A Jackson County Burial Mound beneath Lake Seminole

The Kemp’s Landing Mound was in the floodplain swamp of the Chattahoochee River. The site is now submerged beneath Lake Seminole off Three Rivers State Park in Sneads, Florida.

The Kemp’s Landing Mound, one of the best-known archaeological sites in Jackson County, has not been seen in sixty years. It was inundated beneath Lake Seminole when the Jim Woodruff Dam was completed in 1958.

The mound stood about one mile south-southeast of Kemp’s Landing, a paddlewheel riverboat landing on the lower Chattahoochee River. In present-day terms, the location is deep beneath the waters of Lake Seminole well off the picnic area of Three Rivers State Park at Sneads, Florida. Please note that the park is temporarily closed due to damage sustained during Hurricane Michael.

Approximately 1,500-2,000 years old, the Kemp’s Landing mound was first investigated by local residents who dug into it to see what it might contain. When Clarence B. Moore, an avocational archaeologist who traveled around the South in a steamboat called The Gopher digging up mounds, arrived in the early 1906, he found that: “Its height was about 4.5 feet; its basal diameter, 33 feet. A broad trench had been dug in from the western side through the center of the mound, previous to our visit, leaving, however, the eastern part intact.” [1]

A prehistoric Native American vessel taken from the Kemp’s Landing Mound by Clarence B. Moore.

Moore’s primarily focus was in recovering intact pots and bowls from the sites he visited, with little concern given to the fact that he was disturbing human graves and destroying earthen memorials that were hundreds if not thousands of years old.

He “leveled” the eastern part of the mound in a search for pottery cached there when the mound was built. His search was successful:

…Almost at the eastern margin, and extending to the northeast, began the usual ceremonial deposit of earthenware, put in for the dead in common, such as we have fully described in our reports on the mounds of the northwestern Florida coast and of the Apalachicola river. This particular deposit presented no new features. It began with sherds and parts of vessels and continued inward a number of feet, the latter part of the deposit being made up of groups of two or three vessels placed together, at a short distance apart. Owing to the nature of the mound, which was of clay, no vessel was recovered entire, though a number were represented by a full complement of parts. [2]

Looking north across the site of the Kemp’s Landing Mound. It is beneath the waters in the left of the photo.

Moore, who had looted such major sites as Moundville in Alabama, was not impressed with the pots that he found at Kemp’s Landing. He considered the ware to be “inferior” – evidently not recognizing that pottery was made using different techniques during different periods of time – and noted that most of it was covered with “the small check-stamp; the complicated stamp, faintly impressed; very rude incised line decoration in two instances in sherds; in one case an incised decoration of wavy lines and punctate markings.” [3]

The latter referenced vessel is shown above.

Although he claimed to find only one part of a human skull, Moore reported that the mound had clearly been constructed for burial purposes:

All vessels from this mound are small or of medium size, and all, including those represented by fragments, so far as could be determined, had undergone the mortuary perforation o the base so well known in Florida and in parts of Georgia and of Alabama, which was supposed to “kill” the pot and thus free its soul to accompany the souls o those for whom the mound was built. [4]

An aerial view of Lake Seminole with the Kemp’s Landing Mound site in the lower right of the photo.

Moore claimed that his work completely destroyed what was left of the Kemp’s Landing Mound, but archaeologist Ripley P. Bullen of the Florida Park Service decided to search for the site during the 1940s-1950s construction of the Jim Woodruff Dam.

The river swamp was still thickly wooded when Bullen made his first attempt to find the mound in 1948 and he failed to locate any trace of it. He returned again in 1952-1953 after clearing operations and reported finding it with little difficulty. Moore’s assertion that he had leveled it aside, Bullen found that the mound was partially intact. He conducted salvage excavations to learn what he could about it and save any remaining artifacts ahead of the planned completion of the dam and flooding of the lake. [5]

Bullen’s work revealed extensive evidence of human burials and verified that the mound dated from the Woodland era. He also found habitation and village sites from the same time period on the river bottom lands all the way back to just offshore from the rising hills where Three Rivers State Park is located today. These sites date from approximately the same time period as the massive Kolomoki Mounds site near Blakely, Georgia.

The Kemp’s Landing Mound was likely related to the massive ceremonial site at Kolomoki Mounds State Park near Blakely, Georgia.

The remnants of the Kemp’s Landing Mound disappeared beneath the waters of 37,500 acre Lake Seminole with the completion of the dam in 1958.

 

Sources:

[1] Clarence B. Moore, “Mounds of the Lower Chattahoochee and Lower Flint Rivers,” Reprint from the Journal of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia, Volume XIII, Philadelphia, 1907: 428-429.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ripley P. Bullen, “Six Sites near the Chattahoochee River in the Jim Woodruff Reservoir Area, Florida,” River Basin Surveys Papers, No. 14, Smithsonian Institution, Bureau of American Ethnology, Bulletin No. 169, 1958: 331-333.

[6] Ibid.