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A Most Exquisite Native American Pipe

A Most Exquisite Native American Pipe

The Apalache Foundation continues to do intensive archival research and geospatial analysis for the Native American History of the headwaters of the Chattahoochee River.  Research reports are being published in Access Genealogy ( 

The ceramic pipe illustrated below was found by Captain James H. Nichols in 1870 while he was plowing near the famous Nacoochee Mound, which is pictured above.  His plow fell into an intact flagstone sarcophagus, containing a skeleton,  several Native American-made copper tools and weapons, shell beads and this beautiful ceramic pipe.

The pipe was fired from primary kaolin, which is a white clay with bands of metal oxides in it.  Ceramics experts believe that it was fired to a porcelain temperature because the fine details of the pipe remained after being exposed to dampness and freezing temperatures for at least 800 years.  After firing the color of the vitrified clay was roughly ivory.

The pipe is only 2″ high and could well have been a woman’s pipe.  We don’t know the gender of the skeleton.   Despite its small size, all surfaces of the pipe were polished to the point that the pipe glistens even today.

This pipe is on display at the National Museum of the American Indian.  The drawing below was prepared by antiquarian George Gustav Heye in 1915,  after he bought the pipe from Nichols’ daughter, who lived in Atlanta.





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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.



    was there still burnt traces in the bowl from use, or was it made special for a burial piece? inquiring mind..:o)

    (I have found on surface in fields, stone tools made of chert that had wide lines about the color of red iron oxide and wondered if that was deteriorated hide lashing to hold the stone to a handle/etc) I no longer disturb these things.

    • In his description of the pipe, George Heye made no mention of the interior of the bowl. However, by the time he bought it, the pipe had been in the possession of the Nichols family for 45 years. They could have cleaned the bowl.


    That is most exquisite, it looks nothing like the pipes found in the Spiro mound. I was wondering if there was a site for spear points and native artifacts of the south east region of the United States.

    I live in a rual region that once was is rich in native burial mounds, but due to the practice of leveling the field`s most are gone. What remains is strewn and broken pieces, of finely crafted dart, spear points and unfired pottery.

    I grew up in a area covered with sandhills. After every rain I could go out and find at least one or two spearpoints. This area of the state must have been the home to numerous native tribes for over thousands of year`s. Most of the spear point`s were of a primivite type and not cermonial, like the ones found in burial mounds.

    I know were other mounds are upstate in the foothills of the Ozarks, most on federal land. I have a deep respect for these burial mounds and would just as soon go dig up my Grandmother than too defile these final resting place`s of our ancestors.

    I would like to know more about the tools, pottery and points of the southeast of the US. If you could give me a sugestion Richard of were to look, I would much appreciate it.

    • Larry,

      The book, “Sun Circles and Human Hands” is STILL the best source for information on the artifacts of the Southeastern Moundbuilders after 60 years. It was written by two sisters in Alabama, who were Creek descendants. The book is easy to read – mostly illustrations and photos – vastly superior to anything on the subject put out by archaeologists. It was my first textbook, when I was preparing for the fellowship in Mexico and still sits on a table next to my computer.

      The Nacoochee Valley was the most densely populated location in North America – for perhaps as long as a 1000 years. However, it also had a significant Clovis population. In 1939, Robert Wauchope, accidentally found several dozen Clovis points while excavating various Mississippian village sites there. This was only a few years after the Clovis Culture was even identified. Wauchope was “kornfuzed” because he found so much evidence of a “Southwestern Culture” in the Nacoochee Valley. We now know that the Clovis Culture probably originated in the Southeast.


        Thank you Richard, for the info. It has been several year`s ago now, I had sent you a picture of a bear head carved in rock, it was done in sunken base relief, very primitive, almost like it was mesoamerican.

        It is what got me following your post on the Mayan influnce in the southeast. I now feel that the influnce on art and culture are of many far reaching people, be they native or Europen.

        Thank you again for all that you do and keep up the great work!!!


    Hello Richard,
    The painting of a village that you use as a banner reminds me of an iron-age community I visited in Spain that guarded the entrance to the river Minho between Spain and Portugal, called Castro de Santa Trega.
    Substitute wood for stone, they look similar. Some houses round (easy with stone walls), some square.
    I think coastal Portugal is filled with similar villages.


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