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The Indigenous Peoples of Northern Georgia

During the earliest part of this Paleo-Indians period, an ice sheet covered the portion of North America above the Ohio River. Brasstown Bald probably had a permanent ice cap, while permafrost characterized its upper elevations. No evidence of glaciers has been found. The valleys around Brasstown Bald would have been similar in appearance to those near the mountains of New England and Southern Quebec today. This Late Sub-Boreal Period evolved into an Isothermal Period in which northern and southern plant species grew in proximity. Vegetation grew throughout much of the year. This made possible the large mega-fauna populations. Around 10,000 years ago, the climate became sub-borial again then began a steady warming trend. When the permafrost melted, massive landslides occurred, which filled the valleys with soil from the tops of the mountains. It is known that at the beginning of this period, large mammals such as mastodons, giant sloths, giant elks, giant bison, sabertooth cats, etc. roamed the river valleys of the region. Their fossils were found in Ladds Cave in Cartersville, GA. Mastodon teeth have been found in several valleys of northern Georgia. By 9,000 BC all the megafauna species in the region had disappeared. No Paleo-Indian Period occupation sites within a 50 mile range of Track Rock Gap have been professionally studied. Artifacts associated with this period, principally Clovis and Dalton points, have been discovered in the region. It is impossible to discern any particular ethnic association with these artifacts. No skeletal remains from this time have been found in Georgia. Archaic Period (c. 8,000 BC – c. 1000 BC) The climate steadily warmed until by around...

Site Tour of the Track Rock Gap Archaeological Zone

1 – Vent Trail: The entrance to the Vent Trail was only about 125 feet from Track Rock Gap Road.  The Vent Trail appeared to be an old logging road that varied from about eight to fourteen feet wide.  The trail’s lack of use had allowed dense stands of wild blackberries to grow up at the entrance along sections exposed to sunlight.  Since the trail leads to the dormant volcanic vent, it is also possible that centuries of foot and horse traffic have widened the original trail to the scale of a road. Until this point in time, we really did not appreciate the scale of the archaeological zone.  Despite having fairly precise maps, the steep slope created far more surface area than one would suspect from looking at a two dimensional topographic map. 2 – Right-of-way walls:  The footprints of walls can be seen in the power right- of-way. They have been leveled down to grade, most likely by the Blue Ridge Mountain EMC. 3 – Track Rock Branch: There are vestiges of stone retaining walls on both sides (east and west) of the creek. They are straight and run in a north-south direction.  It is quite probable that roadway improvements destroyed or covered features located farther to the west. 4 – Lower terraces: The retaining walls for the mountainside terraces are mostly concave and about 18” to 24” tall. Judging from the grade, these walls were originally about 36” tall. They all face west and appear to have been carefully laid. They show evidence of being damaged by tractors or logging machinery.  Some of the terraces have...

A Geospatial Analysis

As stated in Part Three, the Stratum Unlimited, LLC report in 2001 (Other Missing Stone Archaeological Sites) virtually ignored the Native American communities in northern Georgia. Almost all were contemporary with the occupation of the Track Rock Terraces. This omission was particularly inexcusable for the town sites that were adjacent to the two creeks, which flow off of Track Rock Gap, Town Creek and Arkaqua Creek.  In 1930s and 1940s, archaeologist George Wauchope found evidence of long term occupancy at these sites that apparently began before the Track Rock terraces were constructed, and sometimes continued into the Federal Period. It should be understood, however, that since only two test pits were dug, the Track Rock terraces may be older than currently assumed. The two large towns on the Etowah River in Georgia, known today as the Leake Mounds (100 BC-750 AD) Etowah Mounds (990 AD – 1585 AD,) culturally dominated the Lower Southeast for many centuries.  It is 68 miles southwest of Track Rock Gap.  The “logo” of the town of Etowah is on both the Track Rock petroglyphs and the Judaculla petroglyphs in North Carolina. The Judaculla petroglyphs are approximately the same distance northeast of Track Rock Gap as Etowah Mounds. However, the Judaculla petroglyphs were discussed extensively in the Stratum Unlimited, LLC report, while Etowah Mounds was ignored.  As stated earlier, the main plaza at Etowah Mounds was supported by a six feet high retaining wall.  A large complex of concentric fieldstone ellipses and other walls overlooked Etowah Mounds from Ladds Mountain. Geospatial Relationship to Georgia Sites In order to define the geospatial relationship between site 9UN367...

Trade Routes in the Lower Southeast

The memoir of French explorer, René Goulaine de Laudonniére state that the predominate flow of trade in the Lower Southeast in the late 1500s was north-south.  Greenstone, gold, ocher, mica, crystals, precious stones and silver that was mined in the Southern Highlands, were traded for salt, shells, grain, skins, furs, colorful clays, dried fish and dyes obtained from lower altitudes.  He emphasized that the desire to control the cargos of greenstone and gold from the mountains was the cause of many wars. A major trade route passed through Track Rock Gap, but it was not the most important one. The two most important trade routes ran through the Appalachian Valley in northwestern Georgia and the Savannah River Basin – Unicoi Gap – Dillard Gap in northeastern Georgia.  These were the only portals through the Southern Highlands that offered a reasonably level passage from one side of the mountains to the other.  The major trail paralleled the Savannah River up to the confluence of the Tugaloo and Seneca Rivers. One branch cut westward to the Nacoochee Valley and then northward through the Unicoi Gap to the Hiwassee River.  The other branch followed the Tugaloo River northwestward to the nearby source of the Little Tennessee River. It then went through Dillard Gap and followed the Little Tennessee all the way to the Tennessee River. The Great White Path or Etowah Trail apparently developed after a large town was founded on the Etowah River about 100 BC.  Its location is two miles west of Etowah Mounds. The trade route began on the Etowah River near Etowah Mounds and followed the river to...

Apocalypto

I knew so little back then. I had only the slightest grasp of my Creek Indian heritage.  I couldn’t even begin to answer Dr. Piña-Chan’s questions.  I did tell him that we had a lot of gold in the Georgia Mountains, but our archaeologists said that the Indians didn’t know anything about it.  Even then, however, I agreed with Dr. Piña-Chan. Why would our Indians be so skilled with working copper, which is also abundant in some parts of the mountains, but not work gold? Well, anthropologists knew so little back then, too.  They were just beginning to translate Maya glyphs. They were completely baffled by the abandonment of the Maya cities.  They had no clue that Maya urbanization once covered much of the landscape of the Yucatan Peninsula, Chiapas and the Petan. Fortunately, I kept a journal that summer to jog my memory on what I saw.  However, in addition, the opportunity to meet on a personal basis with a man of his professional stature somehow left an indelible  record in the remote corner of my memory bank. It was a scene in the movie, Apocalypto, however, that brought all those memories back. The recently captured slaves are being marched into the Maya city to be processed.  They passed through a limestone quarry.  All the quarry slaves were wearing white turbans identical to those on the famous marble statues at Etowah Mounds. Now I finally understood Dr. Piña-Chan’s question about making statues of slaves. A little later in the movie, the newly captured slaves were walking among commoner houses. The landscape was covered with terra cotta potsherds from...

Mayan and Creek Similarities

Many, many suns ago, I was awarded a fellowship by Georgia Tech to spend a summer studying the indigenous architecture and town planning of Mesoamerica. The grant involved visiting all of the major archaeological sites in Mexico, Guatemala and Belize. In addition, I was to photograph at least 2500 professional quality color slides for the Georgia Tech library.  The education I received seemed only a little relevant to an architectural career in the United States, but it would make interesting conversation for dates and parties.  Besides . . . Relaciones Exteriores (their State Department) let me ship home 125 kg (275 pounds) of indigenous textiles, building material samples, a large chunk of fresco, obsidian weapons and utilitarian Pre-Columbian ceramics. They were for educational purposes, mind you! The Mexican Consul in Atlanta was a graduate in architecture from Georgia Tech, so the “red carpet was rolled out for me.”  He arranged for me to be an official guest of the Institutio Nacional de Anthropoligia Y Historia (INAH).  Its director was the world famous archaeologist, Ignacio Bernal.  My curriculum would be based at the Museo Nacional de Antropologia, directed by Dr. Roman Piña-Chan.  Piña-Chan was an equally famous archaeologist.  His mother was Maya. The debut of the fellowship involved a tour of all six floors of the great museum. Only one floor is open to the public.  The Mexican Consul had arranged for Dr. Piña-Chan and Dr. Ignacio Bernal to be my guides. It was opportunity that very few, if any, American archaeologists ever had.  There was a problem though.  I had studied Latin and French, but not a day of...

French Colonizing Expeditions

A small temporary fort was established by Captain Jean Ribault in Port Royal Sound, SC in 1562. Seventeenth Century French maps state that members of this colony traveled to the “gold-bearing mountains of the Apalache,” and claimed the territory for the King of France. Only French maps of the period provide an accurate description of the entire Savannah River system, but no archives have been found that collaborate such a journey. In 1564, after establishing Fort Caroline somewhere in the vicinity of the mouth of the Altamaha River, Captain René Goulaine de Laudonniére dispatched several expeditions up the Altamaha River to the sources of its tributaries in the foothills of the mountains. He had learned from tribes on the coast that important trading activities occurred along this route. The Apalache Indians traded gold, copper, silver, greenstone, mica and crystals mined in the mountains to provinces in the Piedmont and Coastal Plain.  Control of this trade route was a major cause of warfare between the provinces in the lower elevations.  Greenstone was the most desired commodity because it was the only stone suitable for axes and wedges to split wood. The two longest expeditions lasted six months and two months; the longest one being commanded by La Roche Ferriere. These expeditions provided the names of the provinces between the mountains and the sea.  One was named the Mayacoa or Maya People. De Laudonniére named the mountains “Les Apalachiens” in honor of his new trading partners, the Apalache. The expeditions returned with gold, silver, copper, rubies and sapphires. A “red” metal were tested by a metallurgist and said to be gold,...

Hernando de Soto Expedition to Georgia

The earliest recorded visit of Europeans to the Georgia and North Carolina Mountains was in 1540.  De Soto’s Conquistadors spent several summer weeks at the capital of Kvse (pronounced Kău-shĕ in Itsate-Creek, but known as Kusa in English.) Kvse means “forested mountains” in Itza Maya. Florida Indians told Pánfilo de Narváez in 1528 that the Apalachee People, who lived in the mountains many days to the north, mined and traded gold. The people, whom the Spanish called Apalache, called themselves the Palache, which is the Creek word for the Biloxi Indians. This is not general knowledge because the media has relied on commentaries about de Soto, rather than actually reading the chronicles. Just before heading north from the Florida Panhandle in 1540, de Soto was told that the capital of the Apalache province in the mountains was named Yupaha. Yupaha means “Horned Lord.” The Florida Indians stated that Yupaha had much gold. De Soto set off to find Yupaha, but his chroniclers never mentioned the town again.  Historians have traditionally assumed Yupaha to be a fable. After leaving Kusa, de Soto passed through the towns of Tali-mochase (New Tali), Itapa, and then, what the chroniclers wrote as Ubahali.  However, this would be a typical manner that Castilians would write the word, Yupaha-le, which is a Coastal Plain Itsate  word meaning “Horned Lord People.”  So Yupaha really did exist.   It probably was the Track Rock archaeological zone, because that is largest known town site in the gold-bearing section of the Georgia Mountains. Add an “s” to Itapa, and you have Itsapa.  This may or may not been the town’s real...

The Migration Legend of the Kashita People

One of the many aspects of the contemporary Creek Indians that non-indigenous anthropologists seldom understand is that the Creeks are an assimilated people, composed of diverse ethnic groups, many of whom were originally enemies.  The Itsate-speaking Creeks were the main players in the mound building business.  However, they were decimated first by European diseases. and then by English sponsored slave raiders. By the early 1700s, the Muskogee-speaking minority were clustered in present day west-central Georgia and east-central Alabama. They were less affected by the holocausts that killed off 90-95% of the Itsate-speaking Creeks. The Muskogees came to dominate an alliance of remnant Creek towns. However, up until the American Revolution, the Itsate language was still the predominate language among Georgia Creeks.  By the time of the Indian Removal in the 1830s, Muskogee language and traditions dominated the Creek Confederacy. What survives today in Oklahoma are primarily Muskogee cultural memories. Many Oklahoma Creeks are not even aware that their ancestors dominated northern Georgia, western North Carolina, eastern Tennessee, much of South Carolina and even a wedge in south central North Carolina.  The western Creeks do not think of themselves as a “mountain people,” and have no cultural memories of such a period.  Fortunately, one legend of an earlier time survives elsewhere. The exception is the Migration Legend of the Kas’hita People which was presented to Governor James Oglethorpe in written form in 1735. The war chief of the Palache, Taskimikko Chikolili, translated the Creek writing written in red and black characters on a bison calf skin. One paragraph seems to describe the town at Track Rock Gap.  This North American...

Understanding the Obsession with All Things Cherokee

Many history buffs in the Georgia Mountains are obsessed with all things Cherokee. They assume that Creek place names such as Oconaluftee, Coosa, Oostanaula, Oothlooga, Etowah, Chattooga, Nottely, Yahoola, Enota, Tesnatee, Soque, Nacoochee, Tallulah, etc. are Cherokee words. The myths can all be traced to the presumptions made by the first white settlers to enter the region. That’s right . . . the main river on the North Carolina Cherokee Reservation is an Itsate Creek word meaning “Okonee People – isolated.”  The name has no meaning in Cherokee. The Okonee were major players in the mound-building business, who eventually joined the Creek Confederacy.  They were mainly located in northeastern Georgia and the Okefenokee Swamp basin in southeast Georgia. One of the current myths that resulted from this obsession is that the Cherokees occupied all of northern Georgia until 1838. This myth even permeated the archaeology profession until the late 20th century. Prehistoric artifacts were being classified as Cherokee, when they couldn’t have possibly been so.  The fact is that by the time the Cherokees arrived in the Georgia Mountains, they were using muskets and cooking in iron pots.  Approximately 85% of the Native American place names in both the Georgia and North Carolina Mountains are either Muskogean or Maya Indian words. This obsession is ironic for many reasons.  There were only a handful of Cherokees in the extreme northeastern tip of Georgia prior to the American Revolution. It was primarily used for hunting. In 1780 the British Army counted only 25 Cherokee warriors living in the entire province of Georgia.  The Cherokees occupied this small region in 1715 after...
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