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Georgia's Indian Heritage

Georgia History 101

The story of Georgia begins with the American Indians who called the land home. From Paleolithic Man to early Woodland Indians, nomadic tribesmen left their mark in little more than arrowheads and pottery shards. Around the time of Christ a new American, the Moundbuilder, entered the northwest corner and the southern portion of the state. They did not expand their control, leaving the Woodland culture intact. Later moundbuilding cultures (Mississippian) moved up the great inland rivers of Georgia to sites like Ocmulgee and Etowah.

Typical Clovis PointAfter several fluctuations in weather conditions (over thousands of years), a warming trend began some 20,000 years ago. Earliest evidence of human inhabitation comes from the Georgia side of the Savannah River between Augusta and Savannah, where flaked micro-blades have been found dating to 16,000-18,000 BC -- the oldest tools known on the North American continent. Paleolithic Clovis arrowheads have been discovered in Bartow County dating back some 12,000 years. Unfortunately, no supporting evidence of Paleolithic man has been located in this northwest Georgia county.

Regions of Georgia mapFrom this beginning early man spread out across the Piedmont and Coastal Plain of the state. Archaic sites in the state range from the Savannah River Basin, throughout north Georgia. Artifacts like bone awls from Union County, arrowheads from Dade and Murray County and socketed projectile points from Jenkins County indicate the wide range of man during this period.

During the Middle Archaic period an advanced culture arose in the delta region of the Mississippi River. These early Moundbuilders were possibly the first civilization in North America. From Poverty Point, Louisiana, they spread throughout the river valleys of the Mississippi and its tributaries. No evidence exists that this culture made it to the state of Georgia.

Late Archaic Indians lived throughout the state. Decorative pottery and ornamental pins dating to the late archaic period have been found statewide. There is indirect evidence that advanced fishing techniques and basic agriculture was used by these Archaic Indians.

Woodland Indians (1000 BC - 1000 AD in the Southeastern United States) improved on the rudimentary cultivation techniques of their Archaic Period predecessors. Decorative works became more elaborate on arrowheads, tools and personal items. In 1969 the remains of a Cartersville era (Middle Woodland Period) village was discovered along the banks of the Chattahoochee River. It is believed that Indians of the Woodland Period are responsible for the stone wall at Fort Mountain and similar works on Alec Mountain, Sand Mountain, Mount Alto and Ladd Mountain. Until 1923 a ring of stone probably built by Woodland Indians encircled Stone Mountain.

A distinct development occurred in Putnam County (Eatonton), Georgia, probably around 500 B.C. The Putnam County Indians built two similar effigy mounds miles apart. Today, Rock Eagle and Rock Hawk are the only testimony to this tribe.

An intermediate culture known as Adena built effigy mounds throughout much of the Upper Mississippi, The Hopewell Culture continued the Adena's penchant for building mounds, eventually carrying it throughout the Mississippi watershed. A series of four Hopewell Culture mounds were built in Dade County (northwest Georgia). Another site believed to be from the Hopewell Era was covered when Lake Walter F. George was formed. Late Woodland Indian cultures appear to have "pull back," from a wide area of the state. This may be do to the advance of the Mississippian culture once again. Kolomoki (800AD) is frequently referred to as a "transition site," displaying the traits of both a Hopewell site and later moundbuilders.

Ocmulgee. Etowah. Nachoochee. These eerily quiet temples are the final remains of the last prehistoric culture in present-day Georgia. Starting in 900AD the Mississippian Moundbuilders began to flourish. Ocmulgee, a short distance east of Macon, and Etowah, just west of Cartersville are both open to the public. The mound at Nachoochee, just south of Helen is visible from State Road 75.

These Mississippian Moundbuilders relied on advanced cultivation to give them time to develop elaborate ceremonies, intricate pottery designs, and a wide-ranging trading network. They flourished in Georgia from 1000 AD to 1450 AD, but by the time deSoto visited (1540) the civilization was in steep decline.

Enter the Creek. According to their own mythology, the Creek Nation came from the West and display many customs similar to the earlier Moundbuilders. Because of these similarities, this loose confederation of tribes has been described as the remnants of the Moundbuilder culture, but their origin is as yet undetermined. From the early 1600's they controlled all or part of the state. Like earlier prehistoric Indians they lived near rivers, recognized some form of lineage (clans), and relied heavily on agriculture for sustenance. In 1836 the last of the tribe still in the state was forced to relocate to present-day Oklahoma.

About the time the Mississippian culture began to decline (1450 AD), the Cherokee began a westward movement, establishing a village (called Tugaloo Old Town) near an ancient Moundbuilder city. Moving west to Nachoochee, the Cherokee inhabited another Moundbuilder city on the Chattahoochee River. Over the years the Creek and Cherokee battled for control of present-day north Georgia, eventually using the Chattahoochee as a dividing line. Controlling an area stretching from the Ohio River south, and west to the Mississippi, the Cherokee would see this erode to little more than the area of present-day north Georgia. In 1838 the Cherokee were forced to leave Georgia on "The Trail of Tears."

Next: The Age of Exploration in Georgia

Our Georgia History: History 101 index

Georgia's Indian Heritage
The Age of Exploration in Georgia
Colonial Georgia
The America Revolution in Georgia
Constitutional Georgia
Antebellum Georgia
Georgia and the Civil War
Reconstrution Georgia
Georgia's Gilded Age
A State Divided
Depression and War



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