South Americans founded the Hopewell Culture in the Florida Panhandle

The oldest “Hopewell” artifacts (600 BC) are found near the confluence of the Apalachicola and Chipola Rivers in Florida. The oldest “Hopewell” artifacts in Ohio date from around 100 BC.

by Richard L. Thornton, Architect and City Planner

Origins of the Chickasaw and Creek Peoples – Part Ten

It was one of those days that didn’t seem important . . . until decades later. On a February afternoon in my Sophomore year, my Architectural Design professor let me out of lab early so I could interview for a small drafting job at the Georgia State University Anthropology Dept. My interview with Dr. Arthur Kelly lasted about a minute. I showed him a couple of my recent design projects, drawn with ink. He said, “You did that?” I told them that Tech professors would not even grade a project unless the graphics were perfect. I instantly got the job of drawing a precise, ink on mylar plastic site plan of the 9FU14 village site on the Chattahoochee River, just downstream from Six Flags Over Georgia.

Dr. Kelly and the two GSU professors, whose names I have forgotten, then showed me ceramic artifacts from several sites on the Chattahoochee, which they thought either came from Mexico or were copies of artifacts from Mexico. I knew nothing about the subject, so took them at their word. Eighteen months later I would be looking at identical artifacts in the Chontal Maya exhibits at the museums in Ciudad de Campeche and Villahermosa, Tabasco.

The Gringo archaeology professors knew nothing about the Chontal Mayas. The Chontal Mayas had the nautical skills and boats very similar in appearance and construction to Scandinavian longboats, which could easily sail from the tip of the Yucatan Peninsula directly across the Gulf of Mexico to the mouth of the Apalachicola River, Pensacola Bay or Mobile Bay.

The final conversation between the three professors, while I was there, was the fact that all the evidence was stacking up toward advanced American cultures moving from south to north . . . not from the Midwestern United States outward to everywhere else. That of the official belief of all the national archaeological associations at the time. Brochures given to visitors at Ocmulgee Mounds told them that the Deptford Culture came from Ohio, the Swift Creek Culture came from the Boston-Cape Cod region and the founders of Ocmulgee came from Cahokia, Illinois. I was taught in anthropology class that the first mounds and the first agriculture occurred in eastern Ohio. However, no one knew where the founders of the Hopewell Culture came from.

Between 1934 and 1943,  pioneer female anthropologist, E. F. Greenman, published a series of articles in professional journals about a mound-building culture along the Apalachicola River and westward to Pensacola, FL, which seemed ancient, plus produced earthworks and artifacts similar to those of the Hopewell Culture. 1 Most of the mounds near Apalachicola, Panama City, Fort Walton, and Pensacola, FL were under ocean water.  Greenman cited this fact as proof of their antiquity, because radiocarbon dating did not exist at that time. Her work was largely ignored because she was a woman and a Southerner.  Midwestern academicians didn’t even bother to read her articles, because in their eyes, her ideas were impossible and heretical.

1 – Hopewellian Traits in Florida by E. F. Greenman  – Cambridge University Press – American Antiquity – Vol. 3, No. 4 (Apr., 1938), pp. 327-332.

Grave Creek Mound in West Virginia

During the very same period, pioneer anthropologists,  William S. Webb and Charles E. Snow, became convinced that the Adena and Hopewell mounds were constructed by two entirely different American Indian tribes. 2 There were pervasive myths in New England and the Midwest that the Adena mounds were built by the Welsh colonists of Prince Madoc and that the Hopewell earthworks were constructed by the Lost Ten Tribes of Israel.  

Webb was Director of Archaeology for the Tennessee Valley Authority throughout the 1930s and early 1940s.  Snow was a graduate in Physical Anthropology from Harvard University and was initially hired by Webb to supervise the excavation and forensic analysis of skeletons encountered at TVA dam projects.  Together, they assembled the first comprehensive forensic analysis of Native American skeletons in the Americas in order to obtain a scientific conclusion to the identity of the Adena and Hopewell Cultures. In the process, they also recognized the presence of very old Hopewell artifacts in eastern Tennessee.

The two scientists analyzed over a thousand skeletons, unearthed in Adena and Hopewell burial mounds.  They WERE distinctly different peoples, but they were definitely Asiatic peoples . . . not Welsh, not Semites.  They did find evidence of intermarriage, during the century that the two peoples co-inhabited eastern Ohio, but both types of skeletons strongly resembled certain Native American peoples, who were known to the British settlers, who came to North America.

2 – Griffin, James B. (New Edition Editor) – Webb, William S. & Snow, Charles E. (1945, 1974, 1981) The Adena People, Knoxville, University of Tennessee Press.

Adult Adena skulls from The Adena People

The South American Connection

For a long time, I had been convinced that there were some very big missing parts in the official explanation of North America’s history before the voyages of Christopher Columbus.  I am not talking about the “Maya thing.”   As stated by the head archaeologist at Chichen Itza, Dr. Alfonso Morales, that the Mayas mined minerals and settled colonists in the Southeastern United States, is not a theory.  It is a fact!  

However, there were many Native American place names in the Southeast that could not be translated with the dictionaries of indigenous tribes or even an Itza Maya dictionary.  The sophisticated stamped pottery of the Creeks seemed unrelated to any other pottery style in North America or Mesoamerica.  There were 16th century Native American towns in the Florida Panhandle, Georgia, eastern Tennessee and Western North Carolina, that had the same name as towns in eastern Peru.  

There was Native American art and European eyewitness accounts that portrayed the Creeks in the 1600s wearing conical straw sombreros and long tunics like the people of northwestern South America.  The Creek/Seminole long shirt is actually a slightly shortened continuation of that tradition.  Oh, did I mention that our family was found to be carrying Panonan DNA from Eastern Peru.  The rest of our indigenous American DNA was from southern Mexico.  That was easy enough to explain . . . but Peru?

Then I began purchasing dictionaries for the indigenous languages of northwestern South America and the Caribbean Basin.  At that point,  almost all the untranslatable place names could be translated.  MANY different ethnic groups migrated from South America and the Caribbean Basin to the Southeast.  That satisfied my curiosity, but there was nothing in the official archaeological literature that agreed with my findings.  They were still in the world of . . . “all good things come from the North.”

The Seip Mound Hopewell Complex in the Paint Creek Valley, Ohio

Oops!  Now they have really upset the apple cart!

The National Park Service has made subtle changes to its most recent brochure on the Hopewell Culture.  For almost a century, locations in the Southeast, where Hopewell-style artifacts were unearthed were assumed to be “colonies” or trading stations, founded by enlightened Indians from eastern Ohio.  By the 1990s, the concept of enlightened Ohio Injuns colonizing the portion of North America east of the Mississippi was changed to the “Greater Hopewell Interaction Sphere.”  However, still few artifacts from the Hopewell sites in the Southeast were analyzed to obtain a radiocarbon date.

This story is a typical example of what was going on.  In the late1980s, an archeologist with the Western District Office of the State Historic Preservation Office carried out a one-day survey of the little-known Otto Mound Town Site in Otto, NC.  The mound is located 215 feet from the Little Tennessee River.  On the other side of the river is the State of Georgia.  She found artifacts in most of the mound’s core that were identical to those found in mounds immediately to the south on the Georgia side, which Georgia archaeologists label Swift Creek, Etowah and Lamar Cultures (Proto-Creek). At the base of the mound, she found Hopewell style artifacts.

No effort was made to date the artifacts scientifically. In her brief report, the archaeologist labeled the Otto Mound as “one of the oldest known Cherokee Mounds, which dated to at least 200 AD.”  She also stated the Hopewell artifacts were proof that the Cherokees were full participants in the Hopewell Culture.  No map before 1715 even shows the Cherokees living in North Carolina. They instead show the region occupied by several branches of the Creeks, plus Shawnee and Uchee villages.

Hopton Earthworks in Chillicothe, Ohio

A change in the chronology of the Hopewell Culture

The National Park Service report was updated to reflect recent radiocarbon dates of Hopewell artifacts in Tennessee and the Florida Panhandle. The oldest from Florida dated to about 600 BC. The oldest from Tennessee were 500 BC.  The supposed colonists produced Hopewell artifacts 4-500 years before they were made in the presumed Hopewell Heartland of Ohio.

The new report also was much more specific about the ethnic identities of the Adena Culture people of the upper South and Ohio (500-100 BC), plus the progenitors of the Hopewell Culture.  Both peoples were genetically, Indigenous Americans of Asiatic origin.  However, the Adena People were shorter and brachycephalic (“square/broad” headed), whereas the Hopewell People were taller and dolichocephalic (long-headed). 

There was little or no difference between the Hopewell skulls and those of the Shawnee, who lived in the Ohio Basin after work ceased on the Hopewell Culture mounds.  The Shawnee and the Creeks have always said that the Shawnee once lived as far south as Florida.  Suwanee is the Anglicization of the Creek word for the Shawnee.  The word Shawnee, itself,  is the Anglicization of Shawano, which means “Southerners.”

The Adena People apparently first lived on the Lower Mississippi and Gulf Coast then slowly expanded northward.  Their physiques strongly resembled the indigenous peoples of southern Mexico and Central America, but may well be the ancestors of the Choctaws and Chickasaws.

Amazonian earthworks


The geometric earthworks found in the western Amazon River Basin of Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia and Brazil are very similar to those of the Hopewell Culture in Ohio . . . virtually identical in many cases. It is quite believable that the same ethnic group constructed these earthworks in both regions. EXCEPT . . . why in the world would they travel about 3,355 miles (5,400 km) northwestward to an entirely different climate than the Amazon Basin? I can’t answer that!

Even with the revised chronology of the Hopewell Culture, there is one riddle that still challenges me.   The Adena Mounds were identical in construction and geometric form to the burial mounds, found in clusters around the landscape of the province of Skåne in southern Sweden.   Those in Sweden were constructed during the last part of the Neolithic Period, the Copper Age and the Early Bronze Age.  Construction of conical mounds with circular ditches around them ended about the same time they appeared in the Eastern United States . . . c. 800 BC.   As far I as I have researched, no bronze artifacts or Scandinavian style artifacts have been found in Adena Mounds.

A Bronze Age burial mound near Landskrona, Sweden

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