Close your eyes and imagine a scene: hundreds of people move past the plaza. Behind the plaza rises a mound. At its crest a palisade sits squarely, obscuring whatever may lie behind. A woman in a woven skirt stops and stares at the palisade, wonder in her eyes. Suddenly a voice calls from the distance. She must move on, toward a field which opens and recedes into the horizon. Emerald stalks of corn reach toward a massive Georgia sky.
Mound A: the center of what might be the first capital city of the Capachequi chiefdom. The field school will be spending their first week conducting shovel tests and beginning unit excavation near the base of the mound.
Spanish moss hanging near the current excavation.
Life proceeds—dogs bark, a fire smolders, and old friends converse in the afternoon heat. In contrast to the loudness and vibrancy of this city, the mound is quiet. It shadows the world beneath it.
Close your eyes and you can imagine such a scene. Open them, however, and this city—home for many people from C.E. 1100 to 1700, though namely the Capachequi Indians—disappears into the misty reaches of time. Longleaf yellow pine tower overhead, Spanish moss drapes from the branches. Shadows stretch across the long abandoned mound. Where once a community thrived and voices filled the air, now only the hum of gnats persists. A lone tractor rolls by slowly in the distance, and one finds it hard to imagine a city once thrived here.
Fernbank Museum’s archaeology program continues this summer in partnership with the Points of Contact Archaeological Field School from James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia, under the direction of Dr. Dennis Blanton, adjunct archaeologist. Why are we exploring the history of this multicomponent site? Because this is our history—not only as Americans, but as global people. This is, after all, a site structured by global events. This site might prove to be Capachequi’s capital—a site which possibly “fissioned”1 off from other Mississippian groups along the Chattahoochee River. Later, in 1540, Hernando de Soto certainly visited Capachequi. We must wonder in what ways our site is structured by that visit, and why did Native Americans eventually return to the site during the Spanish mission period (1650-1700)?
The JMU Archaeological team, led by Dr. Dennis Blanton, and assisted by volunteers, begins their work. Here we see them preparing to excavate at the base of Mound A.
As time moved on, the Capachequi disappeared. The site was overlaid by plantation after plantation. Our world must have, at some point, made decisions in relation to the earlier events surrounding Capachequi, the later Spanish mission period, even the early days of industrial expansion and the plantation system—a chain of events which today seems ghostly, residual, yet uncannily human. Close your eyes. It is all too easy to imagine the voices.
If you want to see more from the field, click here.
— Allen Luethke and Kelly Teboe
1 In short, a “fission” society would have split off from another preexisting society, perhaps because of conflict within the society. A “fusion” society, then, would have coalesced from other preexisting societies. The concept of “fission” and “fusion” societies has been applied nearby in research conducted by John Howard Blitz and Karl G. Lorenz. Their work can be read in The Chattahoochee Chiefdoms, printed by University of Alabama Press in 2006.