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Creek Confederacy mirrored tradition going back at least 2000 years

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.”

Savannah Area

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.  

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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.



    So.. It sounds like there was a loose confederacy of separate, distinct cultures living as contemporaries in villages that were located closely together. Although in some cases these groups were within eyesight of each other, it appears they were able to maintain their distinct languages, archetecture and culture for very long periods without war or attempts/need to merge. If this is how it was, that seems pretty unusual in human history. If there was a newcomer to this culture, did they have to take a vow or promise to be a part of it? That would make sense. I wonder if there is something to indicate this.

    • I don’t know Barbara. Without a written record, it is very difficult to determine how the earlier arrivals related to the new arrivals. However, there is no doubt that the Creek languages are mixtures of several languages from Mesoamerica, South America, the Uchee and possibly the Shawnee. The Creek words for tobacco, Yaupon Holly (Black Drink), bean and tribal chief are from Eastern Peru, but the words for corn and most other political offices are from the Itza Maya, while the word for squash and many basic verbs are Muskogean. Maybe you can build us a time machine!


    The diffrent town`s and tribe`s could have been held together thru trade and necessity. We as a country are made up of the same pattern, people living in our own communitys. City, farm and ubaran areas all depending on each community to contribute to survive.
    It was not uncommon for tribe members to look behond their tribe for a spouse to build a unity with another tribe for trade and to benifit of all, like we still do today.


      I guess what fascinates me is that the concept of a “united states” actually existed and was successful within the continental US for thousands of years, well before the philosophies underlying the founding of the present United States even happened. It makes me wonder when and with whom the original ‘compact’ of cooperation under the Creator, perhaps even the concept of ‘natural law’ was actually established…


        Historically the idea of uniting the original 13 Colonies came from the o Iroiqus federation.

        The history of the Iroquois Confederacy goes back to its formation by the Peacemaker in the 12th or 15th centuries, bringing together five distinct nations in the southern Great Lakes area into “The Great League of Peace”. Each nation within the Iroquoian family had a distinct language, territory and function in the League. Iroquois influence extended into Canada, westward along the Great Lakes and down both sides of the Allegheny mountains into Virginia and Kentucky and into the Ohio Valley.
        I think the ideas of unity the Iroiqus had was the basic foundation of this country.
        I see no reason for other native tribe`s not to have come to the same conclusion, that the ability to unite made for a better chance for survival.


      That was suppose to be “urban, not ubaran” lol, it was early for me, lol.


    Richard, You have clearly proven that General Oglethorpe was given a written document in the 1700’s by “Tomo chi chi”. Do you have any knowledge of any more written documents or stone markers in the South East of that type of writings?
    Thank you for your articles.

    • We are trying to put together the writing system now. My problem is that because of very limited income, I must give first priority to income producing activities … and no one is paying me to study the writing system.


    Hesci. Alton chvocefkv tos. I live in Thomas county Georgia and am of Creek ancestry and learned some of the Muskogee culture at the Tama Lower Creek Reservation in Whigham Georgia. I am a Mechanical Draftsman in the engineering department at Hurst Boiler & Welding Co. I enjoyed your articles, will read more, and I well understand when no one is paying me. Ha Ha. This is just a shout out and hello, regards -apb


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