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Old Stone Fort is one of the most beautiful Native American archaeological sites.
When the Scottish, Ulster Scots and English settlers first arrived in eastern Tennessee and northwestern Georgia, they discovered a continuous chain composed of hundreds of fieldstone structures on the mountain and hill tops between Manchester, TN and Stone Mountain, GA. Some were merely piles of stones that archaeologists call cairns. Others formed small cylinders. Others were small rings. Still others were complex combinations of concentric rings with some perpendicular walls. At least two appeared to be walled villages. The Cherokees, who had moved into the region during the late 1700s, told the settlers that they didn’t build these structures. Some Cherokees told the Europeans that they had been built by the Creeks. Other Cherokees told of a legend that these mysterious sites had been built by “Mooneyes,” which the Europeans interpreted as being gray-eyed Europeans. The stories were elaborated to the point that most Whites assumed that the stone cairns and enclosures were built by Celts, specifically a colony of Welsh led by a Prince Madoc.
There are several surviving enigmatic sites in the northern Georgia and western North Carolina that consist of dozens or hundreds of fieldstone cairns. The two largest are located in the Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield in Cobb County, GA and in Ball Ground, GA near the Etowah River. When in the path of suburban development, some of these cairns have been studied by archaeologists. Artifacts found in the vicinity of the cairns suggest a Late Archaic or Early Woodland construction date (1600 BC – 800 BC.) No human skeletons have been discovered. However, the damp, acidic soil of northern Georgia can completely consume skeletal remains in little over a century.
The best preserved and documented stone enclosure is located in Manchester, TN. Known as the Old Stone Fort State Archaeological Park; it is on a breathtakingly beautiful terrace between two branches of the Duck River. The Duck River Gorge and numerous waterfalls make this site also a wonderful place to visit for the natural scenery. The stone masonry is far less impressive than at Fort Mountain (see article on Fort Mountain, GA) but there are other architectural features, which make the site equally interesting. Some evidence of houses has been found. If continuous, the stone wall and earthen embankments would have been 4000 feet in circumference, but the earthen or stone walls were only built where the banks of the river were not steep. It is now theorized by Tennessee archaeologists that the site was an observatory and ceremonial site. The wide opening at one end of the enclosure faces the sunset on the Winter Solstice.
The Old Stone Fort site was first developed by the “Owl Creek People” between 200 BC and 200 AD, who were similar to those people of the Adena Culture of the Ohio Valley. (See article on the Adena Mounds) From 200 AD to 600 AD, site features were enlarged and the site occupied by “McFarland People,” who had apparently had cultural contacts with the Hopewell Culture of southeastern Ohio. (See article on the Hopewell ceremonial complexes.) The design of the Old Fort site and chronology of its occupation is quite similar to several Hopewell Culture fortified hilltops in southern Ohio such as Fort Hill.