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?“]

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…]

Ocmulgee Mounds (1000 AD)

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As impressive as the previously discussed Kolomoki Mounds complex is, the NativeAmerican Mound Builders of Georgia would outdo themselves at the next site in our story: Ocmulgee Mounds. Located in Macon, this ancient civilization consists of seven Indian mounds and associated plazas.

The Great Temple Mound at Ocmulgee was built atop the Macon Plateau and rises 56 feet high from the surface of the plateau. Yet because the mound was ingeniously constructed on the edge of the plateau and the plateau itself was terraced and clay fill added to match the angle of the Temple Mound, the mound rises an impressive 90 feet from the river bank below. It was this imposing view that most visitors to Ocmulgee Indian Mounds saw in prehistoric times since most trade and travel was conducted by dugout canoes along the Ocmulgee river.


View larger map
Map of Ocmulgee Mounds. Zoom in to see individual mounds and other features. Click on the blue tabs  to learn more about each feature. Explore the site in 3D with the Google Earth plugin.

Due to its ingenious construction, the top of the Great Temple Mound is significantly higher than the surrounding tree line thus enabling anyone standing here to have a commanding view of the countryside for miles and miles around as well as an unobstructed view of the entire sky dome for astronomical observations.(View QTVR) From here one could easily see signal fires or smoke signals from outlying villages warning of invaders or other trouble. Likewise traders could light signal fires atop the Great Temple Mound to announce the arrival of new trade goods. As its name suggests the Great Temple Mound was also home to a large temple which likely doubled as the Chief Priest’s home. Here he kept a perpetual fire burning which was an important element of their religion and myths.

This giant ground sloth on display at the University of Georgia was unearthed in Brunswick, GA during construction of I-95.
Giant ground sloth found in southeast Georgia on view at UGA.

The Ocmulgee Mounds site has been occupied for 12,000 years as evidenced by the Clovis spear point found during excavations. (View Image Gallery) The Clovis people lived during the last Ice Age and used these spear points to hunt mastadons, wooly mammoths, giant ground sloths and other giant animals that once roamed Georgia. Around 2000 B.C., the same time period as the Sapelo Shell Rings, the first small shell mounds were constructed at the site but it wasn’t until 900 A.D. that the monumental constructions began.

Who Built Ocmulgee Mounds?

At this time newcomers arrived in the region and brought with them corn agriculture, a new style of pottery, new types of arrowheads and a more complex economic, religious and political system. It is thought that these were Muskogean speakers who later were called Creek Indians by Europeans. According to Creek Indian tradition, Ocmulgee Mounds was the site where they “first sat down” after their long migration from the west. Other traditions hold that they originated near “the backbone of the earth” which was their name for the Rocky Mountains. In fact, as we’ll see below, they could have originated as far away as west Mexico and later migrated into the desert southwest before finally arriving at Ocmulgee.

Popocateptl Volcano erupting at nightOne tribe of Creek Indians, the Cussitaw (Cusseta/Kasihta), have a migration legend which might relate to the settlement of Ocmulgee Mounds. It tells how they originated in a place much farther west, a place where the earth would occasionally open up and swallow their children (a possible reference to earthquakes). Part of their tribe decided to leave this place and began an eastward migration in order to find where the sun rose. On their journey they came to a mountain that thundered and had red smoke coming from its summit which they later discovered was actually fire (a possible reference to a volcano.) Here they decided to settle down after meeting people from three nations (Chickasaws, Atilamas, & Obikaws) who taught them about herbs and “many other things.”

From these references one can speculate that these people migrated from Mexico which is west of Georgia and has both earthquakes and active volcanoes. (For a more in-depth analysis of the Creek migration legend, read “Were Georgia’s Muskogee Creek Indians from West Mexico?“) Mexico is also the birthplace of corn agriculture, a defining characteristic of these newcomers. It is also in Mexico where we find cities consisting of flat-topped pyramid mounds arranged around open plazas which is the most noticeable feature of town planning at Ocmulgee.

Archaeologists use the term “Mississippian” to refer to these cultural traits. Mississippian does not refer to a single tribe or people and, in fact, many different tribes across the Southeast and Midwest eventually adopted various aspects of Mississippian culture. “Mississippian” culture is similar to the term “Western” culture in that it describes traits which were shared by many different peoples and cultures speaking many different languages. Just as cultures from Asia to South America have become “westernized,” so did cultures all over the eastern U.S. become “Mississippianized.”

Other evidence also suggests a Mexican origin for the Creek Indians. For instance, the type of tobacco grown in the southeast by the Creek Indians has been shown to have its origins in Central America.

Creek Indian Steeh-tcha-ko-me-co by George Catlin
“Steeh-tcha-ko-me-co” by George Catlin, 1834.
Chontal sculpture from Guerrero, Mexico
Chontal sculpture from Guerrero, Mexico.

Also, an artifact from the Chontal culture discovered in the state of Guerrero in west Mexico reveals a similar dress styles as a Creek Indian chief painted by artist George Catlin in 1834 named Steeh-tcha-ko-me-co. The Chontal are also noted for portable stone human effigy statues that were part of a complex funerary practice. Similar stone human effigy statues were used by Mississippian era Creek Indians such as at the next site in our story: Etowah Mounds. Also, a stela from Guerrero featured a bird-man design similar to a design on a copper breastplate found at Etowah.

Additionally, the Muskogean language spoken by the Creek Indians is believed by some linguists to be distantly related to the Hokan family. This language family has its origin in western Mexico and the western U.S. where the Yuman group is still spoken in western Arizona, southern California, and northwestern Mexico.

Interestingly, the Yumans also constructed earth lodges which is another feature of the Ocmulgee site (discussed below). More specifically, the Yumans were known for constructing square earth lodges. Not far from Ocmulgee at a site known as Brown’s Mount, archaeologists unearthed the remains of a square earth lodge that dates to the same time period as the round earth lodges at Ocmulgee. Thus an idea present in the West was also present in the East and believed to have been built by the same people as those who constructed Ocmulgee Mounds.

It is also appears that Brown’s Mount played a part in the Creek migration legend. The legend states:

They always have, on their journeys, two scouts who go before the main body. These scouts ascended a high mountain and saw a town…Then the Cussitaws became angry, and determined to attack the town, and each one have a house when it was captured. They threw stones into the river until they could cross it, and took the town (the people had flattened heads), and killed all but two persons.

Thus it seems from the legend that the scouts climbed Brown’s Mount (which is down river from Ocmulgee Mounds) and planned the assault on the town. This also reveals that the Ocmulgee Mounds site was already inhabited when the Cussitaws showed up and these inhabitants practiced cranial deformation which resulted in “flattened heads.”

Ocmulgee Mounds Bibb Plain Mississippian pottery
The newcomers arrived at Ocmulgee Mounds with a different style of pottery featuring shouldered bowls with smooth, undecorated surfaces similar to that found among the tribes of the desert Southwest.

The archaeological evidence actually supports this part of the migration legend. The original pottery unearthed by archaeologists at the site is known as Swift Creek pottery and is noticeably different than the style (called Bibb plain) brought by the newcomers. Also, early explorer C. C. Jones, Jr. from Savannah visited the Ocmulgee site in the late 1800s when the Central of Georgia Railroad was cutting a trail through the site. They cut through the burial mound and Mr. Jones noted in his book Antiquities of the Southern Indians Especially the Georgia Tribes that a skull from the lowest part of the mound, thus the oldest part, exhibited cranial deformation giving it a flattened appearance while the later burials in the upper part of the mound did not. All of this evidence suggests two completely different people inhabited the Ocmulgee Mounds site, one replaced (or massacred) by the other.

As noted in the previous article on Kolomoki Mounds, Swift Creek pottery appears to be associated with the Hitchiti-speaking tribes. At least one Hitchiti migration legend suggests they migrated north into Georgia after having first arrived by boat in the Lake Okeechobee area of Florida. It is in this area where archaeologists have found the earliest evidence of corn agriculture, a native crop of Mexico, although this was a much smaller variety of corn than that brought later by the newcomers at Ocmulgee Mounds.

Mayan Cranial Deformation
A Maya skull and statue both showing cranial deformation.

Curiously the Hitchiti language has several Mayan words in it and Mesoamerican symbols have been found on Swift Creek pottery. The Maya were also known for head flattening. Thus all of this evidence suggests the Hitchiti (or at least some portion of them) were possibly descended from the Maya.

It is likely that the Hitchiti/Swift Creek built the first stage of the funeral mound since the skeletons with cranial deformation were found there. Did they also build the first stages of the Greater and Lesser temple mounds? According to another version of the Creek Migration Legend, the first structure the newcomers built upon arrival was “a mound [with a] great chamber in the center” where the warriors could gather– a clear reference to an earth lodge. Yet the legend mentions nothing about constructing the temple mounds and, in fact, their descendants would later tell European settlers they did not know who constructed the mounds.

Ocmulgee Mounds

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The main features of the Ocmulgee Mounds’ site plan are two truncated pyramidal earthen mounds, one larger than the other, flanking and defining an open plaza area. This site plan does not match previous known Swift Creek site plans such as at Kolomoki Mounds. The site plan does match other Mississippian site plans west of Ocmulgee Mounds such as that at Cahokia near St. Louis. Thus this evidence favors the newcomers as the builders of the Greater and Lesser Temple Mounds and central plaza as well as the Earth Lodge, as previously mentioned.

Also as previously mentioned, the migration legend tells how the Cussitaws would always have scouts ahead of the main group.  Ocmulgee is located on the Ocmulgee River which flows into the Altamaha River which flows into the Atlantic Ocean just south of Sapelo Island for a distance of 300 miles. It is about a three week journey from Ocmulgee to the coast by dugout canoe. Thus as the main group rested at Ocmulgee the scouts would have reached the Atlantic Ocean and realized that their journey had ended. They could go no further east and had discovered that the sun rose from a great ocean each morning. They would return and tell the others about their discovery. Ocmulgee thus became the logical place for a permanent settlement. It truly is where they finally “sat down.” Continues….

Fernbank Museum

Fernbank’s signature exhibition, A Walk Through Time in Georgia, tells the two-fold story of Georgia’s natural history and the development of our planet. Sixteen galleries combine with theaters and dioramas to explain this complex and fascinating story. Explore the natural history of Georgia and the story of our planet as you journey through lifelike geographic regions and historic re-creations. Highlights include a dinosaur gallery, a giant sloth, a cave, and the modern-day sights and sounds of the Okefenokee Swamp.

Using pottery as a lens, Conveyed in Clay: Stories from St. Catherines Island explores 5,000 years of human history, from the oldest pots discovered in North America to the introduction of Spanish majolica in the mission era.

Featuring a selection of objects from the St. Catherines Island Foundation and Edward John Noble Foundation Collection, this new permanent exhibition examines how Native Americans adapted to changes in natural and cultural conditions through the evolution of their pottery. From the invention of simple pinch pots to the progressive engineering of more advanced coil pots, visitors will explore the innovative designs and the introduction of decorative embellishment as cultures interacted.