The “Dumbing-Down” of Indigenous Architecture in eastern North America

by Richard L. Thornton, Architect and City Planner

From the earliest days of the United States, academicians sought to present Native Americans in the eastern portion of North America as far more primitive than they really were, plus suggested that peoples from the Old World constructed major structures. In the 20th and 21st centuries, ancient stone ruins in eastern North America have been dissed by archaeologists then demolished or concealed, while stone ruins become state parks, national parks or national monuments in the Southwest!

2012 was a strange year.  There were multiple programs on the PBS, National Geo, the Learning Channel and the History Channel about the discovery of Mesoamerican artifacts and cultural traditions in Chaco Canyon, New Mexico. A forensic anthropologist in New Mexico announced that he had found some Mesoamerican DNA in an elite skeleton, unearthed at Chaco Canyon.

Many thousands of tax dollars went into this USFS campaign.

Meanwhile, a federally-funded propaganda and public speaking campaign was kicked off on March 1, 2012 by the US Forest Service Regional Office in Atlanta to discredit a program that was to be broadcast on History Channel H2 at an unknown date in the next winter.  Filming for the program did not even begin until late June of 2012. The US Forestry Service established a special “Maya Myth-busting in the Mountains” website for the campaign. Four of Georgia’s senior archaeologists were hired to go on a public speaking campaign and to write articles for national publications, which announced that they knew for fact that Maya refugees didn’t settle in the Southeast.  No one in the national media paid them any attention.  It’s a good thing. All of the Creek and Miccosukee Migration Legends begin in Mesoamerica, plus Creeks, Seminoles and Miccosukees with O+ blood are typically classified as Mesoamericans by commercial DNA labs.

Mako Hene on Boulder 6

The articles dispatched by the Georgia Council of Professional Archaeologists and the US Forest Service archeologist showed how little these people knew about the subject, for which they claimed to be THE experts.  All articles were accompanied by a photo of a glyph from Boulder 6 at Track Rock, which happens to be the Maya glyph mako hene or Great Sun.  This symbol was also the logo for the PBS documentary, “Cracking the Maya Code,” so we assume that the experts did not see that TV program either.

Maya priestess on a Cherokee logo

Meanwhile, tribal bureaucrats in the Tribal Cultural Preservation Office of the Eastern Band of Cherokees in North Carolina and Museum of the Cherokee Indian were sending out national press releases stating that they knew for a fact that no Mayas came to the Southeast.  Despite calling themselves archaeologists, the staff of the EBC Tribal Cultural Preservation Office actually knew diddlysquat about the Mayas or Georgia’s Creek Indians.  Incredibly, this agency adopted a new logo that same year.  It was a shell gorget, unearthed at Mound C at the Creek Mother town of Etowah Mounds in Georgia, which portrays a priestess of the Maya god, Kukulkan!

Stone walled terrace complex in Northwestern South Carolina

In mid-2013, I received an astonishing email from a Historic Preservation Consultant in South Carolina.  A fairly recent graduate of Clemson University with a Master of Science Degree in Historic Preservation, she had initially enrolled in the Post-Graduate Anthropology Program at the University of South Carolina.  I should add that Clemson has one of the best Historic Preservation programs in the nation and USC’s Anthropology Department also has an excellent reputation.  Although getting good grades at USC, she had transferred to Clemson because of her disillusion with contemporary anthropology.  Several professors manipulated what information was made available to the public and . . . since there were few job opportunities for graduates . . . the main existence of the program seemed to be to provide slave labor for the professors’ favorite projects.

Attached to the email were 16 photos of USC archaeological teams, working at stone ruins in the northwestern part of the state. They included the ruins of stone buildings and cairns, plus agricultural terrace complexes. There were also four photos of large, carved stone balls, found in northwestern South Carolina.  She said that some of the photos were made as late as 2012, during the height of the “Mayas in Georgia Controversy” and were smuggled out by irate archaeology students.  

The Anthropology Department refused in 2012 to tell the public about the presence of indigenous stone architecture in their state, because she said . . . “They didn’t want to be associated with the Maya Thing.” However, several of the photos were dated as early as 2003, so the archaeologists were concealing the presence of advanced  indigenous civilization in their state long before the publicity about the Track Rock Terrace Complex in Georgia.  For that matter, the Track Rock Complex was surveyed in 2001, but the public was not told about it, until I wrote an article in the National Examiner on December 21, 2011.

This V-shaped wall at Sandy Creek Park is several hundred feet long.

I wrote back that South Carolina was not the “Lone Ranger” in this matter.  There is a large area of indigenous stone buildings and terrace walls in Sandy Creek Park, which is jointly run by the recreation departments of Jackson and Clarke Counties, GA.  The park is six miles from the University of Georgia Department of Anthropology.  The famous director of that school in the 1950s and 1960s, Dr. Arthur Kelly, surveyed the proposed park land and found it to contain multiple Native American occupation sites. However, when the Jackson County Historical Society contacted the UGA Department of Anthropology in 2012 and asked them to send out an archaeology professor to explain the stone ruins to them,  all faculty members declined, saying that they did not want to get involved with the “Maya thing.”  

Mall of Georgia: There were two similar situations in nearby Gwinnett County. In the early 1990s, Developer Scot Hudgins was trying to get construction permits for what would become the largest mall in Georgia. This is a story, I know well, because his daughter, Marcia, was a classmate and friend of mine in high school, but unfortunately only told me about it after the fact.  Initial land clearance and rough grading revealed a vast expanse of ancient stone walls.  Scot wanted to preserve the walls as a park within the mall’s development plan.  However, the Gwinnett Planning Commission would only approve the change, if he obtained certification from an archaeologist that the stone ruins were “historic.”  They didn’t have to say that they were “prehistoric,” but the commission had grossly misinterpreted state law.  Many architects, who are licensed professionals unlike archaeologists, would have been happy to designate the ancient walls as being of historic significant, but someone at UGA did a “snow job” on the commissioners. 

Scot paid three archaeological consulting firms to examine the walls.  NONE would say whether they were historic or not.  Duh-h-h, ancient stone retaining walls, covered with moss would by definition be at least historic.  I would have been happy to write such a letter for a fraction of the cost charged by the archaeologists, but was living in Virginia at the time.  All other archaeology firms in the region refused to even look at the walls.  As result they were covered with Georgia red clay and now rest under a parking lot.

Little Mulberry River Park was the location of Melilot (1566-c. 1700)

Little Mulberry River Site: Only a few years later, another developer in Gwinnett County wanted to build a mixed-use project on very hilly terrain along the Little Mulberry River, which is a tributary of the Apalachee River, which helps form the Oconee River.  The ruins of ancient stone buildings, stone cairns, retaining walls and what looked like the foundations of 17th century European houses dotted the site, which looked more like the Blue Ridge Mountains than the Piedmont.   Disgusted at what had happened at the Mall of Georgia Site, leaders of the Gwinnett County Historical Society, which included Marcia Hudgins Duggan, presented their concerns to the Gwinnett County Commission.  After walking the site, the Commissioners agreed whole-heartedly.  While the Planning Commission seemed intent on destroying this 330-acre legacy, the elected leaders sought a tactic for stopping the development.  No archaeological firm would label the ancient ruins as being historic

Marcia H. Duggan was an ardent supporter of historic preservation in Gwinnett County before her untimely death in 2010.

Disgusted . . . and with the full support of the county’s citizens, Gwinnett leaders stopped the development on the Little Mulberry River by purchasing all the land and making it into a park.  You can now walk paved paths that wind past hundreds of stone and earthen ruins in this beautiful park.  We now know that the park was not only an Apalache (proto-Creek) town, but the site of the European colony of Melilot, which was occupied from 1566 to about 1700 AD.   I feel certain that Marcia Hudgens Duggan would have thrown her family’s considerable political influence and wealth into our efforts to get the half square mile Track Rock Archaeological Zone out of the destructive hands of the US Forest Service, but alas . . . she died before her time of cancer in 2010 . . . unbeknownst to me, because I was living in a tent in the Chattahoochee National Forest.

It began in the earliest days of the United States

I have been working on a professional paper for some time, which documents the strange dichotomy between archaeologists in the East and the West toward Native American architecture.  The problem is not just in the Southeast, but also extends up the Atlantic Seaboard to all of the original 13 colonies.  A condescending attitude toward Native American culture seems to have deep roots along the Atlantic Seaboard. Perhaps the myths arose in response to the knowledge that their ancestors stole land, which belonged to its indigenous inhabitants. If the indigenous people were Savages or perhaps killed the Caucasians, who built the mounds, it was somehow okay.

It was in New England and New York State that the myth concerning the “Lost Tribes of Israel” began. Early colonists noticed that the landscape was dotted with burial mounds, stone cairns and stone ruins.  They reasoned that the “Savages” could not have possibly constructed these structures, so decided that the Lost Tribes of Israel sailed across the Atlantic Ocean around 500 BC and built these enigmatic structures.  Several novels speculated that the “Savage Indians” killed off the Caucasians or that the Indians themselves were the depraved descendants of the Jewish settlers. There is problem here, though. Many of the mounds in the Southeast are much older than 500 BC . . . as old as 3,545 BC in Savannah, GA.

Archaeologists in New England generally refuse to investigate ancient stone architecture complexes.  There is evidence that at least some were constructed by colonists from northwest Europe, but how do you know if you don’t study them.  There were at least five Indian mounds where Boston sits today, but the state governments and archeologists seems uninterested in determining who built those mounds.  Indian mounds and shell rings in New England, New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware and Maryland get little recognition and often are not even designated historic sites. 

The Commonwealth of Virginia has its own strange dichotomy in archaeology.  The almost extinct coastal tribes get some official attention from state agencies, but both they and Virginia archeologists ignore the peoples, who built stone and earthen structures in the Blue Ridge Mountains and Shenandoah Valley.  Apparently, the same people built cairns, stone walls and stone mounds in the northern tip of the Blue Ridge Mountains as lived in Georgia on the southern tip of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The examples of stone architecture, cairns and walls on the northern end are not nearly as numerous as those on the southern end, but nevertheless, have a significant presence.

There was also a dense population of mound builders in the Shenandoah Valley.  English colonist John Smith stated that by far the densest Native population was in the Shenandoah Valley.  Early 19th century historian, Sam Kercheval, wrote that virtually every farm in the Shenandoah Valley contained ceremonial mounds, burial mounds or a village site.  My farm on Toms Brook in Shenandoah Valley contained an Adena mound, Adena Culture village and a Hopewell Culture village.  Farms in the bottomlands of the Shenandoah River contain Mississippian Culture artifacts and platform mounds. Mississippian style platform mounds can also be found along the Potomac River and the eastern foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

About 15 years ago, West Virginia archaeologists began to take the stone ruins in their part of the Shenandoah Valley seriously.  One Virginia archaeologist jumped into the study.  After very scientifically studying several stone cairn complexes and one agricultural terrace complex, they created a name for these people . . . The Stone Burial Cairn Culture.   Well, that’s a farther step than has occurred in Georgia, which contains well over a thousand stone cairns.  Although they were recognized, but seldom discussed, by Arthur Kelly’s generation of archeologists, the current generation likes to believe that they don’t exist . . . thinking that if they don’t admit the existence of many stone structures, they won’t have to explain them.

Take a look at any contemporary publication or website on Virginia’s Native peoples.  You will be told that the last cultural phase was the “Eastern Woodland Culture.”  These publications make no mention of the stone cairns, stone-walled terraces and ceremonial mounds in the western part of the state.

North Carolina has its own weird take on the past.   Everything was painted “Cherokee” between around 1976 and two years ago, when state law enforcement officials became thoroughly disenchanted with the high level of organized crime in the western corner of the state. It is obvious that the Cherokee gambling casinos are sucking the economic lives out of other towns in western North Carolina, which traditionally depended on “family tourists” for their economic survival.  Despite the construction of a casino in Murphy, the population has increased by only 18 people since 2010 and is 400 less than it was in 1980.

While living in the Asheville Area between 1977 and 1987, I counted 14 pyramidal or five-sided mounds in western North Carolina that were typical of the Creeks. Several more were probably oval mounds that were typical of the Late Mississippian Creeks, but were too eroded to discern a form.   In 2010, I could only find three of the 14 and they are not listed on North Carolina’s official mound inventory.  The largest mound in North Carolina, a five-sided structure on the Oconaluftee River in the Birdtown section of the reservation, was bull-dozed in 1986 to make way for a sewage treatment plant.  No archaeological work occurred before its destruction.

For decades, the Town Creek Mound Site, in south central North Carolina, 150 miles east of the Blue Ridge Mountains and 220 miles east of the nearest Cherokee village, was described in its museum as the northernmost location of a Creek Indian town.  That’s not correct because the Tamahiti Creeks (Tomohitans) were all over western Virginia.  Nevertheless, in 2010 the cultural label was changed to “most eastward example of the Appalachian Summit Culture.”  Exhibits of Creek Indians were replaced by exhibits of Cherokee Indians. Town Creek Mound is actually very close to the South Atlantic Coastal Plain and a long way from the Smoky Mountains!

There are approximately 300 terraces at Track Rock Gap, Georgia.

A morbid fear of stones and Mesoamerica in Dixie

Nineteenth century Georgians were well aware of the existence of stone ruins throughout the northern half of the state. Pioneer archaeologist, Charles C. Jones, Jr. wrote in 1873:

“When English speaking settlers came into the Southern Piedmont and Mountains, they encountered stone structures throughout the landscape. There were many stone walls, stone altars and even the ruins of stone buildings. Within a generation most of stone structures were gone and almost forgotten. They had become foundations, chimneys and the walls of new buildings. No one knew who had built these mysterious structures.”

“It was supposed that such things could not have been built by Indians, since it was thought that American Indians were too primitive to create such architecture. It was supposed that perhaps the Spanish or Prince Madoc built them.”

Bibb Terrace Complex

In 1886, Smithsonian Institute archeologists, Cyrus Thomas, identified over a hundred stone structures in northern Georgia.  Archaeologist Robert Wauchope visited most of those sites in 1939, but most have never been investigated by an archaeologist since then.  In 1955 and 1958, Harvard archaeologist, Phillip E. Smith did visit a few of the stone architecture sites, which had been recorded by Cyrus Thomas and Robert Wauchope.  During that period, Arthur Kelly identified stone structures, including a Scandinavian style stone boat burial, adjacent to the Chattahoochee River near Roswell, GA.  He also excavated the Bibb stone-walled terrace complex in Middle Georgia.

Stone Boat Burial and petroglyphs found by Arthur Kelly

The series of newspaper articles in the 1990s about stone ruins being destroyed in suburban Atlanta by real estate developers was quite embarrassing to archaeologists, because the orthodoxy, which they had created for the Southeast couldn’t explain them.  After that time, stone architecture was a forbidden topic.  In the May 2004 meeting of the Society for Georgia Archaeology, the president of the Georgia Council of Professional Archaeologists announced to the group, (and we quote) “We now know everything there is to know about the Southeastern Indians.  It is time to move on to other things.”  

Between 1196 and 2007, very important archaeological work was done in Cartersville, GA by teams leg by Dr. Adam King at Etowah Mounds and Dr. Scot Keith at Leake Mounds, but since that time, work on Native American sites in the Southeast have slowed to a dribble.  Dr. Harry Holstein, Professor of Anthropology and Archaeology at Jacksonville State University in Alabama has been excavating a series of stone structures in East-Central Alabama, but he is the exception.  The dissertation research of Dr. Daniel Bigman at Ocmulgee National Park with remote sensing radically changed the understanding of the great metropolis’s development, but his fellow archaeologists seemed to have paid the work little attention.

Mesoamerican immigrants:  One finds no discussion of Mesoamerican influence on Southeastern cultures in the professional literature of Southeastern archaeologists from their very beginning in the late 1800s until 2012.  In 1969, during an interview with the popular Atlanta Journal-Constitution columnist, John S. Pennington, Dr. Arthur Kelly did mention that he had recently found artifacts on the Chattahoochee River, which looked like they were either made in Mesoamerica or were copies of Mesoamerican artifacts.  Kelly was soon thereafter forced to resign from the University of Georgia because that statement.

In 2012, a statement was attached to the website of the Georgia Council of Professional Archaeologists, which mainly attacked me personally.  That was the first time in history that Georgia archaeologists discussed the Mesoamerican connection . . . well of sorts. The organization seems to have only six active members, if that, because there are no meeting minutes after 2012. Someone seems to have expanded the original document from time to time, but that person obviously knows nothing about Mesoamerican or Andean architecture. The “expert” on the subject, quoted in the treatise, is from South Africa and has never been in Mexico or Peru, much less worked on the Proto-Creek town site. He described the Track Rock petroglyphs as graffiti made by bored Cherokee hunters. The Cherokees were nowhere around until the 1700s. However, that’s just “par for the course” these days on Eastern stone architecture sites. Bureaucrats and archaeologists look for any excuse to deny their historical significance.

Oh, did I mention that the Etowah, Chattahoochee, Alapaha and Altamaha Rivers in Georgia are Anglicizations of Itza Maya words and the pre-1788 name for the Tennessee River was the Calimako River, which means “Palace of the King in Itza Maya? The Principal Chief, Second Chief and Speaker of the Council of the Muscogee-Creek Nation have Creek Language titles that were originally political titles in Mexico. Perhaps, the Creeks were sent Itza Maya dictionaries via air mail. It’s a jungle out there! LOL

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