by Richard L. Thornton, Architect & City Planner
National Architecture Columnist for the Examiner
Article originally published in the Examiner on 12/10/2012
Note: This article was republished in March 2013 with the additional information that it was near an attapulgite mine and thus probably connected to the mining of attapulgite. I was prohibited in a non-disclosure agreement from mentioning the “Maya Blue” connection until after the premiers of America Unearthed in the United States, Mexico and Europe. In return, the History Channel was supposed to mention my book, “Itsapa, the Itza Mayas in North America,” in the premier as the primary resource for the program. The History Channel did not fulfill its part of the bargain.
However, the fact that another Maya-type structure was in deep southwestern Georgia caused the Georgia archaeologists and North Carolina Cherokees to freak out, because they had told the public in several press conferences that the Cherokees built the Track Rock Terrace Complex as grave markers for “Great Cherokee Chiefs.” Track Rock Gap was actually within Creek territory until 1785, but the Decatur County, GA structure was 280 miles south of where the Cherokees ever lived. Thus, they issued a national press release trying to discredit me instead, which was filled with lies about my professional credentials and educational background.
I continued to have so many problems with Georgia archaeologists, the Cherokees and ultra-rightwing white cops in northern Georgia, spreading lies about my professional credentials and personal morals that I started “The Americas Revealed” as a counter-measure. I ultimately, though, had to go to the US Dept. of Justice in 2020 to shut down the criminal activities of Northeast Georgia law enforcement personnel, magistrates and district attorneys against me. One of the judges involved is already serving prison time.
For over 200 years, visitors to this site near the Chattahoochee and Flint Rivers in Decatur County, GA speculated as to what its function was and who built it. Whatever is left of this enigmatic structure is now under the waters of Lake Seminole. Its true story may never be known.
The year is 1776. Botanist William Bartram is on the last leg of his grand journey through the Southeast. While the guest of the British Army commander in Pensacola, Province of West Florida, he learned that the Continental Congress had signed a Declaration of Independence. What had been viewed by the British Crown as sedition by some colonial rabble had turned into a full blown revolution. Bartram was racing home to be with his family in Philadelphia. In a few days, he would join his Creek Indian friends and Georgia militia in a successful ambush of some British Rangers from East Florida.
Shortly after paddling across the Chattahoochee River, Bartram’s Native American friends showed him a stone building perched on a terrace overlooking the confluence of a creek with the Flint River. The old trade path from the Creek village of Attapulgus terminated at the Flint River’s opposite side. The Creek Indian village of Pucknawhitla (Poknvhitli [Birds-nest-builders People] in Itsate Creek) was located a couple of miles upstream. Bartram’s Creek Indian companions did not know who had built the structure, but it was still being used, apparently to store valuables and gun powder.
Bartram had embarked on his journey to study the exotic flora and fauna of the Southern colonies, but had become fascinated with its indigenous inhabitants. He was astonished, after traveling through 150 miles of the Georgia frontier, to see precisely planned Creek Indian towns laid out in grid iron patterns with streets, plazas, public buildings and sporting fields. Bartram’s interest shifted to architecture as his sketch pads were filled with drawings of the different architectural traditions of various branches of the Creek Confederacy. However, this building was nothing like what he had seen elsewhere. No contemporary Creek buildings were constructed of quarried stone and lime mortar.
After the Revolution, West Florida, which included the Florida Panhandle and much of southern Alabama, reverted back to nominal Spanish ownership, but the interior was controlled by the Creek Indian Confederacy. The United States declared war on Great Britain in 1812. The government of the Creek Confederacy declared its loyalty to the United States. Although officially neutral, Spanish officials allowed British agents to instigate a faction of Creeks, primarily living in Alabama and Spanish West Florida, to rebel against their leadership. An Itsate-Creek (Hitchiti) village in Decatur County did side with the rebels, who were labeled “Red Sticks.” This civil war quickly spiraled into a war involving the U. S. Army.
No major battles of the Red Stick War occurred near the stone building, but nearby Fort Hughes became a staging area for campaigns against the Red Stick Faction. In 1814, the Treaty of Fort Jackson, the Muskogee-Creek members of the Creek Confederacy gave away the section of southwest Georgia that was occupied by Itsate-Creeks, even though most had been loyal to the United States. This caused many Itsate Creeks to become hostile to the Muskogee-Creeks and align their towns with the Seminole Creek faction in Southeast Georgia and Florida.
In 1817, military campaigns began against the Seminoles, who then lived in southern Georgia and northern Florida. Fort Scott was built in the general vicinity of the stone building. In April of 1817 an army, led by General Andrew Jackson, stopped at Fort Scott on the way to fight the Seminoles in Florida. There were skirmishes near Fort Scott.
Visitors to the building in the 1800s gave the same general description. It was oval in shape. Its maximum dimensions were 15 feet by 9 feet. It had a corbelled (arched) stone roof. The floor was recessed two feet into the ground.
In his landmark book on the Southeastern Indians published in 1873, Charles C. Jones discussed on page 209 the fact that in many parts of Georgia, especially the mountains and upper Piedmont, ancient stone walls and building foundations could still be seen. Most of these ancient ruins were destroyed in the mid-20th century to make crushed stone for highway construction. The assumption by many people that a stone building couldn’t have been constructed by an indigenous people was wrong.
J. A. Youmans of Waycross, GA, who first visited the site in 1900, provides some more details for the building. He wrote, “The structure was built by excavating a hole in the rock about six feet deep. The walls were about eight or nine feet from the bottom floor. This was built out of a mixture of limestone and flint rock, and appeared to be cemented with some kind of powder that I think was cement rock beat up into a powder. I cannot see that this was used as an oven at any time, as the same did not show signs of fire. There was no door at this time, but the opening was about 28 inches by 72 inches. There were steps cut into the stone at the doorway. ”
Youmans’ comments provide more details, but also create more questions. How could the building have a six feet high door opening and steps cut into stone, if six of its nine feet of interior height were underground? Perhaps this quote is a 100 year old typo. Lime based mortar turns into a white powder after many centuries of exposure to the elements. Crude, hydrated lime plaster was utilized by the American Indians of southeast Georgia to plaster their wattle & daub houses. However, at the time of Spanish colonization efforts in the 1600s, local Natives did not have metal tools capable of quarrying six feet down through solid limestone, or even two feet. The six feet depth sounds suspicious under any circumstance, given the two feet depth described by all others.
The old stone building remains an enigma
Settlers poured into the region after Florida officially became part of the Union in 1821. The stone building became known as “Jackson’s Oven.” Frontiersmen believed that the structure was a bread oven, built to feed Jackson’s troops. This interpretation is impossible. In this era, bread was baked in cast iron ovens. His troops had no time to quarry the limestone, make the mortar and lay the rocks before racing to Florida to confront the Seminoles. Furthermore, it is highly unlikely that anyone in the U. S. Army knew how to build a corbelled vault out of stones of varied sizes.
Some local historians have suggested that it was a granary. However, all Creek granaries, going back a thousand years were two story structures, built on timber posts. They had vented walls. Corn and beans would have molded in a few days within the dark, hot, humid conditions of the stone structure.
The stone building near the Flint River also enters into the legend of the Welshman, Prince Madoc, who supposedly entered North America through Mobile Bay, Alabama then traveled to the mountains of Georgia to build mountaintop structures. Believers of this legend propose that some of Prince Madoc’s followers established a small village around the stone building.
Those historians more knowledgeable of the past have suggested that the structure was built by the Spanish. The Spanish claimed the Chattahoochee and Flint River Valleys until the mid-1700s, but did not permanently settle the region because of the extreme hostility of the Creek Indians. Until the construction began at Fort San Marco at St. Augustine in 1672, the Spanish had not constructed any stone masonry buildings in the province of La Florida. Lacking firing holes for arquebuses, the relatively small building would not have been of any obvious use for the Spanish and would have been very vulnerable to impacts from solid cannon balls. A collapsing stone roof would have instantly killed the occupants.
It is unlikely that any Spanish mason in La Florida would have even known how to build a corbelled stone roof. The ancient peoples Europe did. The Maya Indians did. The Native peoples of the Andes Mountains did, but not the Spanish of the Renaissance.
The building near the Flint River does strongly resemble the oval temples in the Maya city of Coba in the heart of the Yucatan Peninsula. Other oval temples in Uxmal also had stone roofs. Also, there were thousands of oval, stone walled houses in the Puuc region of Campeche State in the Yucatan Peninsula, but those that survive today have thatched roofs.
The building in Georgia is similar to the beehive houses that the Gaelic peoples built in Ireland and Scotland. What it most resembles, though, are the Christian burial crypts built in Ireland between 600 AD and 1100 AD. They also were cut about two feet into stone then roofed with corbelled stones. On the other hand, it could be a Maya royal tomb built in the shape of a Maya house.
By the late 20th century, the old stone building was a ruin with walls barely reaching above ground level. A brief archaeological survey of the proposed basin of Lake Seminole followed authorization of the Jim Woodruff Dam and Lock Project by Congress in 1946. However, no archaeological investigation was carried out for the ancient ruins. They were probably bull-dozed prior to the reservoir being filled with water as a safety precaution. (Since the publishing of this article, local historic preservationists have discovered the ruins under the waters of Lake Seminole!)
The Track Rock Terrace Complex, another stone Native American archaeological site, located in Union County, GA, is a major focus of the premier of the new History Channel (H2) series, “American Unearthed.” This first program investigates the evidence that Maya merchants, miners and colonists came to what is now the State of Georgia. It will be broadcast at 10:00 PM EST and 9:00 CST on December 21, 2012 – the beginning of the new Maya calendar cycle. Viewers can expect many surprises.