Creek Confederacy mirrored tradition going back at least 2000 years
During the past three years, People Of One Fire readers have been introduced to indigenous provinces around the Lower Southeast that were very different than those in the Mississippi River Basin. Some cultures have been completely missed by contemporary anthropologists. The pioneering work of Arthur Kelly on the Ocmulgee and Chattahoochee Rivers, Antonio Waring around Savannah and Robert Wauchope in North Georgia identified clusters of similar-sized communities along rivers, which were two to seven miles long. The entire 40 mile length of the Apalachee River in NE Georgia appears to have been urbanized. These provinces couldn’t possibly match the popular concept in anthropology today of “chiefdoms” and “paramount chiefdoms”.
These provinces were conurbations composed of semi-autonomous “urban villages.” It is very clear that around Savannah, along the Oconee River in Northeast Georgia, in the Nacoochee Valley, on the Chattahoochee River and along the Little Tennessee River, they were composed of multiple ethnic groups living in harmony together. They did not consist of a single, large fortified town surrounded by a few hamlets. Only Etowah Mounds appears to match this description.
It is highly questionable, if the term “Mississippian” should even be applied to the indigenous cultures of Eastern Alabama, Florida, Georgia, the Carolinas and Eastern Tennessee.
Notes: POOF takes a brief break from its canoe trip down the Chattahoochee River to explain the the Lost World discovered by archaeologists Robert Wauchope and Arthur Kelly. The People of One Fire or “Creek Confederacy” was composed of multiple ethnic groups that spoke several languages and organized themselves democratically into a regional political organization. It was NOT a “paramount chiefdom.”
In the late 20th century, archaeologist Antonio Waring identified a cluster of Deptford Culture mounds in Metropolitan Savannah that were in walking distance of each other. They were the oldest manifestations of the Deptford Culture and dated at least to around 800 BC or possibly as early as 1200 BC. Villages were associated with most of these mounds. None seemed to be particularly larger than the other. Several of the mounds contained upper strata containing entirely different pottery styles.
In 2015, using linguistic analysis, I determined that the place names around Metropolitan Savannah and nearby Port Royal Sound, SC came from many parts of the Americas. Tybee Island had an Itza Maya name (Taube = Salt) but nearby were villages with Uchee, Muskogean, Panoan (Eastern Peru), Tupi (Amazon) and Southern Arawak (Amazon) place names. North and south of Savannah, South American place names predominated.
Ocmulgee National Monument
During the 1930s, the team working under Arthur Kelly’s supervision found numerous, closely spaced village sites along a 38 mile long corridor of the Ocmulgee River. Within these villages, which were often contemporary, were several distinct styles of residential architecture and pottery.
The earliest houses on the Macon Plateau were like those built by Southern Arawaks in the Northern Andes, Colombia and Venezuela. Yet on Browns Mount, people made owl motif pottery typical of the Toa River Valley in Cuba and around 990 AD, a people making “Etowah I” pottery and living in Itza Maya style houses, settled almost simultaneously at Ichesi (two miles south of the Ocmulgee Acropolis) and on the Etowah River (Etowah Mounds). Unfortunately, radiocarbon dating was not available to Kelly so at the time of their excavation, he did not realize that the distinctly different architecture and pottery were contemporary.
Robert Wauchope in North Georgia
In 1939, Robert Wauchope was astonished to find that the villages in the Nacoochee Valley of Northeast Georgia were literally in eyesight of each other, yet many of them were ancient occupation sites that began as hamlets making Deptford pottery. However, by the Late Woodland Period (600-900 AD) there were contemporary villages separated by anywhere from 100 yards to 1/4 mile, which had different architecture and even made different styles of pottery. Large mounds were being built by then.
The best example can be seen above around the Late Woodland Period villages near the Kenimer Mound. They had completely different architectural traditions . . . one of them being the oldest know example of Chickasaw architecture.
Wauchope had only a brief time available to study the Chattahoochee River Corridor in Metro Atlanta, but found an identical situation there – densely concentrated villages that were occupied over at least a 2000 year period. The construction of platform mounds began during the Deptford Cultural Period, not “Mississippian”. The lowest levels of many villages contained Deptford potsherds, but upper levels contained examples of all the pottery styles later produced in North Georgia.
The arrival of agriculture
The current orthodoxy in North American anthropology is that large scale agriculture and concentrations of population did not occur in the Southeast until the arrival of corn and beans from Mesoamerica and South America. It is now known that most of the types of squash, grown in the Southeast, trace their ancestry to an indigenous wild squash.
After examining the evidence available to him in 1969, Dr. Arthur Kelly theorized that agriculture came much, much earlier to the Southeast than the arrival of corn. He was bitterly attacked for this theory by his peers. This was one of the primary reasons that he lost his job at the University of Georgia.
The density of Woodland Period villages around Savannah can be explained by the abundance of seafood. The even more dense concentration of Woodland Period village sites in the Upper and Middle Chattahoochee Valley, found by Robert Wauchope is a different situation. These dense concentrations thrived over many centuries, plus built modest mounds. There is no way that so many people, living so close together could have survived that long, purely on hunting and gathering in the terrain of North Georgia. The wild game populations would have been exterminated for long distances in all directions. The only explanation is exactly as Dr. Kelly stated.
Therefore, it is quite obvious that both the terms “Woodland” and “Mississippian” are not applicable at all to describe the ancestors of the Uchees, Alabamas, Chickasaws and Creeks. It is also obvious that the “Creek Confederacy” was merely the most recent manifestation of an ancient concept.
Latest posts by Richard Thornton (see all)
- Using words to explore the peopling of the Southeast – Part One - December 8, 2018
- Early Scottish immigrants . . . the joke is on me! - December 8, 2018
- Why Southeastern Creeks should study Teotihuacan - December 4, 2018
- The Red-Haired Giants . . . both kinds - December 2, 2018
- A Creek & Uchee Perspective on Unregulated Mass Immigration - November 28, 2018