Long-distance travel: The Leake Site example

Submitted by Sammy Smith (sammy@thesga.org)

Look at a topographic map of Georgia. First of all, you may realize that carving Georgia out of the terrain of southeastern North America creates artificial boundaries if you’re looking at topography. Look at the terrain again, ignoring state boundaries.

That’s what SGA member Scot Keith has done as part of his studies of the Leake Site, a large and important civic-ceremonial community in the Middle Woodland period, which dates from about 350 BC to AD 650. The Leake Site is in what is now Bartow County, just west of Cartersville.

Leake on National Map topo

Shaded relief map made with the National Map, from the USGS online.

Note how the Leake Site is in a naturally flat area between two zones of rugged terrain that lie to the northwest and northeast. The flatter area that extends north and northeast is called the Great Valley by geographers. The Great Valley extends northeast into what is now Canada.

Greatvalley map cropped labeled

Cropped and modified from Great Valley map, licensed to the Creative Commons here.

Therefore, the location of the Leake Site, at the mouth or end of the Great Valley—depending on which direction you’re traveling, is in a strategic area with respect to long distance trading networks that may have radiated away from (and to) the Leake Site.

Scot notes that a piece of pottery from the Leake Site, a particular example of the decorative Swift Creek pottery common to Middle Woodland sites, was like examples from the Mann Site, way up in what is now southern Indiana. A petrographic study confirmed that the clays used to make the special sherd found on the Leake Site were consistent with those from the Mann Site!

Leake pottery from Keith MAC 2010

Examples of decorated pottery archaeologists have named Swift Creek and Cartersville stamped from the Leake Site. Image cropped from “The Mann Site & the Leake Site: Linking the Midwest and the Southeast during the Middle Woodland Period,” a paper by Scot Keith presented at the Midwest Archaeological Conference, Bloomington, Indiana, October 2010, and available online here.

Most recently, Scot discusses this in a recent article, “The Leake Complex: A Middle Woodland Hopewellian ceremonial center and gateway community,” published in the Fall 2011 issue of Early Georgia (vol. 39, no. 2, pp. 173–200), the journal of the Society for Georgia Archaeology. (Early Georgia is a benefit of membership in the SGA. Click here to read more about joining the SGA.)

This map (also a labeled National Map screen grab) shows some of the obvious routes leaving the Leake Site headed for the Mann Site, if you want to stay in valleys and avoid the most rugged terrain.

Leake to Mann routes National Map

Read Scot’s Early Georgia article to understand more about long-distance trading networks in eastern North America in Middle Woodland times. Scot notes in his conclusion (p. 192):

Located at the edge of the Cartersville and Swift Creek cultural areas, and as a gateway through which both northward and southward bound travelers passed, [the Leake Site] remains provide evidence of increasing interregional interaction over time.

Are you surprised that people living in what is now Georgia had connections with people living hundreds of miles away in a settlement on the north side of the Ohio River? What do you think was in the pot that someone carried from what is now Indiana to the Leake Site community—or was it empty?

Scot Keith has described the Leake Site in a story on this website and in “The Leake Complex: A Middle Woodland Hopewellian ceremonial center and gateway community,” an article in the Fall 2011 issue of Early Georgia (vol. 39, no. 2, pp. 173–200), the journal of the Society for Georgia Archaeology. You can read more about the Leake Site elsewhere on this website and at bartowdig.com.
Where to find it