Mayan Glyphs on Georgia, Florida Pottery?

Distribution of Swift Creek sites in Southeastern U.S.

The arrival of corn at the Fort Center and Ortona sites in the Lake Okeechobee area of Florida by 200 AD coincides with a pottery tradition known as Swift Creek. In fact, this pottery tradition appears in the same places where the Hitchiti language was spoken thus the two are likely related. As noted in my article “Mayan Words Among Georgia’s Indians?” the Hitchiti language has several words of Mayan origin.

Researchers noted in A World Engraved: Archaeology of the Swift Creek Culture that many of the symbols found on Swift Creek pottery are similar to designs from Mexico. Although this similarity has been dismissed by mainstream scholars as coincidental26, in light of all the linguistic evidence it seems more likely that it is far from coincidental.

For instance, a plumed serpent-like figure has been found on a Swift Creek pot that is similar to feathered or plumed serpent designs from Mexico27. Due to its duck bill-like face it has been conjectured that it represents the wind aspect of the plumed serpent known by the Aztecs as Ehecatl-Quetzalcoatl. As noted by Susan Milbrath, “in the Codex Borgia, Ehecatl-Quetzalcoat is the patron of the day Wind, the counterpart of [the Mayan] Ik.”28 The plumed serpent in Mexico is also associated with Venus.

Swift Creek “Coiled, crested serpent”

Olmec plumed serpent

Other Swift Creek designs known as “long-nose mask design,” and “unidentified creature” are similar to various versions of the Mayan ek glyph which means “star” or “Venus.”

Swift Creek “Long-nose Mask” Swift Creek “Unidentified creature”
Mayan EK glyph for “star” Mayan EK glyph for “star”

Although we do not know the meaning of the symbols on the Swift Creek pots we can deduce that they also have a relationship to stars since both designs feature two iterations of a symbol which consists of concentric circles with a central dot that has been shown to represent stars on petroglyphs in Georgia.30 The fact that this Swift Creek design features two such star symbols may represent Venus as the Morning and Evening star.

Another Swift Creek design known as “mask like design with unusual mouth element” appears to contain two other versions of the Mayan ek glyph both within a cartouche. The fact that the Swift Creek potters placed both symbols in a cartouche shows they believed these two symbols conveyed closely related or identical concepts. In Mayan, both of these symbols, the diamond and cross, are closely associated and used both separately and sometimes together to represent the Mayan word ek, “star/Venus.”

Swift Creek diamond-cross design

Mayan EK “star/Venus” glyph

features both a cross and diamond

Mayan EK glyph

featuring diamond design

Mayan Venus/EK glyph

featuring rounded-cross design

Interestingly, these designs predate the Maya. The earliest examples show up on Olmec pottery.31 When contained within a cartouche they stand for the day sign Lamat32 on the Mayan calendar and often associated with Venus, the morning and evening star.

Olmec pottery sherd with diamond version of EK “star” glyph as well as flint “eye”

On the same Olmec pottery sherd can be found another glyph that looks like an eye and represents flint. The same symbol can be found on numerous Swift Creek pots. Throughout Mesoamerica flint was often portrayed with an eye or face.

Mesoamerican flint glyphs with various eye motifs
Swift Creek flint/eye

Flint in Mesoamerican cultures is associated with the sun. Coincidentally, the Spanish friar Juan de Cordova recorded a very interesting Mayan story that relates flint with sunlight and an all-seeing eye:

On the day we call Tecpatl ( Flint ) a great light came from the northeastern sky. It glowed for four days in the sky, then lowered itself to that rock (the rock can still be seen at Tenochtitlan de Valle in Oaxaca ). From the light there came a great, a very powerful being who stood on the very top of the rock and glowed like the sun in the sky.

There he stood for all to see, shining day and night. Then he spoke, his voice was like thunder, booming across the valley.

Our old men and women, the astronomers and astrologists, could understand him and he could understand them.

He (the Solar Beam) told us how to pray and fixed for us days of fast and feasting. He then balanced the “Book of days,” (Sacred Calendar) and left, vowing that he would always watch down on us, his beloved people.33

Thus the Swift Creek flint-eye is consistent with Mesoamerican beliefs. It should also be noted that Venus was also seen as a big eye in the sky. As Malbrath notes, “the double-headed serpent on Lintel 25 [at Yax-chilan] intertwines with a volute bearing a heavy-lidded eye framed by five radiating elements, a form of Venus symbol that may refer to Venus as the ‘big eye.’”34 

The Mayan glyph for “sun” is known as kin. It looks like a flower with four petals sometimes with a dot in the center of each petal. Swift Creek pots appear to also represent this glyph.

Swift Creek  ‘four-petal-w/-dots’ designs Mayan ‘four-petal-with-dots’ kin glyph Mayan ‘four-petal’ kin “sun” glyph

The design also includes the quincunx, five dot, design which in Mayan has the phonetic value bi or be.35 Among the Maya it represented the five directions: north, south, east, west and center. Interestingly, 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.36 Thus we see that among the Hitchiti-speakers, like the Maya, bih is associated with both the sun and five directions.

As Milbrath notes, “the Mayan quincunx glyph (T585a) may represent a variant of the central Mexican Venus sign. It has considerable antiquity, having been found on an Olmec scorpion sculpture (Monument 43) from San Lorenzo dated before 900 B.C.”37 and also had an association with Venus among the Maya. Interestingly, if the Swift Creek design is rotated 180 degrees it has a strong similarity to the Mayan/Aztec god Chac/Tlaloc who also is associated with Venus. (This will be discussed later.)

Another Swift Creek design known as “buzzard’s head” looks remarkably similar to the Mayan cimi glyph which is another calendar day sign and is associated with “death” and “reincarnation.” In fact, it is the thirteenth and final sign of the thirteen day period in the Maya Tzolkin calendar when the Trecena begins with jaguar.

Swift Creek “buzzard’s head” design Mayan Cimi glyph for “death” & “transformation”

The one difference is the Swift Creek design appears reversed from the Mayan design. This could be the result of the “stamping” process used to create the image. The Swift Creek designs were first carved into a wooden paddle and then pressed or stamped into the side of the pot while still wet. This process results in a reversed image thus the image carved on the paddle would have appeared similarly to the cimi glyph above.

Another Swift Creek design known as “unidentified creature” has been noted for its Olmec-style appearance38. It is very similar in design to the Olmec jaguar deity.

Swift Creek Olmec-style “creature” Olmec jaguar deity Mayan Ik’ glyph for “wind/breath/spirit”

The face of the Swift Creek jaguar appears to also contain the Mayan T-shaped ik’ glyph for “wind/breath/life.” To the Maya, the Jaguar’s spotted skin represented the stars of the Milky Way galaxy. The Maya also used a jaguar glyph with a quincunx symbol on its head to represent the planet Venus. (See chart below.) Thus this appears to be another possible representation of Venus on Swift Creek pottery. Jaguar is also one of the thirteen day signs of the Trecena and as just noted when the Trecena begins with jaguar it ends with cimi (death/transformation.) Thus the ik’ “breath/spirit” association with jaguar is an appropriate way to begin a cycle that ends with cimi “death/transformation.”

Mayan Venus glyphs. Notice the jaguar glyph in the center of second row.

Another jaguar design appears on another Swift Creek pot but when turned upside down turns into the head of a rattlesnake. It also includes a flint knife in the center of the design:

 Swift Creek “Jaguar” design w/ cleft head & flint knife nose When rotated looks like a rattlesnake head
 
Mesoamerican Tlaloc with snake eyes  Proto-Mayan flint knife

Interestingly, this combination of a snake, jaguar with cleft head, and flint knife is consistent with Mesoamerican mythology. For instance, Matthew Stirling notes in his article “Early history of the Olmec problem,”

a “jaguar god who was…the forerunner of the important Aztec god Tezcatlipoca, [was] conceived of in one phase as a jaguar. ‘Thunderbolts’ or stone axes,‘rained from heaven,’ were attributed to his activities. Saville speculated that the cleft in the forehead characteristic of these jaguar axes was caused by the blow on the head received during his struggle with Quetzalcóatl, at which time he was transformed into a jaguar. One thing Saville did not mention is that the fetish or distinguishing mark of Tezcatlipoca is the flint knife, a feature shown on many of the were-jaguar votive axes.”39

The Swift Creek jaguar design includes a cleft-head and a flint knife nose and when rotated appears to be a rattlesnake head. Thus the Swift Creek design could have represented the struggle between Quetzalcoatl, the feathered rattlesnake, and Tezcatlipoca, represented as a jaguar.

A Swift Creek design mentioned earlier, when turned upside-down, also appears to be a representation of Tlaloc:

Swift Creek  ‘four-petal-w/-dots’ designs Same design rotated looks like Tlaloc Tlaloc w/ curved fangs and circled dots on cheeks

Tlaloc was also a god of rain and thus fertility. Interestingly, the figure at left has the appearance of flowering plants but when rotated takes the appearance of Tlaloc which is consistent with these Mesoamerican associations.

?It should also be noted that Tlaloc is often represented in Mesoamerica wearing a headdress with circumpuncts in its headband. As noted previously, the circumpunct was likely a star symbol among the Hitchiti. The fact that Tlaloc had strong associations with Venus and wore a “crown” of circumpuncts suggests that the circumpunct was also a star symbol in Mesoamerica as well. (Interestingly, there are five circumpuncts in the headband at left. In Mesoamerica Venus was strongly associated with the numeral five which Milbrath refers to as the “fiveness of Venus” which she argued symbolized the “Venus Almanac of five Venus cycles correlating with eight solar years.”40 This further supports the argument that the circumpunct was a star symbol in Mesoamerica.)

The preceding myth about the battle between Quetzalcoatl and Tezcatlipoca includes symbolism which is suggestive of a meteor storm. For instance, stone axes raining from heaven could represent meteorites which fell to earth. Tlaloc has other associations which are consistent with this interpretation. For instance, he is said to fall from the sky and bury himself in the earth.

Among Native Americans, jaguars/panthers were also associated with meteors and shooting stars. For instance, the Shawnee leader Tecumseh’s name means “Shooting Star” or “Panther Across the Sky” and he received this name because of an especially bright and long-lasting greenish-white meteor that shot across the sky at his birth:41

As Pucksinwah stared at the sky on this night, he saw a huge meteor streak across from the north, leaving a trail of greenish-white flame. It lasted for fully 20 seconds and was unlike anything he had ever seen before. This was the Panther spirit that the old men sometimes spoke of, and a good sign indeed. As the women around the fire talked excitedly and pointed to the heavens, a baby’s cry came from the shelter. Usually a child was not named for several days while the parents waited for a sign to indicate what the great spirit Moneto wished the child to be called, but this child must surely be named Tecumseh, “The Panther Passing Across”

Shooting stars were viewed by many cultures, including Mesoamerican cultures, as the souls of the dead departing and/or returning to Earth.

Another Swift Creek design is similar in design to the xochitl “flower” glyph from Mexico:

Swift Creek  design w/ ying-yang element One version of xochitl “flower” glyph w/ yin-yang knot Another xochitl glyph

The xochitl flower glyph was the last day sign in the Aztec calendar and represented both the flowering of life and the disappearance from existence42. As noted above, the Mayan glyph for sun, kin, also was flower-shaped and likely represented similar concepts.

Another Swift Creek design is similar to another flower glyph from Mexico, the water lily glyph. This glyph was used to represent the number 13 which was a very important number among the Maya used to represent the concept of completion.43 The Maya included this glyph as a headdress on their Chac Serpent deity. (Chac was the Maya version of Tlaloc.) Thus we see the concepts of flowers, fertility, Tlaloc/Chac, stars/Venus, and completion are closely associated in Mesoamerica.

“Chac serpent with waterlily headdress of Classic numeral thirteen head variant” Swift Creek design similar to waterlily headdress

The water lily also seems closely associated with stars. “The Lamat glyph sometimes represents a half star with a stylized water lily (Imix), resembling a variant of the star glyph known as T510e.”44

The water lily serpent is also associated with IK45, which in Mayan is associated with “wind, breath, life, spirit.”46 As noted by Milbrath, “in the Codex Borgia, Ehecatl-Quetzalcoat is the patron of the day Wind, the counterpart of Ik. This suggests that God H, the Water-Lily Serpent and Ehecatl-Quetzalcoatl are all related by an association with Venus and the wind.”47

Flowers were also associated with stars in the secret language of the Itza Maya priesthood known as the language of Zuyva. For instance, in the sacred book Chilam Balam of Chumayel, a section called “A Chapter of Questions and Answers” includes question #8 which is “large flower (of the night)” with the answer “star (in the sky).”48 (This secret language is believed to be related to Mixe-Zoque which happens to be the language of the Olmecs. Were the Itza priests actually Olmec?)49

Flint represented not only the sun and all-seeing-eye but also duality. The flint blade could bring life (via surgery or food preparation) or death (via the warriors knife.)50 Likewise the Cimi glyph was another calendar day sign with a meaning associated with death and reincarnation.

Interestingly, the Hitchiti word for “star” was owachiki which translates literally as “soul house.” Thus we see a clear connection between stars and the concept of death and reincarnation in both cultures.

In fact, the Swift Creek xochitl (“flower”) and ek (“star”) designs look strikingly like a female womb with fallopian tubes giving birth to a shining star! Indigenous cultures throughout Latin America refer to a woman’s vagina as her “flower” because many flowers, especially orchids, greatly resemble a woman’s sex organs. Thus the symbolism between flower and rebirth is clear. A woman’s womb, as the center of creation of new life, becomes an earthly “soul house” at birth in the same way that a star becomes a celestial “soul house” at death. Or put another way, the dead are reborn as stars.

Swift Creek “xochitl” Swift Creek “ek”
Diagram of a woman’s reproductive organs showing similarity between Swift Creek “xochitl” and “ek” designs.

Considering the fact that most scholars believe the potters in Swift Creek culture were women, it seems highly appropriate that they chose to represent the story of life, death, and afterlife with the female anatomy.

Curiously Venus has a worldwide association with female sexuality:

“The planet was worshipped by all peoples and cultures of antiquity as the divinity of fertility, the goddess of war, beauty, and love. In its role as the goddess of war and fertility it is associated with the Morning star. In its role as the divinity of sexual love it is associated with the Evening star…In the West the planet Venus has always been linked to the female sex, women, in biology, botany, medicine, and other natural sciences.”51

It should also be noted that in Mesoamerican beliefs, Venus/Tlaloc/Jaguar were all associated with rain52 and thus fertility. The Maya goddess Ix Chel, depicted as an aged woman with jaguar ears, was a goddess of fertility and medicine. Ix Chel was one of the most revered gods among the Chontal Maya, also known as the Poton Maya. They were master seafarers and the most likely candidates who could have reached Florida and Georgia during this time period. (This will be further discussed in the conclusion.) Thus it is possible that these glyphs represent aspects of an Ix Chel fertility cult in the Southeast.

The association between Tlaloc/Chac, flint, fertility and rebirth can also be found in the Hero Twin myths. “In both Mesoamerican and some North American versions, ‘the second-born twin, representing the personified placenta or umbilical cord, sometimes has a flint association.’ Sometimes in Mesoamerica, the second-born hero twin is depicted as a flint or chipped-stone knife. In Post-Classic central Mexico, this human knife is shown as having anthropomorphic characteristics, including eyes and teeth. According to art historians Mary Miller and Karle Taube, ‘Chac and Tlaloc, respectively the Maya and Central Mexican hurlers of thunderbolts, were thus the creators of these valued materials.’”53

Interestingly, all of these glyphs have something in common: they all are related to astronomy, the sun, stars, life, death, and rebirth. In addition, many of these Swift Creek designs contain prominent concentric circles with a central dot. This symbol is used by cultures worldwide as a symbol for the sun and stars. It is known that Native Americans used this symbol for the sun as well.54

The fact that so many of these Swift Creek symbols are similar in design to Mesoamerican symbols whose meanings are constrained within a small range of possibilities is strong proof that they are likely Mesoamerican in origin. If the designs were based on random chance, you would expect to see designs more randomly distributed across the entire corpus of Mayan glyphs. The fact that these symbols show clustering around such a narrow range meanings provides strong evidence that something more than chance is responsible for the similarities.

Conclusion

As mentioned earlier, the Swift Creek pottery tradition began around the same time that corn agriculture first showed up in the Lake Okeechobee area of Florida. The Swift Creek pottery tradition also occurs in the same area where the Hitchiti tribe is known to have lived. It is also the Hitchiti language which features apparent loan words from Mayan. The Hitchiti migration legend appears to place them in the Lake Okeechobee area after having arrived on the Florida coast from a “place of reeds”:

“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”.55

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.

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, according to Mayan scholar Linda Schele in her book The Code of Kings, the Maya referred to the great Mesoamerican metropolis of Teotihuacan as Puh which means “reeds.”53 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 permanency.” 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?

According to J. Eric Thompson in his book Maya History and Religion the Itza were a branch of the Poton Maya.57 He noted the Poton, who also called themselves the Yokot’an, lived in a province named Acala.

Interestingly, the first Spanish to visit Florida noted that a tribe named the Mayaimi lived around Lake Okeechobee. Other Spanish explorers with the Hernando de Soto expedition noted they visited a town in this area named Uqueten which was the southernmost village of a province named Ocale58, namesake of modern-day Ocala, Florida. They also noted that after leaving a town named Ocale they visited one named Potano59. Since Native American towns were named after the people who lived there it’s safe to assume people named Uqueten and Potano lived in a province named Ocale in Florida just like the Poton/Yokot’an Maya lived in a province named Acala in Mexico.

"Mirror Bearer" Maya / Olmec wood sculpture
This rare Maya wooden sculpture dates from 500 AD and possibly represents an Olmec priest or trader. (“Mirror-Bearer,” Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection)

As previously noted the Poton Maya were master seafarers, often referred to as the Chontal Maya, and the most likely candidate to have made the voyage to south central Florida around 200 A.D. Based on a magnificent wooden sculpture known as the “Putun Maya Lord”60 which dates to around 500 A.D. we know they were expert wood carvers. Researchers have noted that the intricate Swift Creek designs carved into wooden paddles show they were also expert wood carvers.61

Also as previously noted, one of the primary deities worshipped by the Poton Maya was Ix Chel, a goddess of fertility and medicine. Their other primary deity was Kukulkan, the plumed serpent. Thus if Poton Maya traders had significant contacts with an area one would expect to find representations of these two deities. As discussed earlier, both a plumed serpent and fertility symbols have been found among Swift Creek pottery designs.

"Mirror Bearer" 500 AD Maya / Olmec wooden statue

The Poton Maya (Chontal Maya) also claim to be descendants of the Olmec,62 the mother culture of Mesoamerica. The aforementioned “Poton Maya Lord” wooden statue has definite Olmec features. This may also explain the appearance of the Olmec-style jaguar glyph among Swift Creek designs.

The preponderance of the evidence seems to indicate that the Itza Maya were the ancestors of the Hitchiti tribe. They arrived in Florida around 200 AD as indicated by the arrival of corn in Florida, Mayan words in the Hitchiti language and Mayan glyphs on Swift Creek pottery. Massive earthen pyramids were also constructed at this time such as the Crystal River Mounds and Letchworth Mounds in Florida and Kolomoki Mounds in Georgia which is where much of this Swift Creek pottery has been found. The discovery of one of the largest sources of the mineral attapulgite just a few miles from these sites provides one possible reason for the Maya presence in the area. Attapulgite was used by the Maya to create the pigment Maya Blue which was very important to their culture. They were also likely mining gold in the north Georgia mountains. It seems highly unlikely that all these correlations are coincidental.

Work in progress. For more information visit: Maya in America- The Untold Story of Ancient America.

[References cited can be found on the original paper: “A Mayan Connection to Florida and Georgia Indians?“]

Did Maya mine blue pigment from Georgia?

One of the many mysteries involving the ancient Maya is the origin of a blue pigment they used to paint murals and buildings. Archaeologists have searched far and wide for the source of this pigment. It now appears that the largest source of the clay that makes this pigment can be found in southwest Georgia. This is the same location of the Kolomoki Mounds site which I’ve argued had a strong Mayan influence. This was the most populous site north of Mexico during its time period and it collapsed at the same time as Teotihuacan in Mexico. Archaeologists have long wondered why such a populous site was located in such an isolated location. With the discovery of the nearby source of Maya blue pigment, this mystery may now have been solved. Read the news below:

In a moment of boredom this week, a documentary film maker, whose passion is the archaeology of the Americas, probably solved a riddle that has eluded architects and archaeologists for centuries.   Where did the Mayas mine their “Maya Blue” pigment?

Studying the mica deposits in Georgia somehow led to the subject of Georgia clays. Clay is one of that state’s most important exports. Georgia clays are characterized by a wide variety of colors and chemical characteristics.  Somewhere along the Wikipedia trail, Haskell stumbled onto a clay with the odd name of attapulgite, also known as palygorskite.  He continued reading the article:

The name attapulgite is derived from the U.S. town of Attapulgus, Georgia, in the extreme southwest corner of the state, where the mineral is abundant. It is known to have been a key constituent of the pigment called “Maya Blue”, which was used notably by the pre-Columbian Maya civilization of Mesoamerica on ceramics, sculptures, murals and (most probably) Maya textiles. The clay mineral was also used by the Maya as a curative for certain illnesses, and there is evidence to show it was also added to pottery temper.“

Continue reading on Examiner.com http://www.examiner.com/architecture-design-in-national/did-the-mayas-famous-blue-pigment-come-from-georgia

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…)

Forsyth Petroglyph Reveals Comet Impact?

Forsyth Petroglyph from Georgia
Is this petroglyph from Forsyth County, Georgia a star map and does it record a comet impact event in 536 AD?

The “sculptured rock from Forsyth County, Georgia” is a petroglyph that currently sits in front of Baldwin Hall at the University of Georgia in Athens, Georgia.  It was moved there in the late 1990s from its location next to the President’s Building.[i] It was originally located in north Georgia and was “found near Mt. Tabor Baptist Church in the Northwestern part of Forsyth County.”[ii] It was first described in White’s Statistics of Georgia in 1849:

 “On the road from Canton to Dahlonega, 10 miles northwest from Cumming, is a very remarkable rock. It is an unhewn mass of granite, eight and a half feet long, and two and a half feet wide. It is three-sided, with irregular converging points, upon which are characters, seventeen of them varying in shape. The largest circles are eight inches in diameter. From its appearance, it must have been wrought at a very remote period. The designs are very irregular, and it is probable that they were executed by the same race of people who constructed the mounds in this and other sections of the State. What the characters on this rock mean, the oldest inhabitants cannot tell. The oldest Indians could give no account of it.”[iii]

It was next mentioned twenty-four years later in the book Antiquities of the Southern Indians, Particularly of the Georgia Tribes by Charles C. Jones, Jr. originally published in 1873. Jones referred to the petroglyph as the “Sculptured Rock from Forsyth County, Georgia.” I will refer to this petroglyph as the Forsyth Petroglyph throughout this paper for brevity’s sake. In his book Jones states:

“In Forsyth County, Georgia, is a carved or incised bowlder of fine-grained granite, about nine feet long, four feet six inches high, and three feet broad at its widest point. The figures are cut in the bowlder from one-half to three-quarters of an inch deep….As yet no interpretation of these figures has been offered, nor is it known by whom or for what purpose they were made. It is generally believed, however, that they are the work of the Cherokees. On the eastern end of the bowlder, running vertically, is a line of dots, like drill-holes, eighteen in number, connected by an incised line.”[iv]

It was next mentioned in an 1888 Smithsonian Bureau of Ethnology Report entitled “Picture-writing of the American Indians.” This report noted that “the characters in it are chiefly circles, including plain, nucleated, and concentric, sometimes two or more being joined by straight lines, forming what is now known as the ‘spectacle shaped’ figure.”[v]

View of the Forsyth petroglyph at the University of Georgia
View of the Forsyth petroglyph at the University of Georgia. (Courtesy Flickr)

The report goes on to compare the petroglyph to so-called cup-and-ring sculptures around the world, especially in the Middle East, British Isles and India, which have supposed astronomical interpretations.  Sir James Simpson who developed a classification system for these types of petroglyphs notes that “occasionally four or five or more of [these symbols] are placed in more or less regular groups, exhibiting a constellation-like arrangement.”[vi] In Palestine and Jordan similar designs are said to be “reasonably suggestive of the sun, moon, and stars.”[vii] In India these designs are “correlated with the worship of Mahadeo, one of the many names given to Siva, the third god of the Hindu triad, whose emblem is the serpent.”[viii]

The Forsyth petroglyph was next mentioned in 1950 in an article by Margarett Perryman entitled “Hunting Petroglyphs in North Georgia” in the second issue of Early Georgia, the journal of The Society for Georgia Archaeology. [ix] In this article she notes:

Photo from Perryman’s 1950 article about the Forsyth Petroglyph.

“My general reading on North American Indians naturally included, Antiquites of the Southern Indians, by Charles C. Jones, Jr., and it was there I found the first reference to rock writings in Georgia. One of the stones he described and pictured was said to be in Forsyth County. So at long last it became possible for me to actually examine a genuine Georgia petroglyph.

But finding even that well documented stone was not so easy. It took a good bit of detective work and much pussy-footing around the Public Library to find out in what section of Forsyth County the stone was located.

The first hunt was ready to start but we had to make some rather careful plans, for these were the days of gasoline rationing. We had to do a lot of round about town walking and weaning of the car to save up enough gas coupons to make the first expedition up into Forsyth County.

The favorable day finally arrived and after losing our way innumerable times on the backwoods roads, some miles west of Silver City, we were able to locate the stone. There on the wayside of a little dusty country road was my first Georgia petroglyph. Totally neglected and forgotten and practically obscured from sight by brambles and looking somewhat like a fat grey granite whale, was the most beautiful carved stone I ever saw. The elements had been kind to the stone, for most of the symbols were still discernible, although grey-green lichens had grown into most of the markings.

On that Sunday afternoon this petroglyph was given a most thorough examination. Our fingers traced every concentric circle until they were roughened and grimy. We admired the perfect symmetry which the ancient stonecarver had achieved in his well proportioned designs. We marveled how every symbol had been carved with such precision and how deeply cut. We counted the little nut size holes that were spaced so neatly and carefully down the entire backbone of the rock.

Luck was with us that day for the owner of the land on which the stone lay was our guide and companion. He valued his ‘old Indian rock’ very much and he was quite elated to have us admire his prize possession. His name was Mr. Corn and I shall never forget his genuine friendliness and his twinkling eyes as he told us exciting tales about the old stone.

He told us how folks had come in the dead of night and dug under and about the stone in quest of the forty pony loads of pure Indian gold; how many a brawny copper colored lad had skulked about the stone at dusk to study the inscriptions; how old and bearded tramps with tattered treasure maps had appeared in the evening mists and disappeared after much pacing around the stone; of the quaint old men that appeared often with weird treasure finding gadgets to prod and poke the ground about the stone; of the vandals that attempted to dynamite the stone, believing it to be hollow and hoping to find the treasure inside; of the law suits and land fights that had taken place in years gone by.

Mr. Corn gave us the information that there were other rock writings on his farm and was interested in showing them to us that day. But night was falling fast, so we promised that we would be back soon and bring our camera and take photographs of all his stones.

Alas and alack! Well laid plans often go astray and it was many months before we could get back to Forsyth County with our camera equipment and then Mr. Corn was gone.

The new owner of the land was considerate enough to let us take photographs of the petroglyph and he grudgingly consented to let us search for the stonecarvers ancient cutting tool. The only thing he was interested in was seeing that we did not get the treasure for our own.

He knew absolutely nothing about there being other carved stones in the vicinity. But he did show us a large purposely shaped, obviously imported piece of rock with a rather recent and crudely carved letter N on its top side. He claimed that this rock was the key that would unlock the whereabouts of the, ‘hundred pony loads of Indian gold,’ and he knew exactly where it was buried almost…

After getting home and developing our pictures we compared them with the drawing of the stone as shown in Jones book. The shape of the stone was identical, measurements agreed, but the symbols as shown in our photographs would not match those of Jones. Some of the symbols were alike but placement of them was entirely different and we found many symbols that Jones had not shown.

Then the question arose had Jones actually seen this stone? Or had he seen it and waited until a much later date before he drew the picture from memory? Or had he acquired the drawing from some other person who had been careless? Or had symbols been cut at a later dater after Jones had examined the stone? Apparently here was just another one of the baffling mysteries that always seem to pester and torment a petroglyph hunter.”

Later in this article Perryman compared the Forsyth petroglyph to the Track Rock petroglyphs and noted:

“The Forsyth County stone and the stones in Union County have symbols totally dissimilar, the rocks are of a different geological nature, the topographical placement of the petroglyphs varies, and it appears to me that the two stones were carved for somewhat different purposes. But there is one important feature that is almost identical; the fact that both have nut size holes carved upon them of a similar diameter and depth.”

Perryman standing behind the Forsyth petroglyph in situ. Apparently some of the carvings have been chalked to show up more clearly in the photograph.

When I first discovered the illustration of this petroglyph in Jones’ Antiquities, I immediately assigned it an astronomical interpretion based purely on its appearance, not yet having read the Smithsonian report. I stated in 2004 on my website LostWorlds.org that at first glance it appeared to be a star map.[x] This is the first known attempt at interpreting the Forsyth Petroglyph.

The Hypothesis

To the above potential interpretation, I add the proposal that designs on the Forsyth Petroglyph include astronomical representations of stars, the constellation Draco, the Pleiades asterism or constellation Scorpius, a comet, and meteors or comet fragments.

Two Georgia pottery traditions, Weeden Island and Swift Creek, have designs similar to those that appear on the Forsyth Petroglyph and have been interpreted as astronomical symbols. David Allison has argued that astronomical phenomena are portrayed on “sacred” Weeden Island pottery including “constellations, the Milky Way, the annual movements of the sun and moon, solar equinoxes and solstices, and the paths of the planets Venus and Mercury as ‘morning stars.’”[xi]

Frankie Snow has argued that some of the motifs found on Swift Creek pottery are astronomical in nature. He suggests that concentric circles and circles with a central dot (nucleated circles) are motifs that represent the sun.[xii]

Both the Weeden Island and Swift Creek pottery traditions coexisted in Georgia between 20 BC and 805 AD.[xiii] Since similar motifs are found on the Forsyth Petroglyph, it likely dates from the same time period although no tests have been done to prove this. Other researchers have suggested it is “roughly contemporary to… dated ceramics [from] AD 700 to 1400 (i.e., Late Woodland Swift Creek and Middle Mississippian Savannah.)”[xiv]

Analysis and Interpretation of the Forsyth Petroglyph

Possible interpretations of the symbols on the Forsyth Petroglyph
Fig. 1: Possible interpretations of the symbols on the Forsyth Petroglyph

The most numerous features on the Forsyth Petroglyph are a series of concentric circles and nucleated circles (circles with central circles/dots) known in petroglyph studies as cup-and-ring[xv] designs and elsewhere as circumpuncts or circled dots[xvi]. Most of the circles on the Forsyth Petroglyph are nucleated although a few of the smaller circles are not.

Detail of Forsyth Petroglyph
Figure 2: Side by side comparison of a detail from the line drawing with photo of same section on the actual rock Note: The circles on the actual petroglyph are closer together than the drawing conveys. Also, line drawing doesn’t accurately reflect thickness of circles.

David Allison found two sets of concentric circles on C.B. Moore’s Vessel No. 17  from the “Mound Near The Warrior River, Taylor County. Mound B.” and proposed they were solar symbols. On the same vessel Allison also found circles with central dots and proposed a solar interpretation for them as well.

Frankie Snow found concentric circles with central dots on several Swift Creek pots. He interpreted these as solar symbols based on known historic accounts of Native Americans using similar symbols to represent the sun.

Another view of the Forsyth Petroglyph.
Another view of the Forsyth petroglyph located at the University of Georgia library. (Courtesy Flickr)

So far we have established that concentric circles and nucleated circles (circumpuncts) may have astronomical associations as symbols for our day star, the sun. Is it possible that Native Americans also used concentric circles to represent night stars? Due to the multiple instances of concentric circles and their scattered arrangement on the Forsyth Petroglyph it is doubtful that each and every one of them represents the sun. I propose that in this particular case, based on their quantity, arrangement and context (i.e., the other design elements that surround them), they represent stars in the night sky. Evidence below will further support this contention. (For further proof that ancients used concentric circles with central dot as a symbol for stars, see the ancient Sumerian image “Kudurru of King Melishipak.”)[xvii] [Continues…]

Fort Mountain Stone Wall (400 AD)

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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.

ancient stone wall atop Fort MountainThe 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 wall on Fort Mountain

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 Hare Hammock

“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.

Fort Mountain stone wall

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

Fort Mountain stone wall

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?

"Mirror Bearer" Maya / Olmec wood sculpture

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.

"Mirror Bearer" 500 AD Maya / Olmec wooden statue

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 Geological Survey of Georgia Bulletin from 1909 noted:

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 aka Forsyth Petroglyph

“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.

Other petroglyph rocks have been found nearby in Forsyth County. Some of these designs, primarily the concentric circles and the “dumbbell” figures, strongly resemble designs that would later show up on Weeden Island pottery vessels interpreted as being calendars. Could the Forsyth petroglyphs be star maps carved in stone? In fact, the Forsyth Petroglyph contains Mayan glyphs and religious symbols which further supports the presence of Maya in north Georgia.

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.

References Cited

Rock Eagle & Rock Hawk (100 AD)

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Rock Eagle effigy mound is the next oldest Indian mound site in Georgia after the Sapelo Shell Ring Complex. This Indian mound is an effigy in the shape of a bird with its wings spread. It is believed to have been constructed by a NativeAmerican group around 2,000 years ago although originally it was thought to be more than 5,000 years old. It is one of only two such Indian effigy mounds known to exist east of the Mississippi river with the second Indian mound known as Rock Hawk also located within Putnam county, the same Georgia county as Rock Eagle. (Watch video)

Rock Eagle effigy mound has a 120 feet wingspan and is 102 feet long from head to tail. It has a vertical height of 8 feet from the ground to the top of the chest. The bird’s head faces east, the direction of the rising sun.(Watch animation) It is constructed entirely of white quartzite rock of various sizes. Many of the rocks were too large for one person to carry by hand and thus archaeologists believe they were dragged to the site on deerskins. It also contains several types of clay that were brought in from other locations since these clays are not found in Putnam county.

Rock EagleA. R. Kelly and the University of Georgia excavated the effigy mound site in the 1950s. During this excavation Mr. Kelly found a single quartz projectile point and the cremated remains of a human burial.

Other rock Indian mounds exist in the state of Georgia that also feature human burials. These tend to be circular mounds of piled rock. Interestingly, the main body of the eagle is a circular pile of rocks over eight feet high. The wings, head, and tail are much flatter and don’t rise more than a couple of feet above ground level. Thus this mound may have started as a typical round rock burial mound and then with a flash of creative inspiration evolved into the present bird shape.

Early European explorers in the region noted that NativeAmericans continued building rock mounds even into the early contact period. Sometimes these Indian mounds were built over the permanent burial spots of prominent warriors or chiefs. Other times the burials were temporary with the bones being exhumed later and the rock mound left as a type of memorial. Sometimes the rocks were piled on the spot where a warrior had been wounded in battle. Just as we build battlefield monuments and monuments to our fallen leaders, NativeAmericans appear to have done the same thing.

Rock Eagle
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These same early explorers also noted that rocks were continually added to these Indian mounds by passing NativeAmericans. It was a sign of respect to add a rock to the mound of a fallen warrior or chief. Just as we add flowers to the graves of loved ones for years after they have passed away, NativeAmerican Indians seem to have honored their dead in a similar way.

It is important to note that although these two Indian mounds are referred to as an “eagle” and a “hawk”, no one knows for sure if this is what the builders intended. In fact, they could just as well represent buzzards rather than either eagles or hawks. Considering that buzzards have traditionally been seen as symbols of death due to their black color and their diet of dead, decaying animals, it is not completely unbelievable that the NativeAmerican builders would have constructed a burial mound in the shape of such a bird.

Both Rock Eagle and Rock Hawk are located on the highest points in Putnam county. Interestingly, Mr. Kelly also noted that both Rock Eagle and Rock Hawk may have been enclosed by a rock wall made of the same type of rock as the mounds themselves. This pattern of building rock structures, particularly walls, at high points in the landscape would reach its zenith at the next site in our chronology: Fort Mountain.

Resouces & Further Reading: 

  • Jeffries, Richard W. “Investigations of Two Stone Mound Localities, Monroe County, Georgia.” University of Georgia Laboratory of Archaeology Series, Report No. 17. Athens, GA: 1978.
  • Petrullo, Vincenzo. “Rock Eagle Effigy Mounds and Related Structures in Putnam County, Georgia.” Unpublished manuscript. Athens, GA: University of Georgia.
  • Kelly, Arthur R. “The Eatonton Effigy Eagle Mounds and Related Stone Structures in Putnam County, Georgia.” Unpublished manuscript. Athens, GA: University of Georgia, 1954.
  • Williams, Mark. “Rock Mounds and Structures.” New Georgia Encyclopedia. 2004.

Kolomoki Mounds (500 AD)

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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


View larger map

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.

Mounds D & Mound A at Kolomoki Mounds in Blakely, Georgia
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

Swift Creek Burial Mound at Kolomoki Mounds
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
Weeden Island pot thought to be a calendar This Weeden Island pot is thought to have representations of the night sky. This Weeden Island pottery is thought to represent the paths of Venus and Mercury in the night sky.

 

Thus clearly the people who built Kolomoki Mounds were a sophisticated people with knowledge of astronomy.

Who built Kolomoki?

Map of Swift Creek culture area
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.

This Swift Creek design appears to represent Quetzalcoatl, the Plumed Serpent deity from Mexico.
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 representing the 2 Cane Glyph from Mexico.
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…]

Ossabaw Island burial site sheds light on Georgia’s prehistoric Indian culture

The recent excavation of a prehistoric American Indian burial site on Ossabaw Island revealed cremated remains, an unexpected find that offers a glimpse into ancient Indian culture along Georgia’s coast.

State archaeologist David Crass of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources said prehistoric cremations were rare, particularly during the early time in which preliminary evidence suggests this one occurred, possibly 1000 B.C. to A.D. 350. The remains also mark the first cremation uncovered on Ossabaw, a state-owned Heritage Preserve about 20 miles south of Savannah.

“This interment broadens our knowledge about … the kinds of belief (involving) death within the Woodland Period,” Crass said. “This is not something we have seen before on Ossabaw Island. Similar cremations on St. Catherine’s Island may point to this practice being more widespread than we have believed up to now.”

Crass said during this time American Indians in Georgia moved to the coast in the winter for shellfish, then inland in the spring for deer hunting and into uplands in the fall for gathering nuts. “This site may have been a winter season camp,” he said.

Erosion from natural causes exposed the burial on an Ossabaw bluff earlier this year. Scientists from the DNR Office of the State Archaeologist, the nonprofit Lamar Institute and the Georgia Council on American Indian Concerns worked under the council’s direction to excavate the roughly 6- by 6-foot pit. As required by state law, Crass informed the council about the situation and organized the excavation at the group’s request.

The work on Georgia’s third-largest barrier island revealed a cremation pit that had been lined with wood and oyster shells. The body had been placed on top of the wood and the contents of the pit burned. The human remains recovered were primarily from extremities, indicating that the deceased had been disinterred after cremation, possibly to be reburied elsewhere.

The charcoal will be submitted for carbon 14 dating, but preliminary analysis of the pottery recovered from the pit suggests the cremation may date to the Refuge-Deptford Phases in the Woodland Period, c.a. 1000 B.C. to A.D. 350. A ground-penetrating radar survey showed many prehistoric American Indian features in the general area, Crass said. The bluff apparently had long been a focal point of prehistoric Indian life.

After analysis, the remains will be reinterred in a secure location under the auspices of the Council on American Indian Concerns. Crass expects the carbon 14 dating results and details on the radar survey by early next year.

Human history runs deep on Ossabaw. Shell mounds and other artifacts here date to 2000 B.C. More than 230 archaeological sites have been recorded. Spanish records indicate the island probably had an early Guale Indian village, according to The New Georgia Encyclopedia. But long before the first European contact on Ossabaw, possibly through the Spanish in 1568, small pox and other diseases unwittingly introduced by the Spanish in Mexico and South America had swept north, devastating populations of native Americans.

Crass said it’s not known what Indians were on the island when the cremation pit was used. But because of its discovery thousands of years later, more will be learned.

Access to Ossabaw is limited to approved research projects and hunts managed by the DNR’s Georgia Wildlife Resources Division. Details at www.georgiawildlife.com. Information on visiting the island for research and educational purposes is also available from The Ossabaw Island Foundation’s Jim Bitler, jim@ossabawisland.org.

The Wildlife Resources Division works to protect, conserve, manage and improve Georgia’s wildlife and freshwater fishery resources. The division’s mission also includes managing and conserving protected wildlife and plants, administering and conducting the mandatory hunter safety program, regulating the possession and sale of wild animals, and administering and enforcing the Georgia Boat Safety Act.

The Historic Preservation Division of the Georgia DNR serves as Georgia’s state historic preservation office. The Historic Preservation Division’s mission is to promote the preservation and use of historic places for a better Georgia. Programs include archaeology protection and education, environmental review, grants, historic resource surveys, tax incentives, the National Register of Historic Places, community planning and technical assistance. For more information, call (404) 656-2840 or visit www.gashpo.org.