Since 2011, DNA testing of modern Native American descendants combined with linguistic analysis of indigenous words, recorded by the early French and Spanish explorers, have resulted in a radically different understanding of the Southeast’s Native peoples.
Forgotten Peoples of the Southeastern United States: Part Four
It was June of 2010 and a conversation at an Ingles Supermarket in Hiawassee, Georgia that I will never forget. I had just moved to a new campsite in the Tusquitee Mountain Range of North Carolina, just across the state line from Hiawassee, and was stocking up with food supplies. I would have never spoken at all except a little earlier in the day, I had gotten a hair cut in Hayesville, NC. Despite the hair cut, a half year of living in the wild had given me the aura of a hunter-gatherer. Apparently, the two young ladies saw through the appearance and recognized spiritual kinship.
They were working the evening check out station. At a distance, I assumed that they were indigenous people from some country like Guatemala or Colombia and was getting ready to practice my Spanish. When I got in line, though, I heard Southern Appalachian drawl. What the heck? They were obviously not Cherokees, but what were Seminoles doing up here?
Were they Florida transplants? The young ladies both had small, lobeless ears like most Itza Mayas, Georgia Creeks and Miccosukee Seminoles.
There was no one behind me in line, so I got up the courage to ask them, “No offense ladies, but what tribe are you? Are you second generation Latin Americans? The older one laughed and said, “Well the government calls us Cherokees, but we are nothing like the Cherokees. We call ourselves the Towns County Indians. My older brother married a Cherokee gal from North Carolina. We couldn’t get along with her. They eventually got a divorce.”
I asked them, “How long has your family live here?”
The younger lady answered, “Forever. My grandmother says that we were here before the whites and Cherokees. Our home place was back up on Hightower (Etowah) Creek. It’s national forest now.”
I shook my head in disbelief, but remembered back to about 2002 when I stumbled upon a Native American family living in a log cabin, deep within the Chattahoochee National Forest in the mountains, close to the Towns-Union County line. A jeep trail led to their farmstead and there were no cars, just horses and a mule. I had been greeted with a shotgun, but the man grew a bit more friendly, when he saw that I had some Native features. The family in the log cabin must have been some of those Towns County Indians.
This memory was pre-Track Rock Gap and my first prime directive was literally survival at the time. After the announcement about the Track Rock Terrace Complex on December 21, 2011, readers from around the Southern Highlands began sending me their DNA test results. Several from northeast Georgia and southwest Virginia contained both Maya and obscure South American DNA test markers. I was not sure if these tests were flukes or not.
The Itza Mayas are not ethnic Mayas, but originated in South America somewhere. A full-blooded Itza in Chiapas could conceivably have no Maya DNA test markers.
Then . . . in late winter of 2012, I received an amazing email from an executive of Dave & Buster’s restaurant chain. He was a Towns County Indian. He and his relatives had been receiving strange results on their DNA tests. They were up to 25% Asiatic, while the median on the North Carolina Cherokee Reservation is around 2%. Their Asiatic DNA was either all Peruvian or a mixture of Peruvian and Maya. Their Peruvian DNA was not Quechua, but obscure tribes that I had never heard of.
Soon I received DNA test results from people in two other mountain counties in Northeast Georgia. Although their Asiatic DNA was lower, their DNA test markers were a mixture of Peruvian and Maya. The Peruvian DNA was from the Shippibo-Conibo, Asháninka and Amahuaca.
In 2013, Marilyn Rae and I explored a book written by a 17th century French ethnologist, Charles de Rochefort, about the Native Americans of Georgia. The Apalache elite clearly had South American cultural traditions. The result was The Apalache Chronicles. At that point, we began to closely examine the cultural connections between the Southeastern United States and eastern Peru. There were many.
Traditional Creek and Seminole clothing originated in eastern Peru, as did the Sacred Black Drink. The Creek words for yaupon holly tea, for a high king, sweet potato, tobacco and for village chiefs came from the Panoan language of Eastern Peru. There may be more words. The concept of stamping pottery with a wood paddle first appeared in Peru. Swift Creek pottery in Georgia is identical to contemporary Conibo stamped pottery in Peru. Napier stamped pottery in Georgia is identical to contemporary Shippibo pottery in Georgia. Both the ethnic names Coni and Shippi appear in Southern Highlands geographical place names.
The section of Northeast Georgia that includes Towns County, was called Conas in the 1560s. There is still today a Peruvian province called Conas. Conestee (village visited by De Soto and Pardo in North Carolina) means “Conas People” in Itsate Creek.
As can be seen above, even today the Conibo People of Peru dye their clothing in patterns that are IDENTICAL to Georgia Swift Creek pottery from 1400 to 1800 years ago. All this puts a very different perspective on the Woodland Period in the Lower Southeast and who lived here at the time.
The Cuban Connection
Until pushed into the interior by the Taino, the Toa People occupied much of Cuba. They also were able to hold onto a section near Arecibo, Puerto Rico, which was called Toa Province. The Toa River in Cuba remembers their presence.
The Toa People were not as sophisticated as the Taino, who called them a word similar to Ciboney. They were gardeners, lived in large, cone-shaped communal houses and made thousands of stone balls. Like the Taino, they lived in a world of hundreds of imagined demons. They carved these demons on stone tablets.
In the early spring of 1540, the Hernando de Soto Expedition encountered a province on the Lower Ocmulgee River that was more advanced than the Indians in Florida, but not as sophisticated as the towns he would visit in the Appalachian Highlands. The province was called Toa. Satellite provinces of Toa in west-central Georgia, northeast Alabama and central Alabama were called Toasi, which means “Offspring of Toa.”
After leaving present day Rome, GA on a major trail that paralleled the Coosa River, the De Soto Expedition encountered another town named Toasi. It was part of a string of towns, whose names cannot be translated by contemporary Muskogean dictionaries. However, they seem to be derived from a dialect of Arawak. There is no doubt that another Toasi province in Alabama, on the Cahaba River near Birmingham had Arawak roots. A glossary of their language was written down by Virginians, who sheltered a Toasi man, who had escaped the Tuscarora after being their slave for many years.
Readers from Alabama will know that the Upper Coosa is also a region where hundreds, perhaps thousands of stone balls have been found – both in mounds and in village sites. Apparently, Alabama archaeologists did not place much significance in this phenomenon. There is great significance.
Cohaba was an Arawak name for tobacco snuff – often mixed with hallucinogenic drugs. Cohiba is the Toa/Ciboney word for tobacco that is used day for Cuba’s premier cigar brand.
There are two other sections of Georgia that shows profound influence from the Ciboney or Toa of Cuba. Along the Chattahoochee River in southwest Metro Atlanta is a cluster of archaeological sites with non-Muskogean traits. About a century ago, a hilltop shrine was discovered at the confluence of Sweetwater Creek and the Chattahoochee River. Stone steps led up to a stone stela, on which was carved a Toa demon. Georgia archaeologists ignored the stela, but Puerto Rican archaeologists were able to quickly assist me. It was a demonic figure typical of Toa Province near Arecibo.
Across the river is an massive boulder carved in the shape of a crouching owl. Stone effigies of owls are quite common in central Cuba. Down the river a bit, archaeologist Robert Wauchope found a complex of earthworks and a mound that was atypical of Muskogean sites. He called it Anawakee after a nearby creek. Most of the terraces and earthworks are gone now. In 1969, archaeologist Arthur Kelly identified four varieties of feral sweet potatoes growing in this same section of the Chattahoochee. Unlike modern sweet potatoes, whose ancestors came from Peru, these plants only had single, massive tubers like a feed beet. Kelly and his student assistants discovered that the seeds from these feral sweet potatoes were hallucinogenic.
In 2012, a graduate student at the University of Georgia surveyed the acropolis at Ocmulgee National Monument with non-intrusive geo-magnetic techniques and ground radar. He found that the original settlers at Ocmulgee built massive center pole houses like what one sees today among certain tribes in Columbia and northern Peru. This style of house was also built in central Cuba.
It turns out that Arthur Kelly also discovered that the original settlers of Ocmulgee were ethnically different and built center-pole, round houses. However, his discovery was covered up by the next generation of archaeologists who adopted an orthodoxy, which stated that Ocmulgee was founded by missionaries from Cahokia.
However, we now know that the mounds at Ocmulgee are 100-150 years older than the earliest mounds at Cahokia . . . but people are still unaware that Caribbean or South American people were probably the founders of Ocmulgee. By the way, another thing that you mere mortals are not told is that almost all the pottery with owl motifs in the Ocmulgee Bottoms, originated at the village on top of Browns Mount. The Ciboney put owl motifs on much of their pottery.
Why has all this solid scientific information been ignored by Southeastern archaeologists? I obtained a partial answer from a 30 year old professional paper, published by a member of the team of professors, who gave us the current official route of De Soto. You better be sitting down.
This highly respected archaeologist specifically stated that his team ignored the chronicle of the Juan Pardo Expedition because its author, Juan dela Bandera, was “confused” about geography. Dela Bandera accompanied Pardo on all his travels. However, he placed the Conas Province in northeast Georgia and the headwaters of the Savannah River. That would put the city of Wara (Joara) in a canyon on the Jocassee River in northwestern South Carolina, rather than on a farm owned by one of the members of the archaeological team in the North Carolina Piedmont.
The Spanish notary also placed Cofitachequi two days walk from the ocean. These “confused” descriptions would completely invalidate the official route of the De Soto Expedition, adopted by these professors. It was better that the public not be confused by colonial archives, which conflicted with late 20th century academic wisdom.
So . . . we now have a new definition of pseudo-archaeology. It is what you read in university-published, mass-marketed archaeology books.