Macon native Stephen Hammack, who was long employed as an archaeologist at Robins Air Force Base, was accepted this summer into a doctoral program at Oxford University in England, where he plans to research Creek towns along the Ocmulgee between 1680 and 1716. He said he hopes to start next summer in Amerson River Park, formerly Amerson Water Works Park. NewTown Macon, which owns the park, has already signed off on the project.
"We're very excited about it," NewTown CEO Mike Ford said. "We're just hoping the findings will be significant."
Europeans recorded Creek town names but not their exact locations. In most cases the town name referred to the band of people who lived there, so the town moved when the people did, Hammack said. He believes the River Park town might have been one called Kasita.
"So far, it looks like a huge Creek site," said John McBride of Macon, vice president of the Ocmulgee Archaeological Society. "Just having a Creek town that's really gone undetected for this many years in Macon is a big thing."
Some smaller digs been done during the past several decades at Town Creek when the Macon Water Authority's reservoir and water treatment plant were built and at Brown's Mount.
Hammack said he has not yet received land owner approval for the two other town sites he'd like to excavate. But he said he has spoken with the owner of a site in Butts County that might have been the location of Coweta Town, one of the most important Creek towns.
Although he has not yet approached Macon officials about the idea, Hammack said he also would like to conduct a dig in Central City Park. Hammack believes either Hitchiti or Ochese was the name of the town that was probably located in the area of the oval race track, where joggers still find Creek pottery. Old newspaper articles show that when different features were built at the park, Indian remains were found along with beads, plates and other artifacts. (One skeleton was put on display in a saloon.)
Hammack's research aims to learn more about the layout and size of Creek towns and their trade with each other and with Europeans. He hopes to determine for sure which town was at each site, what cultural group of Creeks lived there and what dialect they spoke.
Some of this information could be revealed by artifacts in the ground, but some may be gleaned from records across the ocean. Ironically, many records from early Colonial America are most likely in England, Hammack said, and he hopes to find some that have never been examined by American historians. Hammack left for Oxford last week.
Ford noted that Hammack's research will increase Macon's exposure in England among people who have probably never heard of the city.
Hammack will be combing the British Archives and the archives of the Association for the Propagation of the Gospel, an Anglican missionary organization that operated widely in Colonial America.
No Creek tribes remain based in Georgia because they were forcibly moved west in the 1800s, mostly to Oklahoma and Alabama. Hammack said he plans to communicate with the modern Creek tribal towns and the Muscogee Creek Nation about his work, and he would like them to be involved.
He also foresees a role for some trained volunteers such as members of the Ocmulgee Archaeological Society. Hammack was secretary of that group for years. Along with other volunteers, members helped collect artifacts from the surface of the ground in the "great meadow" of River Park after a NewTown employee mistakenly harrowed the area several years ago, disturbing the archaeological site.
That incident is one of several that helped Hammack decide to pursue the research.
He and several volunteers took ground-penetrating radar to the park in July to look for underground disturbances that would help target the best areas to dig. The excavation is likely to include only 5 percent of the meadow, Hammack said.
McBride helped with both the surface collection and the radar checks. The surface collection at River Park found more than 2,000 "points" (such as arrowheads) and pieces of pottery, and perhaps and as many as 6,000, McBride said. He is still cataloguing the pieces and grouping them by type. The earliest seem to date to about 1200 A.D., he said.
McBride said he hopes the excavation will locate post holes that indicate where buildings were, which would help researchers estimate the town's population.
Many town sites had been populated off and on for thousands of years. So artifacts must be dated by analyzing their style and patterns and determining the age of surrounding materials such as charcoal, McBride said.
"I will try to draft professional colleagues, because this will be big," Hammack said. Hammack said he also hopes to create opportunities for community members to observe the dig.
The excavations likely will cost $30,000 to $50,000, which Hammack hopes to fund through grants that are available to doctoral students.
NewTown owns any artifacts found at the park but currently has no plan for storing or displaying them, Ford said. Hammack and the Ocmulgee Archaeological Society are holding items found during the surface collections.
NewTown wants to eventually build a visitors center for the park that could display some of the artifacts, but that idea has not yet been funded, Ford said.
"If we were to have a big find, we would have to plan what to do with that," he said. "We will go with whatever Stephen (Hammack) suggests."