Were the Maya Mining Gold in Georgia?

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.

Teotihuacan Pyramid of the Moon Courtesy Wikipedia

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 dictionarychi 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:

This Swift Creek design appears to represent Quetzalcoatl, the Plumed Serpent deity from Mexico.

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:

Swift Creek design Mayan Ek glyph

And this is just the tip of the iceberg. (Read “Mayan Glyphs on Georgia, Florida Pottery” for a more in-depth discussion.)

So to recap:

  1. There are Mayan words in the Hitchiti language
  2. A pottery tradition in the same areas of Georgia where the Hitchiti language was spoken contains designs identical to Mayan glyphs
  3.  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.
  4. 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…)

Scientists hope Captiva Island dig can unlock Calusa mysteries

an Associated Press report 12/12/05

CAPTIVA ISLAND – On the northernmost tip of Captiva Island stands a
piece of southwest Florida history that may help scientists unlock the
mysteries of an ancient culture.
>From the road lined with high-priced homes in the secluded South Seas
Plantation, a mound with several peaks built by the Calusa Indians more
than 2,000 years ago looks like any other clump of mangroves and
Hundreds of years of plant growth and soil deposits have hidden the
sun-bleached white shells that form the foundation of the mound, which
at one point reaches 18 feet high.
But by studying what is underneath that growth more thoroughly than in
previous mound excavations, scientists hope to uncover the answers of
how Calusa built their shell hills.
It’s just one in a series of questions that still surround the extinct
tribe, which once ruled over all of South Florida, said Corbett
Torrence, an archeologist from the University of Florida who is leading
the team of scientists.
“When you think about how much there is to do, there still is a lot we
don’t know,” Torrence said. “Every time we answer a question, we ask
four more.”
There are two main theories that surround mound construction, he said.
One suggests that mounds sprawl like cities with the Calusa building out
and adding on as the tribe grows.
The other suggests that the Calusa begin building the mounds from the
ground up and they grow over time, much like volcanoes.
Torrence and his team hope to solve the puzzle by digging several pits
at different locations on the mound and determining the age of the
sediments within them through radio carbon dating.
Scientists have used the process of dating sediments in mounds before
but never to such an extent.
While scientists typically use radio carbon dating on about six areas of
a mound excavation, Torrence plans to use the technique 24 times at the
Captiva mound.
The cost of the process has prevented scientists from studying other
mounds so thoroughly, but Torrence has a sponsor.
The owner of the property, Plantation Development Limited, hired
Torrence to excavate the site so that it can be protected and used to
educate the public.
Torrence and his team started the process by digging five pits, which
will each reach a depth of 7 to 8 feet.
The pits are strategically located at different levels and areas on the
The mound has six tiers, each growing in height by three feet.
The 3-foot foundation of the mound is more than 100 yards long and about
100 yards wide. As the tiers get higher the area shrinks. Three terraces
rise from the 9-foot level to heights of 12, 15 and 18 feet. Finally, a
depression in the mound sinks to nearly sea level.
The scientists dug the pits at different heights and will date the
sediments to find out when they were built.
The pits are also located at different areas of the mound to determine
when certain parts were built.
Though Torrence has not done any radio carbon dating yet, he believes
the mound was built between the first century B.C. and 900 A.D.
While digging the pits, Torrence’s team has found shards of pottery,
fish bones and various tools made out of shells and deer bone.
While it takes about two weeks to dig a pit five feet deep, the
scientists are getting a lot of help from volunteers, such as Mary Ann
Scott, of south Fort Myers.
Scott has been helping Torrence and other scientists excavate mounds all
over Florida for years.
Though the work is laborious and can be hard on the back, Scott said
it’s rewarding.
“It’s an addiction,” she said. “It’s particularly interesting when it’s
in your own backyard. When they get it all together and get all the
information from all the pits and then analyze it and get their theory
about what’s going on, that’s what it’s all about.”

The E.W. Scripps Co. ©

Lake Jackson Mounds State Park

The Great Temple Mound with its grand plaza.

Lake Jackson mounds is one of the most important archaeological sites in Florida. It was probably the political and religious center for Native Americans in the area 500-800 years ago. The Lake Jackson Mounds have yielded some of the most significant artifacts in the state. It is believed the people of Lake Jackson traded with the people of Etowah in present day north Georgia.

Internal Links:
Ancient Civilizations of Florida: Lake Jackson Mounds
Ancient Civilizations of Georgia: Etowah

External Links:

Le Moyne’s Florida Indians @ TheNewWorld.us
Lake Jackson Mounds State Park

Lake Jackson Mounds (1000 AD)

Lake Jackson Mounds State Archaeological Site, one of the Florida’s most important archaeological sites, is a 41-acre excavation. It is thought to have been the political as well as the religious center between 1200 and 1500 A.D. The tallest mound here is more than 35 feet high.

The site was once known to be a large ceremonial center dating back to the Fort Walton period of Florida’s history (1000 A.D.-1450 A.D.). The entire site is composed of six earth temple mounds. Pottery, stone tools and the location and shape of the mounds have been used to classify the age and culture of the site. There is evidence that the Lake Jackson Indians partook in a southeastern socio-religious complex known to archaeologists as the “Southern Cult” or “Southeastern Ceremonial Complex,”which prospered around A.D. 1200. The area was possibly the political and religious center for Indians of this location during the period A.D. 1200 till A.D. 1500.

Fort Walton Mound (850 AD)

From the Mississippian Period, this mound is the largest on salt water and possibly the largest prehistoric earthwork on the Gulf coast and is thought to be built around 800 AD. The Indian Temple Mound is a monument to Native Americans dating back 1000 years and is a historic national landmark.

The Indian Mound Temple originally served as a religious and civic center that has been preserved to this day. A rich American Indian culture once extended from the Atlantic to the lower Mississippi River valley, and from Tennessee to the Gulf of Mexico. These people’s pyramids and ceremonial towers were similar to those of the early Maya. The Indian Temple Mound and Museum, in Fort Walton Beach, shows remains of an important settlement dating to the 1300s. The mound is on the National Historic Register.

Shields & Mount Royal Mounds (1200 AD)

The Mississippian Period that started with the building of Lake Jackson Mounds continued with the Shields and Mount Royal Mounds. During this period the Indians created the most sophisticated civilizations outside of Mexico and constructed some of the most complex Indian mound centers in the state of Florida as well as in the entire southeastern United States.

The Shields & Mount Royal Indian Mounds are situated on the eastern side of the St. Johns River in Putnam county,approximately 40 miles south of St. Augustine, Florida. The Shields and Mount Royal mound centers featured a single mound connected to a manmade pond via a long straight highway making them unlike any other Indian mound complex in North America. The following is a description of the site from the early 1800s when the site was still relatively in-tact:

…a noble Indian highway, which led from the great mount, on a straight line, three quarters of a mile…it was terminated by palms and laurel magnolias, on the verge of an oblong artificial lake, which was on the edge of an extensive green level savanna. The grand highway was about fifty yards wide, such a little below the common level, and the earth thrown up on each side, making a bank about two feet high.

These mounds date back to 1200 AD. The site has been incessantly inhabited by different civilizations from AD 1200 through present-day. The region was traditionally treated as a trail crossing point for the British, Spanish and succeeding groups and it also served as a landing site for vessels. B. Calvin Jones guided volunteers in the course of excavations funded by the Bureau of Archaeological Exploration in 1983, 1994 and 1995.

The relic collection from the collective 1983, 1994 and 1995 quarry seasons comprises over 38,186 acknowledged artifacts and plentiful new plant and animal remnants. Over 90% of the objects were of Native American origin, 3% were of British origin, 3% were of Spanish origin and the left behind artifacts were related with 19th and 20th century Anglo-American invasion of the site. The relics are Spanish majolica earthenware, mottled-silver and glass beads, bottle and window glass wreckage, lead sprue and shot, metal fasteners, Jesuit religious pendants, crude earthenware pieces and Indigenous American pottery bits. Features include cooking fireplace, and postholes symptomatic of dwellings.

One of the most important artifacts was a copper breastplate embossed with a design identical to one unearthed in a tomb from Spiro Mounds in Oklahoma. This shows that Florida’s Native Americans had wide ranging trade contacts with people at least as far west as Oklahoma.

Turtle Mound (1200 AD)

Dating back to 1200 AD (The Mississippian Period), this mound is the tallest in Florida and the third tallest in North America. Turtle Mound is one of the most significant geographical sites on the east coast of the U.S. Historians estimate that it comprises 33,000 cubic yards of oyster shells, extends 600 feet along the Indian River and is 50 feet high. Dating back to prehistoric times, the mound was built by the Timucuan Indians, and served as a watch out point for enemies and approaching storms.

Long before Juan Ponce de Leon sailed Florida’s east coast in 1513 searching for a “Fountain of Youth,”, Timucuan Indians lived here. They occupied this area 10,000 years ago as Nomadic hunters and gatherers. But although the Timucuans disappeared within 200 years of Ponce de Leon’s landing, victims of European infections and slavery, their shell mounds survived. Dr. Amos W. Butler, an Indian archaeologist, identified 22 mounds between Port Orange and Oak Hill in his publication “Observations on Some Shell Mounds on the Eastern Coast of Florida,” in 1917.

However, virtually all 22 were destroyed for use as road material. Turtle Mound was saved in 1924 by The Florida State Historical Society which purchased Canaveral National Seashore for $8,000. Today it is a selected State Historic Memorial. Observable seven miles out to sea, Turtle Mound has been a navigational aid since the 1500s.

According to geologists, Turtle Mound was built near an inlet which is now gone. (“Geology, Geohydrology and Soils of Kennedy Space Center: A Review,” p.9)

Mound Key (1500 AD)

One of the most impressive accomplishments from the Mississippian time period was the construction of Mound Key, a manmade island dating back to 1500 AD built up over a thousand years from discarded shells. It featured a central canal, water-courts, and truncated pyramid shell mounds.

Surrounded by forests of mangrove trees, the shell mounds and ridges of Mound Key rise more than 30 feet above the waters of Estero Bay. Prehistoric Native Americans are credited with creating this island’s complex of mounds with a buildup of seashells, fish bones, and pottery. Mound Key is believed to have been the ceremonial center of the Calusa Indians during the time of Spaniards’ first attempts to colonize Southwest Florida. In 1566, the Spanish governor of Florida set up a settlement on the island with a fort and the first Jesuit mission in the Spanish New World. The settlement was deserted three years later after violent clashes with the Indians.

Big Mound City

Big Mound City is an exceptionally sophisticated geometric earthwork located about 6 miles east of Lake Okeechobe. The complex possibly served to raise building foundations above the surrounding ground plain which flooded six months of the year. The mounds and causeways in the site are constructed from yellow and white sand.

The large semicircular embankment of the city measures 1,520 feet in diameter. There are 5 circular mounds within the central corral, all measuring approximately 9 feet in height. 8 conical pared mounds are connected to the central mound by radial causeways. The largest of the mounds measures 220 feet in diameter at its base and reaches a height of 25 feet. The walls of the causeway are an astonishing 9 feet high.

Terra Ceia & Madira Bickel Mounds (1450 AD)

Dating back to 1450 AD, the 10-acre site that encompasses Madira Bickel Mound was named after Mrs. Madira Bickel of Sarasota, who joined her husband Karl, in preserving Native American mounds from destruction. In 1948, the mound was purchased by the Bickels and donated, along with the surrounding land, to the state. The mound itself was the first site in Florida to become a state archaeological site.

Located on Terra Ceia Island, the primary feature of the site is a flat-topped temple or ceremonial mound. The mound is made up of sand, shell and village debris and measures 100 by 170 feet at the base and 20 feet in height. The people that once inhabited the area placed a 10-foot wide ramp on the western side of the mound for accessing it. At present as well, a trail follows the same ancient approach.

The mound itself actually is only a small portion of the 10-acre archaeological site. An extensive shell midden was once found northwest of the mound along Miguel Bay of which, most has been removed over the years.

Early historians and archaeologists contemplated that the Madira Bickel Mound site was the village of Ucita. The mound site and surrounding area contains proof of Native American life and culture as it evolved from the simple life at the beginning of the Christian era through artistic pottery and religious expression in the construction of mounds and temples.

During the length of time which the site was occupied, the Native American lifestyle changed significantly. Archaeological excavations have revealed at least three periods of Native American cultures. During the first period, in which mounds were initiated, life was simple. The main interests were hunting and fishing. Kitchen middens along the shore of the bay were most likely begun during this period. The second, or Weedon Island Period, started from A.D. 700 till A.D. 1300. This period created some of the most artistic pottery found in Florida.

During the third, or Safety Harbor Period, attention towards pottery declined. Villages became larger, as agriculture rose in significance. This is the same period in which the first Spanish explorers arrived.