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Bama’s Stone Bola Balls

Bama’s Stone Bola Balls

To be fair, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia and South Carolina also have stone balls . . . maybe some other states, too. However, it was a comment from a POOF member in northeastern Alabama that set us on the trail to a new understanding of artifacts in Southeastern indigenous town sites that are little known to the public and generally ignored by archaeologists. You will be surprised where the journey ended!

The Irreverent Observations of Bubba Mythbuster
Season Two ~ Episode One

In 2013, the People of One Fire ran an article in response to information provided us by two professors at a major state university in Ohio. They sent me photos of several stone balls with typical vegetation of the Southern Highlands in the background. However, the photos were digitally locked, so they couldn’t be downloaded or copied. The balls varied in size from about 18” to 32” in diameter. Some had Mesoamerican or Central American motifs carved into them.

The couple had been studying rare plants in the rugged headwaters region of the Chattooga River, which runs between South Carolina and Georgia. On both sides of the river, they had seen large stone balls, just sitting out in the national forest. One of the professors was an anthropologist, the other a biologist. Because of all the publicity about “Mayas-In-Georgia thing”, they immediately recognized the significance of these stone balls. This would be electrifying news that would add credibility to the longheld belief of Southeastern Native Americans that they had ancestors, who had come from the south.

When they got back to their motel room in Clayton, GA, the professors called the nearest US Forest Service office. They were immediately stone walled (if you excuse the pun) and treated like nutcases. When they returned to Ohio, they called the regional USFS office, where archaeologists were based. Instead of being respected as peers, they were treated with the “Sounds of Silence.” The USFS archaeologist would not say where the stone balls they retrieved from the Chattahoochee and Sumter National Forests were stored or why the archaeologists in the Southeast were keeping them a secret.

Large stone balls are most closely associated with the indigenous peoples of Central America, but were also made by the southern Mayas and some cultures in northwestern South America. It would seem to be important information for the archaeology profession, if such objects were found in the mountains around the Upper Savannah River Basin. Why were they being kept a secret?

The couple did not want me to publish their names because they might become associated with the Mayas-In-Georgia Thing and that could be detrimental to their career . . . even though they personally agreed with me on the interpretation of the evidence. I never did hear from them again. My questions about the stone balls stayed on the back burner until the autumn of 2015.

A POOF member, who lived near the Coosa River in northeast Alabama, wrote us that hundreds of stone balls had been found in mounds and town sites along the section of the Coosa between Childersburg, AL and Rome, GA. I read some of the archaeological reports for sites that he mentioned.

stoneball1These balls were different. Whereas those around the Chattooga River varied in size between about 36 inches in diameter and the size of a basketball, the ones in northeast Alabama varied between the size of a baseball and a plum. Also, those in Alabama usually did not have any decorations on them.

Archaeologists had been puzzled by these small balls. Most of the reports had no explanation for the balls and barely mentioned them. Other speculated that they were used in some sort of game . . . maybe a cross between bowling and billiards.

I also heard from some “old time” mountain families. Giant stone balls had been quite common in the Northeast Georgia Mountains. A mountaineer could make more hard cash on one sale of a ball to a collector from “up North” than he made in a year, otherwise. However, when large ATV’s came on the market that were capable of hauling loads up to 800 pounds, artifact poachers began stealing stone balls from the national forests and then selling them to collectors as MAYA ARTIFACTS from Central America. The going rate was at least $5000 a ball . . . for the large ones.

large-stone-ball-limestone-3283About the same time, Dr. Joseph Kitchens, Director of the Funk Heritage Center at Reinhardt University, contacted me. A man had come to his office with photos of an ornately carved stone ball that he claimed to have found near Clayton, GA. It looked almost three feet in diameter. Perhaps the man was fishing to see if the museum would buy it. After the subject of whether the ball came from federal land came up, the man did not return to the museum.

South American architecture in South Carolina

Later in 2013, I heard from a highly respected archaeologist, recently retired from the South Carolina Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology. He has worked on several archaeological sites near the Georgia Line in the Piedmont Foothills that contained stone walled terraces BEFORE I stumbled upon the Track Rock Terrace Complex. They were not in a national forest.

The South Carolina archaeologist had been ordered not to discuss the stone structures or the artifacts found within them with either the public or at professional conferences. Apparently, the Cherokees would not give South Carolina another penny for archaeological work, if he did. Since he was now retired, he could finally let the word out. However, he did not want his name mentioned, because of fear of being ostracized by his peers. Unlike the Ohio professors, he DID send me photos that I could keep.

The photos of the South Carolina terrace complexes indicated that they were identical in construction to those in northeast Georgia, but not as large as Track Rock or the ones in Metro Atlanta. Almost as an afterthought, he sent me photos of the foundations of houses associated with the terrace complexes. They were round!

One of the large round, stone buildings found at a South Carolina terrace complex, near the Savannah River.

One of the large round, stone buildings found at a South Carolina terrace complex, near the Savannah River.  They were radiocarbon dated to the period between 1200 and 1500 AD.

Ruins of round houses in eastern Peru

Ruins of round houses in eastern Peru

Say what? Round houses and temples with stone foundations were not a known tradition of anybody associated with the Southeastern mound building cultures. They are a tradition in Northwestern South America. I had photographed circular clusters of stones at Track Rock Gap, but the walls had been knocked over and so it would be difficult to prove that they were house or temple ruins without further archaeological work.

South American architecture in the Upper Savannah River Basin seemed so implausible at the time, that I did not heavily publicize the photos. I was not sure what it all meant, and therefore thought it prudent to also put them on the back burner until all these things made more sense.

Another explanation for small balls

SmallStoneBallsYou can take a professor out of the classroom, but you can’t take the classroom out of a good professor. In the autumn of 2015, retired College of Charleston professor, Gene Waddell, was in Argentina, studying the indigenous peoples of Tierra del Fuego.

In our almost daily trading of emails, the conversation somehow drifted to the indios gigantes (giant Indians) of the Pampas in Argentina.  The Spanish also called the ancestors of the Creek Indians, indios gigantes.   The proto-Creek men averaged over a foot taller than the Spanish.  Some reached seven feet all. Somehow that led briefly to a discussion of bolas. They are the stones attached to leather thongs, which southern South American Indians used as most effective weapons for hunting and war.

Bola is merely the Spanish word for “ball.”   Boledero is a hunter using a bola. In Argentina, the weapon is also called bolas, which is the plural.

The Indians in the Pampas and coastal areas of Argentina were equally as tall as those on the coast of South Carolina and Georgia. They also wore turbans, very similar to those worn by the Creeks in the Southeast.

The Indians in the Pampas and coastal areas of Argentina were equally as tall as those on the coast of South Carolina , plus Georgia and Alabama. They also wore turbans, very similar to those worn by the Creeks in the Southeast.  Note the the bola in the Native man’s hand.

I had never really thought much about bola balls, but always assumed that holes were drilled in metal balls in which leather cords were fastened.  I also assumed that bolas were only used on the plains of Argentina.

Au contraire . . . bola balls are stone. They were wrapped in leather pouches and the leather cords were woven into the pouches. The bola was a favorite weapon for hunting alpaca, deer and large birds.  They are also very effective in catching humans, if the hunter did not want to seriously injure his quarry.

There was another surprise.  Bolas were used throughout western South America in areas where there was not heavy undergrowth.  They were useless in the jungle, but very effective in the mountains or in cleared fields.  Andean hunters used bolas extensively.

boleadora-antiqua

Furthermore, most of the bola stones were not perfectly round. They were just “sort of round” river cobbles.  It was not necessary, since the stones were wrapped in leather.  The perfectly round bolo stones were prestige items passed down as heirlooms . . . the equivalent to a silver plated Winchester repeating rifle.

There was a sudden realization that the stone bola balls found by South American archaeologists are identical to the stone balls found in the mounds along the Upper Coosa River. The reason that the perfectly round balls were buried with bodies of prominent men was that they were “prestige” weapons that the great hunters and warriors would use in the hereafter. The “sort of” round cobbles that archaeologists have found inside house ruins, by the thousands, in certain areas of the Southeast, were the “working weapons” of the common folks.

The presence of a traditional South American weapon in towns along the Coosa River, would explain two other mysteries that Southeastern academicians didn’t realize were mysteries. Coosa is the Anglicization of Kusa /Kusha/Kausha . . . Panoan Language Family (Peru-Amazon Headwaters) words that mean “strong, brave . . . or implicitly, elite.” The Panoan-speaking provinces in the South Carolina Low Country collectively called themselves Kusabo . . . meaning “Strong . . . place of.”

The late 20th century books about the De Soto Expedition consistently describe “the Spaniards passing through the Creek towns along the Coosa River.” That is because none of those experts on the Creeks knew anything about the Creek languages. NONE of the town names mentioned by the De Soto Chronicles downstream from Rome, GA (beginning of the Coosa River) can be translated with a Muskogee or Hitchiti dictionary. Several, however, were simultaneously South American town names in the Coastal Plain of Georgia that were recorded by the French at Fort Caroline.

The truth is that there were very few Muskogee-speaking Creeks in Alabama until the 1720s. The Creek Confederacy only controlled territory along the eastern edge of Alabama until the end of the French & Indian War in 1763.  That is when about 5,000 other Muskogeans left Alabama with the French.

A picture is developing that shows a broad swath of South Carolina, southeastern Georgia , plus central and northeastern Alabama being occupied by peoples of South American or Central American ancestry until just before British colonists arrived in Charleston. That is a very different picture of the past.

And 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.

11 Comments

  1. urisahatu@yahoo.com'

    Great post.

    The findings of the stone balls / spheres in (Southeastern) North America is yet another link to atleast Central America.
    The past few weeks I’ve been doing research on the Chiriqui.
    In Costa Rica in the territory of the Chiriqui Kingdom (Diquis Delta) there are hundreds of stone balls / spheres.

    It doesn’t mean that the stone balls in North America are a product of the Chiriqui but who knows; maybe there is some connection between the Chiriqui of Costa Rica – Panama and the Cherokee in Southeastern North America.

    Reply
    • That’s what I have been wondering. Did Central Americans also come to North America? However the town names in NE Alabama are Panoan and Asháninka from Peru and Colombia.

      Reply
      • urisahatu@yahoo.com'

        The town names may be from languages of Peru and
        Colombia but did they still had the same culture by the
        time they arrived in North America?
        Perhaps the people /tribes from Peru and Colombia adopted ideas, cultural traits from Central- and MesoAmerica along their migration route(s).

        Reply
  2. markveale@hotmail.com'

    Richard…Some of the “Muskogee” people mostly likely were in Alabama by 1540 as the Name” Tus-ka-lu-ca” was noted by 2 of Desoto chronicle writers for a “Very Tall Chief”. However, it was stated in some accounts that the Muskogee nation followed a leader that had a staff (“staff” God South America?) that pointed to the South East where they “stopped” perhaps around the time of founding of the Altamaha river settlement of 1525.
    The Muskogee people could be kin to the turban wearing, “Wari” people of Peru who walled up their towns in 1000AD and left as it if to return one day and disappeared.
    It is not known where the “Tarascan” people came from but arrived around 1000’s AD in West Mexico. They spoke the Quechua (Peru) language, not native to or spoken by the rest of the natives of central Mexico.
    It is believed they had Bronze weapons, one of few nations that did, and also “Very tall men” were recorded living in West Mexico, as well, in the 1500’s.
    The Mexica people (Aztec-ah) never could defeat them in battle and also had the second largest empire of Mexico during the Spanish conquest and perhaps field a Army of 100,000.
    Large numbers of these people (Muskogee?) could have migrated in the 1500’s to the South (Mississippi, Alabama) before the arrival of the Desoto’s army in 1541.

    Reply
    • The people in western Mexico that you are talking about are the Purapeche aka the Tarascans. Very familiar with them. I spent several weeks in Michoacan and my previous neighbors in another county were Purepeche. Their language is not Quechua. They are not especially tall, but did develop a type of bronze about the time that Columbus embarked on his first voyage. Their main weapon however, was the bow and arrow, whereas the Aztecs relied on the atlatl and obsidian sword (close-up combat). The reason that they were able to hold off the Aztecs was that the Aztec soldiers were trained for taking captives whereas the Purepeche were able to kill many Aztec soldiers with arrows before they ever got close.

      Reply
  3. Tuscaloosa had an Alabama name. The Alabama were on the Lower Coosa River and the Alabama River.

    The Wari is also the name of a people in South Carolina. We are finding that many of the deepest cultural traditions among the Creeks can be found in eastern Peru.

    Reply
  4. urisahatu@yahoo.com'

    Very interesting.

    Did the Purapeche / Tarascans had any maritime-/ navigational skills? The reason ‘m asking is because in Panama’s folklore on
    Ciri Klave arrows are mentioned.
    Since Ciri Klave is believed to have came from the north which could be a possible link.

    Source:
    Guaymi Grammar and Dictionary with some Ethnological Notes
    By Ephraim S. Alphonse – 1955 / 1956

    Page: 44

    Quote:
    “Words are borrowed from the colony of Aztecs
    and Toltecs whom these Valiente or Guaymi call Dekos. “Dekos” means early, and refers to the early Mexicans
    who came in large canoes having oars studded with pearls.
    (Their leader was called Ciri Klave.)”

    Appendix. Customs of the Guaymi

    Page: 125

    Quote:
    “Their arms were strong and their arrows shot far and straight.
    They never missed a bird; they never missed a deer; they never missed a man.
    The Ciri Klave beat our chief; his arms were stronger;
    his sense was greater; they tried to stop him, but he knew
    their mind; he knew their skill;”

    Reply
  5. markveale@hotmail.com'

    Richard, you and your friends have confirmed the Name “Wari” (Peru) was noted on the maps of the South in the 1700’s. Perhaps, these people?, from (Peru), that lived with the “Tarasan” (trading partners) but were not the same clan people and migrated as a nation in the 1500’s from the Spanish invasion of Mexico, of 1513.
    As you know… there were many migrations “to and within the South East” as you have noted, “Yuchi /Itza” (Salt merchants) there for a Very long time) “people of the sun” sea-people, “Apalasi”, “of the sea” people (there for a Very long time, conical hats, “coats of many colors”, “Red+ shiny Gold” miners), perhaps connected to those “ships of Tarshish” Tyre sea “merchants”, of King Solomon, BEFORE 1000 BC.
    It’s much shorter across the Atlantic (Armorica) Ocean by the land called “PI-SHON” (Antarctica). Perhaps the (Amorite /Hittite) people lived down there as whale hunters, for Thousands of years and had to migrate by 4000BC… as stated “Nimrod was a Great hunter BEFORE the Lord”.
    The “atlatl” was a harpoon/ spear throwing device perhaps a hold over from those days. Noted by the Vikings still being used by the Native peoples of North America in the 1000-1300’s AD saga’s.
    By the way….The “LONG BOW” got traded or got invented in the America’s in 200-300’s AD…and that “advanced weapon” for it’s time, perhaps ended the “TALL-AH- GAN-YI” people (trade empire, “and GIANTS among them…”) by 3-400’s AD time in “Allegany” river area( Ohio, NY).”and they got in their boats, went down the rivers and were never seen again…..” except they ARE the same that you white people call the “Cherokee” (Chi-Ra-KI?). That was stated by a “Lenape” (Delaware Chieftain), “Grandfather nation” people, over 200 years ago.
    The “Lenape” people also had a “writing system” that states their migrations from the Western Canada area and then perhaps down from Mich-i-gan/ Canada.
    The “Tall-ah-gan-yi” then were pushed out towards North Carolina, Tennessee (Tan-a si),and then the “ITZA” in Georgia (perhaps the Grey “Moon eyed” people?) were mostly pushed out of Eastern Tennessee and Southern North Carolina, at that time, to their main homeland area of South Carolina, Georgia. However, the Yuchi /”Itza” did have cities and were allowed to trade “SALT” extending all the way up to the Great lakes. “Can’t live long without Salt”.
    The WORD connections you and your friends have made with the migrations of people from South America, Central, and Western people is only part of the Circle….. “Do You see those stones….”

    Reply
  6. iwg42@hotmail.com'

    Great article Richard. Was wondering if the slingshot was used by any of the tribes. These sound like great missiles for bolos, slings or throwing.

    Reply
  7. shuddles08@gmail.com'

    Hi Richard,
    I think I found one of these bola balls today in Montevallo, AL. It is almost perfectly spherical and virtually identical to the small one your pictures. How do I determine if that is actually what it is?

    Reply
    • That is what it is. You have already determined it! Congratulations!

      Reply

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