The ruins of indigenous architecture one sees at archaeological sites in the Midwest, Mississippi River Basin and Southeast of the United States represent a mixing of cultural traditions from many parts of the Americas. Recent, astonishing discoveries in the state of Georgia, plus a documentary film by an international team of scholars will challenge the simplistic orthodoxies long held by academicians in the United States.
South Carolina film maker, Antara Brandner, is putting the finishing touches on a documentary film for television that will rock the world of anthropology to its roots. Over the past two years, she and a team of scientists, anthropologists and historians have traveled the length of the Americas to document the movement of peoples, crops, ideas and architecture across the landscape of the Western Hemisphere. The project was started before the History Channel broadcast of the premier of America Unearthed on the Mayas in Georgia, but was reinforced by its findings.
Brandner’s film premiered in Mexico in October 2014. It was extremely well received. In mid-November 2014. the film competed in the Southeastern Native American film festival. It took first place in short documentaries and tied for first place in regional films. She anticipates that it will be broadcast on public television in the United States, some time in 2015.
Looking at the big picture
Euro-centric scholars have long viewed the indigenous peoples of the Americas as primitive societies that generally stayed in one place and that had little knowledge of what lay beyond the horizon. Architects and urban historians, in particular, have repeatedly pointed out the shared architectural traits of communities in several parts of the Americas, but were consistently ignored by anthropologists. No one within the anthropology profession of the United States could produce an explanation of how crops from South America and Mesoamerica ended up in North America, unless their seeds were carried by humans.
A handful of archaeologists, who dared to discuss the logical explanation for why cultivated plants from other regions of the Americas skipped the Sonora Desert, southern Texas and the Gulf of Mexico to be grown in many parts of North America, saw their careers destroyed. They spent the rest of their lives being ostracized by most of their peers. Dr. Arthur Kelly, Director of the Department of Anthropology at the University of Georgia, was sacked from his position after suggesting that sweet potatoes were cultivated as staple crop at a 2200 year old town site near Atlanta, and that there were direct contacts between Mesoamerica and North America. The last ten years of his life were spent in ignominy.
Dr. William Sears in southern Florida identified extensive evidence of South Americans migrating into the South Atlantic Region. He instantly became a pariah in the eyes of his peers. No professional magazine would publish his report on the astounding Fort Center archaeological zone in Glades County, FL. His last, landmark professional paper was printed in a magazine that specialized in antiques and yachting!
Archaeologists outside the United States are not paralyzed by such baggage. Brandner and her cast from Canada, the United States, Latin America and Europe traveled to many remote locations in the Americas. They saw the big picture.
Unexpected DNA from foreign lands
Even as the premier of America Unearthed was being filmed in Georgia and Mexico in July of 2012, Southeastern Native American scholars were puzzling over unexpected DNA test results. Varying percentages of Maya DNA test markers show up in several Southeastern tribes, the most consistent being among the Creeks and Seminoles. This was expected, since Creek young people are raised being told that they are part-Maya and that there are many Maya words in their native language.
What was NOT expected, however, was DNA test markers from several South American ethnic groups. These include genes from the Tupi People of the Amazon Basin, several ethnic groups in Peru and Arawaks from northern South America and the Caribbean Basin.
A geographically isolated group of Native American families living in Towns County, GA – east of the Track Rock Terrace Complex – carried some of the highest percentages of Native American ancestry among those tested, but it was a mixture of Maya and Peruvian DNA. The federal government calls the Towns County Indians, Cherokees, but they have very little in common, genetically, with Cherokees living 55 miles away in the North Carolina Cherokee Reservation.
The unexpected DNA results caused Creek scholars to wonder who they were really were. Genetic testing showed a preponderance of DNA from several parts of Mexico, as expected, but what was the meaning of the South American DNA in some individuals? The findings could not be explained by Creek traditions.
During 2013 and 2014, Native American scholars in the People of One Fire methodically re-examined the words and experiences recorded by early European explorers in the Southeast. The South Atlantic coast was filled with Peruvian, Amazonian and Arawak places names and traditions. However, they could also be found in the mountains of North Carolina. In addition, there was a province named Toa in Puerto Rico and a province named Toa in south-central Georgia.
An engraved stone stela portraying a demon god , typical of Toa in Puerto Rico, was found over a century ago on the Chattahoochee River near Atlanta. The stela is on display at Sweetwater Creek State Park.
Spanish explorers visited a town named Satipo in the North Carolina Mountains. The French visited a town on the coast of Georgia named Satipo. Many of the South American place names in Georgia could be traced to Satipo Province in Peru. These place names seemed to suggest immigration from Peru, as bizarre as it seemed at the time.
The Rosetta Stone of Southeastern art
Shell gorgets have been found in Missouri, Arkansas, Tennessee, Alabama and Georgia with a similar artistic theme, which can be seen in the artwork above. They are most common in the vicinity of the Track Rock Terrace Complex in the Georgia Mountains, which 16th century Spanish traders called, “Great Copal.” These gorgets portray two men, one carrying a turkey and the other a goose, who are standing next to a boiling pot set on a wooden pediment. Both 16th century Spanish traders and Richard Brigstock, a 17th century English explorer of the northern Georgia, mentioned that the priests there burned incense constantly from their mountainside temples. Just as in the case in Mesoamerica, the aromatic smoke from copal was considered to be prayers to the sun god.
Somewhere in the past, some anonymous anthropology professor labeled this style of gorget, “The Sacred Fire.” The name has stuck, despite the fact that there is no fire in the artistic composition. It shows a pot on an approximately three feet tall wooden pediment emitting vapors. The theme is virtually identical to a standard artistic theme in Maya art, associated with the burning of copal resin in pots. The most obvious difference between the artistic themes in southern Mexico and the Southeast is that Mayan copal scenes portray priests, not hunters with geese and turkeys.
It is quite likely that this gorget was the “coat of arms” of Great Copal, or perhaps represented a religion that was centered there. On the pot is a wriggling serpent. Numerous stone serpent effigies have been found in the mountains and Piedmont of Georgia and northeastern Alabama.
Something told me that this gorget had even more secrets to divulge. I magnified the highest resolution photograph that I could find of this style of gorget. I then colored in the artistic elements according to Creek and Maya artistic traditions. Something immediately popped out. Both men were wearing conical straw hats. Apparently, academicians had never noticed that.
The hats are quite significant. Sixteenth century French ethnologist, Charles de Rochefort, had described the Apalache Indians, who inhabited northern Georgia as wearing conical straw hats and long colorful tunics and dresses. The tunics and dresses were similar to the traditional clothing of the Seminoles and Creeks, but no one has ever been able to determine before, where they originated. However, both the conical straw hats and the tunics are still worn on formal occasions by the indigenous peoples of Satipo Province in Peru. Readers can see 17th century drawings of Georgia’s Apalache in the book, The Apalache Chronicles.
Furthermore, there was a warlike tribe in Satipo Province, Peru, whose men painted their faces with black pigment in a manner exactly like the man on the right in the gorget. They wore their hair long and scraggly. They were called the Chiska Ono (Black Birds.) During the 1500s, the expeditions of Hernando de Soto and Juan Pardo had several unpleasant encounters with a war-like tribe in the Southern Appalachians. Its warriors painted black motifs on their faces and wore their hair long and scraggly. The Spanish called them the Chiska.
There is even more proof. The suffix, “bo” means “people” among several tribes in Satipo Province, Peru. Spanish and English speakers wrote the sound as “po.” The words “bo” or “po” are recorded in the names of many tribes on the coast of South Carolina and Georgia. Anthropologists knew that “bo” meant people, but couldn’t figure out where it came from. They didn’t look southward.
The traditional ceramic and tattoo motifs of the Conibo People in Peru are identical to the famous Swift Creek style pottery of Georgia. The ceramic and tattoo motifs of the Shipibo People in Peru are identical to the less well known Napier Style pottery in Georgia. The timing of the appearances of these pottery styles in Georgia coincided with periods of upheaval in Peru when imperialistic provinces invaded the fertile lands of eastern Peru. There is obviously a connection.
Creek Indians have repeatedly told Southeastern archaeologists that they cultivated sweet potatoes for many centuries before maize (Indian corn) was cultivated. Only Dr. Arthur Kelly listened. He lost his job because of it. However, Juan Pardo visited a town in southern South Carolina that specialized in growing sweet potatoes. It was called Aho (Ajo in Spanish.) Aho is the Creek word for sweet potato.
One of the principal criticisms fired at William Sears by his peers was that no South American root crops were grown in the Southeast. Those Florida archaeologists didn’t look far enough to the north. Sweet potatoes rot in the swampy soil of Florida, but grow exceedingly well in the exact same region in Georgia where both Swift Creek and Napier style pottery first appeared.
During 2014, a previously overlooked hybrid civilization has been identified in northern Georgia. That is why I have not had time to write as many Examiner articles. The Track Rock Terrace Complex was merely its most northerly major town. This civilization, which built structures out of stone, earth and wood, developed over many centuries. Its culture became a mixture of indigenous traditions with those of the Itza Mayas and the people of eastern Peru.
When it is time to go public on the many, previously undocumented town sites associated with this civilization, there will be amazement. Already, stone statues have been identified that are 16 feet and 28 feet tall. The shorter one is already out of the ground. It has not been decided how to move the larger statue safely out of a river gorge. They are the largest indigenous stone statues in the Americas.
In order to do their fair share in the effort to squash “the Mayas in Georgia thing,” a group of juvenile anthropologists and students at the Universities of Georgia and Florida created a web site called, “How do you stop this tide of pseudo-archaeology?” They can accomplish this goal quickly by hauling their professor’s books on the Southeastern Native Americans to the local land fill, then start watching certain documentaries on television.
Meanwhile, the Creek, Cherokee and Seminole Peoples will continue trying to find out who in the heck they really are. If one does not ask questions, one will never obtain the answers.