Friday, October 13, 2017

History Rewritten - 14

Here’s one more follow-up to the list of ancient stone works of the Southern Appalachians, as compiled by Cyrus Thomas in 1891.

. beltany stonecircle
Beltany Stone Circle, Ireland
The list is especially rich for Habersham County and nearby areas of North Georgia.  I've always found the Habersham vicinity appealing, possessing a subtle ambience that is hard for me to explain.  I won't say that no Cherokees ever occupied Habersham, but the best evidence I've encountered suggests they had little presence there until late historic times (late 18th/early 19th century to be more precise). So, who left the stoneworks in Habersham?  Welsh laborers under the command of Prince Madoc? Phoenicians?  Celts? Mayans? Spanish miners? Moon-eyed people?  The various theories are interesting, but I'm not going to sensationalize things with any far-fetched argument of my own.  I'll leave that to others and remain focused on the evidence. Among the many intriguing entries for Habersham County, Georgia are several stone circles, including this: “Stone circle 85 feet in diameter, with walls originally 4 feet high, on Aleck Mountain, 7 miles northwest of Clarkesville.  Reported by James Mooney.” In April 1848, while visiting the Nacoochee Valley (near Helen, Georgia), the intrepid Charles Lanman made mention of what was most likely the same stone circle: “…In this connection might also be mentioned the ruin of an old fort, which may now be seen a few miles north of Nacoochee valley. It is almost obliterated from the face of the earth, but its various ramparts can be easily traced by the careful observer. Its purpose we can easily divine, but with regard to its history even the Indians are entirely ignorant.” The imagination can run wild about this circle of stones atop Alec/Aleck Mountain. The report of one excavation of this circle, in 1956, adds enough detail to fuel even more speculation.     Phillip E. Smith wrote “Aboriginal Stone Constructions in the Southern Piedmont” in a March 1962 report for the University of Georgia Laboratory of Archaeology: The existence of a stone circle or 'fort" near the summit of Alec Mountain, in Habersham County, Georgia, has been noted in several 19th century documentary sources, such as Lanman and Thomas. It is situated about 7 miles north of Clarkesville, about a thousand feet off the country road leading across Alec Mountain, and appears to be located precisely on the spine of this long ridge. This site was partially excavated by the writer in June and July, 1956. Two trenches each 5 feet wide and 2 feet deep were dug across the length and breadth of the circles, and a pit 5 feet in depth was dug in the center at the point of intersection. In addition, two smaller test pits were sunk in other sectors, one trench was dug outside the wall, and the wall itself was removed in four sections to determine its structure.
  alec schema

 These investigations are shown on the attached map. No artifacts were recovered in the course of the excavations, nor were any found on the surface. A great deal of charcoal was observed at depths of about one foot throughout the excavated areas, but this took the form of carbonized roots, most probably burned by natural action. No evidence of hearths or other occupation was observed. Below the 1-foot level the earth, which was the typical North Georgia heavy red clay, appeared undisturbed except for occasional root action. A small rectangle of flat stones near the north end was excavated completely but nothing was recovered, and it might be well to take seriously the information given by local inhabitants that this rectangle was built by Boy Scouts in the last decade. The form of this structure is that of a broad oval rather than an exact circle. The north-south outside diameter is approximately 107 feet while the east-west length is 92 feet. The wall averages 8 feet in width and 3 to 4 feet in height. The excavations indicate that it was built directly on the original ground surface and has no real subsoil foundation, a feature common to the other structures examined. It is composed of rather small rough stones, easily carried and readily collected from the surrounding surface, piled casually with no attempt at arrangement in regular tiers. The enclosure is built on a relatively flat area on the spine of the ridge but although a deep gully lies on one side and fairly steep slope on the other it does not give the impression of being a defensive structure. No documentary evidence has been located to justify the local designation of "Old Spanish Fort."  It can be easily approached from the south and north directions, and there are a number of other positions in the immediate neighborhood which offer better defensive advantages if such were desired. There is no source of water in the enclosure. The earliest reference known to the writer concerning this structure is by a traveler named Lanman, who in a book published in 1849 mentions this "fort" and states that neither the white settlers nor the preceding Cherokee inhabitants could give any explanation of its origin. That it antedates the Pioneer occupation of the area therefore seems fairly certain.

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