“We started the remote sensing surveys in 2005, so we’ve been at it for a long time,” King said. “Yes, I do want to collect data across the entire site and I want to do that using different instruments. There are several different remote sensing techniques and they all look at the buried archaeology in a slightly different way. So they generally look at the same thing, but often give you different parts of the larger story. That is why it is best to use more than one technique.
“So far we have covered the entire site using a gradiometer, which measures slight changes in magnetism. I hope to do the same over time with ground-penetrating radar, which sends electromagnetic waves into the ground and reads how they are reflected back. After that, we may try some other techniques as well. Really, right now, I am focused on using limited archaeological testing to confirm some of the things I think we have learned so far with the remote sensing. That is what we will be doing later this summer.”
Located at 813 Indian Mounds Road in Cartersville, the Etowah Indian Mounds is where thousands of American Indians lived from A.D. 1000 to A.D. 1550. Regarded as the most intact Mississippian Culture site in the Southeast, the 54-acre property features six earthen mounds, a village area, a plaza, borrow pits and a defensive ditch.
“Etowah is important for lots of reasons,” King said. “It was an important place to Native American people, especially during the Mississippian period. By studying it, we can learn about their past. But by learning about Native American history, we learn about human history. We learn about how people first establish big and complex societies, like the one centered at Etowah. We learn about how people lived their lives, what they believed and how it shaped their lives. Those may be specific stories at one level, but they are part of the larger human experience that we can all learn from and hopefully take those lessons into the future.
“The coolest thing I’ve found at Etowah is the original staircase that was built to give access to the summit of Mound A,” he said, referring to state-sponsored excavations in the mid-1990s. “That staircase was 20 feet wide and made of packed red clay and logs. It was a grand staircase that [led] to the top of a grand mound at an important place.”
On Saturday, King will be the featured speaker at the Etowah Indian Mounds’ Day of Discovery and Artifact Identification. His presentations will range from sharing recent archaeological discoveries at the site at 11 a.m. to the meaning of symbols used by American Indians, like those who resided at Etowah, at 2 p.m.
“It’s given us kind of like a roadmap or footprint of where a lot of the structures were, where the wattle-and-daub huts and different things like that [were located] with a lot of the ground-penetrating radar and some of his other work,” said Steve Hadley, Resource Manager II for Etowah Indian Mounds. “I think a lot of people are [interested in his discoveries]. And what’s unique now, instead of when I was a kid visiting the site, is they can do a lot of research without actually digging or destroying the site because with modern technology, they’ve got ground-penetrating radar.
“[They’ve] got equipment that works off magnetism. So they can actually find a lot of things without digging and then that helps us. ... If we do want to dig ... we can be a lot more specific if we actually do it.”
Echoing Hadley’s statements, King also noted a top advantage of utilizing remote sensing techniques is the ability to obtain data without disturbing the Earth’s surface.
“Archaeology is destructive in that you remove objects and you dig away things like hearths and houses,” King said. “Yes, we record everything carefully, but once we dig part of a site, the relationships among things and features is gone and only preserved in our notes and photographs. We are always learning new ways to ask questions of the past, so [we] always want to make sure we leave something for future archaeologists to study with new ideas and techniques. I am also aware that Etowah is a sacred place to Native Americans. It is a place where their history happened and where their ancestors are buried. Out of respect for that, it is not a place to disturb without great thought and planning.
“Remote sensing allows me to learn a lot about the site without digging, but sometimes digging is the only way to answer some questions about the past. The information provided by remote sensing allows me to target very precisely what I want to know, where to dig and how much area I need to disturb. Different techniques can reach different depths. The gradiometer we’ve used to great effect at Etowah looks only to about 6 feet below the surface. Other techniques like the ground-penetrating radar can look much, much deeper if I wanted to ask those kinds of questions. For example, we could look through to the bottom of Mound A with the right antenna and ground-penetrating radar equipment. Someday I would like to do that.”
Along with listening to King’s lectures, patrons also will be able to tour the site from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Professional archaeologist Lloyd Schroder, who is a member of the Peach State Archaeological Society, also will be on hand throughout the event to identify patrons’ artifacts, such as points and pottery.
Admission to Day of Discovery and Artifact Identification will be $5.50 for adults and $4 for youth. For more information, call the Etowah Indian Mounds at 770-387-3747.