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Archaeologist’s excavation of Georgia town site indicated violent ethnic change around 1375 AD

Archaeologist’s excavation of Georgia town site indicated violent ethnic change around 1375 AD

A long term research project is analyzing all available archaeological reports for the entire Chattahoochee-Flint-Apalachicola River System.   Sandtown (9FU1)  adjacent Sweet Potato (9FU14) and the Vandiver Village Site (9DO1) were the only three Native American town sites on the Chattahoochee River in Metro Atlanta that have been fully excavated by professional archaeologists.  As stated earlier in POOF articles, information obtained at these sites has generally been left out of contemporary archaeological literature, evidently because it conflicts with current orthodoxies.

SandtownComplex-SatelliteImage

Two thousand years ago, this was a massive town. In 1939, archeologist Robert Wauchope noted a dense concentration of Native American potsherds and stone tools along the entire two mile corridor covered by this satellite image. The potsherds dated from around 1000 BC to the 1700s. However, unlike most archaeological sites, Sandtown (9FU1) was occupied continuously by the Creeks or ancestors of the Creeks until 1827, when this land was ceded to the State of Georgia. The only cultural break occurred briefly around 1375 AD, but the town was quickly reoccupied by Proto-Creeks, who made Lamar Style pottery.   Across the river at the Vandiver Mound and Village Site (9DO1),  Wauchope found identical pottery styles that also spanned a 2,700 year long occupation period.   This indicates that the massive conurbation spanned both sides of the river.   It is not even mentioned in most contemporary archaeological publications.

In 1939,  archaeologist Robert Wauchope  excavated the Sandtown Site (9FU1) on the Chattahoochee River.  At the time, all of this section of the Chattahoochee Valley was in a natural or agricultural state.   He found the entire two mile long corridor littered with potsherds and stone tools, dating from around 1000 BC to the 1700s.  They were mixed together by the actions of floods.

The floodplain was covered with a layer of sand and silt, deposited by floods.  Mixed in with this alluvial layer were Native American artifacts spanning 2,800 years of occupation.  There were also items of European manufacture that were typical of the 1700s and early 1800s.    Wauchope believed that the artifacts were washed from mounds and upper elevations in the massive community site.

When Wauchope’s team cut trenches into the soil beneath the alluvial deposit, they found evidence of an almost continuous occupation of the town site from the  Woodland Period.  In addition to Swift Creek pottery (c. 200 AD -600 AD) he also found some Weeden Island pottery that is normally typical of northern Florida and southwestern Georgia during the Woodland Period.

Occupation of the town site was most extensive during the Mississippian (Southeastern Ceremonial) Culture (900 AD – 1600 AD).  From around 900 AD to 1375 AD the artifacts in the town were identical to those at Etowah Mounds, about 30 miles to the north,  but he found a stark cultural break between the Middle and Late Mississippian Periods.  At this break was a dense layer of charcoal covering the entire village, but deepest at the locations of buildings.

Over the charcoal layer, new occupants arrived, who placed their houses and mounds at different locations.  They made Lamar Style pottery, which developed from the Etowah Style pottery, but was different.   Wauchope felt that the discontinuance of ancient structures, such as mounds, indicated that the new occupants were a different ethnic group with no allegiance to the past.

Arthur Kelly’s research confirms Wauchope’s findings

In 1968 and 1969,  the famous archaeologist, Arthur Kelly supervised excavations at Sandtown and adjacent 9FU14.  POOF will have a separate article on 9FU14.   He also encountered the charcoal layer, but it reminded him of what he had seen eight years earlier at the Chauga Site (38OC1) at the headwaters of the Savannah River.

The Chauga Site was settled by people, who made pottery identical to that which Kelly had found at the lower levels of the Lamar Village in Ocmulgee National Monument and Etowah Mounds.  He also found a dense layer of charcoal between the Middle and Late Mississippian Periods at Chauga, followed by mounds in different orientations and new styles of houses associated with the Proto-Creek Lamar Culture.   The Lamar Culture was named after the style of pottery found at the newer levels of the Lamar Village, which evidently also experienced a cultural change, but not necessarily a violent one.

Note:  The article in Wikipedia on Chauga is quite inaccurate and seems to be based on the recollection by some anthropology student of a professor’s lecture, not the actual archaeological report.    There are eight mounds on the site, not one, as stated in Wikipedia. Dr. Kelly did not find any evidence of Cherokee occupation.  The Creek occupants of the village abandoned it after it was burned by the Cherokees around 1700 AD at the same time that nearby Lamar Culture (Proto-Creek) town of Tugaloo was burned.   A small section of Tugaloo was resettled a few years later by a primitive people, living in small round huts . . . shown on 18th century maps as the Hogeloge Uchee from Tennessee.  Chauga was never resettled.

Who burned Sandtown and Chauga?

Wauchope and Kelly did not speculate on the identity of the ethnic group that destroyed Sandtown around 1375 AD.   The victors were obviously direct ancestors of the Colonial Period members of the Creek Confederacy.  There is a continuance of pottery styles from 1375 AD to the 1700s.    Since Lamar Style pottery evolved from Etowah-Ichesi style pottery,  it can be presumed that both the victors and vanquished were Muskogeans.

The most likely candidate for the vanquished are the Itsate Creeks, who by the late 1600s had been pushed into the Northeast Georgia Mountains and vicinity of Macon, GA.  Between 900 AD and 1375 AD,  principal mounds in the Creek Homeland faced the sunset of the Winter Solstice, which is the beginning of the Maya calendar.  After 1375 AD the principal mounds were oriented to the Summer Solstice, the beginning of the Creek and Tamaulte Calendars.

My family was definitely Itsate (Hitchiti) Creek.   In my Northeast Georgia family’s lore there was a vague memory of a war between the “Creeks” and the “Muskogees”.    The Muskogees were remembered as aggressive, warlike enemies of the Creeks, whose eastward invasion was blocked in a bloody battle by an alliance of Creeks and Uchee in eastern Georgia and western South Carolina.  After that time, the enemies “buried their hatchets” and formed the Creek Confederacy.  I did not realize that the Muskogees were also Creek Indians until I was in my early 20s.

The most likely candidates for the victors are the Apalache, whose kingdom evolved into the Creek Confederacy during the early 1700s.  The Cowetas told officials in Savannah in 1735 that their alternate name was Palache (ie Apalache).

Variants of Lamar Style pottery can be found from Southwestern Virginia to the Florida Panhandle.  In 1653,  the Paracusi-te (High King) of Apalache told Richard Briggstock that his kingdom once stretched from SW Virginia to the Gulf of Mexico.  [Rae & Thornton (2013): The Apalache Chronicles].

Another explanation also comes from the High King of Apalache.  He told Briggstock that a predatory hunter-gatherer people that he called the Kofitachete (Offspring of Mixed Ethnicity People) were allowed to settle near an Apalache province.  Without warning the Kofitachete attacked and burned many Apalache towns.  A long, bloody war ensued before the Koftiachete were finally crushed.

This evidence of massive warfare and stark cultural change around 1375 AD suggests that the Creek Confederacy is actually much older than the Colonial Period.   Perhaps cultural memories that we retain and thought to date from the 1600s, actually date from the 1300s.

The truth is out there somewhere!

 

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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.

5 Comments

  1. wakefieldrising@gmail.com'

    Thanks for everything you do Richard.

    Reply
  2. justawriter22@gmail.com'

    Blood Mountain ring a bell?
    I grew up and visited relatives who lived north of it. Snowbird mtns way., They would point at its’ broken top and tell me warriors bodies dammed up the creek and ran red with blood during these times.
    Oral history can be inaccurate but should never be entirely discounted.
    I wish I had heard more and could remember better.

    Reply
    • I can find absolutely nothing to back up the legends about Blood Mountain. For one thing, all of that part of Georgia was within Creek territory until 1785, and very, very few Cherokees ever lived around there afterward.

      Reply
      • richardbecherer@yahoo.com'

        Dear Richard Thornton,

        I am currently working on a project involving the site of the old Chattahoochee Brick Company on the Chattahoochee River. Its general location is south of Atlanta’s Marietta Road, a location you may know, in a portion of Atlanta sometimes called Bolton; the site is adjacent to the neighborhood of Whittier Mill. More importantly it is located where Atlanta’s Proctor Creek meets the Chattahoochee. I now understand (thanks to your work) that there were numerous Native settlements in this exact area. I also have just learned that there was a pre-Creek settlement at the location of 6 Flags — just south of the Chattahoochee Brick site, that is — and that is was destroyed as the amusement park was being developed. I also was astonished to learn that there was a flat-topped mound across from it (on the Flint or Chattahoochee River?) attached to the Native community across the river. Which brings me to a specific question. Do you have any images of this mound (assumedly Mississippian like Cahokia) and/or the village of Chattahoochee which is, I believe, the place that the large Native community sites at 6 Flags was called? And here’s a more general question for you: Do you have information on the whereabouts of all the Native communities located on the Chattahoochee southward from Standing Peachtree and any visual documentation of them? Site plans showing building configurations — and I know that such information would stem from either archaeological excavations or perhaps aerial GIS surveys — would be most helpful. I will be glad to discuss more about my project with you offline if you would care to learn of it. FYI It is shocking to me that so little archaeological work has been done on this important topic and that what is known of this story has been excluded in the city’s public discourse. Thanks you for any information that you might share on this topic.

        My email address is: richardbecherer@yahoo.com or rjbecherer1@gmail.com.

        Reply
        • Richard,

          In 1939, archaeologist Robert Wauchope found evidence of almost continuous Native American occupation on both sides of the Chattahoochee River from Morgan Falls Dam southward to Campbellton Road near Fairburn, GA. These peoples were all ancestors of the Creek Indians. The Creek Confederacy was a political organization of numerous provinces in this part of North America, not a single ethnic group. In 1968 and 1969, the famous archaeologist, Arthur Kelly supervised emergency excavation of the Sandtown Village on the north side of Utoy Creek and Site 9FU14 on the south side of Utoy Creek. That location is quite a ways downstream from the Chattahoochee Brick Company, but it was the only archaeological dig along the Chattahoochee River after Wauchope’s survey, which covered a significant portion of a Native American village site. In the 1980s and early 1990s, the Archaeology Lab of Cobb County, GA government DID carry out numerous archaeological surveys in the vicinity of the Chattahoochee Brick Company. They did not excavated entire village sites and unfortunately, were forbidden by their employers from reporting to the public what they found. When they encountered a large Creek cemetery on a tract next to the Cobb County Water Plant across from Fort Standing Peachtree, the skeletons were secretly excavated at night by a contractor and destroyed. The records of the Cobb County Archaeological Lab have either been destroyed or scattered to the winds. While an architecture student at Georgia Tech, I was asked by Dr. Kelly to prepare an inked site plan of 9FU14. It is apparently long gone, but I created an architectural rendering of the site, based on memory and some photos that I had taken of the archaeological work in progress. Unfortunately, I am not confident that my portrayal of the mound is accurate. Its form well could have been sculptured by Kelly’s site supervisor to “look like what he thought mounds looked like.” What I saw was a rectangular truncated pyramids with a ramp. I now know that mounds in the Georgia Piedmont were truncated ovals during the Woodland Period . . . and again during the Late Mississippian Period. This mound was never excavated because the archaeological dig was quickly shut down due to a scandal involving the site supervisor and some archaeology students at the University of Georgia. You are welcome to have a copy of that rendering, if proper credit is giving for me being the Registered Architect, who created it.

          Otherwise there is no architectural information available for Native American village sites along that entire corridor of the Chattahoochee River.

          Reply

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