Mayan Words in Hitchiti-Creek Language Suggest Ancient Connection
The Hitchiti language, one of many languages spoken by Creek Indians, was spoken in Georgia and Florida during the Colonial Period by tribes including the Hitchiti, Chiaha, Oconee, Sawokli, Apalachicola and Miccosukee. Based on the number of place names derived from the Hitchiti language, scholars believe this language was once spoken over a much larger area of Georgia and Florida than it was during colonial times.1
A Seminole Indian camp with a sleep chickee, cooking chickee, and eating chickee. (Courtesy Wikipedia)
Curiously, the Hitchiti language appears to contain words of Mesoamerican origin. For instance, the Hitchiti word for “house,” chikee,2 is identical to the Totonac word for “house”: chiki.3
The Totonacs likely borrowed the word from their Maya neighbors where the word means “woven basket/container.” In fact, the Mayan word refers specifically to one type of basket, those made with split cane or similar woody material. Since Totonac homes consisted of a substructure of interwoven tree limbs and saplings with an overcoat of stucco-like clay (referred to as wattle-and-daub construction), “woven container” is a fitting description for these homes. The Hitchiti chikee was a four post design with no exterior walls but instead used mats woven from split cane material to create partitions and blinds. Again, we see that “woven container” is an appropriate description of these homes as well. (“Container” was a common euphimism in Mayan for “house.” For instance, in the Mayan dialect of Chol ‘otot is usually glossed as “house” but has been shown to have “a wider range of meanings as ‘container.’”)4
Chikee was the name of the summer house for Hitchiti-speaking tribes. They also had a winter house that had thick walls to better keep in heat. They called this house a tcokofa or “hot house.”5 In Mayan choko means “hot.” The word is still used in modern Muskogean and is chukopa which means “warm place,” where chuko means “warm” and pa means “place.”
El Castillo pyramid at Chichen Itza
Other Mayan words also appear in Hitchiti dictionaries. Chi is the Hitchiti word for “mouth.” Chi also means “mouth” in the Itza dialect of the Mayan language. One of the Itza’s most famous cities was Chichen Itza. Chichen is translated as “mouth of the well” with chi meaning “mouth” and chen meaning “well.” Chahni means “well” in Hitchiti thus chichahni would mean “mouth of the well” in that language.
John Mitchell’s 1755 map of Georgia shows Chiaha listed as Chiha.
The next entry in the Itza Mayan dictionary after chi is chiaha-eh which translates as “water’s mouth” or “water’s edge.” Chiaha, sometimes also corrupted as Chehaw and Chiha6, was a common town name among Hitchiti Creek Indians7 whose villages were located beside rivers and streams. The earliest record of a town by this name appears in the journals of the De Soto expedition who visited a town named Chiaha that was located on an island in the middle of a river.8 Thus “edge water” is an appropriate description of these villages.
Lake Okeechobee as viewed from space. (Courtesy Wikipedia.)
Interestingly, the area around Lake Okeechobee in south central Florida was known as “Chia”9 and the people who lived there were called the Mayaimi. One researcher theorized, based on absolutely no evidence, the word meant “high place” but due to its use for the area surrounding Lake Okeechobee it seems more likely a corrupted form of Chiaha, “chi-ha,” meaning “edge water.”
In Hitchiti, Okeechobee means “Big Water” where oki means “water” and chobee means “big.” There was another word for “big” among the Creek Indians: lako. In Mayan, lakam means “big,” as in the Mayan name for Palenque, Lakamha which means “Big Water.”
The –ha suffix was a way in which the Mayan language denoted water. Similarly in Georgia and Florida there are many rivers and lakes with Hitchiti names that end in ha such as the Altamaha River in Georgia, Ocklawaha River and Lake Hatchineha in Florida. This suggests that they also used this suffix to denote water but only with further research can we be certain.
The Mayan word for blood is ch’ich. According to anthropologist and linguist John R. Swanton, the Natchez word for “blood” was i’cha which, although different from the usual Creek word, reappeared in Hitchiti as ichikchi.10 The Hitchiti dictionary lists pichikchi for “blood.” Yet it also lists the prefix pichi as “to give” thus it is likely pichikchi actually means “to give blood” and Swanton’s ichikchi is the correct word for “blood” in Hitchiti.
The Hitchiti word bih means “head-chief” and the head chief was known as the Great Sun. Early eyewitness accounts of the Natchez noted that each morning the Great Sun would smoke a pipe and blow the smoke towards the sun (center) and then to the four directions.11 Thus we see that the Great Sun is associated with the five directions.
Mayan k’in glyph with quincunx design
Among the Maya the quincunx design consisting of five dots represented the four directions plus a center direction. In Mayan this design has the phonetic value bi or be.12 It is often integrated in the k’in glyph which means “sun.” Thus, like the Maya, the Hitchiti word bih is associated with both the sun and four directions.
The Hitchiti word for rattlesnake, chintmigun, translates literally as “snake chief.” Likewise, “in many Mayan languages the word for ‘rattlesnake’ is composed of the word for ‘snake’ preceded by aha(w) (lord).”13 So, although the actual words are not the same, the ideas are identical.
There are also words of Mixe-Zoque origin in Hitchiti. For instance, the Hitchiti word for “three,” tuchini, is very similar to the Mixe word for “three,” toohk.14
The typical scholarly argument suggests these are just coincidences or at the very least very recent additions to the Hitchiti language during the colonial period. The argument goes that if they were truly ancient then they would have changed in the intervening years.15 Yet recent linguistic research shows this is not the case. In fact, researchers showed that “the frequency with which a word is used relates to how slowly it changes through time, so that the most common words tend to be the oldest ones.”16Chikee or “house” is certainly a very common word thus it could easily have survived the ravages of time unchanged.
In fact, the word was already part of several place names when the first Spanish explorers entered the southeast in the early 1500s. The conquistador De Soto recorded a town named Cofachaqi and Cofitacheqi in his journals. Nearly five hundred years later the word is still in use among the Seminole and Miccosukee with zero change.
Why do several seemingly Mayan words appear in the Hitchiti language? How many other such words are there? In his article, “The Natchez, an offshoot of the civilized nations of Central America,” famed early Mayan scholar, Dr. D. G. Brinton, noted over 100 words of Mayan origin.17 In his article “Maya stock and Mexican languages,” Carl Herman Berendt, acknowledged as “undoubtedly the greatest scholar of the Mayan language,”18 also compared Maya with Natchez. In Miscellanea Maya inthe Berendt Linguistic Collection, No. 179, Berendt showed similarities between Natchez, Apalachee, and Mayan.19
In his article, “On the Language of the Natchez,” Brinton later backtracked somewhat from this position and noted, “It is very evident…that the Natche is a dialect of the Maskoke or Creek…with a small percentage of totally foreign roots.”20 But then notes, “The body of roots wholly dissimilar from any I have been able to find in the Chahta-Maskoke dialects, embraces a number of important words, and makes up a sufficiently large percentage of the language to testify positively to a potent foreign influence.”21 He did not speculate as to whom this foreign influence might be but it seems reasonable to assume that, based on his previous writings, the Maya were one likely candidate.
Brinton also noted that among the Natchez, the commoners spoke one language, referred to as the “stinkard language,” while the elites spoke another. As Brinton notes, “The Natchez offered one of several examples among American Indians where in the same community two independent tongues were employed, one by the nobles, the conquerors, another by the vulgar, the conquered.”22
Although, again, Brinton would later question the idea of two separate languages, the legends of several tribes suggest they were, in fact, ruled over by foreigners who lived atop the earthen pyramids scattered throughout the region.23 These foreigners were always referred to as a “priestly clan.” Among the Cherokee they were known as the Ani-Kutani and among the Choctaw the Unkala. The Choctaw legends stated they controlled an important temple called the “House of Warriors” and “chanted hymns in an unknown tongue.”24 Some legends even noted that these foreigners came from the sea and maintained rule within a single family for thirteen generations before dying out.25 The Cherokee claimed to have massacred the foreigners who ruled over them.
Were these “priests” actually nobles of Maya descent ruling over local indigenous tribes? Does this explain why only certain Mayan words such as for “blood,” “house,” “head chief,” et cetera, showed up in the commoners’ language?
Another clue that may help determine the most likely source of this foreign influence arises from symbols that appeared on pottery in Florida and Georgia around 200 AD. Known as Swift Creek pottery, these symbols were similar and, in some cases, identical to Mesoamerican symbols and Mayan glyphs. For more info read: “Mayan Glyphs on Georgia, Florida Pottery?”
Is there evidence that the Maya were in Georgia and Florida? If so, why were they there? Were they mining gold and shipping it back to Mexico? Does a gold artifact discovered in a Florida mound in the 1800s offer positive proof of this? Let’s look at the evidence and see what it suggests about the true goings-on in the southeastern U.S. before the arrival of Europeans.
Maya in Florida and Georgia?
A site in Florida called Fort Center near Lake Okeechobee offers the earliest evidence of corn agriculture in the eastern United States. The question naturally arises as to how corn, a Mexican plant, showed up in Florida before it showed up elsewhere in the southeast. If it came by land you would expect to see evidence of its cultivation in Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama long before it arrived in south central Florida. The logical conclusion, then, is that it was brought by people who arrived by boat. The archaeologist who excavated the site, William Sears, asserted in his book/archaeological report, Fort Center: An Archaeological Site in the Lake Okeechobee Basin, that this is precisely how corn came to be at this site. But who brought it?
Interestingly, Lake Okeechobee was originally named Lake Mayaimi. It took its name from a tribe of Indians named the Mayaimi who lived around the lake. This is where the city of Miami gets its name. So in the same place where the first evidence of corn agriculture was discovered we find a tribe named Mayaimi. In nearby Cape Canaveral the Spanish recorded that a tribe named the Mayayuaca lived. Another nearby tribe recorded by the Spanish was the Mayaka. When the Spanish first reached the Yucatan in Mexico they encountered a tribe called Maia (Maya) living in a province called Maiam. Could the Maya have been responsible for bringing corn to Florida?
The migration legend of one Native American tribe, the Hitchiti, suggests this is the case. The Hitchiti migration legend as recorded in the book Creation Myths and Legends of the Creek Indians seems to place them in the Lake Okeechobee area after arriving on the coast of Florida:
Their ancestors first appeared in the country by coming out of a canebrake or reed thicket near the sea coast. They sunned and dried their children during four days, then set out, arrived at a lake and stopped there. Some thought it was the sea, but it was a lake; they set out again, traveled up stream and settled there for a permanency
At the time this legend was recorded, the Hitchiti lived in Georgia. Following this legend in reverse, the only place south or “down stream” from Georgia with a lake large enough to be confused with the sea is Lake Okeechobee. The fact they arrived at the sea coast suggests they arrived in Florida by boat.
Pyramid of the Moon at Teotihuacan in Mexico. (Courtesy Wikipedia)
More importantly, this legend states that the Hitchiti’s ancestors came out of a “reed thicket.” The actual Hitchiti word recorded in the legend is utski which translates literally as “reeds.” In the Mayan language, “reeds” or “place of reeds” is a metaphor for a large city. For instance, the Maya referred to the great Mesoamerican metropolis of Teotihuacan as Puh which means “reeds.” The great Toltec capital of Tula was also known as a “place of reeds.” “Place of Reeds” served as a metaphor relating the masses of reeds in a marsh to the masses of people in a metropolis thus a metropolis became a “place of reeds.”
The Hitchiti migration legend reference to their ancestors coming from “reeds” suggests they were Maya who left a major city in Mexico and then arrived on the coast of Florida and temporarily settled near Lake Okeechobee before heading upstream and settling in Georgia “for a pemanency.” Interestingly, the Itza Maya referred to their ancestors as Ah Puh which translates as “Reed People.” Could the Hitchiti be descendants of the Itza Maya?
Mayan Words and Glyphs Among the Hitchiti?
El Castillo at Chichen Itza (Courtesy Wikipedia)
If the Hitchiti were, indeed, descendants of the Itza Maya then there should be linguistic similarities between the Hitchiti and Mayan languages. And, in fact, there are. Chichen Itza, the great Mayan city in the Yucatan constructed by the Itza Maya, is translated as “Mouth of the Well of the Itza.” Chichen means “mouth of the well” in Mayan with chi meaning “mouth” and chen meaning “well” as confirmed in an Itza Maya dictionary. According to a Hitchiti-English dictionary, chi also means “mouth” and chahni means “well” thus chichahni means “mouth of the well” in Hitchiti. (For more linguistic connections read: “Mayan Words Among Georgia’s Indians?“)
The Maya also had a writing system believed to have been passed down from the Olmecs which used glyphs to convey sounds and sometimes concepts. If the Hitchiti were related to the Itza Maya then you would expect to find evidence of this writing system among this tribe. In fact, there is. A pottery tradition known as Swift Creek pottery existed in the same areas of Georgia where the Hitchiti language is known to have been spoken. Designs on this pottery are similar and some cases identical to Mayan glyphs and symbols in Mexico. More importantly, this pottery tradition begins around the same time that corn first showed up around Lake Okeechobee.
For instance, one of the most important symbols among the Maya was that of Kukulkan, the plumed serpent. According to David Smith in his article “Quetzalcoatl- The Plumed Serpent,” (Quetzalcoatl was the Aztec name for this deity) this symbol also makes an appearance on Swift Creek pottery:
Swift Creek design that appears to show the “plumed serpent.” (Courtesy David Smith)
Plumed Serpent at the Olmec site of La Venta near Veracruz, Mexico.
More importantly, Smith argues that the duck bill on this version of Quetzalcoatl represents a wind deity known as Ehecatl-Quetzalcoatl. (A gold duck bill pendant discovered near Lake Okeechobee will be discussed later which further supports a Mayan presence in Florida.)
In his article “Swift Creek Design Investigations” that appeared in the book A World Engraved: Archaeology of the Swift Creek Culture, researcher Frankie Snow notes that another Swift Creek design has an “Olmec look.” This design which he described simply as “unidentified creature” bares a striking resemblance to the Olmec Jaguar glyph:
Swift Creek design suggestive of the Olmec Jaguar
Olmec Jaguar design
A quick perusal through the pages of A World Engraved reveals many other such designs. For instance, one design features a cartouche featuring two symbols, a diamond and cross. The fact that the Swift Creek potters decided to place both of these symbols in a cartouche reveals they believed these two symbols were closely associated. Among the Maya, these are both glyphs for the Mayan word Ek which means “star” or “Venus”:
Swift Creek diamond & cross design
Mayan cross-and-diamond Ek glyph
Another Swift Creek design appears to represent another version of the Mayan Ek glyph:
A pottery tradition in the same areas of Georgia where the Hitchiti language was spoken contains designs identical to Mayan glyphs
The Hitchiti migration legend placed them arriving in Florida from a place of reeds, a known Mayan euphemism for a large city, and living at the very place where corn was first cultivated in the southeast.
The pottery tradition and arrival of corn occur at the same time in the same areas where the Hitchiti are known to have lived
This is what the FBI would call “evidence.”
Getting here from there- Yucatan to Florida By Boat?
Now that it seems clear there was a Maya presence in Florida and Georgia the next question that must be answered is were the Itza Maya capable of crossing the Gulf of Mexico and reaching Florida? According to researcher Douglas Peck, the Maya most capable of crossing open ocean were the Chontal Maya. In his paper on the Chontal Maya and their seafaring accomplishments he noted they were great seafarers and navigators who controlled all the coastal trade routes from Mexico down to Central America. They also made voyages into the Caribbean. Thus the Chontal Maya were the most likely candidates to have traveled to Florida bringing corn along with them. Which begs the question: who were the Chontal Maya and what was their relationship with the Itza Maya? (Continues…)
Architect and scholar Richard Thornton has published his findings about an archaeological site on the side of Georgia’s highest mountain peak, Brasstown Bald. His conclusion, that the site was built by the Maya, could rock the archaeological community who have insisted for decades that no evidence existed for the presence of people from Mexico in the southeastern U.S. Thornton followed several lines of evidence to come to this startling conclusion including similarities between the terraced mountainside site with those constructed by the Maya, similarities in language, and similarities in culture and religious ideas. Read his findings below and decide for yourself if this site is, indeed, an ancient Mayan site in the mountains of Georgia. For more evidence of a Maya presence in Florida and Georgia read my article “Were the Maya Mining Gold in Georgia?”
This computer reconstruction of the site on the slope of Brasstown Bald in north Georgia shows similarities with Maya sites in Mexico. (c)2011 Richard Thornton
Archaeological zone 9UN367 at Track Rock Gap, near Georgia’s highest mountain, Brasstown Bald, is a half mile (800 m) square and rises 700 feet (213 m) in elevation up a steep mountainside. Visible are at least 154 stone masonry walls for agricultural terraces, plus evidence of a sophisticated irrigation system and ruins of several other stone structures. Much more may be hidden underground. It is possibly the site of the fabled city of Yupaha, which Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto failed to find in 1540, and certainly one of the most important archaeological discoveries in recent times.
BLAIRSVILLE, GA (December 21, 2011) — Around the year 800 AD the flourishing Maya civilization of Central America suddenly began a rapid collapse. A series of catastrophic volcanic eruptions were followed by two long periods of extreme drought conditions and unending wars between city states.
Cities and agricultural villages in the fertile, abundantly watered, Maya Highlands were the first to be abandoned. Here, for 16 centuries, Itza Maya farmers produced an abundance of food on mountainside terraces. Their agricultural surpluses made possible the rise of great cities in the Maya Lowlands and Yucatan Peninsula. When the combination of volcanic eruptions, wars and drought erased the abundance of food, famines struck the densely populated Maya Lowlands. Within a century, most of the cities were abandoned. However, some of the cities in the far north were taken over by the Itza Maya and thrived for two more centuries.
Many of the cultural traditions and artifacts discovered in Mississippian period archaeological sites in Georgia have strong similarities to cultural traditions in the west Mexican states of Nayarit, Jalisco and Colima. These traditions include the creation of circular pyramids, shaft tombs, dog effigy pots, human ancestral pair sculptures, and tree of life symbolism. Other artifacts discovered in Georgia have strong similarities to Olmec artifacts from the west Mexican states of Guerrero and Jalisco including bird man masks, three-pronged ceremonial maces, and jaguar deities. Migration legends of historic Muskogee Creek Indian tribes living in Georgia also suggest an origin in west Mexico.
Two of the most famous artifacts discovered in Georgia are the male and female human effigy statues found at the Etowah Mounds site. Carved from local marble and discovered buried in a log-lined tomb in the Funeral Mound (Mound C) at Etowah, they are believed to represent venerated ancestors. It is theorized that these statues were part of an ancestor worship cult that existed throughout the Mississippian time period.
A similar tradition of ancestor pair ceramic sculptures buried in specialized tombs is known from west Mexico. These sculptures were part of what is referred to as the Western Mexico Shaft Tomb Tradition.[i] Such tombs and their associated artifacts are distributed across the states of Nayarit, Jalisco and Colima in west Mexico. It should be noted that in Colima by 600 AD the ceramic figures had become solid and they also integrated stone elements with their gods’ representations.[ii]
Male and Female Human Effigies from Mound C at Etowah Mounds
“Ancestral Pair” from Chinesco culture of western Mexico state of Nayarit (Metropolitan Museum of Art). Notice the face painting is very similar to the Mississippian styles.
In addition to the ancestral pair sculptures, dog effigy pots were also found buried in these shaft tombs. The most famous of the canine effigy pots are the Colima dog pots. These pots are thought to represent the Techichi breed. The Techichi was a small, mute dog that was fattened up to eat[iii]. The pots show the “fattened up” version of these dogs. The Techichi is the breed from which the Chihuahua is derived.
Colima Dog Pot
Colima Dog Pot with spout
In Georgia a similar dog effigy pot showing a fat little dog was discovered at the Bull Creek site in Muskogee County. The pot includes a swirling design painted on its surface that suggests it was associated with the Creek Indian Wind Clan. Creek tradition holds that the Wind Clan was the most ancient clan among the tribe and the “aristocracy of all the clans.”[iv]
The breed of dog represented on the pot appears to be the Chihuahua. It has an upturned snout, bulbous forehead, erect ears and curved tail all consistent with the Chihuahua breed. The pot has been dated to 1325 AD.
Dog Effigy Pot from Bull Creek Site
Modern-day Chihuahua for comparison
Historical eye-witness accounts of Chihuahuas or Techichis in Georgia exist in the journal entries of Spaniards that were part of the Hernando de Soto expedition. This expedition travelled through Georgia in the 1530s. In several entries the Spanish mentioned that Georgia tribes raised a “little dog” to eat which they kept very fat for that purpose. Like the Techichi, the Spanish noted that this dog could not bark.[v] Later historians thought the Spanish accounts could have referred to opossums instead of dogs.[vi] Yet the eye-witness descriptions of these “little dogs” along with the Dog Effigy Pot from Bull Creek seem to confirm they were Chihuahuas.
In addition to ancestral pair statues and dog effigy pots another type of artifact found in west Mexican shaft tombs were tableaux. One such tableau from Nayarit shows a “multi-layered tree with birds.”[vii] The tree is uniquely stylized. A similar uniquely stylized tree with birds was found engraved on a marine shell in Craig Mound at Spiro, Oklahoma. The object, known as Tree of Life with Birds, is the only such design known to exist throughout the southeast.[viii]
Tree of Life with Birds, A.D. 1200-1450, Spiro, Oklahoma
A Nayarit tableau showing a multi-layered tree with birds.
The Spiro site, part of the Caddoan Mississippian Culture, is known to have had trade contacts with the Etowah Mounds site in Georgia. In fact, the population of Spiro moved away around 1250 AD[ix], the same time that a new population arrived at Etowah Mounds[x]. Is this a coincidence or did people from Spiro move to Etowah at this time? In fact, the funeral mound at Etowah was constructed after this 1250 AD repopulation of the site. It is in this funeral mound that we find the ancestral pair statues and other objects that seem to reflect the same west Mexican tradition as exemplified by the Tree of Life with Birds artifact found at Spiro.
Additionally, other artifacts at Spiro have shown it had trade connections with both Mexico and the Ancestral Puebloan peoples of the southwest. For instance, a single obsidian scraper unearthed at Spiro was shown to have come from Pachuca in central Mexico.[xi] Also pottery from the Ancestral Puebloan peoples of the American southwest has also been found at Spiro. Turquoise and pottery from the Ancestral Puebloan cultures of the southwest have been found in other Caddoan areas of Texas as well.[xii] It should be noted that the Ancestral Puebloans are known to have had trade contacts with the people of west Mexico and thus it is possible that these west Mexican cultural traditions arrived in the southeast via the southwest.
The Caddoans also produced unique pottery featuring human faces with distinctive scarring. The people in the western Mexican state of Colima also created such pottery showing distinctive scarring not only on human faces but also the afore-mentioned dog pots.
This famous Caddoan human effigy pot shows distinctive scarring on its face.
This head pot includes a Puebloan sun symbol on its forehead.
This hunchback pot from Colima in west Mexico also shows facial scarring.
This Colima dog pot also shows facial scarring.
Another artifact from the west Mexican state of Nayarit shows a model of a mortuary temple constructed on a mound covering a tomb. Similarly, a temple topped the funeral mound constructed at Etowah and within the mound were specialized log-lined tombs. (Continues…)
A ceramic model of a mortuary temple constructed over a shaft tomb from western Mexico. It is thought to represent the house of the living above the house of the dead.
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Rock Eagle and Rock Hawk were not the only stone structures built during the Woodland period. Other stone structures can be found in north Georgia but this time they are not in the form of bird effigy mounds. Instead they are mysterious stone walls built atop several mountain peaks. Several of these walls, sometimes circular in design, existed throughout north Georgia including atop Stone Mountain, Alec Mountain, Ladd’s Mountain and others but many were demolished for road fill. A few of these walls still remain including at the top of Fort Mountain. The mountain derives its name from the stone structure which was originally believed to be a Native American fortification.
The structure varies in height from 3 to 10 feet though averages around four feet. It measures from 4.5 feet wide at its narrowest point to 16 feet at its widest point. It has an east-west orientation and extends for about 928 feet near the summit of Fort Mountain. There are four breaks in the wall as it zigzags between the 2750-2760 foot elevation level. It is thought that these breaks in the wall’s structure are recent additions added by European colonists and explorers. There are also between 19 – 29 pits in the wall which are also believed to have been added by looters searching for artifacts within the wall.
The wall is constructed of stones from the surrounding summit area of the mountain. Though most of the stones are small or medium sized requiring no more than one or two individuals to lift them into place, a few large boulders weighing several tons are also part of the wall particularly on the eastern end. These boulders appear to have already been in place from natural rock falls and the Native American builders simply located the wall in such a way as to incorporate them into its structure. In some instances the wall seems to detour specifically to take advantage of these natural features.
The wall is believed to have been built around 400 A.D. and to have had a ceremonial function since it lacks certain characteristics necessary for defensive purposes. First, the wall is so low in spots that people inside the wall would be completely exposed to danger from without. Second, there is no source of water within the wall to sustain its inhabitants during an extensive siege. Third, the wall fails to take advantage of strategic contours of the mountain slope and in some instances actually changes course and makes persons behind the wall more susceptible to hostile actions from persons outside the wall. For these reasons it is doubtful the wall was ever a true fort.
Star Patterns in Stone?
Diagram of the Fort Mountain stone wall. The pattern of the stone wall is similar to that on the pottery vessel below.
While at first the zigzagging shape of the wall seems random, it may give clues to the actual purpose of the wall. During the same time period that this wall was being constructed, Native Americans in southwest Georgia were producing a type of pottery with strange designs that have perplexed archaeologists for over a century. The pottery, called Weeden Island sacred pottery, contains zigzagging linear patterns very similar to the pattern made by the Fort Mountain stone wall. It has recently been argued that these zigzagging patterns were actually derived from astronomical observations of specific planets and represent their movement around the night sky over the course of months and years. Could Fort Mountain represent something similar and could it have been the place where such astronomical observations were made?
“Vessel No. 1 from the Larger Mound Near Hare Hammock” features a similar zigzagging pattern that has been interpreted as representing the paths of Venus & Mercury as morning stars. (Image courtesy David Allison)
Even today we build our astronomical observatories at the tops of mountains. It’s a logical place to do so. It puts you closer to the thing you are observing. More importantly, for Native Americans living in a heavily wooded and forested environment, it puts you above the treetops and gives you a full 360 degree view of the night sky as well as the full sky dome from horizon to horizon.
The pattern of the Fort Mountain stone wall is very similar to the pattern on a pottery vessel found by archaeologist C. B. Moore. This vessel, referred to as “Vessel No. 1 from the Larger Mound Near Hare Hammock,” is decorated with two bird-head handles. Incised on both sides of the vessel is a zigzagging pattern. This pattern has been interpreted as representing the movement of the planets Venus and Mercury in the morning sky. (Venus is the brightest object in the eastern sky before sunrise and thus would have naturally drawn the attention of Native American sky gazers.) Could the zigzagging pattern of Fort Mountain’s stone wall be an attempt by early Native Americans to map upon the landscape the movements of these same bright objects in the early morning sky?
It is interesting to note that this same pottery vessel contains two ideas that were also being represented in stone around the same time period: bird effigies (Rock Eagle/Rock Hawk) and this zigzag design (Fort Mountain). Rock Eagle faces east and the Fort Mountain stone wall is oriented along an east-west axis. The pottery vessel was located in a grave on the eastern side of a burial mound and all the skulls within this mound were also facing east. The symbolism seems consistent.
Finally, astronomer John Burgess found that the wall was aligned with the summer solstice. As he noted in 1987:
The north end of the Fort Mountain Stone Wall points toward the position on the horizon where the sun rises on the summer solstice. If a clear view of the horizon were possible, an observer standing on this nearly straight section of wall would find that, using it as a sightline, the time of the summer solstice could be determined when the sun rises at that point on the horizon pointed to by the wall.
Legend of the Moon-Eyed People
The Cherokee Indians who later inhabited these mountains have a legend that says the stone wall was constructed by a race of “moon-eyed” people. They also said that these people were nocturnal and lived underground, only coming out at night. These people were supposedly tall, light-skinned and had beards. Could there be any truth to such legends?
Archaeologists have noted that the Hitchiti language was once widespread throughout Georgia due to the number of place names in the state that are of Hitchiti origin. When the first Spanish explorers entered this region in the early 1500s they encountered many Hitchiti-speaking tribes. These tribes were described as being tall and wearing mustaches and turbans. The chiefs wore full beards. (One such chief from a town called Ocute had a beard that, according to Spanish accounts, reached his belly button.) Thus the idea that tall, bearded people constructed the Fort Mountain wall isn’t completely out of the question.
But what of the ‘nocturnal, subterranean-dwelling’ aspects of the legend? Once again, Spanish records indicate they encountered Hitchiti-speaking tribes living in “hollow’d mounds…fully covered in mud.” These mounds are likely identical to the earth lodge discovered at Ocmulgee Mounds in Macon, Georgia– a site also constructed by Hitchiti-speaking Native Americans. From the outside an earth lodge appears to be a mound of earth yet it is, in reality, a sophisticated structure covered in earth usually reserved for ritual or ceremonial purposes and likely the residence of a chief or priest (who would have been bearded.) Thus this seemingly bizarre part of the legend, subterranean dwellers, now has a plausible explanation as people who lived in earth lodges.
Video still from the DVD “Lost Worlds: Georgia” showing a section of the stone wall.
The Spanish gave these natives the derogatory name “micos sucios” which translates as “dirty monkeys.” This has been conjectured to be the origins of the tribal name Miccosukee, one of the few Hitchiti-speaking tribes remaining in America (currently residing in south Florida.). The Miccosukee were, in reality, part of a tribe known as the Chiaha, who were located in the mountains of Tennessee and Georgia. Thus it is likely that they are the tribe responsible for the construction of Fort Mountain.
Since we’ve established that the Cherokee legend is likely an accurate description of the people who built Fort Mountain, we can deduce one final important piece of the puzzle. The legend states they were nocturnal which suggests they spent their nights on Fort Mountain observing the stars and performing ceremonies. Thus the astronomical interpretation of this site is likely an accurate one.
From all of the preceding evidence, we can now piece together a plausible picture of Fort Mountain and its creators. They would have been astronomer-priests of a
Another video still from the DVD “Lost Worlds: Georgia” showing a section of the stone wall.
Hitchiti-speaking tribe, likely the Chiaha. As priests they would have worn long beards. They would have spent their nights observing the stars and moon, and eventually noticed the strange motions of certain stars that we know today as planets. The brightest and most beautiful of these stars/planets were Venus and Mercury and so they built a monument in stone that reflected the path these bright objects took across the pre-dawn sky. These astronomer-priests then returned to their earth lodges during the day to sleep. Since they would not have gotten much sun they would naturally be a lighter complexion than Native Americans who spent their days in the sun. Outsiders who witnessed these priests would tell stories of how tall, fair-skinned, bearded people who lived underground and only came out at night constructed the rock wall at the top of Fort Mountain.
But what of the name “moon-eyed”? It is possible this simply refers to the fact that the people were part of a lunar cult that worshipped (or studied) the moon. Yet there is another intriguing possibility. Today, there are three main groups of Cherokee still living in the Great Smoky Mountains: the Qualla, Tomotla and Snowbird. The Qualla (who live on the main reservation) refer to the Snowbird as “moon faces” because of their Mexican and/or Central American facial features. Could the builders of Fort Mountain, likely the Chiaha, have had a Mesoamerican origin?
Did the Maya Build Fort Mountain Wall?
This rare Maya wooden sculpture dates from 500 AD and possibly represents an Olmec or Poton Maya priest or trader. (“Mirror-Bearer,” Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection)
In fact, the name “Chiaha” is actually a Mayan word which means “edge water” or “water’s edge.” The Chiaha built their villages beside the water thus this is a fitting description. The capital of Chiaha was actually built on an island in the middle of a river. Also, the word for “house” in Hitchiti is chikee. The Totonacs of Mexico also use the word chiki for “house.” They borrowed the word from their Maya neighbors where the word means “woven basket.” This is a fitting description for a Miccosukee chikee since they use mats woven from split cane as walls, partitions and privacy screens. Also, the winter house or “hot house” of the Miccosukee is called a chokofu. In Mayan, choko means “hot.” Additionally, chi means “mouth” in both Hitchiti and Mayan. These are just a few of the linguistic connections between the Miccosukee/Chiaha and the Maya.
The Hitchiti migration legend also suggests a Mesoamerican origin. This legend states that the Hitchiti emerged from “reeds” along the shore. They then walked towards the rising sun until they encountered a large body of water that they first thought was the ocean but quickly discovered was a large lake. They settled here for a while before journeying north where they settled permanently.
If we start in Georgia where the Hitchiti were living at the time this migration legend was recorded and follow the legend in reverse this suggests Florida as the place they migrated north from into Georgia. The only lake in Florida big enough to be confused with the ocean is Lake Okeechobee thus it is probable this is where they first settled down after emerging from “reeds.” And since we know humans don’t simply sprout from the ground, it’s safe to assume they arrived in Florida by boat.
Coincidentally, it is in the Lake Okeechobee area at a site called Fort Center where we find the earliest evidence of corn agriculture in the southeast. Corn is a native crop of Mexico and researchers have yet to come up with a solid explanation for why corn shows up in south central Florida before it shows up elsewhere in the southeast. The most logical explanation, of course, is that it arrived with people who traveled from Mexico to Florida by boat.
Curiously, the Maya referred to any large city as “reeds” or “place of reeds” comparing the vast numbers of people in a city to the vast number of reeds in a marsh. The fact that the Hitchiti migration legend included the seemingly insignificant detail that they emerged from “reeds” suggests the Hitchiti migrated from a large Mayan city.
Notice the mustache and unique hair style and elaborate ear ornaments. Could this represent a Mayan or Olmec trader known to the Cherokee as the “Moon Eyes”? (“Mirror-Bearer,” Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection)
The only people capable of such long distance ocean travel at this time in Mexican history were the Olmecs or their descendants, the Chontal Maya. Both of these groups controlled the coastal trade routes along the Gulf coast of Mexico as far south as Central America. The Chontal Maya, who called themselves the Poton, worshipped a moon goddess named Ix Chel and this lunar cult appears to date back to Olmec times. The Aztecs referred to one location where the Chontal Maya lived as Nacajuca, “place of pale faces,” due to the light skin of the inhabitants. Could the Chontal Maya be the light skinned people who built Fort Mountain according to Cherokee legends? A wooden statue of a Poton Maya lord shows what appears to be a trader with a handlebar mustache, a unique depiction in the Maya world yet consistent with early Spanish accounts of Creek Indians in Georgia with mustaches.
Interestingly, when the Spanish visited the Chiaha capital in the early 1500s both the leader and the town were known as Olameco. Coincidentally, the Aztecs in Mexico referred to the Olmecs as olmeca. Although at this time it doesn’t appear that these words are related it is an intriguing coincidence nonetheless.
The First Georgia Gold Rush?
What would motivate a group of traders to leave the civilized world of a Mayan city to explore and settle among the tribal villages in Georgia? An article from the New York Times dated September 19, 1884 may provide a clue:
CHATTANOOGA, Tenn., Winkley, an experienced gold prospector from New-Mexico and Idaho, brought to this city today specimens of gold and silver ore taken from gold mines recently discovered in Murray County, Ga., inside of Fort Mountains, about 50 miles from this city. Assays made of this ore show it to be worth on average $27 per ton. One specimen of silver exhibited assayed $100 to the ton, and a specimen of gold quartz assayed $1,200. Great excitement prevails, and people are rushing to the mines from all directions. They are pronounced by experts to be among the richest yet discovered in America.
A small isolated auriferous [gold-bearing] area occurs on the summit of Cohutta Mountain in Murray county. The locality is about four miles east of Chatsworth.
Cohutta is the Native American name for Fort Mountain. The location of this deposit on the summit appears to be within the same general location as the stone wall which runs very near the summit. Could this wall have been built to protect this vital resource or at least shield those inside the wall from curious onlookers from outside the wall?
Yet this gold deposit on the summit was not the largest such deposit on Fort Mountain. This same Bulletin noted an operating gold mine on Cohutta Mountain called the Cohutta Mine. The Bulletin noted several large gold-bearing veins in which “free-gold was noticeable in some of the ore examined.”
The 1884 and 1909 discoveries of large gold deposits at Fort Mountain were not the first such discoveries. In the early 1800s there were legends of secret Cherokee gold mines on Cohutta/Fort Mountain. Stories about the local Cherokee wearing gold jewelry, and settlers trying to find the source of the gold have been handed down through generations. One Cherokee chief from this time, Chief Vann, who lived at the base of Fort Mountain left $200,000 in gold to his son Joseph Vann when he was murdered in 1809. Joseph deposited this gold in a bank in Tennessee when the Cherokees were forced out of Georgia in 1834. This is a large sum today but in 1809 this was an astounding sum of money. Did Chief Vann acquire this gold from Fort Mountain?
“How the Indians collect gold from the streams” by Jacques Le Moyne, an artist at the first French colony in the New World at Fort Caroline in Florida.
The Cherokees were forced out of Georgia due, in large part, to the discovery of gold on Cherokee lands in 1829. This was the beginning of America’s second gold rush, the first occurring in neighboring North Carolina in 1799. But clearly, Native Americans knew about this gold in the Georgia mountains long before the Americans. In fact, when the Spanish passed through this area in the 1530s they heard rumors of gold mining and smelting at the previously mentioned site of Chiaha. The French also visited Native American gold mines in north Georgia in the 1560s. They recorded that a tribe called the Potano were responsible for this mining. Could the Potano be one-in-the-same as the Poton Maya?
Whatever the truth may be, the fact is gold can still be successfully panned in Gold Mine Creek on Fort Mountain to this very day.
Star Maps and Petroglyphs
“Sculptured Rock From Forsyth County, Georgia” appears to be decorated with astronomical symbols which could represent a star map of the night sky. (Jones, Antiquities of the Southern Indians)
Another interesting phenomenon also occurred in the same mountainous region of Georgia around the same time period: petroglyphs. Located in Track Rock Gap at the base of Brasstown Bald, Georgia’s highest peak, is a field of boulders which have been carved with curious designs.
It is interesting to note that during the time period between 550AD and 750AD, which is when these petroglyphs were possibly carved, the Chinese Royal Court recorded over ninety comets visible to the naked eye, more than any other prior period. Thus there was plenty going on in the night sky to interest Georgia’s ancient astronomers.
Although the true intent of these Native American architects and artisans may never be fully understood what is known is that these stone creations were only the beginning of their accomplishments. They would next begin the construction of pyramids at the Kolomoki Mounds complex.
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Kolomoki Mounds are the next great accomplishment of Georgia’s Native Americans.(Watch Video) The Kolomoki Mounds site is believed to have been the most populous Native American community north of Mexico during its time period. The site consists of nine earthen mounds built between the years A.D. 350 and 750. The largest of Kolomoki’s nine mounds is Mound A and it rises to a height of 57 feet. (View QTVR) Its base is larger than a football field thus making it the Indian mound with the largest land base in the state of Georgia. The mound takes the form of a truncated or flat-topped pyramid. Although today the mound is covered with grass and a few trees, it originally would have been swept clear of any vegetation and covered with different colored clays. The final capping layer was made from red clay. Years before this red capping layer was added the mound had been completely covered with white clay. (Watch Animation) These clay capping layers are so thick and hard that early archaeologists joked it would take an earthquake and dynamite to ever break through them.
The southern half of the summit of Mound A is elevated three feet higher than the northern half. No
evidence of structures has been found on the summit of the mound thus it may have served solely as a ceremonial platform or stage for public rituals. It also could have served as a platform for astronomical observations since pottery from this time period suggests such observations were being made and accurate calendars were being produced.
It is also not certain how people reached the summit of the mound since no ramp led to the top. It is possible that steps were incorporated into the plaza-side of the mound’s steep face but this has not been investigated.
In the center of the Kolomoki site is a conical mound rising to a height of 20 feet at its apex. (View QTVR) Known as Mound D, this mound contained 77 burials and a cache of exquisite ceremonial pottery. In fact, it is the unique nature of these mortuary pottery vessels that the Kolomoki site has become noted. This cache consisted of effigy pottery in the shapes of various animals including deer, quail and owls.
This computer reconstruction shows how Mound D & Mound A might have appeared in 600 AD. This artwork is available on t-shirts, stickers, mugs, and other items in our LostWorlds Gift Store. (Click the image to shop now and help support LostWorlds.org.)
The burial mound itself was constructed over a long period of time and consists of several stages. The first stage was a rectangular platform mound about six feet high created from yellow clay. A cache of 60 pottery vessels, including the aforementioned effigy pottery, was placed against the eastern side of this mound. Many burials later, the mound evolved into a circular platform mound about 10 feet high, still covered in yellow clay. After the final burial activity, the mound was completely covered with red clay and took its present form. These final burials were all placed in the east side of the mound with the skulls facing eastward. Burial objects made from copper and iron as well as pearl beads were included with these burials.
Between the burial mound and Mound A lay a central plaza of red clay. The people of the village most likely lived in houses surrounding this plaza. Their houses were of wattle-and-daub construction with thatched roofs made from local grasses.
Kolomoki Mounds: Burial Mound
This burial mound on the western side of the Kolomoki Mounds complex was filled with burials and Swift Creek pottery.
At the far western end of the site is located a circular, dome shaped burial mound known as Mound E. The mound is about 11 feet high and constructed from soil and rocks with a final capping layer of red clay and rocks. Within it was found the graves of several people along with their grave goods. Some of these grave goods included a copper-covered wooden ornament and a mass of fifty-four complete pottery vessels. One individual was interred with a mass of shell beads and copper ear ornaments with pearls at their centers.
Another mound, Mound B, located at the southeastern end of the central plaza near Mound A, has perplexed archaeologists since its discovery. It seems to have been created solely to hold up very large posts. Some have suggested that these posts were the goal posts of an Indian ball game while others suggested they were possibly totem poles. A more likely explanation, though, comes from written observations during the historic era of Hitchiti Indian practices in this same region. Hitchiti (or lower Creek) towns were divided into “White (peace) Towns” and “Red (war) Towns.” At every public assembly, each town would erect either a white “Peace Post” or red “War Post” at the southeast corner of their central plaza to indicate their present political orientation. Thus, it is likely that Kolomoki’s “mysterious” mound reflects an earlier Woodland version of this same ritual or is a later addition by the Lamar culture.
Astronomical alignments have been noted for several mounds at the Kolomoki site. Mounds A, D, and E which form the central axis of the site form an alignment with the sun at the spring equinox. Mounds F and D form an alignment with the sun at the summer solstice. Other mounds were thought to have been aligned in order to predict the arrival of these solar events.
As was noted previously during the Fort Mountain discussion, pottery manufactured during this time period seems to reflect a detailed knowledge of astronomical events. This pottery, called Weeden Island sacred pottery, includes designs that have been interpreted as being:
a solar calendar divided into twelve months including indicators for equinoxes and solstices
a star map of the night sky including constellations
representations of the paths of Mercury and Venus in the eastern predawn sky
Thus clearly the people who built Kolomoki Mounds were a sophisticated people with knowledge of astronomy.
Who built Kolomoki?
Map showing the distribution of Swift Creek (purple) and Santa Rosa Swift Creek (orange) culture areas. (Courtesy Herb Roe.)
The primary evidence comes from the two types of pottery that have been found at the site: Swift Creek pottery and Weeden Island pottery. The Swift Creek culture is the older and more wide-spread of the two and it is believed that the Weeden Island culture evolved directly from the Swift Creek. A map of the Swift Creek culture area shows that it was once spread across most of the state of Georgia. The distribution of this culture and its pottery seems to match the distribution of the Hitchiti Native American language family thus it is likely that Hitchiti was the language of the Swift Creek Culture.
One of the few modern-day speakers of this language is the Miccosukee Indian Tribe in south Florida. They were once part of a larger tribe known as the Chiaha who lived in Georgia and Tennessee. As was noted in our previous discussion on Fort Mountain there is mounting evidence that the Chiaha were Maya immigrants from Mexico. According to one Hitchiti migration legend they arrived by boat in the Lake Okeechobee area of Florida before migrating north into Georgia. Archaeologists have found the earliest evidence of corn agriculture in North America in the area around Lake Okeechobee dating to at least 200 AD, the same time period that construction began at Kolomoki. Corn originated in Mexico thus its arrival in Florida suggests Mexican natives brought it there by boat.
Swift Creek design that appears to show Quetzalcoatl, the “plumed serpent.” (Courtesy David Smith)
Additionally, linguistic connections between Hitchiti and Mayan also exist. For instance, Chiaha is a Mayan word that means “edge water” or “water’s edge.” This is precisely where most Swift Creek villages were constructed and thus a fitting name for this tribe. The Hitchiti word for “house” is chiki, the same as it is for the Totonacs in Mexico.
In both Mayan and Hitchiti chi means “mouth.” These are just a few examples of the linguistic connections.
But further connections can be found in the Swift Creek pottery itself. It appears that Mesoamerican glyphs are represented in many of the design motifs carved and stamped into the surfaces of these pots. The most famous and widespread mythological symbol in Mexico is that of Quetzalcoatl, the plumed or feathered serpent. Images of this mythological being have been discovered on Swift Creek pottery.
Swift Creek design on left is similar to the “2 Cane” glyph from Mexico. (Courtesy David Smith, Atlanta Antiquity, 2009.)
Also, in pre-Hispanic Mexican mythology the year “2 Cane” is associated with the beginning of time. The glyph for “2 Cane” has been found on Swift Creek pottery. Further research will undoubtedly reveal even more such connections.
Is there any evidence for long-distance ocean travel during this time period? In fact, there is. An ocean-going dugout canoe was discovered at Weedon Island, Florida in 2008. Coincidentally, this is the island which gives the aforementioned Weeden Island pottery its name. The canoe was discovered buried on the shore below the high tide mark. Two features immediately suggested to archaeologists that this canoe was used for long distance travel across the open ocean. [Continues...]
As impressive as the previously discussed Kolomoki Mounds complex is, the NativeAmerican Mound Builders of Georgia would outdo themselves at the next site in our story: Ocmulgee Mounds. Located in Macon, this ancient civilization consists of seven Indian mounds and associated plazas.
The Great Temple Mound at Ocmulgee was built atop the Macon Plateau and rises 56 feet high from the surface of the plateau. Yet because the mound was ingeniously constructed on the edge of the plateau and the plateau itself was terraced and clay fill added to match the angle of the Temple Mound, the mound rises an impressive 90 feet from the river bank below. It was this imposing view that most visitors to Ocmulgee Indian Mounds saw in prehistoric times since most trade and travel was conducted by dugout canoes along the Ocmulgee river.
Map of Ocmulgee Mounds. Zoom in to see individual mounds and other features. Click on the blue tabs to learn more about each feature. Explore the site in 3D with the Google Earth plugin.
Due to its ingenious construction, the top of the Great Temple Mound is significantly higher than the surrounding tree line thus enabling anyone standing here to have a commanding view of the countryside for miles and miles around as well as an unobstructed view of the entire sky dome for astronomical observations.(View QTVR) From here one could easily see signal fires or smoke signals from outlying villages warning of invaders or other trouble. Likewise traders could light signal fires atop the Great Temple Mound to announce the arrival of new trade goods. As its name suggests the Great Temple Mound was also home to a large temple which likely doubled as the Chief Priest’s home. Here he kept a perpetual fire burning which was an important element of their religion and myths.
Giant ground sloth found in southeast Georgia on view at UGA.
The Ocmulgee Mounds site has been occupied for 12,000 years as evidenced by the Clovis spear point found during excavations. (View Image Gallery) The Clovis people lived during the last Ice Age and used these spear points to hunt mastadons, wooly mammoths, giant ground sloths and other giant animals that once roamed Georgia. Around 2000 B.C., the same time period as the Sapelo Shell Rings, the first small shell mounds were constructed at the site but it wasn’t until 900 A.D. that the monumental constructions began.
Who Built Ocmulgee Mounds?
At this time newcomers arrived in the region and brought with them corn agriculture, a new style of pottery, new types of arrowheads and a more complex economic, religious and political system. It is thought that these were Muskogean speakers who later were called Creek Indians by Europeans. According to Creek Indian tradition, Ocmulgee Mounds was the site where they “first sat down” after their long migration from the west. Other traditions hold that they originated near “the backbone of the earth” which was their name for the Rocky Mountains. In fact, as we’ll see below, they could have originated as far away as west Mexico and later migrated into the desert southwest before finally arriving at Ocmulgee.
One tribe of Creek Indians, the Cussitaw (Cusseta/Kasihta), have a migration legend which might relate to the settlement of Ocmulgee Mounds. It tells how they originated in a place much farther west, a place where the earth would occasionally open up and swallow their children (a possible reference to earthquakes). Part of their tribe decided to leave this place and began an eastward migration in order to find where the sun rose. On their journey they came to a mountain that thundered and had red smoke coming from its summit which they later discovered was actually fire (a possible reference to a volcano.) Here they decided to settle down after meeting people from three nations (Chickasaws, Atilamas, & Obikaws) who taught them about herbs and “many other things.”
From these references one can speculate that these people migrated from Mexico which is west of Georgia and has both earthquakes and active volcanoes. (For a more in-depth analysis of the Creek migration legend, read “Were Georgia’s Muskogee Creek Indians from West Mexico?“) Mexico is also the birthplace of corn agriculture, a defining characteristic of these newcomers. It is also in Mexico where we find cities consisting of flat-topped pyramid mounds arranged around open plazas which is the most noticeable feature of town planning at Ocmulgee.
Archaeologists use the term “Mississippian” to refer to these cultural traits. Mississippian does not refer to a single tribe or people and, in fact, many different tribes across the Southeast and Midwest eventually adopted various aspects of Mississippian culture. “Mississippian” culture is similar to the term “Western” culture in that it describes traits which were shared by many different peoples and cultures speaking many different languages. Just as cultures from Asia to South America have become “westernized,” so did cultures all over the eastern U.S. become “Mississippianized.”
Other evidence also suggests a Mexican origin for the Creek Indians. For instance, the type of tobacco grown in the southeast by the Creek Indians has been shown to have its origins in Central America.
“Steeh-tcha-ko-me-co” by George Catlin, 1834.
Chontal sculpture from Guerrero, Mexico.
Also, an artifact from the Chontal culture discovered in the state of Guerrero in west Mexico reveals a similar dress styles as a Creek Indian chief painted by artist George Catlin in 1834 named Steeh-tcha-ko-me-co. The Chontal are also noted for portable stone human effigy statues that were part of a complex funerary practice. Similar stone human effigy statues were used by Mississippian era Creek Indians such as at the next site in our story: Etowah Mounds. Also, a stela from Guerrero featured a bird-man design similar to a design on a copper breastplate found at Etowah.
Additionally, the Muskogean language spoken by the Creek Indians is believed by some linguists to be distantly related to the Hokan family. This language family has its origin in western Mexico and the western U.S. where the Yuman group is still spoken in western Arizona, southern California, and northwestern Mexico.
Interestingly, the Yumans also constructed earth lodges which is another feature of the Ocmulgee site (discussed below). More specifically, the Yumans were known for constructing square earth lodges. Not far from Ocmulgee at a site known as Brown’s Mount, archaeologists unearthed the remains of a square earth lodge that dates to the same time period as the round earth lodges at Ocmulgee. Thus an idea present in the West was also present in the East and believed to have been built by the same people as those who constructed Ocmulgee Mounds.
It is also appears that Brown’s Mount played a part in the Creek migration legend. The legend states:
They always have, on their journeys, two scouts who go before the main body. These scouts ascended a high mountain and saw a town…Then the Cussitaws became angry, and determined to attack the town, and each one have a house when it was captured. They threw stones into the river until they could cross it, and took the town (the people had flattened heads), and killed all but two persons.
Thus it seems from the legend that the scouts climbed Brown’s Mount (which is down river from Ocmulgee Mounds) and planned the assault on the town. This also reveals that the Ocmulgee Mounds site was already inhabited when the Cussitaws showed up and these inhabitants practiced cranial deformation which resulted in “flattened heads.”
The newcomers arrived at Ocmulgee Mounds with a different style of pottery featuring shouldered bowls with smooth, undecorated surfaces similar to that found among the tribes of the desert Southwest.
The archaeological evidence actually supports this part of the migration legend. The original pottery unearthed by archaeologists at the site is known as Swift Creek pottery and is noticeably different than the style (called Bibb plain) brought by the newcomers. Also, early explorer C. C. Jones, Jr. from Savannah visited the Ocmulgee site in the late 1800s when the Central of Georgia Railroad was cutting a trail through the site. They cut through the burial mound and Mr. Jones noted in his book Antiquities of the Southern Indians Especially the Georgia Tribes that a skull from the lowest part of the mound, thus the oldest part, exhibited cranial deformation giving it a flattened appearance while the later burials in the upper part of the mound did not. All of this evidence suggests two completely different people inhabited the Ocmulgee Mounds site, one replaced (or massacred) by the other.
As noted in the previous article on Kolomoki Mounds, Swift Creek pottery appears to be associated with the Hitchiti-speaking tribes. At least one Hitchiti migration legend suggests they migrated north into Georgia after having first arrived by boat in the Lake Okeechobee area of Florida. It is in this area where archaeologists have found the earliest evidence of corn agriculture, a native crop of Mexico, although this was a much smaller variety of corn than that brought later by the newcomers at Ocmulgee Mounds.
A Maya skull and statue both showing cranial deformation.
Curiously the Hitchiti language has several Mayan words in it and Mesoamerican symbols have been found on Swift Creek pottery. The Maya were also known for head flattening. Thus all of this evidence suggests the Hitchiti (or at least some portion of them) were possibly descended from the Maya.
It is likely that the Hitchiti/Swift Creek built the first stage of the funeral mound since the skeletons with cranial deformation were found there. Did they also build the first stages of the Greater and Lesser temple mounds? According to another version of the Creek Migration Legend, the first structure the newcomers built upon arrival was “a mound [with a] great chamber in the center” where the warriors could gather– a clear reference to an earth lodge. Yet the legend mentions nothing about constructing the temple mounds and, in fact, their descendants would later tell European settlers they did not know who constructed the mounds.
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The main features of the Ocmulgee Mounds’ site plan are two truncated pyramidal earthen mounds, one larger than the other, flanking and defining an open plaza area. This site plan does not match previous known Swift Creek site plans such as at Kolomoki Mounds. The site plan does match other Mississippian site plans west of Ocmulgee Mounds such as that at Cahokia near St. Louis. Thus this evidence favors the newcomers as the builders of the Greater and Lesser Temple Mounds and central plaza as well as the Earth Lodge, as previously mentioned.
Also as previously mentioned, the migration legend tells how the Cussitaws would always have scouts ahead of the main group. Ocmulgee is located on the Ocmulgee River which flows into the Altamaha River which flows into the Atlantic Ocean just south of Sapelo Island for a distance of 300 miles. It is about a three week journey from Ocmulgee to the coast by dugout canoe. Thus as the main group rested at Ocmulgee the scouts would have reached the Atlantic Ocean and realized that their journey had ended. They could go no further east and had discovered that the sun rose from a great ocean each morning. They would return and tell the others about their discovery. Ocmulgee thus became the logical place for a permanent settlement. It truly is where they finally “sat down.” Continues….
Etowah Mounds is one of the final and perhaps the finest accomplishments of the ancient NativeAmerican moundbuilders of Georgia. This is one of the four most important Mississippian sites along with Moundville in Alabama, Spiro in Oklahoma, and Cahokia in Illinois.
The Etowah Mounds complex consists of six earthen Indian mounds all in the traditional Mississippian truncated pyramid shape. These Indian mounds were built between 950 A.D. and 1450 A.D. although major construction didn’t truly begin until around A.D. 1250. The Etowah Indian Mounds site is surrounded by a deep moat on three sides and the Etowah River on the fourth. A palisade wall stood just inside the moat adding further protection to the site. Just like our previous site, Ocmulgee Indian Mounds, the major structures are believed to have been built by Muskogee Creek Indians. Also like Ocmulgee Mounds, the site appears to have been inhabited by another group of people first who were later displaced. It is possible that after the massacre at Ocmulgee Mounds mentioned in the previous article, the surrounding Hitchiti Creek Indian tribes moved further north and inhabited the Etowah region before once again being forced out. (Watch Video)
The largest structure at the Etowah Mounds site was the Great Temple Mound and it has the distinction of being the tallest Indian mound in Georgia. It rose 67 feet high (over seven stories tall) and was oriented to the cardinal points (as were the other Indian mounds at the site.) (View QTVR)
The temple mound was probed with ground penetrating radar but nothing worth investigating was found and thus this Indian mound has never been fully excavated. Archaeologists did find evidence of at least one large structure on top of the Great Temple Mound. A log wall or fence surrounded the summit. Curiously, the summit is pentagonal in form.
The Lesser Temple Mound, or Mound B, is a more circular or oval Indian mound. It is possible this temple mound was originally square and later plowing by farmers in the 1800′s and 1900′s softened the edges to create the current rounded form. It also appears to have had a large structure on top. This Indian mound is approximately 30 feet tall.
The Funeral Mound, on the other hand, has been completely excavated and some of North America’s most important NativeAmerican and Mississippian artifacts have been discovered there. (View 3D Animation) Among these were ceremonial copper axes, copper-covered earspools, necklaces and pendants of shell and engraved shell gorgets. These shell gorgets were circular medallions worn around the neck made from large seashells and inscribed or carved with various designs.
Many of these shell gorget designs belong to a complex known as the Southeastern Ceremonial Complex, once referred to as the Southern Cult or Southern Death Cult. It has been repeatedly noted that many of these Southeastern Ceremonial Complex designs have strong Mesoamerican influences such as the Long Nosed God and the Bird Man or Eagle Warrior. It should be remembered that if the Creek Indian Migration Legend is correct, the Muskogee Indian tribe did have its origin in west Mexico. Yet by the time of the major construction period at Etowah Mounds these people had not lived in Mexico for over 300 years. The original Mesoamerican ideas would have evolved in that amount of time and would have been influenced by the people they had come into contact with in the eastern woodlands. Thus ideas such as the Feathered Serpent remained but evolved into their own unique expression. Likewise for the Long Nosed God and the Bird Man/Eagle Warrior.
These symbols were also portrayed on copper breastplates worn by high status individuals. One such copper breastplate was found buried with an individual in Mound C, the burial mound. It shows a Bird Man or Eagle Warrior dancing. Amazingly, dancers at modern powwows can be seen performing dances that look remarkably similar to the dances portrayed in these copper designs.
The most important artifacts discovered at the Etowah Mounds site are undoubtedly the two carved marble statues of a man and woman. They are each about two feet tall and are in sitting positions. Early Spanish explorers noted that similar statues were part of an ancestor worship cult and were housed in Funerary Temples where offerings were made to them. These particular statues were discovered buried in their own grave at the base of Mound C. It appears that they were hastily buried without a lot of care since they were broken into pieces when discovered.
This hasty burial corresponds with another piece of archaeological evidence: the palisade wall appears to have burned down. Often times Native Americans would bury important objects when they came under attack in order to keep the items out of the hands of their enemies. It is probable that an attack serious enough to burn down the major defensive work of the massive Etowah Mounds site would have been the inspiration for such a hasty burial of these important objects. It is also possible that the attackers smashed the statues, thereby ritually killing them, and buried them to prevent them from ever being used again.
Who Built Etowah Mounds?
As stated in the previous discussion on Ocmulgee Mounds, it appears that the Muskogee Creek Indian tribe migrated from western Mexico into the southwestern U.S.. From here they ended up at the Spiro Indian Mounds site in Oklahoma and the Cahokia Indian Mounds site in Missouri and Illinois. Many artifacts discovered at Etowah Mounds were from either Cahokia or Spiro and many of these were very similar to artifacts from the Shaft Tomb Tradition in west Mexico such as ancestor pair statues, dog effigy pots and tree of life symbolism. For a more thorough and in-depth analysis of the evidence linking Etowah to the west Mexico shaft tomb tradition please visit our exhibit entitled “Were Georgia’s Muskogee Creek Indians from West Mexcio?” But here’s a quick overview of the evidence.
Tableau from shaft tomb in Nayarit, Mexico
Shell engraving from Spiro Mounds, Oklahoma features similar tree with birds
As just mentioned, archaeologists have noted that the elite at Etowah Mounds had a trading relationship with another important NativeAmerican Mississippian town known as Spiro Mounds in Oklahoma. Spiro Mounds is known for the amazing cache of artifacts that were unearthed in one of its prominent Indian mounds known as Craig Mound. One such artifact, an engraved marine shell known as the Tree of Life with Birds, is identical to a sculpture by the Nayarit people of west Mexico. (The Nayarit are also responsible for the aforementioned Ancestor Pair statues.)
Why did the elites at Etowah Mounds have contact with the elites at Spiro Mounds in Oklahoma, a distance of over 700 miles? Was this simply a trading relationship or was it something much deeper? Could Spiro Mounds have been ruled over by elites related to the elites at Etowah? There are oral traditions all over the southeast of tribes being ruled over by foreigners and these foreigners seem to be related to each other in some way. Could Spiro have been one of the first places the NativeAmerican Mississippians established themselves before continuing their migration east?
This side-by-side comparison shows the dog effigy pot found near Bull Creek in Muskogee County, Georgia and a modern Chihuahua. This pot is currently on display at The Columbus Museum in Columbus, Georgia and dates from around 1350 AD. The pot also features a whirlwind design which likely represents the Wind Clan, one of the oldest and most revered clans of the Muskogee-Creek Indians.
Elsewhere in Georgia archaeologists uncovered another piece of evidence which seems to link these immigrants to west Mexico: dog effigy pots. The dog effigy pot to the left is just one of many such pots discovered throughout Georgia and Tennessee. What is most intriguing is the breed of dog the pot appears to represent: a Chihuahua. (Read: Ancient Chihuahuas in Southeastern U.S.?) Note its short, upturned snout, bulbous forehead, and arching tail. No other dog breed except the Chihuahua has these particular combination of traits. Yet Chihuahuas are a breed that originated in the western Mexico state of Chihuahua so why do they show up on pots in Georgia? Similar pots from west Mexico also appear to show fattened Chihuahuas. Known as Colima Dog Pots, many of these pots also served as vessels with pouring spouts although not all did. The Colima dog pots are thought to represent the original Techichi breed from which modern Chihuahuas are derived. These little dogs were mute and kept fat to be eaten by the elite.
Two of the famous Colima Dog Pots found in a shaft tomb in western Mexico. The dogs are thought to represent the Techichi breed, a small, mute dog from which the modern Chihuahua is derived.
These three facts are important clues that further support a Mexican origin for the Muskogee Creek Indians. Why? Because when the first Spanish explorers with the De Soto expedition traveled through Florida, Georgia and Tennessee in the early 1500s they noted that the chiefs in this region would often offer them “little dogs” to eat which had been fattened up for that very purpose. The Spanish also noted that these dogs could not bark. This, along with the Bull Creek Dog Effigy Pot, would seem to support the fact that Indian tribes in this area were raising Techichis and Chihuahuas. [Continues...]
It’s 1988. Workers building a road in Mt. Vernon, Ind. damage an ancient burial mound, causing a treasure trove of silver and copper to pour from the ground. A bulldozer operator decides to grab some of the treasure. He ends up in prison for looting.
It sounds like the plot of an Indiana Jones film, only it’s not a movie. The treasure belonged to a mysterious and advanced culture that flourished in the Eastern and Midwestern U.S. nearly 2,000 years ago. Because it predates the written record, this prehistoric culture doesn’t have a Native American name but in the 1800s, archaeologists dubbed it the Hopewell Tradition.
The Treasure In The Fields
Just a few miles away from where the road workers first discovered their treasure lie fields of cornstalk stubble and gently rolling hills. But they’re more than just hills.
“What you’re seeing here is a complex of earthen structures that were very purposefully and very specifically built along this cultural landscape,” says Michele Greenan, an archaeologist and curator at the Indiana State Museum.
“There’s a number of mounds here — probably 20, maybe even more mounds, earthen architectural features that were built for different purposes,” like ceremonies or burial, she says.
The fields are called the Mann Hopewell Site, after the farmer who owned their sprawling 500 acres. Two of site’s earthen structures are among the biggest mounds built anywhere by the Hopewell, which was not a tribe so much as a way of life that flourished in the Eastern and Midwestern U.S. between about A.D. 100 and 500. ‘It’s Like Vegas … For Archaeologists’
Amateur archaeologist Charlie Lacer began walking the Mann fields in the 1950s, collecting what he found along the way.
“You could find stuff that you could not find [on] any other site around here,” Lacer says. “I mean, there [were] just tons of materials there. You couldn’t pick up everything you saw — you had to be kind of selective, particularly if you were carrying this stuff in your pockets.”
Lacer managed to stuff a lot into his pockets — 40,000 artifacts that he donated to the Indiana State Museum two years ago. Four hundred of those pieces are now on display in nearby Evansville for the first time ever.
The exhibition is titled Cherished Possessions: The Mann Hopewell Legacy of Indiana. It was nearly called Indiana’s Egypt, but the attempt at archaeology a la Indiana Jones lost out to historical precision. Still, it’s almost-name does give a sense of the Mann Hopewell Site’s importance.
“It’s like Vegas … for archaeologists,” says Mike Linderman, who manages state historic sites in western Indiana. Linderman says the Mann Hopewell Site is bigger than its more famous Hopewell counterparts in Ohio, and it’s filled with even more exotic materials, like obsidian glass that has been traced to the Yellowstone Valley in Wyoming, and grizzly bear incisor teeth.
“Grizzly bears obviously are not from Indiana, never have been,” Linderman says. “There’s a theory out there now that instead of being trade items, these items [were] actually being collected by the people from Mann Site on rite-of-passage trips they [were] taking out to the West. You know, it’s something big if you’ve killed a grizzly bear and you can bring its teeth back to Indiana.”
Jaguars and panthers aren’t from Indiana, either, but they show up at the Mann Hopewell Site as beautifully detailed carvings. Put them together with clay figurines that have slanted eyes — not a Hopewell feature — and Linderman says we could be looking at a connection between Indiana and Central or South America. Digging Deep For Clues
And that just scratches the surface, so to speak. In 2006, researcher Staffan Peterson did the archaeological version of an MRI scan on 100 acres at the site. Whenever his equipment detected an archaeological feature, a dot showed up on a map.
“Every day, we’d download our data and our jaws would drop,” Peterson says. “It was kind of like buckshot, there were so many. And we were able to map out upwards of 8,000 archaeological features.”
Two of the most notable features are what Peterson calls “wood henges” — like Stonehenge, but made of wooden posts — which he believes may be one of a kind in the U.S.
But there may be an even more remarkable discovery — one that could rewrite history books. Linderman says scientists are starting tests on what looks like evidence of lead smelting, a practice that, until now, was only seen in North America after the arrival of the French, 1,000 years after the Hopewell Tradition.
Lead smelting is just one of the many questions archaeologists will be targeting in upcoming digs that they hope will clear up at least a few of the Mann Hopewell Site’s — and American prehistory’s — mysteries.
“It’s a sleeping giant,” says museum curator Greenan, “and it’s going to take its place as one of the most important archaeological sites in North America.”
Many visitors to the American South West come back with turquoise jewellery: the Native American people of Arizona and New Mexico exploited local sources, and modern craftsmen have developed a prosperous industry. Thirty years ago the archaeological scientists Garman Harbottle and Edward Sayre used neutron activation analysis to show that turquoise mosaics from Mexico, found as far away as the great Maya city of Chichén Itzá in Yucatan and dating back to around AD900, used raw material originating in the Cerrillos mines between Albuquerque and Santa Fe in New Mexico, an overland distance of some 3,200 km (2,000 miles). It was assumed that the Cerrillos mines had also supplied more local demand, for instance from the Chaco Canyon communities west of Santa Fe. A new technique of source characterisation, using hydrogen and copper isotope ratios established by secondary ion mass spectrometry (SIMS), shows that this picture was altogether too simple.
Sharon Hull and her colleagues report in the Journal of Archaeological Science this month that of eleven samples from Chaco Canyon sites, dating from AD550 to 1050, only two could be attributed to the Cerrillos source. Two others came from Orogrande in southern New Mexico, three from the No 8 Mine in northern Nevada, and one from the Montezuma source in southern Nevada.
Although none of the Mexican mosaics has yet been re-examined in detail, this looks like a good idea: not only the Chichén Itzá pieces, but Aztec turquoise mosaics, such as those in the British Museum’s Mexican Gallery, could well yield evidence that ancient trade networks in late pre-Columbian America were much more complex than we have assumed.