Richard Thornton | Jun 3, 2017 | 15
A Comparison of indigenous statuary in Georgia and Tennessee
When the conquistadors of the De Soto Expedition entered what is now Southwest Georgia they were surprised to see stark changes in the cultural traditions and appearance of the indigenous peoples. The towns were larger, precisely planned into streets, blocks, plazas and public buildings. The men averaged a foot taller than the Spaniards. They wore turbans and mustaches. The leaders wore goatee beards. One king had a beard that stretched down to his belly button. Both the men and the women wore woven clothes with brightly colored patterns on the them. Most of the indigenous people in Florida had wore skirts made of Spanish Moss or loin clothes made from animal skins.
The Spaniards noticed dozens of wooden, stone and ceramic statues in the plazas near the temple of the town of Toa. The wooden statues portrayed both humans and animals. Some of the wooden statues were eight feet tall. Hernando de Soto asked the local leaders if these were the statues of their deities. The leaders responded, “No, we worship one invisible God. Those statues are of famous ancestors. “
Early settlers in North Georgia, Eastern Tennessee and the Cumberland River Basin of Central Tennessee encountered hundreds of ceramic and stone statues in mounds and in the ground of Native American town sites. Many ended up in small family collections and ultimately into estate sales. However, enough remain to see distinct stylistic differences. Note that most of the statues and figurines from North Georgia have flattened foreheads like Mesoamerican statuary. Several of the statues in the Tennessee State Capital Museum were donated by General Gates P. Thruston, USA as being unearthed in the Nashville Area, but show strong similarity to statues that went missing in the Etowah Mounds area, when Union troops ransacked the houses nearby.
Among the peoples of southern Mexico and the ancestors of the Creeks, it was customary for women to be portrayed knelling, while men crossed their legs. The exception was that the Mayas portrayed male slaves and war captives knelling on one leg with the other extended outward.
Statuary from Tennessee
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Richard Thornton is a professional architect, city planner, author and museum exhibit designer-builder. He is today considered one of the nation’s leading experts on the Southeastern Indians. However, that was not always the case. While at Georgia Tech Richard was the first winner of the Barrett Fellowship, which enabled him to study Mesoamerican architecture and culture in Mexico under the auspices of the Institutio Nacional de Antropoligia e Historia. Dr. Roman Piňa-Chan, the famous archaeologist and director of the Museo Nacional de Antropologia, was his fellowship coordinator. For decades afterward, he lectured at universities and professional societies around the Southeast on Mesoamerican architecture, while knowing very little about his own Creek heritage. Then he was hired to carry out projects for the Muscogee-Creek Nation in Oklahoma. The rest is history.Richard is the Tribal Historic Preservation Officer for the KVWETV (Coweta) Creek Tribe and a member of the Perdido Bay Creek Tribe. In 2009 he was the architect for Oklahoma’s Trail of Tears Memorial at Council Oak Park in Tulsa. He is the president of the Apalache Foundation, which is sponsoring research into the advanced indigenous societies of the Lower Southeast.
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