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Always best to use original archaeological reports for references

Such references as Wikipedia and even online archaeological site descriptions by state archaeological societies have increasingly become more propaganda than factual information . . . skillfully woven propaganda at that.   There are alternatives, though.  Most universities allow you to download digital copies of the original archaeological reports. Archaeological studies of private sector developments are often held by local or regional planning agencies.

With our drastically expanded readership, the majority of POOF readers now appear to be those casually interested in Native American subjects.  However, we still have a sizable number of professionals, book-writers and students subscribed, whose work must be accurate.  Nevertheless, this warning should also be heeded by hobbyists, who want to get the facts.

Long time, core members of POOF will remember that from our very beginning in 2006, our primary complaint was not the technical content of investigations carried out by professional archaeologists, but what the general public was being told those reports said.  At the time, some Georgia politicos and developers were trying to figure out a way to get a Cherokee gambling casino in their state.  The archaeologists, who were later hired as spokesmen for “Maya Myth-busting in the Mountains” were (or had been) consultants for potential Cherokee casino developers or the Eastern Band of Cherokees.

In 2006, state bureaucrats and administrators were systematically trying to change the ethnic identity of numerous Muskogean archaeological sites in Georgia to “Cherokee” so as to make it appear that the Cherokees were indigenous to much of the state, rather than brief latecomers. Somehow, the politicos thought that the BIA would then permit am Indian casino in their state, even though there were no federally recognized tribes.

The straw that broke the camel’s back was when the Georgia GDOT issued a national press release prior to its archaeological consultants  working on the edge of  a satellite town of Etowah Mounds on the Etowah River.  The heart of the town had been excavated decades before by the famous archaeologists Robert Wauchope and Arthur Kelly.   The press release announced that the GDOT archaeologists were going to prove that the Cherokees occupied this town and had lived in Georgia for 1000 years.  They didn’t, but the public never saw another press release.

Example: The Chauga Village Site

The Chauga Village Site  on the Tugaloo River in Oconee County, SC is an excellent example of the on-going manipulation of archaeological facts.  The village was located in the Piedmont geological region at the headwaters of the Savannah River.   It has a concise article in Wikipedia, so POOF readers will be able to fact check me.  LOL

Chauga was excavated in 1958-1958 by Dr.  Arthur Kelly, the man who would later get me interested in archaeology.   This town site was about to be inundated by Lake Hartwell, so the work was hectic.  Kelly identified and excavated 10 mounds at the Chauga site.  Remember that number!

Kelly identified three distinct village occupation levels, but also evidence that during Archaic times, had been used as a camp site.  The first village level coincided with the first occupation of Etowah Mounds in northwest Georgia and contained the same styles of artifacts.  Kelly believed that it was a cultural extension of Etowah. He should have known.  In 1955-1956, he, Lewis Larsen and Joseph Caldwell headed the famous excavation at Etowah Mounds.

During the Late Mississippian Period, another ethnic group returned to the site, covered it over with a bed of clay, sand and river pebbles then built a new town with cultural traits like the Lamar Village at Ocmulgee National Monument in Macon, GA.  Kelly would have known that too.  He was chief archaeologist at Ocmulgee during the 1930s.   In some cases the new group built their mounds, superimposed over portions of the older mounds.  Their ancestors obviously did not build the earlier mounds.

The third occupation of the town site was in the 1700s, when it was occupied for about four decades by Cherokees.  The Cherokees made no changes to the mounds and apparently did not use them in any way.

Kelly closed his archaeological report by saying that even though Chauga was on the edge of South Carolina,  its  Pre-Cherokee occupants showed no cultural affinity to any sites in either South or North Carolina.  They were clearly proto-Creeks, displaying typical cultural traits of the Georgia Piedmont.

Now read “Chauga Mound” in Wikipedia

The Wikipedia article states that there was one mound at Chauga.  Other online versions, derived from this Wikipedia article state, “There was one mound at Chauga on which sat a Cherokee town house for many centuries.”  They cite the Wikipedia article as their source when retelling “Cherokee History.”    Remember, Kelly found that the Cherokees had occupied the site for only about 40 years.

The Wikipedia article opens with “The mound and village portion of the site was built by peoples of the South Appalachian Mississippian culture (a regional variation of the Mississippian culture).”   That label or “Appalachian Summit” is often used as a euphemism for Proto-Cherokee.   However, later on the article refers to Etowah and Lamar Culture, thus inferring that South Appalachian or Proto-Cherokee is the same as Etowah and Lamar.

So in reality,  the Wikipedia article is stating just the opposite of what Dr. Kelly said in his report. He said that the town had no connection with Native American cultures in the Appalachians.

There is no mention of the Creek Indians in the article.  One is not told that both the Etowah and Lamar Cultures are considered ancestral to the Creeks by virtually all archaeologists outside of North Carolina.   However, in actuality,  the Upper Creek town of Cusseta sat almost across the river from Chauga until 1785, several decades after Chauga was abandoned.

In the spring of 2006, a team of Western Carolina University (Cullowhee, NC)  professors showed up at Etowah Mounds in Cartersville, GA.  They demanded that all references to the Creek Indians be removed from the Etowah Mounds museum and that such labels be replaced by either “Cherokees” or “mound builders.”

This is a tactic we have observed in many Wikipedia articles and in public lectures by certain archaeologists.  The identity of the occupants of Pre-1700s Native American towns in the Southeast is left as a question mark.   They are vaguely labeled “mound builders.”   The article or speaker then spends disproportionate time talking about the brief or non-existent occupation of the region by Cherokees.  The subliminal message is that “the mound builders were probably Cherokees, but we just haven’t proved it yet.

Readers have told us of identical propaganda strategies in other regions of the Southeast and United States.  The names of the Indian tribes or European ethnic groups change, but the same tactic of “brain washing” is used.    Professional archaeological reports may not always be perfect, but the authors know that they are personally accountable for the contents and that the reports will remain public record.  If you have an option between an online source and an archaeological report,  go to the trouble to find out what was actually said originally.


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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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The Information World is changing!

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We are now celebrating the 11th year of the People of One Fire. In that time, we have seen a radical change in the way people receive information. The magazine industry has almost died. Printed newspapers are on life support. Ezines, such as POOF, replaced printed books as the primary means to present new knowledge. Now the media is shifting to videos, animated films of ancient towns, Youtube and three dimensional holograph images.

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