After 20 years of research,
White, a professor in the university’s department of anthropology, has helped illuminate a world few imagined once existed in the heart of
For 2000 years, an Indian village nestled on the banks of
The mounds were named for Alton Pierce, an early owner of the site. Much of the site is now on private property and inaccessible to the public.
Once upon a time, 13 mounds, including a sizeable temple mound and a shell midden more than a mile long, shared with a bustling village the area around what is now
The people who lived there were prosperous and powerful, influencing trade traffic to the north along
They were spared the hard work of farming by an abundance of seafood and game as well as wild fruit and nuts. There is evidence they imported cornmeal to broaden their diet. Skilled potters who produced both fanciful and utilitarian objects, they buried their dead with precious objects including silver, copper and pearls.
The settlement was founded around 500 BC. Around the same time, the Scandinavian Iron Age began, the Chinese developed the handheld trigger crossbow, and burnt brick and donkey-powered grain mills were used for the first time in
World population had reached 100 million, 15 million of whom lived in the
“The (Pierce Mounds people) hauled soil in baskets or sacks or dragged it on hides or cloths to pile it up and build mounds,” White wrote. “They made both beautiful and plain pots, paints, points, pipes, musical instruments, and other artifacts, and used many in special ceremonies that also involved burnt offerings to accompany burial of their dead.
“Wolves, panthers, other cats, but maybe even grub worms too were among the animals they considered important for more than just food. They hunted, fished, gathered nuts, chopped down and burned trees, made canoes, played chunkey and other games,” she wrote.
At the time these first mounds were built, Greek engineers invented the catapult and the Acropolis was planned. Socrates lived and was executed for corrupting the youth of
White writes that the settlement at
Treasures taken from the site are in museum collections as far away as
“This shows the value of the immensely difficult and complex labor of digging into unpublished field notes and maps, museum accession data, courthouse records, and other original sources,” she wrote. “ Today many think research is something done online. But there is a wealth of unpublished, dusty old paper out there with information that can greatly change or help interpretation.”
Artifacts at the
Pottery from Pierce Mounds is showcased at the Smithsonian.
An ancient tourist attraction
Just as ancient cities today hold a charm and fascination, White believes that over time, the attraction of the Pierce Mounds grew. Certainly, it was a center of commerce and drew visitors from far away but it may also have been a place for religious pilgrimages, an ancient tourist attraction.
“The earlier mounds may have become sacred places for later people to come to pray, worship ancestors known or thought to have been (buried) there, or just feel a sense of the spiritual beyond everyday life, or a sense of territory and patriotism,” White wrote.
European settlers in
In 1888, H. L. Grady of
C.B Moore, a well-heeled and colorful archaeologist, carried out the first organized excavation at Pierce Mounds. He published a spectacular account of the dig in 1902.
By the time
In the 1940s, Gordon Willey, whose work laid the foundation for New World archaeology, visited the Pierce Mounds and performed additional excavations.
By the 1990s, Willey was retired but continued to write. Among his works was a mystery novel, “Selena,” a story in which an elderly archaeologist becomes embroiled in sexual antics and murder in a fictitious Panhandle town. White said the Pierce Mounds are featured in the story as the “Bull Mounds.”
William Sears, another archaeologist, excavated here in the 1950s, followed by Dan Penton who visited in 1972 and again in 1996.
White said Penton told her the Muscogee Indian nation still considers the Pierce site sacred and tobacco offerings are made there.
In 1975, architect Willoughby Marshall hired Robert S. Carr to examine historic sites for “
Carr quotes from a manuscript by local memoirist, Dwight Marshall, who said the railroad construction cut through “some of the Indian mounds near the cemetery. They dug up skeletons of Indians that were a foot taller than the average man of today and also other items of pottery. The Smithsonian Institute sent some men here on the Steamer Gopher...”
Cool Springs Mound is missing
In 1994, the US Department of State tried and failed to buy part of the Pierce site, both for historical preservation and to conserve surrounding wetlands.
Shortly afterwards, a team from the Florida Department of Historical Resources’ Bureau of Archaeological Research visited the Pierce site. White and her students inspected the artifacts DHR recovered and her work on the mounds began.
She has located the sites of all but one of the 13 mounds, named Cool Springs Mound, a 7.5-foot high and 90 feet in diameter mound located as of 1902 on the western outskirts of
What will happen to the Pierce Mounds is unclear. In 1974, Pierce Mounds was added to the National Register of Historic Places but the designation provides no protection.
“The beauty and monumental nature of the Pierce mounds complex remains impressive today, even with the damage to so much of the site,” White wrote. “It is crucial that Pierce be preserved as much as possible, for so many reasons, from heritage conservation to ecological issues to scientific research potential.”
White asked to remind everyone these mounds are a burial site and it is illegal to disturb, possess or sell human remains in
If the remains are from someone who has been dead for more than 75 years, activities at the site of a suspected grave may not resume until the state archaeologist has been notified of the unmarked burial. To notify the state archaeologist, call Daniel Seinfeld at (850) 322-2196 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.