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c. 1450 AD . . . A clever civil engineering project at Kusa

c. 1450 AD . . . A clever civil engineering project at Kusa


Even today, vast torrents of water rush down the gorges of the Coosawattee River and Talking Rock Creek.  These waters drop over 700 feet in a few miles of horizontal flow.  Prior to the construction of Carters Dam, floods annually dumped very fertile alluvial soil on Carters Bottom.  This is what attracted the establishment of a Kanza Village there around 1325 AD and the establishment of the Kawshe Capital, nearby, around 1375 AD. However, these same floods also regularly did damage to the town.  It soon became clear that unless a permanent solution to the flood problem was found, it would be necessary to relocate the Capital.

As the Elite Precinct grew from a few houses around an oval plaza to a town laid out in a gridiron pattern with streets and blocks with courtyards, drainage from even minor rainstorms became an increasing problem.  The Elite Precinct sloped upward from the flood plain to a rocky hill . . . where the conquistadors of Hernando de Soto would camp in the summer of 1540.  Human waste drained down into the plaza, from where it was applied to courtyard gardens.

Then around 1450 AD, a major flood devastated the housing of the Elite Precinct and portion of the Kanza Village near the river.  About all that was left of the royal compound were the eroded hulks of mounds.  With the town swept clean of occupied buildings, it was time for a major civil engineering project, which would:

  1.  Raise the ceremonial center of the town above all flood waters.
  2.  Channel the waters of Talking Rock Creek away from the town.
  3.  Channel water, draining down from the residential blocks, away from the ceremonial centers.

A very unusual type of curvilinear dyke was constructed near the water line of the Coosawattee River and Talking Rock Creek.  The outer and inner walls of the dyke were composed of very dense red clay, which functioned as “waterproofing.”  The core between the walls was filled with river gravel, cobblestones and sand. This feature gave the dyke sufficient mass with which to resist the lateral pressures of flood waters. 

The base, created by the dyke, was filled with sand so that any rain waters would be absorbed by the sand then drained away to the opposite ends of the dyke.  The top elevation of the dyke was above that of the lowest elevation of the residential neighborhood, so that most storm drainage would also flow to the outer edges of the dyke and down into either the creek or the river. Sand covered the lower portions of the original mounds.  The new mounds were built on top of the old ones.

Near the confluence of Talking Rock Creek and the Coosawattee River, the dyke bowed northward in order to encourage the creek’s floodwaters to flow into the cultivation fields on the north side of the river. It then turned southward to provide more cross sectional area for flood waters downstream from the confluence.  This showed a great deal of sophistication toward the science of hydrodynamics. Known as the Bernouli Effect, the acceleration of flood waters on a curve would reduce the lateral pressure of deep water on the dyke, while centrifugal force would cause the water to flow northward into the cultivation fields.

The dyke was very soundly constructed.  On August 22, 2006, when the waters of the Carters Lake Lower R-regulation Reservoir were drained down to expose the mounds, after 47 years of being submerged, the dyke was still solid.  It was about the only place exposed by the drainage on which I could stand without sinking into deep muck! 

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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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