Petroglyphs: The secret history of the Judaculla Rock

Jackson County, North Carolina

35° 18′ 2″ N, 83° 6′ 34″ W

by Richard L. Thornton, Architect & City Planner

Georgia Institute of Technology ~ Georgia State University

Amateur historians, TV documentary hosts and professional archeologists alike started out “on the wrong foot” when they tried to explain this enigmatic carved boulder in Western North Carolina. The primary problem is that they don’t know diddlysquat about the cultural history of that region of Appalachia or even the meanings of the symbols. All of Judaculla’s symbols were used in the Apalache-Creek writing system. It is astonishing how much tax payers money has been wasted on archaeologists, who have presented themselves as “experts” on petroglyphs of the Southern Appalachians to the federal government or State of North Carolina, when they really have not done their homework.

The Judaculla Rock is a large petroglyphic boulder, located about 300 feet from Caney Fork Creek, which is a tributary of the Tuckasegee River. The location is southeast of Cullowhee, NC and northwest Tuckasegee, NC. It is 20 miles north of the South Carolina line. This boulder is in a large natural depression, which today is covered by a carpet of grass. In recent years, the park around the boulder has received extensive landscaping and parking improvements.

Eighteen years ago, Dr. Brent Kennedy tracked me down, while I was living in Jasper, GA, because he had heard that while Director of the Asheville-Buncombe County Historic Resources Commission, I had done considerable research on the late Colonial Period in Western North Carolina.  Yes, I had done some research into that time period, but had quickly discovered that what old eyewitness documents said didn’t mesh very well with what was being taught in contemporary history books.  Brent knew a whole lot more about the subject than I did.

What I knew came from a few published books on the subject. For example, the famous early 20th century North Carolina historian, Fostor Sondley, had written that there were large numbers of Spanish-speaking Jewish gem miners in the Toe and Upper Little Tennessee River Valleys and even more, mining gold and silver, in the Nantahala Mountains and Northern Georgia.  While I was living in Asheville, a team composed of a geologist, archaeologist and forester had dated mine timbers at several ancient mines in western North Carolina. The cutting dates of the sawn timbers varied between 1585 and 1615.

If Brent Kennedy’s name sounds familiar, he is the man who brought the existence of the Appalachian Melungeons to the nation’s attention. In our telephone calls and intermittent personal explorations, Brent and I became friends.  He had the time to research the Colonial Archives of South Carolina, whose British officials participated in almost all the direct contacts with the American Indians in western North Carolina and Tennessee, even though most of their lands were in North Carolina.

It was Brent who first made me aware that Europeans, mostly Spanish-speaking Sephardic Jews, were living in northeastern Tennessee and western North Carolina for a century or more before the Cherokees first arrived.  He was not sure what happened to the Sephardic Jews in southwestern Virginia. He found evidence that many never left.  A wagon train of settlers from Shenandoah County, VA passed through ancient Hebrew-speaking villages in southwest Virginia and northeast Tennessee in 1780.  The wagon train was led by Col. John Sevier and Col. John Tipton.  I formerly owned Tipton’s house in Shenandoah County.  The Jewish presence goes back much further than that. 

British Redcoats and Militia retreat from the Nacoochee Valley in 1693.

According to South Carolina James Moore (1650-1706), when Cherokee slave raiders first entered the Murphy, NC area in 1692, they encountered Spanish speaking men with long beards.  They killed them all. Moore returned the next year with a company of mounted Redcoats to drive the Spanish out of the Nacoochee Valley in Georgia, which then was part of South Carolina. Upon cresting a hill, near where I live now, he saw smoke rising from dozens of gold smelters. The soldiers realized that they were greatly outnumbered then beat a hasty retreat.

This next information from Brent Kennedy is especially important for our article.  The Cherokees first entered the Tuckasegee River Valley, where Sylva, NC is today in 1745.  They encountered several villages there occupied by Spanish-speaking “white men with long beards, hairy chests and dark skin.”  Their log houses had arched windows and these people “worshiped a book.”  The Cherokees sent a report to Charleston that they had killed or driven off all these Spanish-speaking white men.  Sylva is 10 miles downstream from the Judaculla Rock.  Thus, the Cherokees couldn’t have possibly reached the Judaculla Rock until at least 1745.  The Cherokees did not create the rock carving at Judaculla. It was ancient, when they arrived in the region. It is NOT a part of the Cherokee cultural heritage, but merely a legacy from the past, which was located within their new tribal boundaries.

For that matter, the Cherokees certainly have not lived in western North Carolina for 12,000 years as they now claim. Very few of the geographical names in that region are even Cherokee words. Both rivers flowing through the Cherokee Reservation, Oconaluftee and Little Tennessee are Creek words that have no meaning in the Cherokee language. As stated before, both the “experts” and the “TV celebrities” have no chance of understanding the Judaculla Rock because they always try to extrapolate an understanding from Cherokee folklore.

A trip down Etymology Lane

Until after the American Revolution, the majority of Creeks spoke dialects of Itsate, a language heavily influence by Itza Maya, Totonac and Panoan. Earlier, Muskogee was a parliamentary language, forced down their throats by the more warlike Muskogee speakers. The names of all the tribal divisions of the Creek Confederacy, which originally spoke the Muskogee language can be found in the geographical place names around the North Carolina cities of Franklin, Highlands, Cullowhee, Sylva, Canton, Brevard and Hendersonville.

We know that the Lower French Broad River Valley was abandoned around 1500 AD, probably due to the advent of the Little Ice Age. I strongly suspect that many Muskogee speakers in North Carolina were either killed by European plagues, introduced by the “white men with long beards” or else driven out by European firearms. However, there were still some Muskogee-Creeks living around present-day Hendersonville, Highlands and Brevard, NC until expelled by the British in 1763.

(1) Judaculla is the Anglicization of the Cherokee-nization of the Muskogee/Itsate-Creek words Suta-kura, which are pronounced Jzhű : <d>ä : kű :<rr> ä in Muskogee. The Muskogee Creeks, Southern Shawnee and Cherokees pronounced what is written as a “t” in English, halfway between a T and D. Itsate Creeks and Itza Mayas pronounce a T like an English T. The Creeks rolled their R’s so hard that they sounded like an L to English and French speakers. This was inherited from Panoan immigrants from Peru, who pronounce Peru like “Palu.”

Judaculla means “Sky (over) Kura.”

Kura was a Proto-Creek province in North Carolina. Their descendants are the Kulasee Creeks.

(2) Tuckasegee River is an Anglicized from the Muskogee-Creek word Tokah-se-gi, which means “Descendants of the Freckled People” in Muskogee. The actual name of this Uchee Tribe was Tokah-re, which is Archaic Gaelic Irish and mean “Elite People or Nation.” That’s right, one of the most powerful divisions of the Creek Confederacy had an Irish name and often had freckles, plus reddish brown hair. The Tokah-re, later known as the Tokahpachee or Tokase, were very large framed . . . sometimes reaching seven feet. They are the source of the the Cherokee folklore about “a giant named Judaculla.”

(3) Cullowhee, NC and Curahee, GA are the Anglicizations of the Archaic Irish word, Curaighhe, meaning “Place of the Kura (People)” Cura was a province in the northern tip of Ireland and the western edge of Scotland, which was the birthplace of the Scots! Curaigh (Curry) means “Cow People or Nation.” Curra (with two R sounds) was the name of the Irish goddess of fertility. The Cura people were also brawny. The descendants of Kura are called Kurase or Kulase and are primarily Seminoles, but also assimilated into the European-African population of Northeast Georgia. The Cullasaja River near Franklin, NC is the Anglicization of the Cherokee-nization of the Muskogee-Creek word Kullase-gi, which means “Descendants of the Kura People.”

(4) Cowee and Coweeta, North Carolina get their name from the Anglization of the Creek word, Koweta, which means “Mountain Lion People.”

(5) Tuskegee or its Itsate alternate, Tusquitee, are Anglicizations of the Creek words, which mean “Pilated Woodpecker People.”

(6) Etowah, North Carolina, near Hendersonville, is the Anglicization of the Muskogee-Creek word, Etalwa, which means “Principal Town.” That word is derived from the Itsate-Creek and Itza Maya word, Etula, which means the same thing.

(7) Tennessee is the Anglicization of the Muskogee/Itsate Creek word Taenasi, which means “Descendants of the Taino (Arawak) People.

Meanings of the key symbols on the Judacula Rock

Most of the symbols on the Judacula Rock can be found in the numerous petroglyphs of North Georgia or the Bronze Age petroglyphs of Ireland and Scandinavia. A few are also seen at Parawan Gap, Utah. Some are also in the Itza Maya writing system of southern Mexico. This rock was obviously carved by a people, who had multiple ethnic origins.

Most of the carving at the Judacula Rock were dots and circles representing the galaxies, stars and planets in the night time sky. Given the meaning of its name, that is a “no-brainer.’ However, major towns in the region around the Tuckasegee-Little Tennessee-Hiwassee River Basins were given special symbols. . . which are portrayed in the lower third of the rock’s surface. These major towns are represented by the logos of elite families. Some constellations were given special symbols such as the one at left.

This is the symbol for an elite family, who claimed descent from the Sun God or Sun Goddess. It is also found at Peterborough, Ontario, Parawan Gap, Utah, several locations in Sweden, plus in parts of Russia and Central Asia. In Itza Maya and Itsate Creek this symbol meanshene ahawor “sun lord.

This is the symbol used in Bronze Age Scandinavia, among the Georgia Creeks AND by the Mayas to mean the Great Sun or High King. The word in Itza Maya and Itsate Creek is “hene mako.” The Great Sun symbol is seen in the lower right hand corner of the rock.

These symbols of ceremonial maces, seen on the Judaculla Rock, were used in the Olmec Civilization, the Maya Civilization and among the Creeks for Lesser Nobility . . . in the case of the Creeks, they meant a family, who had achieved special respect because of achievements on the battlefield, religion or architecture.

And now you know!


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