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Letter from Georgia

Soaring With Stone Eagles

A complex of Native American rock mounds bears witness to the endurance of ancient traditions


Friday, June 10, 2022

Georgia Stone MoundIn the fall of 2008, Kevin Thomas, a deputy sheriff in northern Georgia’s Jackson County, was on a routine patrol in the new River Glen subdivision. Then consisting of just a few houses under construction near the banks of the upper Oconee River, the development was still largely pristine, its gently rolling hills covered with oak and hickory trees. As he was driving along the neighborhood’s River Glen Drive, a flash of white in the woods to the east of the road caught his eye. He pulled his patrol car over and walked toward what turned out to be a mound of stones piled a foot high. “I thought, ‘Good lord, these have been here a long time,’” says Thomas. “I’ve seen piles of stones farmers make after clearing a field, and this looked different—more spread out and much older.” Curious, he searched the area and found dozens of other stone piles of various sizes, ranging from a few feet in diameter to one that was up to 30 feet wide. The individual rocks in the piles varied, too, from fist-sized to small boulders, consisting of both a quartz-rich white rock known as gneiss and a darker colored schist. The unusual complex of stone piles spread across about nine acres.


Georgia MapOver the years, Thomas returned to the site during his off hours and continued to find more stone piles as well as pottery sherds and other artifacts eroding out of the earth near the piles. In 2015, Thomas struck up a conversation with Joel Logan, Jackson County’s GIS manager. Logan is responsible for maintaining the county’s geographic data and had recently begun working with Johannes Loubser of the archaeology firm Stratum Unlimited to collect information on archaeological sites in the area. Although Thomas had previously been unable to interest archaeologists in the site, his description of the enigmatic stone piles in the River Glen subdivision piqued Logan’s curiosity. One day in mid-January of 2016, Thomas, Logan, and Loubser paid a visit to the site.


“I wasn’t sure what to expect,” says Loubser. He notes that piled-stone features, also known as petroforms, have often been a source of controversy among archaeologists who study the southeastern United States, many of whom assume they were left by European-American farmers clearing their fields of stones. But, like Thomas, Loubser’s first thought on visiting the site was that it was unusual and that at least the largest stone mound had very likely been made by Native Americans, not by farmers removing stones before plowing.




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