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Photographs prove two major booboos in the Etowah Mounds Museum

Photographs prove two major booboos in the Etowah Mounds Museum

Unfortunately archaeologists today assume the booboos to be facts.

Etowah diorama2Visitors to the Etowah Mounds Museum are told that the famous Etowah marble statues were hastily buried in a pit on top of Mound C . . . probably as the town was being attacked by enemies.  As the statues were being lowered into the pit the female figure fell onto the male figure, breaking its arm.  Shortly thereafter, all of Etowah was burned and the town was abandoned.  A legion of professional papers, masters theses, doctoral dissertations and university published books have been premised on this story.  


The truth? . . . Etula (Etowah) was abandoned around 1375 AD then reoccupied a few years later, but that is absolutely the only fact in the statement.  The People of One Fire presents to its readers copies of the actual photos and text in Lewis Larson’s and Arthur Kelly’s report that they gave to me many years ago.

MoundC-2This is a photo of Mounds B and C taken just as the archaeological team was opening up a log walled structure at the base of Mound C.  Note that the two earliest structures were round!   They were adjacent to a rectangular fieldstone building, which the archaeologists inexplicably tore down in order to reach more artifacts below.  This is exactly what the famous archaeologists wrote next to the photo: “General view of excavations at Mound C, 1955 season. The photograph was taken from the apron of Mound A, looking south. Note the line of post-holes which surrounded an earlier, smaller mound.”   Next to the photos of statues when they were first discovered (below) they wrote:  “Etowah effigy figures as they appeared when first discovered in the remains of a log tomb.  The male statue had toppled over and was broken by falling roof timbers of the collapsed tomb.”

MoundC-3Later, in the text of the report,  Larson described the log structure in more detail.  “The log structure was possibly a temple at one time. It was about 10 feet by 10 feet in size . . . had a door and roof rafters.  “The statues were placed on a wooden table, which rotted, causing the statues to fall to the floor.  Later as the mound grew, the ceiling gave way and the dirt partially filled the space.  Three dismembered skeletons were found on the floor of the tomb.”  Unfortunately, no radiocarbon dating was done on the surviving fragments of the timbers.  We still do not know exactly when these statues were either carved or buried.

This may be the only evidence of human sacrifice ever found in the Creek Homeland.  Other burials consisted of formal arrangements of the deceased laying on their backs or appearing to have been buried sitting up, but pushed sideways by the weight of the earth above. 

Sixty years later, we now know that the Highland Apalache (proto-Creeks) mummified their leaders and put them on display in a seated position like all the stone and ceramic statues in the Etowah Valley.

Etowah Mounds was built and occupied in three phases, from 1000–1550 CE  (Wikipedia and all archaeological books) The town was permanently abandoned at that time and not re-occupied during the Colonial Period.  No European artifacts have been found there.

Horse Manure yet again . . . We quote Arthur Kelly from his report:  “In 1956 we completely uncovered the site of a “classic Lamar” house pattern at Etowah.  The house and all artifacts showed a striking resemblance to that found in the Lamar Village on the Ocmulgee River near Macon, Georgia.    W. H. Sears in 1953 excavated a house site immediately east of Mound B at Etowah, which was similar in construction to our 1956 house, but contained a slightly different array of pottery.  Sears also found historic trade objects on the floor.”


Foundation trenches of a Lamar House

Keep in mind that about 99% of the Etowah Mounds archaeological zone on both sides of the river has never been excavated.  So . . .  every archaeologist’s lecture I have attended on Etowah Mounds and every book published in the past 30 years decided to ignore the discovery by William Sears of Colonial Period trade items in a Creek style house at Etowah Mounds.  Why? 

Trade items do not show up much in towns within the interior until Charleston was founded in 1670.  Why did the generation of archaeologists now functioning as the “gatekeepers of knowledge” create a myth in the late 20th century that Etowah was abandoned in 1550 AD?

It could well be that many of the house footprints, which appeared on the 2007 ground radar study of Etowah Mounds date from the 1600s or early 1700s.  With so little of the area of the town excavated by archaeologists, there is no telling what is under the ground.


Archaeologist exposes corner of rectangular house

Arthur Kelly did not mention the footprints of large round houses on the plaza in the condensed report that he gave us Georgia Tech students.  However, his guided tour of the plaza was the most memorable experience in the day.  It was winter time.  He showed us circles of green grass over 30 feet in diameter on the plaza and explained that this was one way that archaeologists knew where to dig.  He said that he had dug some test holes in these circles and found artifacts that dated from the 1600s or maybe, early 1700s.  He wanted to return to Etowah and excavate the plaza.  Apparently, Dr. Kelly never obtained the funding to do that.  If he had, he would have discovered a six feet tall stone wall around it.  I would like to emphasize that the official date for Etowah’s start up is based on pottery styles.  There are some radiocarbon dates for the site now, but no wood particles were tested from the lowest levels of Mound C  and about 99% of the archaeological zone has never been excavated.

Why the misinformation about Etowah Mounds?

The public has many misperceptions about Etowah Mounds National Historic Landmark because museum exhibits do not provide an adequate description of the archaeological work there and the archaeological zone’s full size.  Also the exhibits do not explain that the most sophisticated art was taken away by archaeologists from the North. Most of the artifacts excavated from the archaeological zone since 1838 are somewhere else.

The state-sponsored excavations in 1953, 1955, 1956 and 1957 were carried out by competent archaeologists, but much has been learned since then, which would have affected their interpretations.  Very little radiocarbon dating was done at that time.  Much of what the public is told is “absolute facts” really are speculations and theories that have the stamp of approval by the gatekeepers . . . unfortunately some very important “facts” that have their stamp of approval have been easily proven to be fairytales.  As Lew Larson and Arthur Kelly told my Georgia Tech class so long ago, we really don’t know what surprises lurk under the 99% of the landscape that has never been unearthed.

In the 1880s there were 15 mounds within the core town site, which was on both sides of the river.  There were at least three burial mounds outside the core.  Five of the mounds on the south side of the river were partially excavated in 1885 by John P. Rogan.  They were bulldozed by their owners in the early 1950s so the State of Georgia would be discouraged from buying the owner’s properties.  A sixth mound on the south side was excavated by archaeologists and volunteers a few years ago.  It was found to actually be a chokopa or rotunda.

Etowah-statues-color-2By the time that archaeologists Lewis Larson and Arthur Kelly got their excavation teams on the site in 1955,  the forms of Mounds B and C had been changed.  Mound B had been partially excavated then rebuilt without knowing what the original mound looked like.  Mound C was near the level of the surrounding terrain.   In fact, archaeologist Warren K. Moorehead abandoned work on Mound C in 1926 because he thought there was nothing else left in the mound.  Most of the artifacts you see in the Etowah Mounds Museum were those located below where Moorehead assumed nothing else was left!   Of course,  one of the largest mounds in the United States, Etowah Mound A, has never been excavated.

Etowah Mounds National Historical Landmark desperately needs a staff archeologist, who is both extroverted and independent of these Georgia archaeologists, who are mainly interested in concealing their inadequacies.  Ideally, the staff at Etowah could form a working relationship with a progressive university anthropology department.  It would be a very exciting addition to this major tourist attraction to see archaeologists and volunteers at work . . . unraveling the past.


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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.



    I’ve often wondered how far outside the protected area that Etowah actually extended considering Desoto’s description of the size and estimate of the population. I had hoped over the years that the State of Georgia or even possibly the Creek nation could possibly start buying the land around it to preserve it for future generations. I also thought it would be great to put a world class museum across the road with a bridge to walk over to the village. Of course it makes sense that the village probably also extended across the road. Since I’m dreaming, it would be nice to have the same kind of funds that built the Booth Western Art Museum. That would then give Cartersville 3 great museums. I’d also like to see the stored bodies that are collecting dust on shelves at colleges in the Northeast and in Georgia, with a Creek ceremony, interred back into the mounds they came out of and relics returned to the museum. The on-site archaeologist would be a good start. You might even get old collections, even if out of context, that were looted from the site. One can dream, can’t they?

    • Hey Lon

      I have read and re-read the De Soto Chronicles and am pretty sure that the conquistadors never visited Etula (Etowah Mounds). Apparently, they followed Salacoa Creek to the Oostanaula and waited until the flood waters went down at Rome before crossing the water and continuing along the Coosa River. Without consulting Muskogean dictionaries, academicians have always assumed that Itaba was the same as Etula, but it is an entirely different word, meaning “border crossing.” Also, the description of the terrain at Itaba exactly matches Rome, GA, but is very different that around Cartersville. I agree with you that Cartersville needs and deserves a world class anthropological museum.


    If you read the history of Mobile written by the french, you will also find that they explicitly stated that Bottle Creek was still active at the time tbey founded Mobile. I fact, When Le Moyne ( or whoever it was –d’iberville?) Took the 5 clay idols from the site, his Mauvillan counterparts wondered why their gods didnt strike him dead.

    I am from Canoe, near Atmore. Part Choctaw and Creek. And am interested in my local area’s native history. I have seen on one older map that thefe was a group just west of the Florida Apalachees called ” chagoso”, and on another french map that they had ” creeks ” and ” muscogees ” as separate tribes!

    About my area : as i said, i am from Canoe, Alabama….but have family ties to Century and Jay , Fl. Growing up, dad took us to a place the locals called ” the mountain”, somewhere off Fannie Road east of Century in about the place where Big Esacmbia Creek and the Conecuh River form the Escambia River. Imagine my suprise when i go to look at old topo maps…..i find a place called ” Rocky Mound” right there!

    Our area needs to be explored more.

    • I believe you! The official archaeologist version says that it was abandoned much earlier, but we just ran an article about Etowah Mounds.


    Here is my main problem with Eutaw being Desotos Itaba. When the first settlers came to that part of georgia….they found gold whilst crossing those creeks. You think the spanish would have missed that?

    • Eutaw is near Columbus, GA. De Soto was never in the Georgia Gold Belt. His guides carefully steered around the Province of Apalache. The Apalache only allowed French Protestants and Jews to enter their province.


        Well, then. What is this ” itaba ” in nortwest georgia? Cant be Eutaw.

        • Itaba means “gate on a path” or “border crossing” in the Alabama language. The terrain described by the De Soto Chronicles for Itaba exactly matches Downtown Rome, GA where the Etowah and Oostanaula Rivers join. Originally, there was a large Native American town there with several mounds.


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