When ring building ceased in the area by 1000 B.C., a new tradition of mound building was started by local cultures and others that had moved in from the west. In Georgia, the earliest of these cultures constructed small conical mounds of sand less than a foot high, which may have served as burial places. As mound building spread throughout the region, various combinations of sand, earth, and shell rose in constructions ranging from one to thirty feet high. Some contained tombs of exalted members of society, while others held mass graves.
Other mounds were flattened on top to accommodate the living quarters of chiefs. The largest mounds were landmarks for early European explorers. In the four hundred years following the arrival of the Spanish, builders mined hundreds of shell mounds for construction projects. Natural erosion, farming, and modern development have destroyed others. Of the thousands of mounds built, only a few hundred remain today. Nonetheless, some of these mounded monuments have been preserved in near pristine condition on private lands, in state parks, and in federal refuges.