EARLY COUNTY, GA (WALB) - There are only a few places where you can go to see what life was like in Georgia before the first Europeans arrived.
In the latest installment of his series One Tank Trips, Jay Polk travels to Blakely to check out one of those places.
They were here first. Long before Leif Ericsson and his mighty Vikings came to the New World, the Kolomoki tribe settled this area of southwest Georgia. Archeologists believe that their territory was a large one. Matt Brunner, the Park Manager of Kolomoki Mounds State Park said that it reached, "As far as Columbus and all the way down to the Gulf."
But around 950 AD, the Kolomoki vanished. What happened to this once proud civilization? Brunner gives us one of the theories: "We do believe that they stayed in this area and moved on. And they are descendants of what became known as the Creek and the Seminole and the different tribes in this area."
While there are no written records left by the tribe to tell us about their final chapter, what we do know is that like many Native American tribes of the first millennium, the Kolomoki were a people with rituals in life. And we know that on this site, there was once a small village. But unlike many other settlements of the time, this village is not near a body of water, so trade was most likely not the purpose of this site.
Brunner tells us what it was for: "The purpose of Kolomoki was a religious complex."
People would have come from far and wide for religious festivals. While the village is only now being recreated, one structure dominates the surrounding countryside. It's known as the Temple Mound.
"The Chief priest is believed to have lived on top of it," said Brunner.
And just like in life, the Kolomoki also had rituals in death. When a chief priest passed from this world to the next, the tribe had an elaborate way to bury them. They built burial mounds and placed the remains in it; along with the everyday items that they thought that the deceased would need in the afterlife. One of these mounds is actually INSIDE of the museum that's on the site. The mounds are a nice draw for those who want to explore the life of another civilization without just reading about it in a book.
People like Todd Lumley of Port St. Joe, Florida. "I consider myself a little bit of an amateur archeologist. So, been studying Native American cultures for 10 or 15 years."
The museum that houses the burial mound is dedicated to the lives of the people that once called this area home. It shows artifacts that were found here by the professional archeologists from the University of Georgia who first started digging on this site in the 1940s. You can see by looking at the collection how the Kolomoki lived their lives.
Part of the museum experience includes a short movie detailing how a burial might have been performed. Just outside of the museum is a gift shop where you can get more modern day reminders of your trip here.
With the mounds themselves telling such a fascinating story about the native peoples who once inhabited this area, it's easy to forget Kolomoki Mounds State Park has plenty of other things to do. Including fishing on two lakes."
You can even rent the boat that you might use to try to catch that catfish. Other types of fish in the lakes include crappie and bass. And if you want to try your luck at landing that big one for more than just one day, Brunner has the answer. "We have 24 campsites for camping, with water, electric hookup, bathhouse, rest rooms, everything you need for your camping needs," he said.
Even if you're just packing a picnic lunch or grilling out, there are shelters for that as well. And after that big meal, you can work off those pounds on the five miles of hiking trails in the park.
When you visit here, you get two parks for the price of one. On one side is the area with the mounds. And on the other side is the recreational area with all of the outdoor activities. The museum is working on a new film, and the scientists from UGA are now working on the village area to try to figure out more about the everyday lives of the Kolomoki.
But even as the park changes one thing will always remain the same, the majesty and mystery of the mounds themselves. They continue to stand as a lasting legacy to the people who built them. The people who were here first.
Kolomoki Mounds State Historic Site is a little bit of a drive, but well worth it and easily reachable on only one tank of gas.
The park is about six miles north of Blakely on County Road 153, just off of U.S. Highway 27. The park is open from 7 a.m. until 10 p.m. daily although the museum and visitor center is closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas Day and New Year's Day.