Across the Ocmulgee River from Macon, GA, lies the ancient grass-covered mounds of Ocmulgee (pronounced oak-mull-ghee) Mounds National Historical Park. After having lived in Europe for a few years and walking through historical sites centuries older than my home country, I have an appreciation for the history of ancient cultures. I had heard about age-old earthen mounds being found across the United States, but I didn’t realize these weren’t just burial grounds, they were the remnants of thriving cities.
According to the NPS brochure, the Ocmulgee Mounds are connected to a steady presence of cultures, resulting in 17,000 years of continuous human habitation in this area. It started with the Paleo-Indians, who crossed the continent during the last ice age, to the Archaic people, to the Woodland population where people started to settle in villages. The Woodland culture assimilated into the Mississippian one – a culture marked with extensive crops, pottery, and adornments, as well as flat-topped mounds, burials, and earth lodges, indicating intricate rituals and social relationships. Parts of the Woodland and Mississippian cultures combined into the Mississippian-Lamar culture, which waned under the conflict and disease brought by the arrival of the Spanish around 1540. Finally, this area became home to the Muscogee Nation around 1690, and is still considered their ancestral homeland and the site of their first permanent settlement.
A little smarter about the cultures that inhabited this land before the arrival of my ancestors, I continued my homeward bound trajectory. Next stop: Congaree National Park in South Carolina.