Our motel room was on the first floor, just inside the side door, which made loading the truck this morning quick and easy. Or almost... The snake
On the second or third trip back to our room, we noticed that somebody was playing a trick on the people just across the hall from us. A long black snake extended from the doorway into the hall. We thought it was a darn realistic rubber snake.
Until it turned its head and stared at Bob.
The women at the hotel desk had just said good bye to the local sheriff, who had been making morning rounds (don't ask). They ran outside, yelling and waving. He waved back and continued on his route. He'd be turning around as soon as he received the 911 call.
Fortunately, by this time the truck was loaded and we were on our way.
A short distance south of Macon, we saw a sign for the Ocmulgee (Oak-MULL-gee) National Monument. Having no idea what this was, we investigated, and found that this is the site of what was once the largest archaeological dig in the United States. The Visitor Center currently occupies temporary quarters, until the permanent building, a beautiful Art Deco design built in the 1940s, is restored. The ranger gave us a brief summary.
Clovis points were found at the site, so the first traces of human habitation date back to perhaps 10,000 years ago, when hunter-gatherers used the grasslands and forests of the region, returning often enough to gradually expand their plantings and to leave arrowheads and other traces. Around 900 Ocmulgee earth lodge entrance A.D., Indians of the Mississippian culture arrived, bringing their customs and possessions. They were mound builders who established a large village here. This corresponds with Creek Indian oral history. It was a trading and communications center, judging from the objects that have been found. The Earth Lodge was apparently where tribal councils were held, judging from some of the decorations inside, and the 42 seats which had been carved out along the outer edge. The roof was supported by pillars made from thick tree trunks standing perhaps 20 feet tall, and the roof was covered with at least three feet of soil. At some point this building was burned, but the roof caved in, smothering the fire and allowing the 20th-century investigators to retrieve pieces of woven matting and a few objects. The site includes large funeral mounds and remains of buildings, pottery, and religious objects.
The Ocmulgee Indian culture continued until about 1200, when the village declined and the action moved elsewhere. The local tribes were first decimated by disease brought by first contact with DeSoto's Spaniards, then defeated in wars with English militia during the colonial period, then driven west to Oklahoma, where the capital of the Creek nation was named Ocmulgee. The Georgia site was still regarded as sacred by the Creeks, but the railroads Head of a man sliced through, and sourvenir hunters raided the mounds. Finally, around 1930, a small group of local citizens fought to preserve the site for history, and during the Depression as many as 800 workers participated in archaeological excavations.
We were mightily impressed by the elegance and beauty of the artifacts on display (presumably they are only part of the collection which will be in the permanent Visitors Center. We were most taken by the pottery head of a man which had been the top of a bottle, but the designs on the pottery, and some animal effigies, were also lovely.
Starting in the 1960s, all the archaeogical digs in the southeast have been coordinated through a center at Florida State University, so the knowledge gained at various sites can be combined to give an overall picture of the growth and dispersal of various Native American peoples.
After the excellent film, we did walk down to the restored Earth Lodge, but we felt too limp in the soggy heat to do more outdoor explorations. Wish we had been here in the winter!
As the ranger said, the Native Americans of the Southeast are not well-known; they don't appear in the works of James Fenimore Cooper or in Western movies. But this morning we learned that there's a lot more to be discovered about the first residents of our country. The problem, of course, is trying to oversimplify the situation by imagining there was (or is) one people, called Native Americans, when in fact there were a bewildering array of tribes, and an equally great variety and sophistication of cultures.