Booger Bottom . . . the oldest platform mound north of Mexico
This is another one of those archaeological sites that “slipped under the radar.” However, in this case, the sponsors of the dig were the Smithsonian Institute and the US Army Corps of Engineers. Their archaeologists did an excellent job for the time available. Somehow, the information they gleaned, “just got forgotten.”
Two types of mounds in the United States are unique to the Creek Motherland, oval mounds and pentagonal pyramids. The Booger Bottom Mound was a very large oval mound, covering over an acre. The fact that it was constructed when very few mounds were being built anywhere in the Americas, proves that it is indigenous architecture.
On the other hand, the pentagonal pyramid mound appeared first in the Chiapas Highlands of Mexico, Guatemala and Belize around 400 AD. The oldest pentagonal mound in the United States is in the Nacoochee Valley of Georgia and dates from around 650-800 AD. It is called the Kenimer Mound. Almost all of the pentagonal mounds in the Americas are either in the Chiapas Highlands or the State of Georgia.
In 1951, a team of archaeologists, hired by the Smithsonian Institute excavated a large, oval mound about a mile from the construction site of Buford Dam. The dam was going to be on the bottom of Lake Lanier and covered by about 180 feet of water. Buford Dam is about 34 miles northeast of Downtown Atlanta.
The Booger Bottom Mound was about 250 feet long, 200 feet wide and 7 feet tall in 1951. For the previous 130 years, it had been cultivated intensely and was also at least 2500 years old. Therefore, the original mound was at least 20 feet tall or taller.
The archeologists, who included the well respected Joseph Caldwell, were shocked for find Late Archaic and Early Woodland artifacts in the mound. The base of the mound even predated the arrival of ceramic technology in that region. The earliest known pottery in North America is from the Savannah River Basin and dates to 2400 BC.
They were also surprised by the lack of stratification. Most mounds in the Southeast contain multiple layers of different colors of soil, because the mounds were usually built incrementally over a period of many decades or even centuries.
Radiocarbon dating was invented in 1947 and was still being refined when this dig occurred. There is no mention of a radiocarbon date in Joseph Caldwell’s report on Bugger Bottom. However, he was able to estimate the age of the mound from the styles of pottery found within it.
The earliest phase of the mound had no pottery, but it appeared just to be a midden or garbage pile. The mound itself was built in two stages. The first state contained mostly Deptford potsherds. The Deptford Culture originated in present day Savannah, GA around 1000 BC. The ancestors of the Uchee were probably the original people, who developed Deptford ceramics in North America, but they were extremely similar to the Beaker Cordware of Bronze Age Ireland. Why they are so similar is an unanswered question.
Thus the first stage was probably erected in once construction project somewhere between 1000 and 800 BC. It might have been a century or two, earlier or later. That’s still older than any other known platform mound.
The second stage of the Booger Bottom Mound contains Kellogg Style ceramics in the lower levels and Cartersville Check Stamped ceramics in the upper levels. Both these pottery styles were first identified in the Etowah River Valley of Northwest Georgia in radiocarbon dated village sites. Thus, it can be stated with some certainty that the second stage of the Booger Bottom Mound was constructed between around 400 BC and 200 BC.
The team of Smithsonian archaeologists did not have time to study the village site because the mound was near the dam and the land clearance crews needed to get on site to maintain their schedule. My interpretation of the village is based on the experience of drawing the site plan for archaeologist, Arthur Kelly. It was the next oldest platform mound & village and dated from about 200 BC.
Archaeologist Joseph Caldwell was intrigued that the people in this town crafted the most precise check stamped pottery he had ever seen, but the never adopted other styles such as Swift Creek, when they came into vogue. It interpreted that to mean that the residents were culturally conservative after the community had matured. However, an alternative interpretation today would be that the levels of the mound, containing later styles of pottery were either washed away by floods or by erosion that accompanied intense plowing. The archaeological team did very little digging in the village site, so other styles might be there still . . . under the lake.
It is not known why the archaeology profession has generally forgotten the Booger Bottom Mound. Joseph Caldwell specifically stated in his report that it was the oldest known platform mound. He went on to have a very productive career. His credibility was certainly not an issue. This mound is almost never mentioned in professional papers and dissertations. Speculations are made about the chronology of when Southeastern Indians became sedentary, without considering the extreme age of this site and its location.
For those who are interested, you made read Joseph Caldwell’s report on Booger Bottom online at the JSTOR web site.
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Richard Thornton is a professional architect, city planner, author and museum exhibit designer-builder. He is today considered one of the nation’s leading experts on the Southeastern Indians. However, that was not always the case. While at Georgia Tech Richard was the first winner of the Barrett Fellowship, which enabled him to study Mesoamerican architecture and culture in Mexico under the auspices of the Institutio Nacional de Antropoligia e Historia. Dr. Roman Piňa-Chan, the famous archaeologist and director of the Museo Nacional de Antropologia, was his fellowship coordinator. For decades afterward, he lectured at universities and professional societies around the Southeast on Mesoamerican architecture, while knowing very little about his own Creek heritage. Then he was hired to carry out projects for the Muscogee-Creek Nation in Oklahoma. The rest is history.Richard is the Tribal Historic Preservation Officer for the KVWETV (Coweta) Creek Tribe and a member of the Perdido Bay Creek Tribe. In 2009 he was the architect for Oklahoma’s Trail of Tears Memorial at Council Oak Park in Tulsa. He is the president of the Apalache Foundation, which is sponsoring research into the advanced indigenous societies of the Lower Southeast.
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