This land is your land . . . This land is my land!
Track Rock Gap . . . Ten Years Later
by Richard L. Thornton, Architect and City Planner
The quickest way to lose a Native American archaeological site is to keep it a secret from the public – in particular, elected officials, planners, historians, outdoors enthusiasts, architects, civil engineers and land surveyors.
Ten years ago, Georgians from all walks of life began climbing the steep slopes of Buzzard’s Roost Mountain, an ancient volcanic crater, to explore the mystical beauty and scenic views of the Track Rock Terrace Complex and other terrace complexes in North Georgia. First, there was a dribble then a constant flow of explorers in good weather. No matter what the desk jockeys of the US Forest Service offices in Gainesville, GA and Downtown Atlanta did to discourage the public knowing the truth, we overcame them.
It was clear that the US Forest Service had no clue how important this huge archaeological zone was and would continue to allow it to deteriorate. At the time, those of us exploring Track Rock Gap all believed that Track Rock Gap, plus the stone ruins at Fort Mountain, seven miles away, should be transferred to the National Park Service. It could be a satellite property of Ocmulgee National Historic Park . . . which is expertly managed. After all, up until the mid-20th century, Track Rock Gap was essentially a public park, composed of grassy mountainside meadows . . . alpine in feeling. Now, we are not so sure that is the best idea.
As we were able to discern exactly what happened in 2012 . . . how three out-of-state Cherokee tribes . . . four fossilized archaeologists . . . and an anonymous troop of federal bureaucrats, representing various cults and political extremes, could ally themselves to embark on a ludicrous, expensive, publicly-funded campaign to discredit a one hour TV documentary, before it was even broadcast??? (See previous articles in this series to learn about the details of this scheme and corruption in the US Forest Service.)
We don’t want any of those people ever having a say in the future of this world-class legacy from the past. Never, ever again do we want to have some sophomoric tribal bureaucrat in the mountains of North Carolina or the hills of Tahlequah, Oklahoma getting away with blocking a TV documentary, being filmed in Georgia by National Geographic or PBS. Ten years later, TV and movie production is this state’s bread and butter.
Since then, I have had some very interesting conversations with the staff of the Georgia Department of Industry, Trade & Tourism. I told them about the politics behind the events in 2012, related to discouragement of tourism in Union County, GA. Employees of the USFS Tourist Information center in nearby Blairsville, GA, the county seat, were ordered not to tell tourists where the Track Rock terraces were . . . at exactly the same time that a prime time TV broadcast on Track Rock Gap was scheduled for December 21, 2012.
USFS employees cut down over 100 trees across the access trail in an attempt to block hikers from the California Sierra Club in June 2012 . . . then their bosses tried to lie about it. Meanwhile the Eastern Band of Cherokees bribed the Union County Chamber of Commerce $1000 a year, plus perks at its casino for chamber executives, if its Union County Visitors Center would steer tourists northward to attractions in North Carolina and not promote tourism at Union County’s Native American archaeological sites.
Needless to say the economic development and tourism people were outraged that federal and out-of-state tribal employees had succeeded in blocking millions of dollars in tourism income to Georgia over the past ten years that should have followed the broadcast of what has become the most watched one hour History Channel documentary ever!
They told me something very interesting. The economic development pros said that Georgia desperately needed a world class cultural tourism attraction in the mountains, which would appeal to educated, affluent families from Europe and Asia. People come to Atlanta for conferences and conventions from London, Paris, Mexico City, Stockholm, Berlin and Tokyo. They are not terribly impressed . . . other than the fact that most of the metro area has a canopy of trees, when they fly into the airport.
Also, the Georgia Film Commission needs better locales for filming scenes in extremely mountainous locations or portraying the ancient history of Americas. They have had problems, getting approval for commercial movies being filmed on USFS-owned mountainous sites. At least for awhile the staff in Gainesville, GA thought they had to get approval from Cherokee, NC to film in the Georgia Mountains. It has been a nuisance and a barrier to expanding the movie industry up there.
Some of the tourism people had actually hiked up the ruins at Track Rock Gap. They saw the potential of Track Rock becoming a world-class cultural tourism attraction. They were not aware of nearby Fort Mountain having many stone structures . . . several in better condition. They gave me a suggestion.
“Richard, why couldn’t the archaeological zones in Union County be transferred to Vogel State Park in Union County? It is one of the nation’s oldest state parks and has a large staff, who mostly live in Union County. State crews could quickly repair the damage done to the hiking trails by the USFS and definitely provide more parking and signage. The state owns Brasstown Valley Resort and Lodge, just a few miles away. We could offer guided hikes to the guests there.“
The tourism specialist agreed that the US Forest Service’s policies toward the Track Rock ruins were shameful then went on to explain that the state could quickly improve the appearance of the visitor access area and hiking trails at Track Rock Gap in a matter of a few days. However, in order to appeal to sophisticated visitors from major cities of the world, the state will need a world class museum. Is there place near there to build a museum and parking?
Actually, there is! For a couple of years now, a multi-acre property in the gap, where several ancient Indian trails combine . . . including access to the ruins . . . has been for sale. The property is level and has two driveway entrances.
The following winters of 2012, 2013 and 2014, a small, determined team of Georgia Creeks climbed up the mountain and explored the rim of the crater each direction to discover ancient man-made features that the archaeologists and USFS rangers had missed in earlier years. We were astonished to find a royal tomb complex, carved into the side of a cliff . . . very much like those of the mysterious Chachapoya. We knew that the elite of Apalachen came from Peru and mummified their dead. Could they have been related to the Chachapoya?
This pretty Creek sister from Northeast Georgia, climbed 800 feet up the slopes of Buzzard Roost Mountain in sub-freezing weather to help us survey the upper irrigation reservoir and royal tomb complex. We also discovered that our ancestors had built a road along the ridgetop. Her motive? She wanted to see Track Rock Gap for herself, but also honor her ancestors, who lived on this beautiful mountain.
She is a metaphor for the difference between how the majority of people in Georgia feel about Track Rock Gap and other Native American monuments in the state, compared to the Machiavellian tactics of the bureaucrats of the US Forest Service and three out-of-state Cherokee tribes. In contrast, on a spring-like day in mid-December 2011, the out-of-state Native American bureaucrats were content to have their photo made in front of a sign in a parking lot, so they could race back to Gainesville, GA to enjoy a free banquet, paid for by the taxpayers of the United States.
This man should be honored with a trail name
Probably, few people now remember mixed-blood Creek journalist, John S. Pennington, who was a popular featured reporter with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in the 1960s and 1970s. He grew up in Americus, GA in the same county as President Jimmy Carter. They were lifelong friends.
About 50 years ago, John wrote the first articles, which introduced the Track Rock petroglyphs to the world. After reading the article in the Sunday AJC, I immediately called a gal and said “Let’s go to the mountains.” She was at first taken aback, but then announced that she would tell all her friends, where she was going, so I better not try anything. It was a real downer, being back in the United States, after being a grown man with a grown up girlfriend in Mexico.
The petroglyphs were much more legible back then. I took photos, but they are long lost. It is theorized that acid rain has caused the erosion of the boulders.
Perhaps more than any 20th century man, John raised the public’s awareness of the advanced Native American cultures in the Southeastern United States. He wrote detailed articles on many archaeological digs and often became friends with the archaeologists, such as Dr. Arthur Kelly.
As far as I know, John was the first journalist to publish an article, which presented solid evidence of direct contact between Mexico and the lower Southeast. Dr. Kelly had found several pieces of pottery and figurines along the Chattahoochee River, which he believed either were made in Mexico or were copies of Mexican ceramics. A year and a half later, I would be able to answer his question. Identical Chontal Maya ceramics were in the Villahermosa, Tabasco museum.
The Sami-Georgia Connection
Who are the most likely candidates to have carved the Track Rock petroglyphs? They are identical to those at Nyköping in southern Sweden on the Baltic Coast, which have been dated by Swedish archaeologists to about 2000 BC.
Swedish references state that at this time period the Baltic Coast was believed to be occupied by Sjø Sami (Sea Sami), who specialized in the gathering of amber from the Baltic Coast then trading the amber for copper and bronze from boats, based in Iberia or southern France. Thus, over time, these Sea Sami would have carried Sami, Finnish, Iberian and Basque DNA.
The genes for blue eyes, fair skin and blonde hair had not arrived yet in the northern lands, so the Sami would have been brown eyed with black hair and bronze skin. They would have had Asiatic eyes and pronounced cheekbones like Southern Sami Sofia Jannok (below).
My fellow employees at Landskrona, Sweden’s City Architect’s Office thought I was a Sami. Wherever I traveled throughout Scandinavia, the Swedes, Danes, Norwegians and Sami thought I was a Northern Sami . . . who are closely related to the Sea Sami.
Initially, the only thing that I knew about the Sami is that my elementary geography book called them Lapps . . . a name that the Sami detest. Fast forward . . . in 2015, I learn in the Migration Legends, recorded by Georgia’s Colonial Secretary Thomas Christie, that the Uchee always insisted that they had crossed the Atlantic and initially settled at the mouth of the Savannah River.
Then fast forward a couple of more years. I always knew that we were also part Uchee, but really did not know anything about them. I have a cousin, whose father had some Uchee in him, whereas both my mother and my real father were from Itsate and Apalache Creek stock. He has more of the Uchee combination of (Sami, Forest Finn, Karelian, Basque and Iberian). All of these peoples would have looked much like mixed-blood American Indians 5,000 years ago. I have much more Mesoamerican and Panoan than my cousin. We both carry a surprising amount of Maori Polynesian. That is probably from the Wassaw-Soque, who lived near where the Broad and Savannah Rivers converge – near where my mother’s family traditionally lived.
Southern Sami, Sofia Jannok, is my favorite Swedish singer . . . next to Agnetha Fältskog, javsst! Here she performs, “This land is your land” in Swedish before the Royal Family of Sweden. The chants or “Kudits” at the beginning and end are in Southern Sami. The silver haired gentleman in the center of the front row is King Karl XVI Gustaf. He was the Crown Prince, when he sent me a telegram during the spring of my Thesis year at Georgia Tech . . . inviting me to work in Sweden.