Richard Thornton | May 9, 2017 | 23
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 (www.AccessGenealogy.com.)
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.
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