Etowah Artifacts Come Back To Georgia After A Century In Storage

An emobossed copper plate of a figure known as a birdman was found at the Etowah Indian Mounds in the 1880s.
Credit Alison Guillory / WABE
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About a century ago, the Smithsonian collected artifacts from Georgia’s Etowah Indian Mounds. Since then, they’ve been sitting in storage; most haven’t been studied or displayed publicly.  Now those artifacts are coming back to Georgia, to go on display for the first time.

To choose pieces for this show, curators from Tellus Science Museum in Cartersville made a few trips to the Smithsonian.

“It turns out they had tens of thousands of pieces there in cabinets. We kept opening cabinets and kept marveling at things,” said Jose Santamaria, executive director of Tellus.

That’s tens of thousands of pieces from the Etowah Indian Mounds, which are nearby. A thousand years ago, the mounds were part of a city in the Mississippian culture, home to thousands of people. Now, they’re part of a state park, popular for school field trips.

The exhibit pulled together a selection of pieces from the Smithsonian. There are intricate items, like a shell with a carving of a snake, and an embossed copper image known as a “birdman.”

“It’s a combination of ceremonial objects, plus everyday objects,” said Amy Gramsey, curatorial director at Tellus. “Most of these things had just been sitting in the warehouse.”

She said the idea is to put the artifacts on display and to show how they’re connected to this area. Arrowheads sit next to the same rock they’re carved from, found nearby in Bartow County.

Other objects came from farther away. One blade is made from stone from northwest Tennessee; the shells are from the Gulf Coast.

“They were using rivers as highways,” said Santamaria.

The exhibit at Tellus Science Museum opens on Saturday. After it closes in October 2017, the artifacts will go back into storage at the Smithsonian.

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