Residents near Track Rock Gap in Georgia Mountains form archaeological society

The Nottely River Basin Archaeological Group

Residents of Union County, Georgia from a broad spectrum of backgrounds are coming together to study their beautiful homeland’s past and to preserve its legacies for the future. Founding members include members of families that have farmed the Nottely River Valley since the late 1830s, descendants of Upper Creeks and Uchees, who never left the valley, some of my high school classmates, who moved from Metro Atlanta to the mountains after graduation from college 50 years ago . . . and retirees from all over the country.

All share a desire to preserve the region’s natural beauty and its heritage. First of all, however, they need to know where the ancient legacies are and put their locations on a map!

The Nottely River near Owltown in southern Union County

The current deplorable situation at Track Rock Gap . . . whose archaeological treasures are closed to the public . . . might be the catalyst that brought everyone together, but certainly will not be only concern of this new community organization. Fort Mountain in southern Union County might contain more stone ruins that those in the half square mile Track Rock Archaeological Zone. Almost everyone in the county has forgotten where archaeologists worked during the mid-20th century.

Wall of terrace complex near Nottely River in northern Union County

There are perhaps a dozen small agricultural terrace complexes in the county. Individual families know of forgotten mounds, ancients tombs with painted interior walls that seem to belong in Mexico and remote petroglyphs. In its first outing, the group identified one of the largest mounds in Georgia. Perhaps 20th century archeologists thought it was a hill, when they drove past it. It’s a daunting task that might take years to complete.

If you are interested in joining this new organization, contact John Galt via

View of Brasstown Bald Mountain from Track Rock Gap Road

Almost forgotten legacies from the past

During the mid-20th century, nationally respected archaeologists such as Robert Wauchope, Arthur Kelly, Lewis Larson and Joseph Caldwell identified at least 14 town sites and several mounds in the stream valleys of the the Nottely River Basin. The extremely fertile land of these mountain valleys were densely occupied by culturally advanced Native Americans for at least 2800 years.

  • Wauchope and Kelly identified ancestral Uchee and Creek Indian town sites that seemed to have been occupied almost continuously from at least 1000 BC until 1784, when the Treaty of Augusta transferred ownership of the basin from the Creek Confederacy to the Cherokee Tribe.
  • Kelly found evidence of a massive influx around 1000 AD of the same people, who founded the town at Etowah Mounds. Their Mesoamerican style towns were greatly diminished in size or even abandoned, during the second occupation of Etula (Etowah Mound) between around 1250 AD and 1400 AD. Creeks returned to these towns during the third and fourth occupations of Etula. Etula was 70 miles to the southwest of Blairsville, GA . . . the county seat of Union County.
  • All four archaeologists found the same cultural traits among Native peoples of Union County as those living south of the mountains . . . up until the late 1700s. That means that the Nottely River Basin was simultaneously occupied by three ethnic groups . . . Creeks, Uchee and Arawaks, who were united by a regional confederacy.
  • Nottely is the Anglicization of a Creek word that means “people on the other side” (of the mountains).
  • Choestoe or southern Union County was definitely occupied by Uchee up until the arrival of white setters. Choestoa means “Rabbit Clan” in Uchee.
  • Arkaqua (a creek in central Union County) means “Pawpaw Tree People” in hybrid Creek-Arawak.
  • Owltown (a creek in central Union County) suggests that Toa Arawaks lived there. The Cherokees were afraid of owls, while the Toa worshipped owls and made stone statues of them. The Creeks believed that owls contained the souls of ancestors, who watched over Creek villages and warned them of danger.
  • Coosa (a major creek in Union County) is the Anglicization for the Creek word Kawshe. The northern and western parts of Union County were probably always occupied by either Itsate or Kaushete Creeks.

There is an interesting fact that all four archaeologists share. None were ever aware of the stone-walled terrace complexes in Union County. All four examined the Track Rock Petroglyphs without walking across the road to inspect the series of stone walls climbing up the slopes of Buzzard’s Roost Mountain.

Sunset on the Winter Solstice at the Track Rock Terrace Complex

Many extremely tall descendants of the Upper Creek town of Coosa, which was located at the confluence of Coosa Creek and the Nottely River still live in the region. Their ancestors were among the 3,000 Upper Creeks, who elected to stay put and cooperate with the Cherokees. Fifty years later, however, their offspring were not on the federal government’s removal list, so they often were able to hide out from soldiers and avoid deportation to what is now Oklahoma.

Theoretically, the Upper Creeks in western Union County and eastern Fannin County might be eligible for federal recognition. The Hiawassee Indians in neighboring Towns County to the east of Union County have an even stronger case for separate federal recognition.

Christmas Morning near Track Rock Gap – 2010

It is safe to say that the members of the Nottely River Basin Archaeological Group have embarked on the adventure of a life time.


  1. If the pandemic ever ends and you have the money, you really should visit the Golden Isles of Georgia and the Okefenokee Swamp. There is really nothing like them in Europe or the Mediterranean Basin. Cumberland Island has beaches a mile wide with 60 feet (20 m) tall sand dunes.

    Liked by 1 person

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