Experience A Long-Lost Culture At Town Creek Indian Mound
In just a few steps at Town Creek Indian Mound in Mt. Gilead, you can travel back more than 800 years. A North Carolina State Historic Site, it is a recreation of the Pee Dee Indians’ ceremonial and burial center that stood on the same spot between the years 1,100 and 1,400.
The best way to start your experience is in the museum. A 20-minute film details the mound’s transformation from farmer’s field to the state’s oldest historic site – and the only one dedicated to American Indian heritage. It also introduces you to the Pee Dee culture.
After the film, you can stand eye-to-eye with a Pee Dee man and woman. The busts in the museum exhibit are recreations of two of the hundreds of remains uncovered at the site. Several other exhibits are dedicated to the photo mosaic. Archaeologists stitched together overhead photos of the site to build a complete picture of where and how items were found. It was also used as a “blueprint” to recreate the site. Pottery relics fill yet another exhibit.
When you step out the museum’s back door, you’ll find a sea of grass between you and the ceremonial center. The staff is busy growing a Piedmont prairie, the exact landscape that surrounded the site during the time of the Pee Dees. Each winter, a controlled burn removes non-native plants. In spring, native grasses are planted. The cycle will be repeated till a pure native prairie is complete. Early Piedmont settlers wrote about prairies 25 miles across, some of which were formed by American Indians using fire to clear land for agriculture.
Entering through the north guard tower, the recreated ceremonial site opens up inside the stockade, or walls. Directly in front of you will be the mortuary hut. You’ll have to stoop to miss the low eaves of the thatched river grass roof. Once inside, recorded narration describes a scene of Pee Dee culture, including the role of the mother’s extended family in children rearing and how they sent their loved ones to their next lives.
The mound rises behind the mortuary. Climb the log steps to the top and visit the town house. Inside, low log benches sit on dirt floors worn hard. Political and religious meetings were held here. The most important was the Busk, when feasts, games and meetings were held to celebrate the new crops of spring.
The third structure inside the stockade is the east lodge, which gives a good view of the wattle-and-daub construction of the Pee Dees. This method involves weaving branches around poles then covering them with a mud and clay mixture.
Leaving through the south guard tower, you can set out on the short nature trail. It loops through the forest and brings you back to the museum. The trail is wide, level and well groomed – just a pine root to step over here and there. Along the way, signs mark trees of interest and unique species, such as the freshwater mussels that inhabit the Little River, which runs along one side of the mound and was important in Pee Dee cleansing rituals.
Make a day of your visit by bringing a lunch and enjoying it at the site’s picnic area. Restrooms and concessions are offered at the museum, along with a gift shop operated by the site’s support group. Proceeds from purchases supplement state funding for the site’s operation.
For hours, a schedule of special events and directions to the site, visit www.towncreekindianmound.com.
By Peter Anderson
By Peter Anderson
added: April 6, 2011
updated: April 8, 2011