Unearthing the Past

By on April 14, 2014

Archaeology in Cherokee County

A reconstructed conoidal bowl found on the Etowah River north of Canton, a green stone celt from Wilbanks Mound, and a soapstone bowl from Little River.

Have you ever wondered who inhabited North Georgia before the Cherokee?If so, the Cherokee County History Museum in Canton has a new temporary exhibit just for you. Sponsored by Canton Tourism, features privately owned artifacts from Cherokee County spanning over 8000 years. Descriptive panels and historic photographs reveal80 years of archaeological investigations in the county, the hundreds of archaeological sites identified, and the cultures inhabiting the sites. On February 18tha “Native American Artifact Identification Night” will be held by the Cherokee County Historical Society (CCHS) at the Rock Barn in Canton at 7 p.m.The public is invited to bring their own local Native American artifacts for examination by local expert Carl Etheridge, Retired Chief Ranger, Allatoona Reservoir.

Archaeological Studies

The exhibit begins with an overview of the archaeological studies, which have occurred in Cherokee County. During the Depression, the Works Progress Administration (WPA) funded an effort to identify archaeological sites across North Georgia, with limited excavations at the most promising locations. Led by Robert Wauchope in 1938, 31 sites were found in Cherokee County and the recognition of past cultures in the area was begun.

Only 8 years later, the soon-to-be Allatoona Basin was examined by the Smithsonianand an additional 180 archaeologically significant sites were found.One of these sites, Wilbanks Mound, was partially excavated by William Sears from UGA in 1948-1949. Joseph Caldwell and Carl Miller with the Smithsonian returned to the basin in 1949 with only 6 months to excavate the remaining sites. They were able to perform limited excavations at 8 sites and surface testing on another 13 sites before the basin flooded, forming Lake Allatoona.

The Allatoona Basin was again surveyed during 1985 and 1986.Funded by the Corps of Engineers, 642 sites in Cherokee County and a total of 1063 sites in the entire river basin were identified, ranging from PaleoIndian to historic period–10,000 B.C. to A.D. 1940.The significance of the sites were evaluated using the National Register of Historic Places eligibility criteria.

The strap handled pot is from the Mississippian era and was found at Wilbanks Mound.

Recent investigations have been single sites where cultural resource evaluations were performed as required by Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act. Although smaller in size than the earlier regional studies, these thorough excavations using the latest technology, have significantly increased our understanding of Cherokee County’s past.Examples include Long Swamp, Hickory Log, Cagle, Hobgood, Highway 5 and others.

From these archaeological studies, a long and varied history of the county has emerged. The first Native American occupants of the county were the PaleoIndians, who were here prior to 9,500 BC. The last Native American occupants were the Cherokee–who called Cherokee County home from the 1780s until their removal in 1838. Many different cultures came and went in the 11,000 years between them– one of those cultures was the Mississippian, also known as the mound builders.One of the four sites highlighted in the exhibit is Wilbanks Mound, which was built by the Mississippians.

Wilbanks Mound

Around A.D. 1100 on the banks of the Etowah River near Sixes, a Mississippian community worked together to build a 45 ft. square earthen lodge, perhaps to use as council chambers or for religious ceremonies. The community was led by a chief.Just down the valley, a similar chiefdom was being established at Etowah.

A historic era pot (reconstructed) found at Proctor's Bend on the Etowah River

A historic era pot (reconstructed) found at Proctor’s Bend on the Etowah River. It was filled with deer, raccoon, hog and garfish bones, peach pit, and a bullet mold.

By A.D. 1250, a mound was built over the old earthen lodge at Wilbanks. Etowah was now the seat of power for the river valley– the main chief at Etowah ruled over five smaller chiefs, including the one at Wilbanks. Tributes such as excess food and labor flowed from the residents to the lesser chiefs and the main chief. In return, the chiefs performed religious duties, hosted feasts, and led the community in warfare.From A.D. 1300- 1375 the Etowah civilization was at its height, ruling over as many as 8 mound sites and chiefdoms.

Following this period, the Etowah valley sites were abandoned and a new seat of power emerged at Little Egypt in Murray County. Etowah and Wilbanks were reoccupied on a smaller scale from 1475-1550.However, the introduction of European diseases in the mid-1500s decimated the Native American population. The Mississippian chiefdoms collapsed, moved down the Coosa River into Alabama, and eventually joined with others to create the Creek confederation. The Etowah valley remained sparsely populated until the coming of the Cherokee in the late 1700s.

The Cherokee County History Museum and Visitors Center hosts temporary exhibits three times a year. Previous exhibits include: Liquid Gold: Moonshine in Cherokee County, African-American Community History in Cherokee County, What We Wore: Mid-Century Women’s Fashion, and A Fighting Spirit: Cherokee County in World War II.

Please visit the museum to learn more about the Native American cultures and sites in Cherokee County.

“Unearthing the Past: Archaeology in Cherokee County”
January 8 – April 12
Free Admission
Cherokee County History Museum
In the Historic Marble Courthouse
100 North St, Ste 140, Canton, GA 30114
W,Th,F 10-5 Sa 10-3

“Native American Artifact Identification”
Open to the public; bring your artifacts
7:00 p.m. February 18
Historic Rock Barn
658 Marietta Hwy., Canton, GA 30114

Contact CCHS: 770-345-3288 or www.rockbarn.org