The Mississipian Southern Death Cult : Ocmulgee Indian Mounds National Monument

The Great Temple Mound as seen from the Ceremonial Earth Lodge a half mile away.
The Great Temple Mound as seen from the Ceremonial Earth Lodge a half mile away.
A markerMacon Georgia -
Macon, GA, USA
[get directions]

Daybreak 900 A.D.

It was almost completely dark in the earthen council lodge as the ceremonial fire had been extinguished in anticipation of the upcoming event. The 50 council members, including the chief, high priest, and military adviser, had discussed the coming growing season for the complex all through the night. Now the time for talk was over.

As the darkness inside of the council lodge grew less dense, the members began looking towards the raised baked clay platform the chief and his two advisers were seated upon. The front of the rectangular dais was sculpted into the head of a raptor, a symbol of their membership in a vast southeastern culture.

The high priest suddenly raised his arms towards the heavens as the first rays of sunlight began entering the narrow entrance hall of the council lodge. As if by magic, the sunlight inched its way down the hallway, across the raised fire pit, until it illuminated not only the head of the raptor, but the brightly clad figure of the chief himself. Everything would be fine. Spring was here.

A Mighty Culture-Here and Gone

The Mississippian Mound building Culture dominated the Southeastern US long before Europeans arrived.
The Mississippian Mound building Culture dominated the Southeastern US long before Europeans arrived.
From a copper plaque found at the Etowah Mound Complex site, also in Georgia. The Forked-Eye and Birdman motifs are representative of Mississippian cultures.
From a copper plaque found at the Etowah Mound Complex site, also in Georgia. The Forked-Eye and Birdman motifs are representative of Mississippian cultures.

The Ocmulgee Mound Complex

A closer view of the earthen ramps leading up to the Great Temple Mound.q
A closer view of the earthen ramps leading up to the Great Temple Mound.q
A view of the plaza and grounds leading to the Great Temple Mound.
A view of the plaza and grounds leading to the Great Temple Mound.
More earth ramps leading up from the plaza opposite the Great Temple mound.
More earth ramps leading up from the plaza opposite the Great Temple mound.

A Pre-Columbian Georgia City

The early history of Native Americans usually concerns their interaction with European immigrants following the voyages of Columbus to the New World. Or, it pertains to the Indians on the prairies out west and their struggles to retain their ancestral lands.

But little is mentioned about those civilizations which thrived long before the Spaniards first set foot in North America. There were large cities in North America long before the white man took control of the continent. Amazingly, there is very little known about where they came from, or where they disappeared to after their sudden rise and short reign over many parts of the southeast.

The Ocmulgee National Monument, located near Macon Georgia, is merely one example of these mysterious people who built such wondrous earthworks along the river valleys. It also leaves many questions unanswered concerning their hierarchy and religious beliefs.

The great earthen mounds these people laboriously constructed show an organized society knowledgeable in both astronomy and mathematics. The plaza and ball field type open spaces also suggests Aztec or Mayan influence on the complex.

Bringers of Corn

Over 1200 years ago the river banks here were one vast field of corn, beans, squash, tobacco. pumpkins and gourds.
Over 1200 years ago the riverbanks here were one vast field of corn, beans, squash, tobacco. pumpkins and gourds.
As seen from the top of the Great temple Mound, these swampy lowlands were once drained and covered with corn and other important food crops.
As seen from the top of the Great temple Mound, these swampy lowlands were once drained and covered with corn and other important food crops.
One earthen mound named "The Cornfield Mound" was so called because it covered perhaps the oldest cornfield in North America.
One earthen mound named "The Cornfield Mound" was so called because it covered perhaps the oldest cornfield in North America.

Where Did They Come From?

This question remains unanswered for the most part as the experts seem to disagree on the origination of these mysterious people. But one thing is certain, they brought maize with them, and also squash and beans. The “three sisters,” as some Native American tribes referred to them.

Planted together, these three crops complemented each other as the beans would climb the cornstalks while the squash, as well as pumpkins and gourds, would cover the ground and help prevent weeds from using up the nourishment intended for the food crops.

Maize originated in Mexico, so it had to be brought to the southeastern United States by someone from that area. Some of the words used by native tribes in the eastern US have their roots in Mexico, particularly those of the Nahuntl area.

There are also myths which tell of the long journey from the land of smoking mountains and shaking earth. It all seems to make sense when the clues are put together. Their preference for sacrificing prisoners to their gods, also similar to other early Mexican religious cults, caused some archaeologists to refer to them as members of The Southern Death Cult.

The Great Temple Mound At Ocmulgee

As seen from the plaza, the Great Temple Mound was an Imposing structure, especially when the summit held the ceremonial temple and chieftain's quarters.
As seen from the plaza, the Great Temple Mound was an Imposing structure, especially when the summit held the ceremonial temple and chieftain's quarters.
A tremendous amount of earth was required to be moved to achieve the 50+ foot  elevation of the Great Temple Mound.
A tremendous amount of earth was required to be moved to achieve the 50+ foot elevation of the Great Temple Mound.
A look at the remains of the former spiral ramp ascending the Great Temple Mound.
A look at the remains of the former spiral ramp ascending the Great Temple Mound.
Looking towards the Funerary Mound from atop the Temple Mound.  The Funerary Mound was partially destroyed in the 1800's.
Looking towards the Funerary Mound from atop the Temple Mound. The Funerary Mound was partially destroyed in the 1800's.

A Glimpse Of Former Greatness

There are seven major mounds in the Ocmulgee Mound Complex. But there are many more mounds and evidence of occupation along the river to a distance of over twenty miles downstream.

The Ocmulgee river was once heavily occupied by these people, with corn and tobacco among other crops grown all along the floodplain as their culture reached its peak. It is estimated that over 2,000 people occupied the mound complex area in its heyday.

As in other Mississippian complexes of the time, the temple mound was the most important structure in the city. It was meant to inspire awe and faith in the residents of the complex.

Those individuals of high rank and authority, such as the chief of the complex and the powerful high priests and shamans, were able to look down upon their subjects and to be seen by them as the godlike figures they aspired to be.

The Ocmulgee complex was a member of the Southern Death Cult, as were the Etowah, Cahokia, and Spiro Mississippian complexes which traded and communicated with them. They shared the same religious rituals and traded with each other for certain goods and materials.

The temple mound at Ocmulgee was constructed on a bluff overlooking the river. This gave the impression of even greater height when viewing the 50 foot tall earthworks from the river valley.

The surface and sides of the temple mound was coated with bright yellow clay. The temple and chieftain’s living quarters were among the structures occupying the mound’s summit. It is likely there were human sacrifices performed from atop this mound to appease the gods they brought with them to the area.

Other mounds in the Ocmulgee National Monument

The earthen council lodge.   It has the original fire baked clay floor.  Reconstructed during the Great Depression.
The earthen council lodge. It has the original fire baked clay floor. Reconstructed during the Great Depression.
Inside the earthen council lodge at Ocmulgee National Monument.  The Raised baked clay platform with an eagle or hawk head held 3 seats for the most important council members.
Inside the earthen council lodge at Ocmulgee National Monument. The Raised baked clay platform with an eagle or hawk head held 3 seats for the most important council members.
An interior photo of the council lodge roof and supporting posts.  This is perhaps the oldest and most complete earth lodge in North America.
An interior photo of the council lodge roof and supporting posts. This is perhaps the oldest and most complete earth lodge in North America.

The Mississippian Complex

Although the Ocmulgee mounds group is referred to as being a member of the Southeastern Mississippian Ceremonial Complex group, the term “Mississippian” refers to several such complexes along the Mississippi river, the term may not be accurate if it intends to indicate an origin for all of the groups in the southeastern part of the country.

In fact, some historians believe the culture may have originated in Florida and moved both north and west. Perhaps a group may have sailed from Mexico along the gulf coast until landing in Florida.

The Weeden Island complex may support this theory, along with the Kolomoki complex near Bainbridge Georgia, these sites may lend credence to the new theory of the origination of the Mississippian cultures.

Sadly, these important sites have not been investigated fully and many have been used for farming and other purposes. The funerary mound at the Ocmulgee complex has been partially demolished because of a railroad installation in the 1800’s and another track has also bisected the complex in the recent past.

During the great depression there was some archaeological work done by many members of the CCC under the direction of Arthur R. Kelly from the University of Georgia.


Saving the Mounds

Railroads have damaged the mound complex on two separate occasions.
Railroads have damaged the mound complex on two separate occasions.
The Creek trading path bisected the Ocmulgee complex resulting in British trading post on the grounds.
The Creek trading path bisected the Ocmulgee complex resulting in British trading post on the grounds.
Construction of a highway caused the removal of much of the earth from this mound.  The main grounds of the complex is now safe from further destruction.
Construction of a highway caused the removal of much of the earth from this mound. The main grounds of the complex is now safe from further destruction.

The Mystery Remains

Much was learned during this rather extensive, yet incomplete dig, but according to Richard Thornton, there are still hundreds of boxes of artifacts from the 1937 archaeological dig still waiting to be assessed and examined by archaeologists and historians.

Who knows what new light may be shed on the controversy of where these people came from when these artifacts are finally brought to light?

After having been partially destroyed by two railroads and a highway, as well as being used as a trading post by early British traders, and later on as grounds for a fort, the plaza and surrounding flat areas were farmed for many years.

The complex was also used by the Creek Indians long after the Mississippian culture moved on down the river to create yet even more astonishing earthworks.

Perhaps in the future we will find out more about this fascinating culture which suddenly appeared along the river now known as the Ocmulgee.

The grounds of the Ocmulgee national Monument is now safe from being destroyed any further as local people and school children launched a campaign to save the mound from any future destruction.

One cannot tread the grounds without imagining the hustle and bustle which was once the everyday scene in the plaza and ball grounds beneath the Great Temple Mound.

Although these mysterious newcomers remained on the site for only 200 years, they left their mark upon the land in the form of wonderful earthworks and intriguing artifacts.

More Ocmulgee Info

Archeology of the Funeral Mound: Ocmulgee National Monument, Georgia (Classics Southeast Archaeology)
Archeology of the Funeral Mound: Ocmulgee National Monument, Georgia (Classics Southeast Archaeology)

Fascinating look at the excavation of the Funeral Mound at Ocmulgee National Monument.

 
Lost Worlds: Georgia (Second Edition)
Lost Worlds: Georgia (Second Edition)

Purchase or rent this informative video.

 

More by this Author


Comments 17 comments

drkathleenfuller profile image

drkathleenfuller 5 years ago from 322 SW Ocean Blvd, Stuart, Florida 34994

Interesting-


Randy Godwin profile image

Randy Godwin 5 years ago from Southern Georgia Author

Indeed it is, Kathleen! Thanks for your time and input!

Randy


Hello, hello, profile image

Hello, hello, 5 years ago from London, UK

A splendid hub with so much detailed information. I have never heard of and therefore was fascinated. Thank you for the joy of reading it.


Randy Godwin profile image

Randy Godwin 5 years ago from Southern Georgia Author

And thank you for taking the time to check it out, Hello, Hello! I always enjoy writing these type of history articles.

Randy


SomewayOuttaHere profile image

SomewayOuttaHere 5 years ago from TheGreatGigInTheSky

interesting Randy...i'd luv to see the council lodge you posted a pic of...this reminds me of 'long houses' i've been in, except they are above ground...the copper plaques that i've also seen represent positions of power within families - they were passed down from generation to generation....many stolen though and have become pieces of art and are now all over the world in private possession.


Randy Godwin profile image

Randy Godwin 5 years ago from Southern Georgia Author

Glad you found the hub interesting, SomewayOuttaHere. Did you see my other article specifically about the council lodge? Lots more photos and info are included in that one.

Yes, the copper plaques are indeed interesting and are really works of art. Thanks for your time and comments, SOH.

Randy


Highvoltagewriter profile image

Highvoltagewriter 5 years ago from Savannah GA.

Wow this is fascinating especially the connection to Mexico. This may explain some of the Aztec legends of were they came from! I will have to study this some!


Randy Godwin profile image

Randy Godwin 5 years ago from Southern Georgia Author

Thanks for reading, Highvoltagewriter. Actually, the legends told by some eastern tribes seem to indicate these mound builders came from Mexico and I tend to agree.

I hope you checked out the Council Lodge hub I linked to at the same mound complex. A wonderfully preserved example of the oldest earth council lodge found so far.

Thanks again for your time and comments.

Randy


CMHypno profile image

CMHypno 5 years ago from Other Side of the Sun

I've always thought it strange that not much is known about these early American civilisations - if this site was in Europe there would be archaeologists swarming all over it. So thanks for writing about a subject that is little mentioned over this side of the pond. And great pictures! Let the plungers soar once more!!!!


Randy Godwin profile image

Randy Godwin 5 years ago from Southern Georgia Author

Thanks CM and what a coincidence you happened to comment on this article today. I've just returned from another visit to the Ocmulgee site a few hours ago with even more photos from the museum's artifact collection.

I know what you mean about the lack of interest in these sites. There is another group of mounds nearby which have never been excavated, including one of the few examples of a spiral mound in the US.

Thanks for your perfect timing and much appreciated comments.

Randy


Wesman Todd Shaw profile image

Wesman Todd Shaw 5 years ago from Kaufman, Texas

Now this is a truly fascinating hub! I'm glad that I saw it in my stream - as I'd probably not have ever scoured your profile looking for something like this.

Your photos here are awesome - and that I was totally ignorant on the subject and want more - isn't a daily occurring thing.


Randy Godwin profile image

Randy Godwin 5 years ago from Southern Georgia Author

Glad you found this interesting, Wesman! I just returned from another trip there yesterday. I have several other similar sites like this to visit and write about when I get the time. I hope you checked out the hub I wrote especially about the ceremonial lodge and it's history.

Thanks, as always, for your interest and time.

Randy


habee profile image

habee 4 years ago from Georgia

Cool! I wanna see this place! Voted up.


Randy Godwin profile image

Randy Godwin 4 years ago from Southern Georgia Author

This is an easy trip Holle, almost right in the middle of Macon too! A large area for a Mississippian complex and the earth lodge is really neat. So much info it took 3 hubs to cover it all!

Thanks for checking it out!

SSSSS


DJ Anderson 3 years ago

Randy, this is fascinating!

When I was quite young, I thought there were only a few tribes of

Native Americans. Now, I realize that this mighty nation was inhabited

from coast to coast, from South America to Canada.

I grew up playing outside and there was hardly a day went by that one

of us did not find an arrow tip.

A few years back, we spent a half a day at Cahokia which sits in Illinois

across the river from St. Louis. They had guides that would give information. It was incredible!!

You are right. The nation of Mississippians was half of America!

I was not aware of the Ocmulgee Mounds, and we are in Macon twice a year.

I have not been notified of your newest hubs. Thought I had read most of them, but I see that I have some good reading ahead of me.

Thanks, Randy. You are a super writer.

Great Hub!

DJ.


Randy Godwin profile image

Randy Godwin 3 years ago from Southern Georgia Author

Glad to hear from you, D.J., and am so pleased you enjoyed this article. I highly recommend a visit to the Ocmulgee site the next time you're in Macon. The reconstructed earth lodge with the original baked clay floor gives one strange feeling to know there were ceremonies held held there 1000 years ago.

There is another fine site near Cartersville Ga. called The Etowah Mounds site with much larger mounds than at the Macon complex. I've always been fascinated by this culture as they are of ancient Mayan descent according some DNA evidence.

Thanks as always for your time and kind words, DJ.:)

--RG


Liliibeth 23 months ago

Funerary Temples where offerings were made to them. These were found at Etowah Indian Mounds Etowah Indian Mounds: An Ancient Native American Civilization in Cartersville, Georgia You might just have one, smlelar then those, and it could be very valuable.

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