Tuesday, March 18, 2008

March is Archaeology Month in Florida

Jackson County and the surrounding area has one of the richest archaeological heritages of any region in the South. March is Archaeology Month in Florida, so I thought we would spend some time this week exploring the archaeology of our county.

This photograph (taken from the air last week) shows the site of the Chattahoochee Landing/Curlee mound complex, one of the most signficant archaeological settings in the Jackson County area.

At its height during the Fort Walton era (A.D. 900 - A.D. 1540), the land seen in this photograph was the scene of at least 8 known Native American mounds and a major village site. Fort Walton (named for the large temple mound at Fort Walton on the Gulf Coast) was the name given to the Mississippian Culture in our region of Florida.

Seven of the mounds, comprising a unique ceremonial center, were located on the far bank of the Apalachicola River in Gadsden County. Consisting of six smaller mounds forming a semi circle around a large platform mound (visible here just to the right of the bridges and behind the boat dock), the Chattahoochee Landing complex was one of the most impressive in Florida. On the Jackson County side of the river, they were joined by the Curlee Mound, a large burial/platform mound that faced across the river at the main ceremonial complex at Chattahoochee Landing. A large village stretched along the riverbank around the Curlee Mound.

These mounds were constructed to function as a giant astronomical observatory. Standing atop the Curlee Mound on the Jackson County side of the river, it was possible to look across the river and see the sun rise directly above the main Chattahoochee Landing mound on the longest day of the year. The other mounds at Chattahoochee Landing were designed so that on certain days of the year, an observer could stand atop the largest mound and see stars and constellations oriented so that they appeared to be directly over the center of the surrounding mounds. In this way, the occupants of the site could predict the changing of the seasons. The entire complex was something of giant earthen calender/observatory, indicating that the people who built the mounds were much more advanced than we often given them credit for being.

Today the largest mound at Chattahoochee Landing and the remnants of two of the smaller mounds can still be seen. The landing is now a park area maintained by Chattahoochee and is open to the public on a daily basis. The mounds can be seen, but other than one small sign on the largest earthwork, no impretative displays are available at the park. The site is protected and digging can lead to a quick arrest.

The Curlee Mound, across the river in Jackson County, has been washed away by the Apalachicola River and no longer exists.

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