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Did Hernando de Soto spend two nights in a Lapp village?

Did Hernando de Soto spend two nights in a Lapp village?


In the Creek languages and in the place names of certain parts of the Southeastern United States are vestiges of the presence of people, speaking a language similar to Sami, the indigenous tongue of Lapland. 


There are still dozens of Sami tribes in Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia. Many tribes have distinct physical appearances . . . with the Southern Sami having the most Scandinavian features.  Sweden is the most supportive country of distinct Sami cultural traditions.  Although the Sami probably have lived in Europe many thousands of years longer than the Indo-Europeans and today primarily live above or near the Arctic Circle, full-blooded Sami have the darkest complexion of all Europeans.  They would not be noticed as being a different ethnic group in the Muskogean tribes, who now contain a mixed-heritage majority.  That fact makes me have severe doubts and that skin and hair color is directly linked to one’s distance from the Equator.


A Creek belle in Eufaula? No, a Northern Sami in Lapland.

Sami or Saami (Finnish) is a Uralic language in the same family with Finnish, Hungarian, Turkish and several lesser known tongues in south-central Russia.  These peoples originated in the Ural Mountains of Russia, which define the boundary between Europe and Asia.  Their ancestors were not Indo-Europeans.   We now know that they have some shared ancestry with American Indians.  East Asian DNA is only part of what defines an American Indian genetically.

Until very recently, geneticists insisted that even though full-blooded Sami look very much like mixed-blood American Indians, there was no connection. A major change in attitude began occurring about five years ago.   First, it was discovered that all the Sami DNA test markers, used in labs around the world had been obtained from a few members of a southern tribe of Sami, who happened to live in a large Swedish town with a university.  That particular tribe had been mixing with ethnic Swedes for at least 2,500 years and physically looked very different from the Sami, north of the Arctic Circle. 

Then . . . in the past three years, more sophisticated genetic studies have revealed that Scandinavians carry Asiatic genes, while full-blooded Sami in Swedish Lapland and the mountains of far northern Norway carry about the same percentage of Asiatic genes as full-blooded American Indians.  They are not all exactly the same Asiatic genes, but they are still Asiatic.

I should have known.  When I was in Lapland, the full-blooded Sami came up to me speaking Sami and the Swedish tourists would ask me for directions, assuming that I was a local.  My companion, north of the Arctic Circle, was an Austrian lady with long dark hair and brown eyes.  No one ever guessed that we were anything but Sami . . . especially when she dressed up like a Sami!

The Sami tribe with the highest percentage of Asiatic genes lives along the coast of northern Norway.  They have been skilled mariners and navigators since very ancient times, as their livelihood was based on whale/walrus hunting and fishing.  It has been theorized that Sjo-Sami taught the Scandinavians how to navigate over open ocean waters.  Those star charts on petroglyphs in southern Sweden and in northeast Georgia were undoubted inscribed by ancestors of the Sjo-Sami.

Eyewitness accounts

About ten years ago, an archaeologist in the American Museum of Natural History in New York City sent me a box of photocopied texts.  They were eyewitness accounts of the South Atlantic Coast by people, who are never mentioned by typical American History books.  We are talking about regular folks . . . friars, an architect, an engineer, an army sergeant, a merchant and several survivors of ship wrecks.  

The purpose of these eyewitness accounts was to insure that my architectural interpretation of the AMNH archaeological reports at St. Catherines Island, GA would be accurate.  The mission on St Catherines Island was about 32 miles south (as a crow flies) from Downtown Savannah and 22 miles north of the mouth of the Altamaha River.

To be honest, at the time, I really didn’t have enough knowledge of Early Colonial History to truly appreciate, what I had been given.  However, I did know enough at that time to recognize that there were grave contradictions between what the eyewitnesses said and what late 20th century academicians had declared to be undisputed facts.

For example . . .  the ruins of Fort Caroline and Fort San Mateo on were only a few hours canoe ride south of Mission Santa Catalina de Guale, while the mouth of the St. Johns River was about five to six days paddling to the south.  Actually, for the first couple of decades the Spanish did not even realize that the mouth of the St. Johns River was even there.  It was only crossable by a small dug-out canoe at high tide.  That is how I know that the location of the fake Fort Caroline on the St. Johns River is pure malarkey.

Another mystery was the presence of architecture that didn’t seem to belong on the coast of South Carolina and Georgia.  The commoners of certain tribes lived communally in massive structures shaped like pup tents.  A Spanish architect described one of these megastructures being built.   He mentioned that the commoners of the Calusas, in far southern Florida also lived in such buildings.  I had studied these type buildings in an architectural history class.  They were typical of certain tribes in Ireland and western Scotland during the Iron Age and Early Medieval Period.

Then there were the Native words.  Some academician, somewhere, decided that at the time of first contact, the Native people on the Georgia and South Carolina coast were Creeks.  Since none of the archaeologists knew anything about the Creek languages, from then on labeled the coastal peoples, Muskogean.  They were absolutely not Muskogeans.  Their surviving words were from some other language, entirely different than Creek, other than some shared Itza Maya political titles.

Six years of bewilderment were finally ended in 2013, when Mary Rae and I went through the writings of Charles de Rochefort and realized that the ancestors of the Creeks practiced many South American traditions and also spoke some key words that were definitely from Satipo Province, Peru.  Since that time, I have been able to translate most of the Native town names in Southeast Georgia with Shipibo/Conibo or Southern Arawak dictionaries from Peru or a Tupi dictionary from Brazil.  We also eventually discovered that Petun, the indigenous name of the Tobacco Indians in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, was word for tobacco in the Tupi language of Brazil.

Also, thanks to the comments by De Rochefort about South Americans living in the Southern Highlands, I have been able to translate those mysterious place names of Nantahala, Amicalola and Satipo . . .  Well, at least the root words of Nantahala and Amicalola.  I assumed that the “la” suffix meant “place,” but couldn’t figure out what language “la” came from.

Southern Sami in the Central Norwegian Mountains

The mystery of li, le and la

There are several ethnic names in the Creek languages that seem out of place.  Most were located on the South Atlantic coast, but they also can be found as place names in North Georgia or western North Carolina.  These words end in li, le, lee or la. Most have pure Creek core words. A few have South American core words. Several of the better known include Tamale, Eufaula, Wahale (Guale), Tocahle (Tugaloo ~ Spotted People), Santeetlah, Euharlee, Nottely, Satilla, Amicalola, Nantahala (Rapids-Place of), Pakanali, Sutalee, Suale, Toali, Mapile (Mobile, AL) and Guaxule . . .  the latter four being places visited by De Soto. 

Not sure why, but Southern whites always assume that any Injun word, ending in lee or la is a Charakey word meaning “falling water” or “tumbling waters” or some other nonsense.  Euharlee was a Creek town on the Etowah River, which refused to leave when their land was given to the Cherokees. It moved to Florida around 1832.  Look at this malarkey that someone created for the City of Euharlee, GA website.  Keep in mind that the Creek town of Eufaula, AL was originally located on the Georgia Coast.

The city of Euharlee (pronounced You-Harley) takes its name from Euharlee Creek, which in turn comes from the Cherokee name Eufaula, meaning, “She laughs as she runs”.

Euharlee actually is derived from the Muskogee words for “Water Slows,” plus that suffix from a mystery language that means, “place.” 

The li, le or la suffix was just not an inherent part of any North American or Mesoamerican language, I could identify. The Creeks, the Native peoples on the Georgia Coast and the Chontal Maya traders of Mesoamerica used “li” in some place names, but not formally in their languages.  Itsate Creeks use the Itza Maya suffix “pa” for “place of” in their language, while the Muskogee Creeks have modified it to “fa” and the Chontal Mayas normally used “po” within their sentences.  Yet some place names in all three languages have the “le” suffix.   I speculated that the use of “li” was archaic in those languages and was used like we attach “ville” or “burg” to name communities in the United States.

In desperation this week, I used a mathematical technique of statistics called multiple regression analysis, to search out all languages that might use li, le or la as a suffix.  That resulted in a big surprise.  The first language to pop up was Turkish . . . followed by Finnish, Archaic Hungarian and SAMI.   In fact, of the four languages, only Sami used all three suffixes exactly as they were used by the Creeks, South Atlantic Coastal peoples and Chontal Mayas.  In Sami, an ancient suffix  . . . either li or la, depending on the gender . . . is added to the end of a common noun to produce a proper noun – i.e. a place name, personal name or ethnic name.  OMG!

A photograph of a Southern Sami family  in  Sweden,  The photo was taken in the early 20th century.

We got your Geechee!

The Uchee/Yuchi People originally called themselves the Tsoyaha (Children of the Sun) but are better known by the names given them by various branches of the Creeks, which mean Water People. The branch of the Uchee’s in Southeast Georgia were called the Geechee or Ogeechee. That name has always been presumed to come from the Ogeechee and Little Ogeechee Rivers, which flow through that region.  However, the meaning of Ogeechee was unclear.  The prefix “o” means “principal or big” so perhaps the ethnic name was actually something like Geechee.

Geechee is sometimes used as an alternative name for the Gullah culture of the Georgia and South Carolina coastal islands.  Gullah culture represents a synthesis of African, Native American and English traditions, which probably originated in the period between 1670 and 1752 when South Carolinians intentionally bred African male slaves to Native American female slaves.  However,  Georgians have always used the term Geechee exclusively to describe the culture and English dialect of whites and Native Americans, living in the Low Country between the Ogeechee and Santee Rivers.

The Sami word for water is spelled guzzi in Swedish.  It is pronounced roughly, gooshee, is English phonetics.  It is quite possible for gooshee to have evolved to geechee or geechee to have evolved to gooshee in the three thousand years.

That makes the seemingly ludicrous title of this article quite possible.  Shortly after Hernando de Soto’s expedition passed over the first range of the Blue Ridge Mountains, they entered a modest town, whose name the conquistador’s chroniclers had trouble converting into the written word.  At the time there were 15 languages in Iberia and apparently none had spoken sounds that were exactly like this town’s name. 

The town is spelled variously as Guaxule, Guasile, Guaxile and Guassili.  Water People or Place of the Water in modern Sami would be Guzzile and be pronounced Goosheelee.  That’s getting awfully close to what the Spanish were trying to write down . . . and remember, if relatives of the Sami did come to North America, it was probably 2-3,200 years ago.  Words can change a lot in that long of time period.

Fall leaf season there is in mid-August, but it already sleeting by then. This photo is in late September.


Now . . . if you were a Sami in 1200 BC and you were offered an opportunity to move to Dixie,  what would you do?  LOL 


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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.



    and then there is ja-cuzzi the powered water bath.

    • Well, of course, sir! Didn’t you know that a Ja-cuzzi was originally a sauna bath? LOL


    Previous to your post, it was my understanding of genetics that Lapps originated in southern France, herding both reindeer and horses, and moved north as the ice sheet receded. Rock drawings along the Norwegian coast begin at a very high artistic level, then decline with time. Painted rock pebbles at Mas de Azil in southern France, produced 10,000 years ago, were epitaphs of children, age 0 to 7, written in Finnish. The carved and painted portraits of women in southern France do not look like those you have put up on your website. Finnish place names always end in LA, not LE or LI. Almost always; before 5500 BC, -suo was common, meaning ‘clan-home’.
    However, as you pointed out, there are two distinct peoples called Lapps.
    Assuming that the genetic tests that aligned with France were from those people with paler skin, then the origin of the Lapps you describe is still not known. A first guess would be from northern Russia, after the climate got much warmer around 7000 BC, where there are a variety of languages related to Finnish. The tree line once extended to the Arctic Ocean, and supported fishing villages all along the northern coast of Russia, probably all the way to China.
    These people may or may not have herded reindeer, but certainly were deep-sea fishermen and whale hunters.
    Reindeer herding was big business in the Middle Bronze Age, 2000-1450 BC, when ocean-going ships sewed reindeer hides together to make storm-resistant sails. Trans Atlantic shipping ended abruptly in 1535 or 1536 BC and restarted around 900 BC.

    • Stuart, what I have read in Swedish anthropological literature is that they think the Sami arrived in Scandinavia at the end of the Ice Age. They were pushed away from the seashores in Southern Scandinavia by newcomers then northward when the newcomers became more warlike. The Southern Sami started out as the same people as the Northern Sami, but have intermarried more with Scandinavians. Southern Lapps still live in the mountains of south central Norway. In Sweden the Southern Sami live mainly in the mountains adjacent to Norway. Sami do not like to be called Lapps and are trying to get the name of their province changed to Samiland.


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