Archeology of the Funeral Mound
Ocmulgee National Monument, Georgia
Publication Year: 2003
A Dan Josselyn Memorial Publication
A premier mound site offers a wealth of primary data on mortuary practices in the Mississippian Period.The largest prehistoric mound site in Georgia is located in modern-day Macon and is known as Ocmulgee. It was first recorded in August 1739 by General James Oglethorpe’s rangers during an expedition to the territory of the Lower Creeks. The botanist William Bartram wrote extensively of the ecology of the area during his visit in 1773, but the 1873 volume by Charles C. Jones, Antiquities of the Southern Indians, Particularly of the Georgia Tribes, was the first to treat the archaeological significance of the site.
Professional excavations began at Ocmulgee in 1933 under the auspices of the Smithsonian Institution, using Civil Works Administration labor. Investigations continued under a variety of sponsorships until December 1936, when the locality was formally named a national monument. Excavation of the mounds, village sites, earth lodge, and funeral mound revealed an occupation of the Macon Plateau spanning more than 7,000 years. The funeral mound was found to contain log tombs, bundles of disarticulated bones, flexed burials, and cremations. Grave goods included uniquely patterned copper sun disks that were found at only one other site in the Southeast—the Bessemer site in Alabama—so the two ceremonial centers were established as contemporaries.
In this classic work of archaeological research and analysis, Charles Fairbanks has not only offered a full treatment of the cultural development and lifeways of the builders of Ocmulgee but has also related them effectively to other known cultures of the prehistoric Southeast.
Published by: The University of Alabama Press
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Introduction to the 2003 Edition
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It is a genuine delight for me to introduce this new edition of the Archeology of the Funeral Mound, Ocmulgee National Monument, by Charles H. Fairbanks (1913-1984). This publication has meant a great deal to me, particularly in my formative years as a archaeologist in the 1960s and 1970s. Indeed, this was the very first archaeological site report I ever read. In order to explain further the importance of this publication to me, I must relate a short personal story...
Preface to the 1954 Dissertation
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The archeological excavations at Ocmulgee National Monument were undertaken during the widespread archeological investigations that were part of the public relief program during the thirties. The existence of a large series of mounds at Macon had been known since the earliest white settlement. Local citizens applied to the relief agency for an excavation project at the same time that the Smithsonian Institution had decided to sponsor a project at Macon...
Introduction to the Second Printing, 1980
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Twenty-four years between the first and second printings make it necessary to evaluate this study in light of additional archeological research at Ocmulgee National Monument and other relevant areas in the southeastern United States. We need to know what speculations or ideas presented in 1956 must be changed in view of the state of the art in 1980. It may also be possible to assess the impact of the work since first publication...
Archeology of the Funeral Mound, Ocmulgee National Monument, Georgia 
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Ocmulgee National Monument stands as a memorial to a way of life practiced in the Southeast over a span of 10,000 years, beginning with the Paleo-Indian hunters and ending with the modern Creeks of the 19th century. Here modern exhibits in the monument museum will enable you to view the panorama of aboriginal development, and here you can enter the restoration of an actual earth lodge...
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Twenty years ago the initial excavations at what is now Ocmulgee National Monument were commenced under the authority of the Smithsonian Institution in cooperation with the Civil Works Administration. The accompanying paper by Charles H. Fairbanks represents the first of several projected reports by the National Park Service describing the archeological explorations at, and the materials recovered from, Ocmulgee National Monument. To appreciate fully the archeological developments which have taken place in central Georgia during the past 20 years, one must take into account the circumstances which transformed a former cotton patch into one of the outstanding monuments east of the Mississippi River...
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Ocmulgee National Monument is located at the eastern edge of the city of Macon, Bibb County, Ga., on the left bank of the Ocmulgee River (see figs. 1 and 2). It lies in land lots 60, 61, 62, 73, 74, 75, 76, 77, 78, and 79. An area administered by the National Park Service, it was established by Presidential proclamation in 1936. Macon lies at the fall line of the Ocmulgee River and the monument proper is a thrusting tongue of the "red hills" extending out into the river bottoms which in turn form a tongue of the Coastal Plain...
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The first recorded mention of the mounds at Ocmulgee is in an account by one of Gen. James E. Oglethorpe's rangers of the expedition by the general to the Lower Creeks in 1739. The ranger says, "we camped at Ocmulgas River where there are three Mounts raised by the Indians over three of their Great Kings who were killed in the Wars" (Mereness, ed., 1916, p. 200). This was in the first part of August 1739 and surely refers to Ocmulgee Old Fields as the party had left Augusta and was headed for the Lower Creek towns around the present site of Columbus. The Lower Creek Trading Path, as previously mentioned, passed through Ocmulgee Old Fields and crossed the river at the mouth of Walnut Creek...
Excavations at the Funeral Mound
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The first excavations in the Funeral Mound were made by vertical profile cuts on an east-west axis from both the north and south sides. The mound was first staked off in horizontals-foot squares. The north sections of the mound had been greatly cut away, incident to the construction of the Central of Georgia Railway right-of-way, and large amounts of slump dirt covered the standing sections. The center or higher parts had been cut further south than the sides, leaving a crescent shaped remnant, the highest point of which was slightly more than 25 feet above the surrounding general ground level...
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The physical analysis of any large mound structure is an extremely complicated affair involving large expanses of profiles and many lenses of different soils. Individually, they lend themselves to little or no treatment. The actual analysis must, then, begin during the excavation when the structural elements which had cultural significance for the builders can be separated from the ordinary loads of dirt. Figure 3 is a consolidated profile through the mound as seen from the north face...
Summary of Life on the Macon Plateau
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The foregoing sections have described the physical setting of the archeological remains on the Macon Plateau, the remains found, their relationships, and temporal positions. Little has been said regarding the way the people lived in the various periods. One of the objectives of anthropology as a science should properly be to explain the culture of the people with whom it deals. In the case of archeological complexes this is difficult. It must always depend on a correlation of archeological material with information gathered from historic groups...
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Page Count: 120
Publication Year: 2003