National Park Service

State of the Park Reports

State of the Park Report for Ocmulgee National Monument

Historical Structures

Resource Brief – The Spiral Mound

Lamar Mound B, also known as the Spiral Mound, is unique in North American pre-historic earth mounds. Instead of the common ramp leading to the mound summit, a ramp circles the mound clockwise in four complete traverses. Nothing is known regarding the reasons for this unique structure, and no other example of this type of construction exists. The Lamar site consists of a small village with two mounds, located along the Ocmulgee River about 2.5 miles south of the park's Main unit. When uncovered during the 1930s excavations, the site was the first of its kind to be discovered and thereby became the "type site" for the Lamar which was a wide-spread Late Mississippian culture in the Southeast from 1300 until 1650. The Lamar village itself was dated to approximately 1350 and was inhabited into the 1600s. It is believed that the Spanish explorer De Soto visited the site in 1540.

Following the exposure to Europeans, southeastern Indians experienced epidemic diseases which reduced the population by 75%. In this area, the survivors reorganized themselves into the groups known to the first English explorers as the Creeks.

The Spiral Mound The Spiral Mound

Resource Brief – The Earthlodge

First identified as Mound D, this feature was correctly identified as an earthlodge upon excavation. A common part of a Mississippian site, the earthlodge at the park is the largest and earliest of nine such structures that were discovered in Bibb County, Georgia in the 1930s (National Park Service 2005). Typically each earthlodge is built upon the last, destroying its predecessor during construction. Seven earthlodges were found adjacent to the Great Temple Mound at Ocmulgee and two were found in separate locations on the middle plateau.

The Earthlodge
The Earthlodge

Shortly after excavations began it was found that the earthlodge was of finer construction than others. Its nearly perfect circle with fifty seats, fire pit and raised platform was in an excellent state of preservation. A fire had destroyed the chamber and the collapse of the roof had saved the floor for posterity. The platform, containing three seats, was formed in the shape of a bird's body, with the eye bearing the forked eye symbol. This symbol, common throughout the southeast, is part of the "southern cult," and is believed to be part of the spiritual belief system of the Mississippians. Today, the meaning of these symbols is lost.

Due to its preserved state, a decision was made to reconstruct the earthlodge. The work was completed by the CCC Camp then on site. Today the reconstruction is considered very speculative, but is important as an example of early historic preservation efforts in the United States. More important perhaps, the walls and roof of the reconstruction have protected the original floor, carbon dated to 1016, for all to enjoy.

Resource Brief – Ocmulgee Visitor Center

Among the list of unique components of the Ocmulgee National Monument is the Visitor Center, the only Art Moderne building in the National Park System. Designed by NPS Architect James T. Swanson, the building is an excellent example of the style, which grew out of the more well-known Art Deco, and was popular in the 1930s. The style is characterized by smooth surfaces, curving corners and a horizontal effect. The building is a showplace of the Art Moderne style with smooth concrete surfaces, rounded corners, and glass block wrapping the entrance. A deep red frieze near the roof line depicts a stylized Lamar pottery design. Beyond its design, the building also broke with NPS tradition in being a multi-purpose structure that served as the park headquarters, visitor center, museum, and artifact storage facility.

The Art Moderne Visitor Center
The Art Moderne Visitor Center

Construction was begun in May, 1938, with the work being completed by CCC and WPA crews. Work continued until December 7, 1941. At that time estimates of the completion status ranged from 55 to 65%. Temporary exhibits were put in place and the building was opened to the public. Despite promises of quick action, the building remained unfinished for many years after the end of World War II. Finally in 1950, funds were appropriated and work began again on the Visitor Center. In June, 1951, the Superintendent accepted the work and the staff moved in. Sixty-two years later the building remains special and stills serves the purposes for which it was designed.

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Last Updated: June 19, 2017 Contact Webmaster