A few moons ago, while in college and studying archaeology, a fellow student and I would drive an hour north of Atlanta, outside the town of Cartersville. Here we would enter into the plowed fields of the surrounding farmland and search for artifacts. Termed pot hunters by some, we would find beaucoup chipped stone and the remnants of mortars and pestles. The fact that we were within a stones throw of the Etowah Indian Mounds, probably didn't hurt our chances at all. We would do our best to record the provenience of said artifacts so the archaeological record might be preserved, but a daunting task it was.
The Etowah Mounds consist of three huge earthen mounds of the type found throughout the Mississippi Valley, such as those at Moundville (near Tuscaloosa, Alabama) and at Cahokia (near Collinsville, Illinois). Partially excavated and studied by professional archaeologists for decades, the flat-topped knolls were Radiocarbon dated to have been used between 1000 and 1500 A.D., or just before European contact. The mounds were used as a platform for the home of the priest/chief, temples and mortuary houses.
Archaeologists believe the name "Etowah" to be a corruption of the Indian word "itawa," the significance of which is not known. What is known, due to the artifacts left behind, is that the mounds and the surrounding village symbolized a society rich in culture and ritual. By comparison with similiar sites, it is ascertained that Etowah was the center of political and religious life in the valley, and was home to the chiefs who directed the growth, storage and distribution of food. At its peak, several thousand Native Americans may have lived in the fortified town. One side bordered the Etowah river, and the other sides were surrounded by a wood post palisade and a deep ditch. Together they formed a defensive boundary around the 54-acre village area of Etowah.
The central village was arranged compactly around the mounds, with houses of post framework and clay plastered walls with thatch or cane mat roofs. A ramp with packed clay led to the mound tops where temples or residences stood. The tallest mound is 63 feet high and covers three acres at its base. The second tallest is 23 feet in height while the burial mound is 19 feet in height. There are three smaller mounds that according to excavations were 6 to 8 feet high with a waddle-and -daub type structure on the summit.
The Etowah settlement is considered to be a Mississipian site which had contact with other Indian communities in the Southeast. Marine shells from Florida, flint from Tennessee, copper from North Georgia and pottery made near the Mississippi River were all found at Etowah. Most of the Valley was used for corn production (much as it is today), and the area was and is ripe for hunting and fishing. Excavation of refuse areas indicates that deer and turkey were important game.
In 1965, the Etowah Mounds Archaeological Area was designated a National Historic Landmark and is also listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The significant artifacts found by me and my fellow student were donated to the Anthropology Department at Georgia State University in Atlanta.
Sources: Blakely, Robert L. 1977, Biocultural Adaptation in Prehistoric America: http://www.innerx.net/personal/tsmith/EtowahMounds.html