Rock Eagle is often cited as one of the great wonders of Georgia, yet it remains largely a mystery. Irby Hudson Scott acquired the land after the 1802 treaty with the Creek Indians and his family never farmed the area near the effigy, before selling it to the federal government in 1938. The first known published reference to the mound was made in 1854 by Reverend George White in his Historical Collections of Georgia. In the 1878 Annual Report of the Smithsonian Institution, C. C. Jones referred to it as the Scott Eagle Mound, in a detailed description of his research at the site. The most recent scholarship places construction of the site at 1500-500 years ago, but dating a place like this is an evolving process. There isn’t even agreement that it’s an eagle. Some have suggested that it represents a vulture. The image of a bird with open wings has been found on many Mississippian artifacts, religious objects, and petroglyphs, and while Rock Eagle is likely of the Woodland period, the influence continued.
Another large bird effigy mound consisting of milky white quartz, known as Rock Hawk, is located nearby. A third effigy mound, known as the Pressley [Presley] Mound or Mound No. 3, was identified on a map of these sites made by C. C. Jones in the 1870s. Now lost to insensitive excavation, it was located on the Eatonton-Godfrey Road.
In June 1940, the Georgia Society of Colonial Dames of the XVII Century erected a bronze plaque on a slab of Georgia granite, between the parking lot and the effigy. It reads: Rock Eagle Mound – Mound of Prehistoric Origin. Believed to be Ceremonial Mound. Made with white quartz rocks in the shape of an eagle. Head turned to east. Length 102 feet. Spread of wings 120 feet. Depth of breast 8 feet. Only two such configurations discovered East of the Mississippi River. Both in Putnam County. “Tread softly here white man, for long ere you came, strange races lived, fought and loved.”
In 1936, Works Progress Administration archaeologist Martin Cromer dug exploratory trenches around the mound and found little more than pottery shards and daub. At the time, Rock Eagle was likely in a condition similar to present-day Rock Hawk. By 1938, Cromer restored the effigy to measurements and specifications made by C. C. Jones in 1877.
The tower is a landmark unto itself. Along with the parking lot, fence, and walkway, it was built in 1938.
Some of the most important excavations done at the site were completed in 1954 by Dr. Vincenzo Petrullo and Dr. A. R. Kelly, who recovered burned and unburned human and animal remains, as well as a single quartz point. This research suggested evidence of a prehistoric presence at the site, but unfortunately, the artifacts are lost today.
The Rock Eagle 4-H Center opened in 1955, and has undoubtedly hosted tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of students over its 70 year history.
As a ceremonial site, Rock Eagle is sacred to Native Americans. The University of Georgia is committed to its perpetual preservation and it is open year-round and with no admission cost. The surrounding property is some of the most beautiful and unspoiled in the region.
National Register of Historic Places