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Apalache-Creek writing system most similar to that of Central Vera Cruz

Apalache-Creek writing system most similar to that of Central Vera Cruz

In the mid-1920s,  a team of archaeologists led by Warren Moorehead, explored the Etowah River Valley in northwest Georgia.  They obtained a treasure trove of artifacts for Harvard’s Peabody Museum.   Most of these artifacts have never been seen by the public.  They are either stored in boxes or were donated to financial backers of the museum.

Fortunately,  Moorehead either photographed or drew several of the artifacts containing indigenous art for his book on Etowah Mounds.  Many of the shell gorgets and copper sheets contain abstract glyphs.  Several of these glyphs also appear on boulders in the Southern Highlands.   Well-l-l they appear somewhere else too . . . on Epi-Olmec stone tablets and art in Central Veracruz.

Epi-Olmec was an ethnic label developed by Mexican archaeologists to describe the indigenous cultures that followed the disappearance of the Olmec Civilization around 500 BC.  These peoples returned to a much more egalitarian lifestyle.  Between around 500 BC and 250 AD they displayed the most Olmec cultural traits, then began being influenced by other major civilizations in Mesoamerica.   They no longer lived in large cities or hauled massive boulders long distances to carve sculptures.  Throughout the Classic Period (250 AD – 900 AD) these descendants of the Olmecs, such as the Zoque, continued the same modest lifestyles.   In fact, their towns and villages would have been little different than Muskogean counterparts in the Southeastern United States.

The Epi-Olmec Cultural region roughly spanned from the Yamapo (now Jamapo) River southward to the Tuxtla Mountains.  Yamapo means “Place of the Yama (small farms)” in Chontal Maya.   Yama is also the actual name of the Mobile Trade Jargon language and apparently is the root of the word Yamasee.

The writing system used by the Epi-Olmec peoples was simpler and more abstract that either Olmec or Classic Maya systems.  Linguists are still trying to translate Epi-Olmec, however.  Below is a sample of Epi-Olmec writing.  It is known as the Cascajal Tablet.  One can even see some Epi-Olmec glyphs on the Squirrel Mountain Tablet, featured in the previous article.


Several of these symbols appear on the Squirrel Mountain, Track Rock and Judaculla petroglyphs. Many appear on the art of Etowah.

Many of the indigenous peoples of Central Vera Cruz were scattered to the winds by invading Nahua-speaking barbarians and later, their descendants, the Aztecs.  Mexican anthropologists are still trying to determine their fate.

The original Creek Migration Legend, discovered in April 2015, after being lost 280 years, provided a direct geographical tie between Central Vera Cruz State and the Kashete (Cusseta) Creeks of the Southern Highlands.   The Kaushete were indigenous to the region east of the Orizaba Volcano.  After being persecuted by blood thirsty Mesoamerican civilizations, they migrated up and down the Yamapo River, looking for a safe place to live.  They called this river, “The Bloody River.”   Even today, the Yamapo or Jamapo is stained red from iron oxide on the slopes of the volcano.  The Kaushete eventually took the Great White Path to Southeastern North America.  This ancient highway has recently been discovered by Mexican scientists, using infrared images and LIDAR scans.

The Jamapo River in central Vera Cruz State.

The Jamapo River in central Vera Cruz State, Mexico flows off the slopes of Orizaba Volcano.

The Epi-Olmec glyphs are just part of the story of the Apalache-Creek writing system, however.  One also sees many symbols straight out of Classic Maya writing or Post Classic Itza Maya script.  All of the Maya glyphs can be translated right now.  For example Boulder Six at Track Rock Gap has Maya glyphs.  It announces,  Great Sun,  Lord Kukulkan (Quetzalcoat).  Also, most of the glyphs on shell gorgets originating from North Georgia are also pure Maya and can be translated.  Yet, on the other hand,  by the time when we now think Maya commoners were coming to the Southeast (800-1000 AD)  several Maya glyphs were also being used by peoples in Central Vera Cruz.


There is also another element to this writing system that remains a complete mystery.  On the Squirrel Mountain petroglyphs, one can see small abstract symbols.  Are they grammatical marks, determining verb tense, plural nouns and gender?  We don’t know.

Lots of work will be done in order to complete this particular quest!



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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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