by Richard L. Thornton, Architect and City Planner
One Summer In Mexico – Part 59
There is something spiritual going on here. Several people, who would later play a major role in the understanding of the Maya-Georgia Connection, were at Palenque on the same day in 1970! The father of my tour guide in Campeche and his daughter (my tour guide) played a major role in founding the travel consultants, who planned the filming of America Unearth’s premier in Mexico.
On the evening of December 21, 2012 . . . the beginning of the Maya calendrical cycle . . . the History Channel broadcasted the premier of “America Earth”. Even though the program was about the evidence of past immigrations by Maya bands to the State of Georgia and featured several major tourist attractions in Georgia, the premier received no advanced notice in Georgia newspapers and local TV news. Indeed, due to pressure from Republican politicians in this state, it was even blacked out by several cable networks in northern Georgia, outside of Metro Atlanta. Most Georgians did not even know about the program until seven years later, when the Travel Channel bought the show and advertised it broadly in Georgia, prior to re-broadcasting it. Now available on the Travel Channel and Youtube, “The Mayan-Georgia Connection” has become the most watched program ever broadcast by History Channel H2.
The program was based on the book, The Itza Mayas in North America, which I had published in March 2012, but the viewers were not told that . . . nor that the evidence applied strictly to the Itza, Soque and Chontal Mayas, not all branches of the Mayas. History Channel researchers investigated several theories that I had promulgated in the book, but did not tell the viewers that most Creek Indians, carry Maya or Mesoamerican DNA or that the Creek Migration Legends all begin in Mexico. Although the movements of indigenous peoples in the Americas is a complex subject that would have required several one-hour programs, America Unearthed never returned to that topic.
At Chichen Itza, History Channel researchers learned that certain types of art at Chichen Itza and Etowah Mounds feature the same artistic elements. Indeed, Etowah is the Anglicization of the Itza Maya and Georgia (Itsate) Creek word, Etula, which means “Capital Town.” The equivalent in Muskogee Creek is Etalwa. Chichen Itza’s chief archaeologist Alfonso Morales also told the film crew that recently translated Maya inscriptions had described Maya voyages to Florida and Georgia, plus visits by delegations of Native leaders from Florida and Georgia.
Viewers did not see the majority the interview with me by show host, Scott Wolter. In it I explained how the houses and agricultural out-buildings in the suburbs of Chichen Itza and Palenque were identical to the houses at famous Georgia archaeological sites such as Etowah Mounds and Ocmulgee National Historical Park.
The climax of America Unearth’s premier occurred on the campus of the University of Minnesota. Due to political pressure, Georgia universities had refused to run comparative tests of minerals in Georgia and building materials in Maya cities. However, University of Minnesota scientists found a 100% match between attapulgite, mined in Georgia (the critical ingredient in Maya pigments such as Maya Blue) and the stucco on some buildings at the Maya city of Palenque. We also have very strong evidence that most of the mica used to fortify the stucco came from the Georgia Mountains.
There was another important fact in my book, which the History Channel left out. There is only one other place in the world, other than the Southeastern Coastal Plain, where the Yaupon Holly (Creek Sacred Black Drink) grows naturally. It is in the vicinity of Palenque, Chiapas!
When we were planning the program in the spring 2012, I urged the film company to go to Tabasco, where I had seen mounds and pottery like those in Georgia . . . and then the state of Chiapas, which had many terrace complexes like the one at Track Rock. However, the film company’s staff grew increasingly contemptuous of me as the History Channel received more and more telephone calls from politicians, law enforcement officers and archaeologists in Georgia, demanding that I not be on the show.
The film crew ended up going to Chichen Itza, because a company known as Catherwood Travels, offered a coordinated filming package deal out of their office in Merida. I assumed that nothing at Chichen Itza would be similar to the cultural heritage of Georgia, but did eventually remember that the houses in the suburbs of Chichen were identical to Pre-Columbian Creek houses in Georgia. By the time that filming began, it was possible that I would not be on the program at all.
The film company actually traveled to Yucatan BEFORE filming me in Georgia, not after, as the America Unearthed premier stated. That was a good thing, because the Mexican archaeologists said the same thing that I was saying.
The totally bizarre rest of the story
On Wednesday, August 12, 1970, I toured the magnificent Maya city of Chichen Itza. Part of the research that I was required to do for my fellowship grant was photographing all legible bas relief art (shallow stone engravings). The climax of Alfonso Morales’ segment on the American Unearthed Premier was pointing out a Maya priest, dressed as an eagle, which was very similar to the famous Etowah Eagle Man, which was created on a copper breast plate.
In the years that followed my three trips to Mexico, I have given well over a hundred slide lectures. However, people were primarily interested in the “big picture” of Maya cities. I never pulled the slides of bas reliefs of Chichen Itza from their box. I thought perhaps that I had photographed the same image of the Maya Eagle Man that Dr. Morales pointed to. This past week, I digitized the slides from Chichen Itza. Yes, I did photograph that bas relief . . . but never looked at it again for 50 years, after loading it in the storage box. Isn’t that the story of many our lives? We never know the truth until many years after an event occurs.
In doing research for this article last night, I thought it might be important to describe Dr. Alfonso Morales’ credentials. After all, when questioned by Scott Wolter about “the theory of ‘some’ people that Mayas immigrated to the Southeast,” he quickly responded, “It is not a theory, it is a fact.”
Alfonso Morales Cleveland: Alfonso is an internationally respected archaeologist. He is currently chief archaeologist at Chichen Itza in Yucatan and is a tour guide for Catherwood Travels, which provides custom designed itineraries into the world of the Mayas. He was formerly director, and principal investigator of the Palenque Cross Group Project at Palenque, Chiapas. The project was a joint venture of the Pre-Columbian Art Research Institute (PARI) and Mexico’s Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia (INAH). As a young archaeologist, Morales excavated numerous archaeological sites in southern Mexico under the supervision of famed Mexican archaeologist, Roman Piña Chan.
Dr. Morales grew up just outside the gates of Palenque. His father, Don Moises Morales Marquez and his wife started the La Canada Inn after their farmstead failed to produce enough income. In the 1980s this inn was expanded into the El Panchon Tourism Complex. His deceased father, who was a farmer, naturalist and Mayanist, was also the first tour guide Palenque.
Dr. Morales holds a Bachelor of Humanities degree in Mesoamerican Studies from the University of Texas, an MS in Anthropology from the University of Texas and a PhD in Archaeology from the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico.
Holy Toledo! Roman Piña Chan was my mentor in Mexico, also. I stayed at La Canada while studying Palenque. It was like a student hostel, but also catered to archaeologists and academicians. The modest daily room fee included incredible gourmet breakfasts and dinners cooked by Alfonso’s North American mother. I vaguely remember chatting with Alfonso at the dinner table. He was a little younger than me and dreamed of becoming an archaeologist. There is more.
Catherwood Travels in Merida, Yucatan was an outgrowth of the business owned by the father of Ana the Tour Guide with Benefits in Campeche. I think that one of the reasons that he and his wife encouraged our intimacy was that he envisioned a Gringo architect son-in-law as being a key player in that dream. Probably, of all the woman I have ever known, we were the best match intellectually, emotionally and physically . . . but our careers and personal lives were always out of sync . . . in an era when there was no internet. Ana continued her education until receiving a PhD in Anthropology.
There is more to the Palenque weirdness, though. While at Palenque for the first time on the first day, I toured the site with Architect David Schele and his art student wife, Linda. It was their first time, also. We briefly had a conversation with National Geo archaeologist, George Stuart, in the ball court of Palenque. The next summer, Linda attended a work shop at Palenque with George. She went on to get a PhD in Anthropology. In conjunction with George’s son, David, Linda played a key role in cracking the Maya writing system. The first Maya glyph that they translated was Henemako, which also appears on Boulder Six at Track Rock Gap in Georgia.
About eight years after George Stuart and I first met, he bought a farmhouse in Barnardsville, NC, while I bought a farm on the other side of the mountain in the Reems Creek Valley. We became friends. In 1987, he encouraged me to move to Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, where I had my “glory days” as an architect. George introduced me to his wide range of friends at National Geo, the Smithsonian Institute, National Park Service and the Library of Congress, who became the core of my architecture practice.
In December, 1990, two of George Stuart’s friends, living in Alexandria, VA, invited me to the annual Christmas Party for senior staff personnel at the Smithsonian and National Geo. At the party, George Stuart introduced me to Roger Kennedy, Director of the National Museum of American History. Twenty years later, Roger would hunt me down, while I was homeless. Just at the moment when I was out of food and money to pay the note of my Ford Explorer, he hired me to do research for him. After I stumbled upon the Track Rock Terrace Complex, Roger encouraged me to research it further . . . thus starting the process that led to the filming of America Unearthed.
It was also at that party that I met and immediately was enraptured by Vivi the French Courtesan Who Came In From the Cold (See the E-book series on The Americas Revealed.) As Vivi wrote me this past February, “Richard, no matter who we met or lived with afterward, we became soul mates for eternity that night.” I saved Vivi’s life that night. In the summer of 1992, she would save my life.
Vivi and her daughter spent the summer of 1992 at my farm in the Shenandoah Valley. Shortly after she had to temporarily leave the country to comply with tourist visa regulations, there was an attempt to take my life by several crooked state cops. A US Marshall stopped them, but told me if Vivi had not been living at the farm the previous six weeks, it was certain that I would have been murdered.
Life is a tapestry of people, weaving in and out of our lives.