“The more I consider the condition of the white men, the more
fixed becomes my opinion that, instead of gaining, they have lost much
subjecting themselves to what they call the laws and regulations of civilized
- Tomochichi, Mico of the Yamacraws
American Indians were the original inhabitants of Georgia,
having been here for at least 12,000 years. Massie's newest exhibit, American
Indians of Coastal Georgia, explores the different eras in the evolution of
American Indian culture in Georgia, including Europeans arrival to the New
World in the last 500 years.
The first people to inhabit the Americas were the Paleoindians.
They arrived by a land bridge connecting Asia and North America during the last
Ice Age when sea levels were lower. The Ice Age ended approximately 12,000
years ago, causing glaciers to melt and sea levels to rise. The Bering sea
covered the land bridge, blocking contact between the Old World and the New
World. The Paleoindians hunted massive game, which researchers call megafaunas,
such as mammoths, mastodons, giant ground sloths, enormous buffalo, and
six-foot-long beavers. Terrifying predators also roamed the landscape, such as
the American lion, the dire wolf, and even saber-toothed cats. These megafaunas
went extinct as the Ice Age ended, and most theories include the human predator
as a cause for their demise.
The archaic period in Georgia was about
10,000 to 3,000 years ago. During this period, American Indian people gradually
transitioned from predominantly hunter-gatherer societies to semi-permanent
lifestyle patterns. As human American Indian populations increased,
interactions with other groups (trade and warfare) meant that groups needed
Around 5,000 years ago, large complexes of shell rings and shell
middens began to appear along the coast in Georgia. American Indians occupied
these locations for much of the year because oysters and
shellfish provided a stable food source.
The shells would build up over many years, leaving behind evidence of human
settlement. The first
pottery in North America was invented about 4,500 years ago on the
Savannah River, near Augusta, Georgia. About 4,000 years ago, squash
and gourds began to be domesticated and cultivated in the area.
From about 3,000 years ago to 1,200 years ago, larger and more
permanent American Indian settlements appeared as populations grew. Ceremonies
and rituals became elaborate, and large
burial mounds like the Kolomoki Mounds
in western Georgia became common for important figures. During
this era, the invention of the bow and arrow makes hunting more efficient. Agricultural
skills, methods, and technology improve. Trade networks begin to
appear among the increasingly complex societies. Maize
(corn) first arrive in Georgia from Mexico.
From about 1,200 years ago until about 1600 A.D., complex
American Indian societies flourished across North America. Powerful chiefdoms
ruled over large areas, and the construction of enormous earthworks
proliferated thanks to the labor provided by the cities that formed around
these complexes. The Etowah Mound Site in
north Georgia is one of North America's largest representative sites,
consisting of sizeable flat-topped pyramid mounds at the center of a large
surrounding town. At the height of its influence around the year 1100, Cahokia's
city in modern-day Illinois outnumbered both London and Rome in
At the time of first European contact, the population of North
America is estimated at 10 to 20 million people,
and the combined population of all the Americas was likely larger than Europe's
estimated 60 million people. Diseases such as smallpox brought by Europeans'
arrival, however, decimated native populations and caused unimaginable
destruction to these growing Mississippian societies. An estimated 90%
of the population of the Americas died
from these new diseases. By comparison, almost two centuries before, the Black
Death, killed about one-third of Europe's people.
The Spanish appeared on the Georgia coast in 1526
with the expedition and short-lived settlement of Lucas Vasquez
de Allyon. When Hernando De Soto explored
Georgia in 1539-40, he discovered that towns had
been abandoned briefly before his arrival because of epidemics. In 1565,
Pedro Menendez de Aviles established a
permanent settlement in St. Augustine
and established lasting settlements a long Georgia's
coast to the Altamaha River.
Establishing a system of Catholic missions (misiones) supported
by fortified garrisons (presidios) in the area then known as
Guale (hwa-leh), the Spanish sought to convert the Indians to Christianity,
build alliances with various tribes, and conduct trade and agriculture. In
1597, the Guale Indians, led by Juanillo, revolted
against the Spanish and nearly destroyed all of their settlements before a
joint Spanish-Indian force defeated
them at Cumberland Island.
The Spanish rebuilt their settlement system only to see them
destroyed again starting in the 1660s by raiding tribes from the interior led
by another group of European colonizers, the English, with their bases in
Virginia and later in the Carolinas. By the 1690s, the Spanish left Georgia and
rarely ventured far north of the Castillo de San
Marcos at St. Augustine.