake and dynamite to ever break through them.

The southern half of the summit of Mound A is elevated three feet higher than the northern half. No evidence of structures has been found on the summit of the mound thus it may have served solely as a ceremonial platform or stage for public rituals. It also could have served as a platform for astronomical observations since pottery from this time period suggests such observations were being made and accurate calendars were being produced.

It is also not certain how people reached the summit of the mound since no ramp led to the top. It is possible that steps were incorporated into the plaza-side of the mound's steep face but this has not been investigated.

In the center of the Kolomoki site is a conical mound rising to a height of 20 feet at its apex. Known as Mound D, this mound contained 77 burials and a cache of exquisite ceremonial pottery. In fact, it is the unique nature of these mortuary pottery vessels that the Kolomoki site has become noted. This cache consisted of effigy pottery in the shapes of various animals including deer, quail and owls.

The mound itself was constructed over a long period of time and consists of several stages. The first stage was a rectangular platform mound about six feet high created from yellow clay. A cache of 60 pottery vessels, including the aforementioned effigy pottery, was placed against the eastern side of this mound. Many burials later, the mound evolved into a circular platform mound about 10 feet high, still covered in yellow clay. After the final burial activity, the mound was completely covered with red clay and took its present form. These final burials were all placed in the east side of the mound with the skulls facing eastward. Burial objects made from copper and iron as well as pearl beads were included with these burials.
Between this mound and Mound A lay a central plaza of red clay. The people of the village most likely lived in houses surrounding this plaza. Their houses were of wattle-and-daub construction with thatched roofs made from local grasses.
At the far western end of the site is located a circular, dome shaped burial mound known as Mound E. The mound is about 11 feet high and constructed from soil and rocks with a final capping layer of red clay and rocks. Within it was found the graves of several people along with their grave goods. Some of these grave goods included a copper-covered wooden ornament and a mass of fifty-four complete pottery vessels. One individual was interred with a mass of shell beads and copper ear ornaments with pearls at their centers.
Another mound, Mound B, located at the southeastern end of the central plaza near Mound A, has perplexed archaeologists since its discovery. It seems to have been created solely to hold up very large posts. Some have suggested that these posts were the goal posts of an Indian ball game while others suggested they were possibly totem poles. A more likely explanation, though, comes from written observations during the historic era of Hitchiti Indian practices in this same region. Hitchiti (or lower Creek) towns were divided into "White (peace) Towns" and "Red (war) Towns." At every public assembly, each town would erect either a white "Peace Post" or red "War Post" at the southeast corner of their central plaza to indicate their present political orientation. Thus, it is likely that Kolomoki's "mysterious" mound reflects an earlier Woodland version of this same ritual or is a later addition by the Lamar culture.
Astronomical alignments have been noted for several mounds at the Kolomoki site. Mounds A, D, and E which form the central axis of the site also form an alignment with the sun at the spring equinox. Mounds F and D form an alignment with the sun at the summer solstice. Other mounds were thought to have been aligned in order to predict the arrival of these solar events.
As was noted previously during the Fort Mountain discussion, pottery manufactured during this time period seems to reflect a detailed knowledge of astronomical events. This pottery, called Weeden Island sacred pottery, includes designs that have been interpreted as being:

a solar calendar divided into twelve months including equinoxes and solstices

a star map of the night sky including constellations representations of the paths of Mercury and Venus in the eastern predawn sky

Around A.D. 550 something seems to have happened to the people who inhabited the Kolomoki site. The population decreased and there was also a decrease in mound construction. Interestingly, these changes were in line with what was happening around the world at the same time. A major disruption in the earth's climate seems to have occurred worldwide around the year A.D. 535 caused by the eruption of the Indonesian super-volcano Krakatoa. This was one of the largest volcanic eruptions of the past 50,000 years and it caused both droughts and severe floods worldwide and was accompanied by a global decrease in temperature. These natural disasters and climactic changes led to increased competition for dwindling food supplies which in turn led to increased warfare. In the southeast around this time a new weapon was developed: the bow and arrow.

Sometime around A.D. 675 the volcano Popocatepetl in central Mexico had one of its largest eruptions ever. The great Mexican city of Teotihuacan also went into decline around the same time. Teotihuacan was the most populous city in the New World and the sixth most populous in the entire world but by A.D. 750 both Teotihuacan and Kolomoki would be abandoned and their inhabitants would migrate to other areas. The great Teotihuacan would be burned by its own rioting inhabitants. They would also smash statues of their rain god perhaps for failing to deliver the much needed rain. Around the world a similar pattern occurred: established empires crumbled and new powers emerged. It is also interesting to note that the large mound at Kolomoki, Mound A, was at one point covered in white clay and then eventually capped with a final red clay layer. Had Kolomoki changed from a "white" peace town into a "red" war town before its decline?

The stage was now set for the arrival of a new people in Georgia who came from the west and brought with them new ideas. These people were the Mississippians.

Resources & Additional Reading:
Pluckhahn, Thomas J. Kolomoki: Settlement, Ceremony, and Status in the Deep South, A.D. 350 to 750. Tuscaloosa, AL: University of Alabama Press, 2003.

Pluckhahn, Thomas. "Kolomoki Mounds." New Georgia Encyclopedia. 2002.

Morgan, Willaim N. Pre-Columbian Architecture in Eastern North America. Gainesville, FL: University of Florida Press, 1999.

White, Max E. The Archaeology and History of the Georgia Native Tribes. Gainesville, FL: University of Florida Press, 2002.

Milner, Richard Sanders. "Apalachicola." Northwest Florida Place Names of Indian Origin. 1998. http://www.snyderweb.com/placenames/book03.htm

Keys, David. Catastrophe: A Quest for the Origins of the Modern World. New York: Ballantine Books, 1999.

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