by Richard L. Thornton, Architect & City Planner
Tepotztlan, Morelos – Etowah Mounds, Georgia & Østfeld, Norge
One Summer In Mexico – Part 42
There is enormous evidence that Bronze Age Scandinavians not only visited the coast of North America, but stayed long enough to carve petroglyphs in the Gold Belt of Georgia’s mountains. The shocking “rest of the story” is that they apparently also visited Mexico.
The primary objective of my fellowship in Mexico was to carry out a comprehensive study of all periods of indigenous architecture-urban planning in order to identify any similarities with the indigenous architecture-urban planning of the Lower Southeastern United States. This research effort was in support of Dr. Arthur Kelly, the famous archaeologist, who in 1969 announced that he had unearthed artifacts in the Chattahoochee River Valley of Georgia, which were either made in Mexico or were copies of Mesoamerican artifacts. Dr. Kelly lost his faculty position at the University of Georgia as a result of that announcement.
In the process of gathering a vast amount of architectural evidence, I also was exposed to information that was entirely in the realm of archaeology. At the museums at Tepotztlan, Villahermosa, Xochicalco and Cuernavaca, Mexico I observed copper hatchet blades and ingots that were identical to those in the Etowah Mounds Museum until 1995. They were quite different than the copper artifacts of the Tarascans and Mayas.
In fact, Dr. Román Piña-Chan, Curator at the Museo Nacional de Antropologia told me that the level of copper art craftmanship in Georgia was superior to that of the most advanced civilization in Mexico. The only Mesoamerica cultures, which worked with copper much were the Purepeche in Michoacan and a then un-named culture in the mountainous region, southeast of Tepotztlan, where the ancestors of the Upper Creek Indians originated.
Anthropology professors from UGA removed the ingots, when supervising the renovation of this museum, but did leave some of the hatchet blades. They also supervised the creation of a diorama that falsely told visitors that the famous Etowah marble statues were hastily buried just before Etowah was about to be sacked and burned by invaders around 1600 AD, when in fact the statues were inside a tomb at the base of Mound C, dating to about 1000 AD.
I interpreted the similarity of copper artifacts in central/southern Mexico and northern Georgia as evidence of a direct cultural connection. Two years later, I was living in Landskrona, Sweden. I was astonished to see the same copper artifacts in Bronze Age Room of the Landskrona History Museum that were at Etowah Mounds in Georgia and Tepotztlan in Mexico. I also saw the same petroglyphs in the photographs in that museum that were on the boulders in the mountains of Georgia. How could that be?
The Landskrona Museum also had a special section on the Hjartspringer Bronze Age boats, which crisscrossed the Oresund Channel during the Bronze Age. Little did I dream that I would one day see those same boats on the Tugaloo Stone at the head of the Savannah River in Georgia.
You have to remember that from that time in my life until 2005, people hired me or contracted for my services, because I was an expert on planned communities, pedestrian path systems, downtown revitalization, historic preservation and the design of buildings restricted by sanitation codes (restaurants, food processing plants, wineries, veterinary offices, etc.) No one gave a flying flip, what I had experienced otherwise in Mexico, Sweden and Georgia. It was only when the Muscogee-Creek Nation contracted with me in late 2005 that the other experiences begin to become significant.
Life is stranger than fiction
Even though Dr. Arthur Kelly played a key role in me being awarded the fellowship to Mexico, I never had the opportunity to discuss what I had experienced in Mexico with him. In 1973, I gave a presentation on Mesoamerican architecture to the Atlanta Archaeological Society at Georgia State University. Dr. Kelly attended and came up to me afterward to congratulate me. I tried to tell him that I had seen artifacts in the Villahermosa Museum that were identical to the ones he found on the Chattahoochee River, but he didn’t want to talk about it. With the exception of some Georgia Tech architecture professors, he was treated like a pariah by the other academicians. He quickly left after shaking my hand. I never saw or heard from him again.
During all the years since then, only one archeologist has seen my artifacts and discussed the experiences in Mexico with me. I did have several friends, who were archaeologists in Virginia, but they were not interested in Mesoamerican cultures. The individual, who did visit my home and WAS interested in Mesoamerica, was none other than George Stuart of National Geographic, who explored Mesoamerican sites throughout the late 20th century and was the author of those famous National Geo articles about the Mayas in the 1960s and 1970s, which excited the world.
In the early 1980s, George visited my farm in the Reems Creek Valley near Asheville to do the photography for a new National Geo book on the Appalachian Mountains. He introduced himself as the Senior Photographer for National Geographic. After photographing the farm operation, George came inside for some hot apple cider. He noticed the Native American artifacts on display in the living room and started asking questions. We eventually sat down and I began recounting all of my experiences in Mexico. He ended up staying for supper. However, not once did he mention that he was himself a professional archaeologist or that he was author of the National Geo feature article on Palenque that I had displayed on my artifact shelves.
Over three years later, we figured out that we had first met at Palenque, when he mentioned that he had met Linda Schele on her first visit to Palenque. I said . . . “H’m, that’s when I met Linda Schele.” George was excited because Linda had gotten an anthropology degree and was working with his son to translate the Maya writing system.
It was not until 1991 that I learned George had worked as a teenager one summer at the Etowah Mounds dig. He confessed that to me, after we had already moved to Virginia at his suggestion and he had published a National Geo article on Etowah! The following year, Linda Schele and David Freidal published, “A Forest of Kings,” which was the first book that translated Maya stelae.
George just listened and didn’t say much, which I talked about the apparent cultural connections between Scandinavia, Georgia and Mexico. George didn’t disagree with me, but he found it difficult to envision a time 3500 years ago, when Bronze Age peoples were traversing the planet. He said that he could think of no other explanation for the cultural connections, but couldn’t understand how primitive sailing ships could travel thousands of miles across the Atlantic and Caribbean Sea.
It was the internet that enabled me to stumble across the most astonishing discovery of all. A Norwegian archaeological website, devoted to helleristninger fra bronsealder (Bronze Age petroglyphs) contained an astonishing scene that belonged in Mexico, not Scandinavia. However, the Norwegian archaeologist, who authored the article, neither mentioned this detail nor understood its significance.
First, it should be explained that the Bronze Age peoples of Scandinavia had a different appearance than modern Scandinavians. They had black or dark brown hair, tan skin and were shorter. The red/blond hair gene was introduced to the Baltic Sea region at the beginning of the Iron Age (c. 500 BC) . These newcomers originated in southern Iran and were associated with the ancient Indus River Valley civilization. They were known in ancient times as skilled mariners.
There was a timber pole with men, dressed as animals, swinging about it, suspended by ropes. On top of the pole was a man, dancing and playing a flute. Beneath that scene were a group of men in typical Scandinavian Bronze Age horned helmets fleeing back to their boats as they are being chased by people, wearing different types of clothing.
This scene undoubtedly portrays the famous volodores or flying men of the Totonac People of the Gulf Coast region of Mexico. The Totonac language is unique in Mesoamerica, but Muskogean languages in the Southeastern United States contain some Totonac words. The Totonacs were apparently the elite at Teotihuacan, but their original homeland is unknown. They were pushed eastward around 600 AD by a rebellion in Teotihuacan and were partially overrun by Chichimec barbarians around 1200 AD. It is possible that the “flying men” ritual originated somewhere in Scandinavia, but this is the only know artistic portrayal of it, so that is not likely.