Taking a cue from both of his grandfathers, Sgt. Chris Robinson is always on the hunt for treasure.
As a child, they taught Robinson to keep an eye out for interesting artifacts, like arrowheads. And boy has Robinson finally found his treasure - a special rock pile on the shores of Lake Lanier.
In the early 1980s, Lake Lanier took a dive under full pool and that is when Robinson first spotted what he thought was an old Native American rock pile. Now that the lake is down again, he is sure that the pile of rocks is an American Indian mound.
"I sent the information off to Robinsville, N.C., and I have a friend that is Cherokee and she showed it to the elders," said Robinson, who works for the Gainesville Police Department. "They said what was odd about it is what appears to be the sunken crater (in the middle of it). They said it looks like a burial mound that caved in. The only way they could explain it was a chieftain of high importance was buried in a log tomb, covered with rocks and covered with earthen dirt and over time it caved in."
Thomas H. Gresham, secretary with The Society for Georgia Archaeology, wrote a piece for the group in 1990 called "Historic Patterns of Rock Piling and the Rock Pile Problem." He said rock piles, and determining anything about them, is very difficult without digging.
"Rock piles are immensely complicated here in Georgia," Gresham said. "Not so much everywhere else, but here in the Southeast. The rock pile problem is that they are Indian-made burial
sites, which is what most of the lay public believe. Or are they simply from farmers clearing the fields and making rock piles?"
But Gresham said there is an accepted theory on the large rock piles, about 30 to 40 feet in diameter, like the one Robinson found.
"The larger mounds, that usually occur on hilltops, usually occur only one at a time, tend to be prehistoric features almost certainly related to some sort of burial practice," he said. "In contrast, the smaller rock piles that usually occur on slopes ... usually occur in multiple numbers in certain places in Georgia and those almost never have human remains or any evidence of being Indian constructions."
Robinson's interest in historical artifacts and the lake began at a young age. As a child, grandfather Cliff Lyons of the Sautee Valley taught Robinson how to spot an arrowhead from a distance.
At the same time, grandfather Willie Robinson here in Gainesville was showing his grandson all the hidden treasures of Lake Lanier.
"I'm not an archeologist or an anthropologist, but I did grow up collecting arrowheads with my grandpa in Sautee Valley," he said. "I spent weekends up there and weekends on the lake fishing with my other grandpa and I married those two things together and that's how I spotted this object peering out of the water and got my attention."
And this mysterious mound isn't the first important discovery Robinson has made.
A few years back, while on patrol, Robinson literally stumbled across one of the columns from the Col. C.C. Sanders statue that had been blown away by the tornado of 1936.
The statue stood on the downtown square, and he found the column behind a house at Prior and Spring streets. The house is no longer standing.
"I read articles in The Times (about the columns) and that inspired me, that if I found something that looked like a column to call someone," Robinson said. "Now it's at the (Northeast Georgia History Center). There were four columns and this was the only one found."
The rock pile is on top of a hill. Overhead satellite views show the spot is where the Chattahoochee and Chestatee rivers merge. By land, the spot is closest to Davis Bridge Road in North Hall County.
Robinson said he believes the mound would have been about 100 feet high, looking over the river basin.
"Whoever previously owned this property probably didn't know because it was covered with dirt and blended in with the natural surroundings," he said. "If you'll take note, the big giant rocks is what the mound was laid on; the small rocks were brought by humans and you can see they are perfect size for someone to carry. Even the kids could have brought a rock."
According to Michael Lapina, a ranger with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' Buford Dam office, the rock pile - and others around the lake that he refused to elaborate on - are not a secret to the corps.
"We are aware of certain cultural sites on the lake," Lapina said. "We are aware it is there. Most of the ones that are on the lake are more or less old grave plots, either one or two head stones.
"There are a couple rock piles. We don't usually like to reveal the locations because we don't want people to loot them. We make periodic inspections of those sites to make sure their integrity is maintained and typically we will take the archeologist with us."
Lapina referred to the rock pile simply an "enigmatic rock pile." The corps is not certain where the mound came from, he said.
"People aren't exactly sure why they were put there," Lapina added. "Whether they were to mark a territory, maybe someone was picking up rocks and trying to get rid of them."
Robinson and Lapina both emphasized that the land is federally protected, enforced by federal laws.
"There are federal laws aside from the ones we enforce," Lapina said. "If you take artifacts from the lake, relics or what have you, from any federal property, it is considered stealing. You don't want to be caught taking cultural resources from public land."
And even though the pile appears to be of Native American origin, Gresham stressed that "nothing is ever clear cut, and that is why these archeologists continue to deal with these rock piles."
"Indians have many different ways of burying their dead over their 10,000 years of living here in Georgia," Gresham said. "It's changed through time and between cultures."
In the published piece Gresham wrote on rock piles, he defined a rock pile with a caved-in roof, like the one Robinson found, as a "pitted" rock pile.
"There are two theories on that; one is that they were originally built that way," said Gresham, who is president of Southeastern Archeological Services, a cultural resource management firm in Athens. "It's also possible on smaller ones that rock piles were built around a big tree stump and things cave in. On the bigger ones, I think the most prevalent theory is, somebody dug into it in the late 1800s."
However this rock pile was created in Hall County, and Robinson thinks it is a important discovery for the area.
"Everybody's got Indian mounds, but there's none for Hall County except for what may be here," he said. "This is a huge find for Hall County; we are on top of the world right here."