During the late 1940s, construction was accelerating at a new dam on the Etowah River in the Allatoona Mountains, northwest of Atlanta. For over a century floods had devastated the lower Etowah River Valley, Rome, GA and the Coosa River Valley of Alabama. The Roosevelt Administration made political commitments in the 1930s that if congressmen in northwest Georgia and northeast Alabama would support his New Deal programs, a chain of dams would be built to curtail the flooding. The unexpected necessities of World War II delayed construction of the Allatoona dam until 1946.
This was one of the first U.S. Corps of Engineers projects in which Congress mandated a comprehensive archaeological study. Before World War II, archeologist Robert Wauchope had inventoried dozens of important Native American community sites, plus an abandoned Civil War boomtown and Civil War battlefield in the Etowah River Valley. There was evidence that the Upper Etowah Valley was at some time in the past, densely populated by Native Americans. The Corps of Engineers actually built a dam to protect the Allatoona Pass Battlefield and nearby railroad tracks.
University of Georgia archeology professor, Joseph R. Caldwell was selected to lead the investigative team. Caldwell had been an assistant to Robert Wauchope, just before World War II. Even at this time Wauchope and Caldwell had identified several distinct “Woodstock Style” ceramics. They were named after the rural village of Woodstock, GA. It is now a booming suburban city.
Caldwell’s team was to survey probable village sites along the Etowah River, Little River, Stamp Creek, Pumpkinvine Creek and Allatoona Creek.
The Woodstock Fort Site (9CK85)
The potsherds that Wauchope and Caldwell uncovered at several Native village sites around the Allatoona Basin were somewhat different than those at other sites in Georgia, but their age was unknown. They represented variations of Georgia’s long stamped pottery traditions. Radiocarbon dating would not be invented until 1949. At this time the archaeologists could only speculate about the relative chronology of various pottery styles.
As the Allatoona Reservoir was beginning to fill, Caldwell invited University of Georgia Anthropology Department head, Arthur Kelley, and the anthropology faculty to walk over an area on Proctor Bend where the Little River entered the Etowah. By chance, the group on a weekend afternoon outing discovered the defensive ditch of most important town site that was to be flooded by the reservoir. The full account of this site may be read on pp. 62-72 of Caldwell’s report.
The UGA Department of Anthropology began a frantic effort to unearth the town site before it was flooded. In addition to the ditch (or moat) archaeologists uncovered the footprints of two square and one towers along the timber walls of the palisade. The square towers were approximately 8 ft. by 8 ft. in plan.
Buildings: The archaeologists ran out of time before being able to excavate much of the portion of the village inside the palisades. Several rectangular structures near the palisades were revealed while it was being unearthed. There was no visible evidence of any mound, although some other unexcavated Woodstock sites do have small mounds. Small platform mounds could have been concealed by late 19th century flood deposits.
Most of the discovered buildings were of typical Totonac, Itza Maya or Creek post-ditch, pre-fabricated construction. The style of house was called a chiki in all three languages. In a chiki, single width sapling or river cane laths are formed on the ground, lifted up, set into a ditch, and then tied together with a compression band. A footing of clay was then poured into the ditch to create a foundation. The walls consisted of 6-12 inches of clay, packed around the lathing. The hearth was centered in the interior.
One of the structures at the Woodstock fort should have set off the “fire alarms” but didn’t. It contained a double line of very narrow saplings or canes in its walls. There was no clay wattle & daub in the wall. The outside of this type of wall was sheaved with bark shingles. In the winter, the interior was probably sheaved with either bear or bison hides.
What few Hopewell buildings that have been found in Ohio, were built this way. Some divisions of the Shawnee built their houses this way, but they were typically oval, not rectangular in plan. Without radiocarbon dating and a complete site plan of the fortified village, it was impossible for Caldwell to determine which buildings were oldest. However, if there was one Hopewell/Shawnee-style house, there were probably others. They would be easy to identify. Hopewell and many Shawnee houses had off-centered hearths. Caldwell’s report does not say where the hearth was. The double-sapling walled building may represent the legacy of Hopewell Culture or Shawnee villages that migrated southward after the collapse of the Hopewell culture.
Other Woodstock villages: Several other Woodstock Culture villages and hamlets were found in the area near Allatoona Reservoir. (See map 1) The “Woodstock People” were serious corn, beans and squash farmers, but they also grew indigenous crops. They did not built large plazas or public architecture like later corn farmers. Their villages seemed to be as old as or older than Cahokia, Illinois, which was then assumed to be the first place where Native Americans grew Indian corn and beans. At the time, though, there was no way to accurately determine chronology.
Since the discovery of the Woodstock Fort Village, many Woodstock village sites have been identified. They all were located in a region of northern Georgia that began on the Chattahoochee River in southeastern Cobb County (NW Metro Atlanta) northward to the North Carolina-Georgia line. More recently discovered Woodstock Culture sites fall into the period between 800 AD and 1000 AD.
Pottery similar or identical to that of the Woodstock Culture has been found as far north in the North Carolina Mountains as the Western Carolina University campus in Cullowhee. However, in North Carolina, it is labeled “Late Connestee” and “Proto-Cherokee.”
Over the decades since Wauchope and Caldwell came up with the label “Woodstock,” archaeologists have intermittently debated the Woodstock Culture. Were the Woodstock villages a manifestation of the Late Woodland Culture or part of the earliest Mississippian Culture? Almost all debates focus on the pottery styles and the relative importance of maize cultivation. Most recently, the general consensus has been that Woodstock villages represented a Transition Period between Swift Creek and Etowah cultures.
A note about grit and shell-tempered pottery
My initial education in Mesoamerican architecture and culture occurred three decades before I began studying Native American architecture. The fellowship included a prerequisite that I take university level courses in ceramic engineering, history of ceramic arts, ceramic sculpture and hand-made pottery prior to departure for Mexico. During the years that followed, I continued to make Mesoamerican and Southeastern style ceramics, first as a hobby, then as a professional sideline.
Eastern North American archeological studies typically attach significance to the appearance of shell or grit tempering in ceramics. There is a big difference between usages of silica based sand or limestone based sand. Seldom do archaeological studies note the difference. Shell tempering gives similar thermo-chemical results to limestone grit, but does not produce as strong a pottery vessel.
Even though they learned pottery making almost 1000 years after the indigenous people in Georgia, Mesoamerican commoners quickly learned that adding limestone grit or crushed shells to their pottery clay substantially reduced the minimum vitrification temperature and length of firing. Calcium carbonate (limestone, marble, shells) melts at 825 ? C. Use of grit derived from quartz, quartzite or granite significantly increases the temperature required to vitrify pottery. Silicon dioxide (quartz) melts at 1725 ? C. Granite melts at about 1250 ? C.
Wood was scarce in several parts of Mexico. In fact it was often rationed among the commoners. Limestone grit or shell tempered ceramics were most prevalent in regions where there was a shortage of fire wood.
The vast majority of pottery produced by the Mayas contained a limestone grit or shell tempered gray body with a polished, undecorated terracotta-red slip on the surface. This style is so endemic that it is typically ignored by archaeologists. There was little difference between Maya Commoner Plain Redware Ocmulgee (GA) Plain Redware or the Plain Redware found in the Track Rock (GA) terraces. The sudden appearance of a limestone grit or shell-tempered pottery in North America may be evidence of cultural influence from Mesoamerica.
Fast forward to the early 21st century . . . the Canton Super-Walmart Village
One of the great ironies of contemporary archaeology is that most sites are now being studied by professional archaeologists only just before they are to be destroyed by construction projects. This is known as the Section 106 Review Process. Most Section 106 archaeological studies occur at government owned or subsidized construction projects, not privately financed developments.
The Walmart Corporation was developing a Super Walmart and adjacent shopping center on the Etowah River in fast-growing Cherokee County, GA. This store is located in Canton, GA on the Etowah River. Credit must be given to the Walmart executives, because they stopped construction in order to retain an archaeological firm to investigate a known pioneer farmstead site on the far southern end of the tract. Although Section 106 Review is mandatory for publically funded projects, many private developers will do anything they can get away with to avoid delays by archaeological studies.
Dr. Paul Webb was the first archaeologist to be involved with the Canton Walmart site. After finishing the study of the farmstead, he dispatched a team to dig test post holes in other parts of the tract to see if there were any barns or outbuildings. To the shock of the archaeologists, they began finding very old Native American artifacts. Some artifacts were typical of those found downstream in the famous town known to the public as Etowah Mounds, others were Woodstock style ceramics.
Again Walmart showed great corporate responsibility. They were not legally required to go the extra mile to support extensive excavation and delay of the store’s construction. The company authorized the archaeologists to continue their work, which meant a loss of hundreds of thousands of dollars in retail sales, not to mention the professional fees paid the archaeological team.
The archaeologists worked feverishly to determine the size and nature of the Native American settlement. It turned out to be a large, round village that was almost identical to the round villages discovered fifty years earlier at nearby Lake Allatoona. It also had a timber palisade and artifacts associated with the cultivation and processing of Indian corn.
Reliable radiocarbon dating was now available. The village was constructed around 900 AD, but seems to only have lasted about 100 years. No mound was built. This village site was reoccupied by people from E-tula (Etowah Mounds.) There was no longer a timber palisade, when people making the new style of pottery lived there.
The thorough excavation of the Canton, GA Super-Walmart site answered many questions that had been puzzling archaeologists for fifty years. There is a string of Woodstock town sites on the Etowah River from Canton, northward to its source in the Blue Ridge Mountains, west of Dahlonega and near Amicalola Falls. The most southerly Woodstock Culture village was on the Chattahoochee River in Cobb County, about 10 miles south of the Etowah River, where an important trade route crossed the Chattahoochee.
Occupation of these Woodstock Culture villages ended at around 1000 AD, the same time that the Etowah Mounds and Track Rock Terraces were beginning development. The radiocarbon dates for the Track Rock terraces were obtained from only two test pits. Its actual start-up date may be older. No later Woodstock villages have been found in other regions.
Dr. Webb has agreed to donate the artifacts uncovered at the Canton Super-Walmart to the Funk Heritage Museum at Reinhardt University. Dr. Joseph Kitchens, Director of the museum, plans to have the artifacts curated at the Archaeological Laboratory at the University of Georgia, once he has sufficient funds. Approximately 50% of the necessary $50,000 has already been donated.
Dr. Kitchens hopes that in the future the Funk Heritage Museum will evolve into a facility that also educates the public on the extensive Native American occupation of the Etowah Valley. As the official museum in Georgia for Native American history, its exhibits currently present a general description of the state’s pre-European past.
The Ball Ground Town Site (9CK1)
Site 9CK1, is a Native American town site in Ball Ground, GA about 8 miles upstream on the Etowah River from the Canton Super-Walmart site. It was contemporary with both the Woodstock Fort site and the Canton Super-Walmart Site. The site’s occupation by the Woodstock Culture began around 800 AD and ended around 1000 AD. There was a second occupation between 1400 AD and 1600 AD that coincides with Upper Creek Province of Kvsa (Coosa) in northwest Georgia. It is called the “Brewster Phase” by archaeologists.
Archaeologists found footprints of a timber palisade around the 9CK1 site. The only thorough excavation of 9CK1 was limited to its extreme southern edge. Occupation of the main part of the town site may have continued while the southern end was abandoned.
A state historical marker on the highway near 9CK1 proudly announces that the Cherokees conquered all of Georgia in a battle fought at the 9CK1 site in 1755. In 2008 a team of Oklahoma history and law professors, including Dr. Joshua Piker, searched the colonial archives of Georgia and South Carolina. They could find no mention of this battle. What they did find was a series of letters back and forth from British officials in both colonies that bemoaned the string of catastrophic defeats suffered by the Cherokees in their 40 year long war with the Creeks.
About the same time as the research by Oklahoma professors, archaeologists who worked at the 9CK1 site stated publically that the newest radiocarbon date they found was 1610 AD. British maps showed almost all of northern Georgia to be part of the Creek Confederacy throughout the American Revolution.
The town of Ball Ground is on a plateau about a mile from the archaeological site. The site of the town was a large town during the period between 1000 AD and 1400 AD. One of the temple mounds in that town still stands on a block, immediately south of Downtown Ball Ground.
A mound on the northern end of the 9CK1 site was partially excavated by Robert Wauchope in 1939. More excavation on the northern end was carried out in 1949 by Lewis Larsen under the direction of Arthur Kelly. In 2003-2004 the site was surveyed by Southeastern Archaeological Services, Inc. In 2006-2007 the archeological staff of Edwards-Pittman Environmental, Inc. thoroughly excavated the southern tip of the town site for the Georgia Department of Transportation. This was done in advance of the widening of a highway and construction of a new bridge. Edwards-Pittman was also awarded a contract by the State of Georgia to prepare a “pre-history and history of the Etowah River Valley.”
The GDOT’s new commissioner was unfamiliar with Georgia’s Native American history. Both the GDOT administrator of the project and the lead archaeologist were newly arrived to Georgia. The three women confused the Muskogean town site, 9CK1, with a briefly occupied, late 18th century, Cherokee village. The Cherokee village was about a mile upstream at the confluence of the Etowah River and Long Swamp Creek.
Where the three women stepped way out of line was when the GDOT issued a national press release prior to any archaeological work being done, that stated that the archaeological excavation would prove that the Cherokees had lived in Georgia for 1000 years. This press release was edited by the Museum of the Cherokee Indian in North Carolina to state that archaeologists, working for the State of Georgia had proven that Cherokees had been in Georgia for 1000 years. This version was released to the media around the nation. The erroneous statement is now presented as fact to tourists visiting the North Carolina Reservation.
This non-fact was extrapolated in North Carolina to be proof that the Cherokees built Etowah Mounds. A delegation of North Carolina Cherokees then traveled to Etowah Mounds and demanded that all references to the Creek Indians be removed from the Etowah Mounds Museum. The state’s Parks and Historic Sites Division refused that request, but agreed to replace crafts and books in the museum shop created by Creek Indians with Cherokee crafts and Cherokee authored books. This promise was kept.
A semi-private foundation that helps support events at Etowah Mounds complied with the demand by changing the name of their planned fund-raising event from “A Traditional Creek Barbicoa” to “A Woodland Feast.” A seven member delegation of Muscogee-Creek Nation elected officials was uninvited to the event and replaced by middle level employees of the Eastern Band of Cherokees.
Since that time, a comprehensive DNA study of the North Carolina Cherokee Reservation by DNA Consultants, Inc. has determined that the North Carolina Cherokees represent a Middle Eastern population with only a trace of Native American heritage. They are most likely descendants of Muslim galley slaves, who escaped the Spanish and took refuge in the North Carolina Mountains during the 1600s. The GDOT’s Commissioner refused to retract the inaccurate press release. She was eventually fired for other causes. Neither the archeological report on the dig at 9CK1 nor the “History of the Etowah Valley” has been released to the public.
Who were these people? Where did they come from? Where did they go or did they go?
Contemporary Southeastern archeologists typically focus on pottery styles as an ethnic and chronological “litmus paper” for town sites. Invariably, the interpretations of the pottery are linked with the names of contemporary, federally-recognized tribes, none of whom existed until after the impact of a holocaust that wiped out at least 90% of the indigenous population.
As much information as possible is compiled by an archaeological team about the other inanimate objects, charcoal, skeletal remains, pollen deposits and detritus on the site. All this information is digested with a healthy dose of speculation to describe the community. The end result is an anonymous ethnic group is given the name of a pottery style, which as often as not, is a European proper noun such as “Woodstock” or “Brewster.”
Especially, at town sites that predate European contact, archaeologists can only speculate about the ethnicity of people who long ago created the evidence they are studying. They really don’t know what language they spoke. If no complete skeletal remains were found, the investigators cannot even be absolutely certain that these people were American Indians. The presumption is such, but there is always the possibility that another ethnic group was responsible.
Deep water: In the section of the Etowah River, between its confluences with the Amicalola and Little Rivers and where the largest Native American towns are concentrated, the water is exceptionally deep. However, both at the upper end and lower end of this section, waterfalls, shoals, large boulders and rapids would make travel by canoe almost impossible.
Although it only averages about 155 feet in width, depths can be up to 25 feet. Except after rains, the water is also exceptionally pure and clear. Although containing the purity of a typical Georgia Mountain river, the current is relatively slow. It would have been quite feasible for the largest of freight canoes to paddle up and down its channel. Did this deep channel of pure water function as a superhighway along which a little understood Native American culture began and thrived? Did the people who founded E-tula originally live in palisaded villages upstream, above the rapids?
Multiple languages: Early colonial archives suggest that multiple ethnic groups may have produce identical of similar styles of pottery in the Southeast. In 1564 and 1565, French trade representatives were dispatched from Fort Caroline to travel up the Altamaha and Oconee Rivers to the Georgia Mountains. They recorded dozens of ethnic names from several language groups. However, the archaeological record only shows variations of Lamar Culture ceramics in Georgia during the late 1500s.
A similar situation exists in South Carolina. In 1700 English explorer, John Lawson, paddled up the Santee River. The book he wrote about his journey stated that virtually every Indian village he encountered spoke a language that was unintelligible to the language of the previous village. However, the pottery of the Santee Basin in that era is all labeled the same style by archaeologists.
The significance of fortifications: In the six decades that followed Joseph Caldwell’s discovery of the Woodstock Fort, numerous fortified Native American towns have been discovered around the Southeast and Mississippi River Basin that had timber palisades. It was a typical feature of most Woodstock villages. However, no fortified town has been identified that predates the Woodstock villages. The earth berms around some Middle Woodland towns in the Mississippi Basin turned out to be ceremonial earthworks with gaping holes, not fortifications.
The sudden presence of fortified towns in the southern end of the Appalachian Mountains raises many questions that have not be answered. Were these fortifications built by invaders or by indigenous people seeing protection from invaders? The identity of the enemy that the walls were supposed to keep out has never been determined. Woodstock ceramic motifs are only slightly different than other contemporary ceramic motifs in Georgia and western North Carolina. There are not the stark differences in artistic traditions that clearly identify Mesoamerican ethnic groups.
Another puzzle is that the reoccupation of the Etowah Mounds site and Canton Super-Walmart site did not require fortifications. Public statements by archaeologists, who worked at site 9CK1 indicate that they did not find any structures dating between 1000 AD and 1400 AD. However, only that part of the town may have been abandoned during the intermediary period. It so, there were no fortifications. Fortifications were again built at Etowah Mounds during its c. 1250 AD to c. 1375 AD occupation. Again archaeologists have never been able to identify who the enemy was that these fortifications held out.
The Georgia Gold Belt: There is some important evidence that is never discussed by archaeologists. Joseph Caldwell was not aware that the culture he identified occupied a larger region than the Middle Etowah River Basin. However, it is now known that all of the Woodstock villages were located in the Georgia Gold Belt, where almost pure gold was once abundant. The greatest concentration of Woodstock Culture villages was near Dahlonega, the center of the Georgia Gold Rush in the early 1800s. The Etowah River begins near Dahlonega. Woodstock villages were spaced within walking distance of each other along the Etowah until it left the Gold Belt. A few other villages were built in the gold belt on the Little River, several creeks south of the Etowah River and finally on the Chattahoochee River.
When viewed from a regional perspective, the Woodstock villages would have provided protection for valuable mountain commodities such as gold, greenstone, rubies, diamonds, mica and crystals to be transported to either the Etowah River or the Chattahoochee River. Both rivers flow to the Gulf of Mexico, but the Chattahoochee’s route is the most direct.
It is now known that for centuries, Maya merchants, associated with the Maya city of Palenque, sailed up the Chattahoochee River to mine attapulgite. Attapulgite was the key ingredient in “Maya Blue” plus several other pigments used by the Mayas. The Woodstock Culture was a colonization effort by some ethnic group or political entity that had an intimate knowledge of northern Georgia’s geography and geology. However, the Woodstock villages were over 200 miles north of the attapulgite mines.
In 2011 archaeologists discovered that the city of Palenque was incinerated by a volcano around 800 AD. The earliest fortified Woodstock villages appeared in the Georgia Mountains around 800 AD. Could there be a connection?
There was a Woodstock Culture village in the Nottely River Valley, immediately south of Track Rock Terrace Complex. The village was in easy walking distance of Track Rock Gap. Around 1000 AD, the Woodstock Culture village was superseded by a people who built mounds and made the same style pottery as at Etowah Mounds. The Track Rock terraces were occupied by that time, too. Could there be a connection?
The unanswered questions about the Woodstock Culture strongly suggest that the Native American history of the Southern Highlands was far more complex than straight line evolution from one pottery style to another. There is extensive evidence that various ethnic groups moved in and out of the region . . . or at least gained and lost political dominance. Until the Upper Etowah River Basin’s many archaeological sites are thoroughly studied by archeologists, the answers may never come.
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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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