The Ancestral Homeland of the Muscogee Nation in Georgia
By Megan Mentuck
In the city of Macon, Georgia, Ocmulgee Mounds National Historical Park commemorates 17,000 years of Native American history.
GoNOMAD spoke with Valerie Bradley who works with the Macon tourism board. Bradley told us that unlike other national parks, “not only is it a beautiful attraction, but people can learn so much about history.”
When visitors arrive at Ocmulgee Mounds National Historical Park, they have the opportunity to explore the park and learn about its history at the welcome center which is a kind of mini-museum.
The welcome center is designed to give park visitors a basic understanding of what the park is all about and its timeline.
History of Ocmulgee Mounds National Historical Park
According to the park’s informational website, Ocmulgee Mounds National Historical Park was home to four different prehistoric cultures before the arrival of European settlers.
The park is also “the ancestral homeland of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation who now resides in Oklahoma.”
The simplified timeline of the park’s settlers according to the park’s official website is as follows.
The first settlers were Ice Age hunters during the Paleoindian Culture (17,000 BCE-9,600 BCE). Next, arrived the Archaic Period (9,600 BCE-1000 BCE) where people began to settle in distinctive camps in the region and trade with one another.
Following the Archaic Period was the Woodland Period (1000 BCE-900 CE) which was marked by the “construction of semi-permanent villages; construction of stone effigy mounds and earthen burial and platform mounds.”
The last prehistoric period of the park was the Mississippian Period (900CE-1600 CE). In this period, people “construct[ed] a large ceremonial center with huge earthen temple/burial/domiciliary mounds and earth lodges, which serve as formal council chambers.”
These stone effigy mounds and earthen burial and platform mounds still exist within the landscape of the park and are available for visitors to explore!
Artifacts of History: The Earth Lodge and Funeral Mound
One of the most important historical elements of the park is the Earth Lodge. The Earth Lodge is built into the side of one of the park’s hills and exists as the only reconstructed earth lodge in North America that people can actually walk inside of.
The floor of the Earth Lodge is the original floor and dates back to 1015, meaning that it’s 1000 years old. The top and sides of the lodge are reconstructed to resemble what historians believe the original Earth Lodge looked like.
Visitors tend to really enjoy this interesting feature of Ocmulgee!
The Funeral Mound is another unique feature of the park. It is the only burial mound in the park with the remains of over 100 people having been found there.
What makes the Funeral Mound even more interesting is the fact that some people were found to have been buried with different items like copper ornaments.
Largest Archeological Dig in American History
These items were just some of those that were found during the archeological dig that occurred at Ocmulgee between 1933 and 1936. This dig was the largest archeological dig in American history.
This archaeological dig was instrumental in piecing together the history of the park. Some of the artifacts that were found are available for viewing at the park’s welcome center which doubles as a museum!
According to the Ocmulgee National Historical Park, “All together 2.5 million artifacts were found with 800 men working at one time.”
Annual Ocmulgee Indian Celebration
Beyond the inclusion of the park’s history in the visitor center, the park celebrates its unique historical background during the annual “Ocmulgee Indian Celebration.”
This is a time when the park works to celebrate the history of the original settlers through activities like arts and crafts, music, and different forms of storytelling.
Although the last Ocmulgee Indian Celebration had to be virtual, the park was still able to offer events virtually including living history demonstrations.
According to Bradley, the reason why this event is so important is that “the history of it [the park] is so important to its present-day use.”
Lantern Light Tours
Another interesting activity that the park offers is lantern light tours. In past years these lantern light tours have been fairly popular; however, due to Covid-19 regulations, they haven’t been able to happen this year.
These lantern light tours are only offered a few times a year as a special event so if you have the opportunity to partake in one, you definitely should!
The park closes at 5 pm but the lantern light tours offer visitors the opportunity to experience the park in all of its glory after hours.
These tours usually happen with a park ranger who can tell visitors a bit about the park’s history.
Bradley said that the Ocmulgee Mounds National Historical Park is “definitely a highlight for people in Macon to enjoy.” Macon, itself is a medium-sized city with a vibrant history of its own.
In addition to the Ocmulgee Mounds National Historical Park, Macon is known for its art scene, music scene, and historical architecture.
Located in the heart of the middle of Georgia, Macon can get pretty hot during the summer.
The most popular times to visit the city are mid-March through May and October through November.
Late spring and later fall seem to be the best times weather-wise to visit this beautiful city.
So Many Reasons to Visit Ocmulgee Mounds National Historical Park
Ocmulgee is enjoyed by so many visitors every year. The unique opportunity to teach visitors about the history of the park coupled with its beauty makes it a popular destination.
People tend to love to walk and hike through Ocmulgee, exploring it on their own. According to Bradley, “within the last two years, Ocmulgee was redesignated as a national historical park which enabled it to be expanded and receive additional funding.”
This additional funding has allowed Ocmulgee to develop into the beautiful historic spot that exists today!
When you visit Ocmulgee Mounds National Historical Park, don’t forget to check out the Great Temple Mound where visitors can go to the top and see the beautiful cityscape of Macon.
The history of Ocmulgee Mounds National Historical Park is truly what makes the park so unique. Unlike other national parks, visiting Ocmulgee not only offers beautiful views but also the opportunity to learn about the region’s unique history!
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