Abandonment/reuse of the Etowah mounds

Submitted by Sammy Smith (sammy@thesga.org)

King 2003 Etowah paperback cover

Cover photo on the paperback edition of King’s book on Etowah, showing straight-down view of the base of original steps that lead up the side of the largest mound in prehistoric times, and are beneath the modern steps.

Adam King’s slim and informative volume, Etowah: The Political History of a Chiefdom Capital (2003), is now available in paperback and ebook versions. Notes the publisher, the University of Alabama Press, on its website:

Adam King has analyzed the architecture and artifacts of Etowah and deduced its vital role in the prehistory of the area. He advances a plausible historical sequence and a model for the ancient town’s complex political structure. The chiefdom society relied upon institutional social ranking, permanent political offices, religious ideology, a redistribution of goods and services, and the willing support of the constituent population. King reveals strategies used by the paramount chiefs to maintain their sources of power and to control changes in the social organization. Elite alliances did not necessarily involve the extreme asymmetry of political domination and tribute extraction. King’s use of ceramic assemblages recovered from Etowah to determine the occupation history and the construction sequence of public facilities (mounds and plazas) at the center is significant.

When you visit the Etowah Indian Mounds Historic Site, the civic-ceremonial part of a much larger residential community that extended beyond the acreage that is within the boundaries of the park, the mounds are formidable and imposing. It is difficult to imagine that the people who used them would have lived in their shadows, built and maintained them, and also abandoned them, only to return after several generations. But that is the sequence that Dr. King reconstructs from the archaeological remains recovered from the Etowah community.

Why do you think Mississippian-period people abandoned the mounds which took so much effort to build and maintain? Why do you think they returned? Why might this have happened more than once?

The Etowah Indian Mounds Historic Site is currently open Wednesday through Saturday. Admission includes entrance to an on-site museum. Read Scott Jones’s summary of Georgia’s past on this website. Read more about the Mississippian period on this website.

Where to find it