Old Stone Fort, Tenn. and its connection with Gadsden

December 27, 2013 chris
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This week the Vagabond is in Manchester, Tenn., for Christmas to see family and decided to go by the Stone Fort Archaelogical Park.

Believe or not there is a connection between Stone Fort Archaelogical Park and a shelter hole on the side of the Noccalula Falls gorge wall.

This deep hole afforded protection from anyone. All a person had to do was to pull the ladder up and no one could get in from above or below.

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, Tenn., and Gadsden. 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.

It is rumored that Prince Madoc came up the Coosa River from Mobile to Noccalula Falls, DeSoto Falls, Fort Mountain, Ga., on through what is now Stone Fort Archaelogical Park. Madoc or Madog ab Owain Gwynedd, was, according to folklore, a Welsh prince who sailed to America in 1170, over 300 years before Christopher Columbus’s voyage in 1492.

There are several surviving enigmatic sites in northern Alabama. 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 can completely consume skeletal remains in little over a century.

The best preserved and documented stone enclosure known is 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 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.

The place is similar to the “houses” carved out of the cliff at DeSoto Falls. Those from the past had to go over a stone wall fort at the top and walk down a trail a foot wide on the side of the cliff…and nothing but straight down for hundreds of feet. It too is associated with Madoc.

It is now theorized by Tennessee archaeologists that the Old Stone Fort 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.

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.

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.

The Old Stone Fort State Archaeological Park in Manchester, Tenn., is a 50-acre prehistoric ceremonial site consisting of a large plateau-like grassland, surrounded by man-made stone walls running 1.25 miles around the site, atop cliffs, and surrounded by two rivers.

The entrance to the site leads between two mounds, which align to the sunrise on the day of summer solstice.

The encompassing walls that give the park its name are made of stones, but after 1,500 years of disuse, they look like low grassy mounds, covered with dirt, leaves, and trees.

Archaeological excavations in the region have uncovered stone tools, pottery shards, arrow heads and spear heads, and a wealth of other paleo and woodland era artifacts.

Many of the artifacts can be seen in the museum near the entrance.

However, excavations on the site have produced few artifacts, leading archaeologists to conclude that the site was not occupied, but purely ceremonial.