The Ladd’s Mountain Observatory in the Etowah River Valley
It was a remarkable example of indigenous architecture that is virtually unknown among archaeologists in North America outside its immediate environs . . . a complex oval stone structure on a mountaintop overlooking a four mile long continuous conurbation of Native American towns and villages. In Europe or Latin America it would have been restored and promoted as a spectacular tourist attraction. In mid-20th century Georgia, it and a stone mound on a terrace beneath it were crushed into gravel to repave a nearby state highway. In the proposed path of this highway were three large mounds, almost 2,000 years old. They were used as fill dirt for the highway.
Keep in mind that all these structures had official state archaeological site numbers. A very frustrated archaeologist with the Smithsonian Institute did watch as the stone mound was dismantled by laborers and loaded on to dump trucks. He found a royal burial with copper and stone artifacts as the base. No one knows what happened to the skeleton or the artifacts.
Ladd’s Mountain is named after Alonzo J. Ladd. Ladd bought the Peck Lime Works outside of Cartersville in the early 1870’s. For several decades, it had been mining limestone from the mountains. His company, A. C. Ladd Lime Company, manufactured and traded lime, cement and plaster. An article in the Cartersville American newspaper on August 15, 1884, states that “there is no lime in the South so highly prized as the famous alabaster line manufactured by A. C. Ladd”.
During the previous century, several national famous archaeologists had poked around in the mysterious stone ruins on top of Ladd’s Mountain. They didn’t find any trophy artifacts. In fact, they didn’t even find any potsherds. At least on the surface, the ruins were just stones . . . architecture . . . nothing that one could put on a shelf in a museum or in the parlor of a wealthy donor.
The mid-20th century generation of archaeologists had become obsessed with potsherds and projectile points. They were trying to develop a chronology of the nation’s pre-European past. Stacks of stones didn’t seem very productive locations for developing a chronology. Not a whimper was heard from the historic preservation community or Southeastern archaeologists, when the state highway department decided to haul these stones down from the top of the mountain to crush them into gravel.
When was the Ladd’s Mountain Observatory built? No archaeologist has ever tried to find out. There are CIRCULAR concentric observatories in Peru, which date from around 1200 BC to 200 AD. I have yet to find an oval ceremonial space in Peru, however. In the last section of this article, we will present some circumstantial evidence that the Ladd’s Mountain Observatory predates any of the large Woodland Period towns in the Southeast.
Here is what we know about the Ladd’s Mountain Observatory. It was an astronomical and ceremonial structure on the southeastern peak of this mountain, which consisted of three concentric, oval, dolomite limestone rings. The long axis of the outside oval was 550 feet long, while the short axis was 500 feet long. There were six, non-symmetrical gaps in the outer wall, which were apparently aligned to the solar azimuth. The structure was tilted to align with the Winter Solstice Sunset, which is the beginning of the Maya New Year.
The computer image of the Ladd’s Mountain Observatory in this article is somewhat speculative. It is based on grainy photographs of the ruins of the observatory made in the early 1900s, which show an oval shaped structure with at least two concentric inner walls. Another problem is that there really have been no serious archaeological studies of Ladd’s Mountain as a whole. There bee more ruins of structures hidden under the soil or at least the footprints of buildings that had wooden frames.
The concentric stone walls were erected upon a man-made oval platform, created by stacked stone retaining walls of varying heights, filled with soils and stone rubble. There are also freestanding walls on the north slope of the mountain. These do not appear to be associated with agricultural terraces. They just start and end for not obvious functional purpose. Some walls even have 90 degree turns.
This was really very significant architecture. It is a tragic that it became gravel . . . which could have been easily obtained elsewhere.
The special significance of oval structures and plazas
The many peoples, who migrated to the Southeast through the ages, brought with them many architectural traditions, but also created a new tradition in the Early Woodland Period (1000 BC – 300 BC) . . . the oval mound and the oval plaza. This is surprising, but no archaeologists have ever realized how unique oval mounds and plazas are. Outside of the Creek Homeland, they were almost non-existent in the Americas.
Between 600 AD and 800 AD, the Puuc (Hill County) Mayas built some oval pyramids at Uxmal and Cobah, but in plan they looked more like medicine capsules. I do not know of any oval plazas or stone enclosures elsewhere in the Americas other than a few of the Taino bateys (central plazas also used as ball courts) in Puerto Rico . . . and they date no earlier than around 1200 AD. Most Taino bateys were rectangular.
The oval plaza at the Eastwood Village Site in the Nacoochee Valley (Georgia) seems to date from around 600-700 AD. It is significant that the Eastwood and Lumsden Village Sites in the Nacoochee Valley also contain oval houses.
In the Old World, oval plazas and temples were equally as rare. One Sumerian province built medicine capsule-shaped pyramid bases for temples, but did not build oval plazas. During the second century AD, Roman architects designed an oval plaza for the city of Jerash, now in Jordon. Its oval form was such a rarity that the plaza became known as an architectural wonder in the Roman world.
A benchmark for ancient surveyors
If the word Ladd’s Mountain sounds familiar . . . in August 2016, while analyzing the Singer-Moye Mounds in southeast Georgia with ERSI software, I discovered a mysterious alignment. There is a perfectly aligned, 293 mile long chain of important Proto-Creek town and ceremonial sites that stretches southward from the top of Ladds Mountain to the mouth of the Apalachicola River on the Gulf of Mexico. They include such famous sites as Kolomoki Mounds, Singer-Moye Mounds and the Chattahoochee Bend Mounds. The list of sites also includes stone circles on several mountains and large hills.
To read the 2016 POOF article on this alignment, go to Ladd’s Mountain – Apalachicola Delta Alignment .
Obviously, the ancient surveyors had to set their benchmark on Ladd’s Mountain before they began establishing villages and ceremonial sites in between there and the mouth of the Apalachicola River. Kolomoki Mounds, one of the oldest towns on the alignment was probably settled around 100 AD . . . perhaps earlier. This means that the top of Ladd’s Mountain became a surveyors benchmark and sacred site at least that far back in time.
If we only had a time machine!
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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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