When most of us think upon the original inhabitants of Georgia we think about the Cherokees, Creeks, the Chickasaws, and the Choctaw civilizations, but the archeological record points to civilizations that thrived before the tribes we are most familiar with. In fact, Native Americans have lived on Georgia soil for more than 12,000 years including the Hopewell and Adena cultures.
Ocmulgee isn’t just a name for a Georgia river, and it is much more than an Indian word meaning “where they sat down”. The word represents a prehistoric Indian town near what is today Macon, Georgia that represents the Mississippian culture or the Moundbuilders. The Mississippian culture receives its name from the fact that so many of its towns and villages were located through the Mississippi River Valley.
The Ocmulgee site contains at least seven mounds including the earth lodge I pictured above. These mounds were not built all at once but over several hundred years. Many of the Georgia settlements of the Mississippian culture were located in flood plains where the rich soil provided corn, beans, and squash. The technological advent of crop rotation helped to lead to a food surplus leaving natives to explore the establishment of permanent towns. Later a system of trade was established from village to village using various waterways to travel.
Art and religion also became more and more elaborate. Most towns were built around a ceremonial square or plaza surrounded by flat-topped mounds contained dwellings for priests and other officials. The more common citizens lived in earth lodges and your place in society was determined by how close your lodge was to the ceremonial plaza.
Prior to any European stepping foot on Georgia soil the Mississippian Culture began to decline and the remnants helped to give birth to those tribes Georgians are more familiar today
The National Park Service’s site for Ocmulgee is a great resource for learning on your own and there is a detailed history here at the Lost Worlds website.
Etowah Mounds, located in Cartersville, is also a great state park to visit to learn more about the Mississippian Culture. Park officials at Etowah Mounds boast having the most intact example of Mississippian culture. The park’s website is located here.