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Apalache towns developed beside white water rivers or waterfalls

Apalache towns developed beside white water rivers or waterfalls

The engraving above was produced in 1658 in Rotterdam, Holland.  It illustrates an Apalache town at Hurricane Shoals on the North Oconee River in Jackson County, GA. Both the Apalache in Georgia and the Panoan peoples of eastern Peru wore conical hats and long colorful tunics.

From Helen, GA to Amicalola Falls to De Soto Falls, Alabama . . . from Phenix City to the Flint River Gorge to Metro Atlanta to Indian Springs to Macon to Augusta . . . their towns and villages were all the same.  

Even though they produced “Mississippian” style pottery, the huge Apalache towns bore little resemblance to what anthropology books tell you Southeastern indigenous towns looked like during that period. For example, between around 200 AD and 1700 AD, there was a massive town that covered most of Downtown Helen and stretched two miles northward along the rapids of the Chattahoochee River to Robertstown. There were no large mounds in this town.   When Helen was booming in the 1970s, archaeologists told county planners to ignore the potsherds scattered across the landscape.  It was just a few  Indian farmsteads.

The Itsa-te towns also often contained stone architecture , but they were much more compact and situated at different locations.  The Itsa-te preferred easily defended mountain gaps that controlled major trade routes or the intersections of important trade paths.  They frequently built ceremonial mounds.  Some of them became quite large.

In his 1658 book, l’Histoire Naturelle et Morale des isles Antilles de l’Amérique, Pasteur Charles de Rochefort wrote that the Apalache towns in northern Georgia and northeast Alabama were linearly clustered along fast moving rivers, but did build some temples above or in caves under waterfalls – such as at De Soto Falls.  Each town was at least a French league (2.1 miles) long.  Nearby was a mountain or large hill on which sat an ancient temple-observatory. That is exactly what I am finding in our continuing survey of stone architecture sites in the Southern  Highlands . . . but why?

Those of you, who have read The Apalache Chronicles by Marilyn Rae and myself,  may recall that 19th century Ivy League scholars cast De Rochefort’s book aside because it described what obviously would have been the most advanced indigenous civilization, north of Mexico, in Dixie!  That couldn’t be.  Southerners were backward, therefore the Indians before them had to be backward.

This intellectual arrogance was perpetuated by Northern scholars despite the fact that the word, Apalache, was shown in maps over the Southern Highlands from 1562 to 1707.   So the current generation of anthropologists and historians in the Southeast can be forgiven for their ignorance of De Rochefort. The book was just not available to them until it was published on the internet.

HOWEVER, the pioneer anthropologist of the Southeast,  Charles C. Jones, Jr. DID know and write about a lost civilization in the Southern Highlands in 1873.  His book has been mandatory reading for Southeastern anthropologists for over a century.  Apparently, no one paid any attention to his words, however.  He wrote:

“When English speaking settlers came into the Southern Piedmont and Mountains, they encountered stone structures throughout the landscape. There were many stone walls, stone altars and even the ruins of stone buildings. Within a generation most of stone structures were gone and almost forgotten. They had become foundations, chimneys and the walls of new buildings. No one knew who had built these mysterious structures.”

“It was supposed that such things could not have been built by Indians, since it was thought that American Indians were too primitive to create such architecture. It was supposed that perhaps the Spanish or Prince Madoc built them.”

What I have found is that many of these Apalache town sites were visited by archaeologists between 1939 and 1979.  They ignored the nearby stone ruins, because they assumed that these old structures were built by white settlers in the early 1800s. They dug test pits in the flood plains and found dense concentrations of pottery going back to the Woodland Period, but walked away from the town sites because there were no mounds.  None of the archaeologists had any clue that these towns stretched along white water rivers for two or three miles.  Because there were no mounds, they assumed that the spot where they dug was a small village of no consequence.

The Peruvian Connection

There was something else that almost all these Apalache town sites shared in common.  The first occupation level contained Swift Creek pottery (200 AD –  600 AD), Napier pottery (600 AD – 900 AD) or Late Swift Creek pottery (600 AD – 1000 AD).   A fact unknown to Gringo archaeologists is that Swift Creek pottery was identical to the Conibo pottery in Peru in the same time period,  while Napier was almost identical to Shipibo pottery in Peru.  Even today the Conibo people weave shirts and dresses with “Swift Creek’ patterns on them.  There must be a connection.

After realizing this connection, I began studying the Panoan languages, which include Conibo, Shipibo and Kashibo.  There were capital towns in Peru, Georgia and on the Little Tennessee River named Satipo.  There were several basic words in the Creek language and the Panoan languages that were pronounced the same and meant the same.  They included the words for tobacco, yaupon holly tea and a village chief.   However,  that still did not explain why Swift Creek and Apalache towns were built linearly along the edges of white water rivers.

Then I stumbled upon this music video below.  It caught my attention first because the gals dancing looked like Creek gals from Alabama Florida or Georgia.  In fact, one of them is a “spitting image” of a Creek lass, I dated for a year at Georgia Tech.  The men are wearing “Seminole” long shirts and  the structures in the village look like those of the Seminoles or Creeks.

What is particularly interesting about this video is that they are performing a dance, which was also recorded by European painters in the Southeast during the 1500s through the 1700s.  Note how they handle the small bowls.   Also note that the Shipibo town was built along a white water river.  That got me wondering.

One has to go into anthropology books published in Peru to really learn about the Conibo and Shipibo.   They live in the eastern flanks of the Andes, which contain mountains almost identical to the Appalachians.  Just like the Appalachians, it is a beautiful landscape of dense foliage, flowers, white water rivers and waterfalls.  The only difference is that their homeland is near the equator.   The Panoans did not build large pyramidal mounds, but did build low, oval burial mounds, just like those found in many Swift Creek villages in Georgia.

Several Peruvian anthropologists stated that Shipibo and Conibo villages have always been built next to white water rivers, but they also built temples above, near or within waterfalls.  These waterfalls shrines sometimes grew into villages also.   The reason for this preference for white water was originally their diet, which included many fish and freshwater shellfish, but evolved into a tradition of their religion.  Even today, their religious ceremonies include the drinking of the Sacred Black Drink, just like the Creeks of the past.

Then it all became clear.  About 1200 years ago,  bands of Panoans fled the brutality of their Moche enemies in Peru and made it all the way to Southeastern North America.  They sought out a landscape that looked like home and developed their villages the way that they always had before.

Now you know!




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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.



    Hello Richard, I thoroughly enjoyed your recent posts. I have property up on Tray Mountain in the Chattahoochee National Forrest just north of Helen, Ga. The area is mentioned in the book, Letters From The Allegheny by Charles Lanman (published in 1849), chapter 7 Trail Mountain. In the 7 years I’ve ownerd the property, I have been finding arrow heads of various sizes. The ridge that runs along the property was supposedly a suitable place for the Indians to keep watch over great distances especially to the south and east. From this vantage point, the fires of the white man could be observed. Its along this ridge I’ve found the most artifacts and possible trails. The narrow width tells me they are not old logging roads. My question is, what tribe would they have been? Were they a hideout band escaping the trail of tears? Or a hunting party that hunted game for the main tribe location in the Nacoochee Valley? If you’re interested I’d be glad to forward pics of the arrowheads.

    • Hey Howell! Those are atlatl and spear points. Arrowheads are what most people call “bird points” although typically in Georgia, the natives found fire-hardened wood points to be much more accurate and deadly. They could penetrate Spanish chain mail armor. During the period when pottery was made and arrows used. The occupants of the Nacoochee were ancestors of the Chickasaw, the Itza Maya, Kusa Creek, Uchee and Soque. There are all sorts of archaeological sites on Tray Mountain, including a terrace complex like the one at Track Rock Gap. Chickamauga as in Chickamauga Creek is a Chickasaw word. You can write me at

      • I tried to reply to you but your autoresponse email contained a worm file that shut down my mouse. The photos on the left are atlatl points. The photo on the right is probably a knife blade, but may be a spear head.


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