Eastern North America (3,500 BC – 500 BC) . . . a timeline
The People of One Fire website is gradually accumulating more and more factual information on the era that is labeled Late Archaic-Early Woodland Periods in the United States, the Copper and Bronze Ages in Europe or the Formative Period in Mesoamerica and Northwestern South America. Almost all the information is coming from highly respected anthropologists, biologists and historians in Europe, Canada and Latin America. Except for in the states of Louisiana and Florida, Southeastern archaeologists currently show little interest in creating a more comprehensive understanding of this era, beyond the indexing of artifacts, unearthed at archaeological sites about to be destroyed by public works.
Personally, I am very wary of researchers, such as Erich Von Däniken, who start out with a belief and then try to prove they are right. I take the same approach with Native American cultural research as I do preparing a comprehensive plan for a city or while preparing a report on a historical building. I indentify the basic facts then follow the evidence, wherever it leads me. The result has been many surprises.
Since the information has been published on POOF as increments over a five year period, I thought the readers would appreciate a concise listing of current knowledge, which explained the chronology of these ancient archaeological sites. In October, my research will be presented to the AAPS conference in October, which will be held in Minnesota.
At the end is an overview of the Scandinavian Bronze Age.
Earliest Public Architecture
I chose the date 3,500 BC because it roughly coincides with currently the oldest know dates for public architecture in both North and South America, which has been verified by radiocarbon dates and professional archaeologists.
4,700 BC ~ Horr’s Island Mound B – Marco Island, Collier County, Florida: Much of the archaeological work at Horr’s Island was monitored by Dr. Michael Russo of the National Park Service’s Southeastern Archaeological Center. Thus, the surprisingly early radiocarbon dates can be trusted.
This is a sand and shell accretional, asymmetrical, mound that does not seem to contain any burials. It is only considered a mound in the sense that it was man-made, so it also could be labeled “a midden used for ceremonial purposes.” Unlike the Bilbo Mound below, this mound was not “designed” in advance of construction, so it is really not architecture. It does contain bits of charcoal and bone implements, which made it possible for archaeologists to obtain an accurate radiocarbon date.
Four mounds were identified on Horr’s Island, but Mounds B and C were found to be simple middens, and were not investigated in depth. A flexed burial was found in Mound B. The other two mounds were complex and appeared to be purposely constructed.
Horr’s Island was occupied for several thousand years. It also contains somewhat younger mounds, which still represent some of the oldest public architecture in the Americas. Horr’s Island contained the largest known indigenous community in the Southeastern United States that was permanently occupied during the Archaic Period (8000 BC-1000 BC).
3,540 BC ~ Bilbo Mound – Savannah, Georgia: This site consists of a hemispherical burial mound in the center of a round man-made pond. It is currently the oldest known architecture in North America. Despite what is stated in an article in Wikipedia, the Bilbo Mound is also the oldest known burial mound in North America. Nearby is a man-made harbor, which connected the village site to the Savannah River. The earliest pottery in North America (c. 2,400 BC) is found between the Savannah and Altamaha Rivers in Georgia, but the earliest pottery in this mound was dated to 1,870 BC.
In 1957, archaeologist William Haag from Louisiana State University became interested in the Bilbo artifacts after Humble Oil Exploration Company began drilling a test hole near the archaeological site in search of petroleum. He dug some test pits to determine the chronology of the artifacts unearthed by Caldwell. There was no pottery below a level dated at 1,870 BC. Halfway down to the base from there was dated at 2,165 BC. The base of the mound was dated at 3,540 BC.
William Haag’s peers in the archaeology profession scoffed at his findings and they were ignored by professional journals. The archaeologists knew “for a fact” that the oldest pottery in North America had to be in Ohio and at that time, the earliest known Hopewell pottery had been dated at about 100-200 AD.
This discovery would probably not been known at all, except that a highly respected Georgia archaeologist from Savannah, Antonio Waring, assisted Haag and the report was published in Waring’s Papers a few years ago. Haag went on to achieve international fame for his work and radiocarbon dating of the Poverty Point village site in northeastern Louisiana. Nevertheless, his phenomenal discovery in Savannah has generally been left out of archaeological literature and online references until POOF publicized the Waring Papers. A copy of the Waring Papers was donated to the POOF Library by Professor Gene Waddell of the College of Charleston, along with numerous Renaissance Era maps that he obtained in Italy.
3,500 BC Sechin Bajo and Huaricanga – Peru’s Coastal Desert: Working here for decades, Peruvian archaeologist Ruth Shady has proven that the plazas and earliest pyramidal mounds in these cities date from around 3,500 BC. Like the situation at the Bilbo Mound, pottery did not appear in these cities until about 800 years later. Earlier villages or mounds may have been destroyed by major urban development at these cities, but so far archaeologists have not be able to discern construction that pre-dates 3,500 BC.
3,450 BC ~ Watson Brake Mounds, Louisiana: This is the oldest mound complex in the Americas and predates any public works in Mexico. The earthworks consist of an oval ring with multiple mounds on top of it. The analysis of 27 radiocarbon dates indicates that the site was initially occupied around 4000 BC during the Middle Archaic period. Mound construction began at approximately 3,450 BC, and continued for approximately 500 years. During that time period, the mounds were enlarged in several stages. Excavations indicate that there was sufficient time between building episodes for midden deposits of residents to accumulate on top of the mounds and ridges.
3,300 BC ~ Tick Island Mound and shell rings – Volusia County, Florida: At Tick Island, formal burials with grave goods were found under a very large mound, which were radiocarbon dated to approximately 3500 BC . . . the bottom of the mound – 3300 BC . . . by archaeologist Ripley Bullen. The few archaeologists, who were even aware of his discovery, responded that the large mound was the product of repeated generations of temporary visitors, who piled up sand and shells over a hallowed spot in ceremonies. They continued to interpret all Archaic Period mounds and rings as “middens” or piles of accumulated debris. However, Bullen’s work indicated that much of the mound at Tick Island was built in a very short time. It is not clear what form of social organization or religious values would enable a community of fishermen and gatherers to construct such a large project in a few years, but they did.
Much of the initial construction at Tick Island consisted of accretional shell middens (garbage piles). Mound A marks the advent of formal architecture. At a later date, shell rings were constructed.
The structures at Tick Island were begun almost as early as those at Watson Brake, LA. They actually may have been completed prior to the time that work stopped at Watson Brake. Tick Island’s antiquity is surprising enough, but the form of its main mound is astounding. It predates the earliest Maya mounds by about 3000 years, and those of the Zoque (Olmecs) by 2300 years! Yet the mound is surprisingly similar in form to both the early Zoque and Maya mounds. It had a ramp leading to a flat top, where it is presumed that ceremonies were held. The mound has been extensively damaged by erosion and vandalism.
3,200 BC or earlier ~ Alberta Sun Temple – Calgary, Alberta, Canada: – Composed of fieldstones precisely arranged in the form of a “sun wheel,” the structure covers 26 square kilometers. It is the oldest known accurate calendar in the world. It was utilized from about 3,200 BC to about 250 years ago.
The Alberta Sun Temple was studied for 22 years by University of Alberta professor, Dr. Gordon Freeman. Freeman went on to study stonehenges, megaliths and dolmens in other parts of Canada then has spent several years studying these early manifestations of architecture in the British Isles. Freeman determined that stonehenges were being built in Canada about 500 year or longer before they first appeared in Wales then later were built on the Salisbury Plain in England.
Freeman believes that he has sufficient archaeological evidence to prove that the builders of the original stonehenges in Wales, Ireland and England . . . including THE Stonehenge on the Salisbury Plain, migrated to the British Isles from Canada. Conversely, the reconstruction and expansion of THE Stonehenge were carried out by indigenous Europeans, who were ancestors of the Gaelic Britains, Irish and Welsh.
3,000 BC or earlier ~ Altamaha River Delta Shell Rings – Darien, Georgia: What appears to be the original cluster of shell rings in North America is located in the vicinity of the mouth of the Altamaha River in McIntosh and Camden Counties, Georgia. The shell rings are located both on the main land and on Broughton, St. Simons, Little St. Simons, Sapelo, Wolf, St. Catherines and Cumberland Islands. The oldest existing shell rings are on the main land. However, older shell rings may have been constructed on some of the islands, which have been destroyed by rising ocean waters and tidal currents.
There is still much controversy concerning the human occupation of the Altamaha Shell Rings. Some archaeologists believe that simple houses, woven from saplings were placed on top of the rings to gain protection from tidal surges, associated with major storms on the Atlantic Ocean. Other archaeologists believe that the houses were inside the ring. A third faction of archaeologists believes that there were no houses, but merely areas for communal feasts, dances and ceremonies.
2,800 BC ~ Horr’s Island U-shaped Shell Ring – Marco Island, Collier County, Florida: The shell ring at Horr’s Island was an elongated horseshoe shape. It is one of the few sites where a shell ring is definitely associated with ceremonial mounds. The shell ring was 160 by 100 meters, and the central area, or plaza, was 125 meters at its widest. The middens making up the ring were up to three meters high. The shell ring has been dated to between 2,800 – 2,400 BC.
2,600 BC ~ Stallings Island Shell Midden – Augusta, GA: Stallings Island is located upriver of Augusta, in an area known as the Ninety-Nine Islands, just downriver of the mouth of Stevens Creek in Columbia County, GA. The island was occupied from about 2600 B.C.E. to about 2000 B.C.E., and again from about 1800 B.C.E. to 1400 B.C.E. Stallings Island gave its name to the oldest known pottery in the Americas, outside a location in the Amazon Basin.
The site was occupied during the first period by people of the Parris Island People (ca. 2500-2200 BC) and Mill Branch People (ca. 2200-1800 BC) phases, pre-ceramic traditions that harvested large numbers of freshwater mussels. During the second period the site was occupied by people of the Classic Stallings culture, who used decorated pottery.
The earliest, un-decorated, Stallings ceramics first appeared at other sites while Stallings Island itself was unoccupied. The site represents a transitional period, in which hunter-gatherer culture was gradually replaced by more sedentary village and agriculture-based lifestyles.
2,500 BC ~ Indian King’s Mound – Savannah, GA: This mound was pointed out in February 1733, when Creek mikko, Tamachichi, gave a tour of the future site of Savannah with British officials that included James Edward Oglethorpe. Tamachichi stated, “This is where our (the Creek People) first emperor is buried. The same description was also used by several other Creek leaders in Georgia, but most also said that their first town was constructed where Downtown Savannah is today.
The mound was pilfered for decades by local residents then fully excavated by archaeologists Joseph Caldwell in 1940 and Antonio Waring in the 1950s. Very little remains today of the mound, which is on land owned by the City of Savannah.
There were several distinct levels of artifacts and burials. The oldest level was pre-ceramic. There was a layer containing Stallings Island pottery and a layer containing Deptford Style pottery. (See the Deptford Mound.) There was an extensive chronological gap in the mound’s usage then numerous Late Mississippian and Proto-Historic burials associated with the Lamar Culture. The Creek leaders did not make it clear, when their emperor was buried in the mound.
2,400 BC ~ Fig Island Shell Ring Complex – Edisto Island, SC: Fig Island Shell Ring Complex is an archaeological site at the northeastern end of Edisto Island. It consists of three shell ring complexes, interconnected by walkways and ramps. They define a central area or plaza. One of the shell rings is the only known hexagonal shell ring, anywhere in the world.
Fig Island is, by far, the most sophisticated shell architecture complex in the world. It displays multiple geometric forms and seems to be the portrayal of a constellation in the sky or perhaps the mountainous land where its builders formerly lived. Archaeological investigations were carried out in the 1970s by Antonio Waring and Gene Waddell. Ceramics found in the mounds are primarily Thoms Creek, with some Stallings. Both ceramic traditions fall in the Late Archaic period, about 3000 to 5000 years ago on the South Carolina coast and coastal plain. The earliest evidence for pottery along the South Carolina coast is from about 4200 years ago.
1,730 BC – 700 BC ~ Poverty Point Platform Village – West Carroll Parish, Louisiana: Poverty Point is a massive village site in Northeast Louisiana on earthen platforms that was designed and then constructed.. It is true architecture. The archaeological zone covers 910 acres, so it was really a town, not a village. The culture extended 100 miles (160 km) across the Mississippi Delta. The original purposes of Poverty Point have not been determined by archaeologists, although they have proposed various possibilities including that it was: a settlement, a trading center, and/or a ceremonial religious complex. Poverty Point is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, a National Monument and a National Historic Landmark.
The monumental core of the site measures approximately 500 acres (2.0 km2). Archaeological investigations have shown that the total occupation area extended for more than three miles along the river terrace. The monumental construction is a group of six concentric, crescent ridge earthworks, divided by five aisles radiating from the center at the river bank. The site also has several mounds both on the outside and inside of the ring earthworks.
Mound A was constructed quickly, probably over a period of less than three months. Prior to construction, the vegetation covering the site was burned. According to radiocarbon analysis, this burning occurred between approximately 1450 and 1250 BC. Workers immediately covered the area with a cap of silt, followed quickly by the main construction effort.
There are no signs of construction phases or weathering of the mound fill even at microscopic levels, indicating that construction proceeded in a single massive effort over a short period. In total volume, Mound A is made up of approximately 238,000 cubic meters of fill, making it the second-largest earthen mound (by volume) in eastern North America. It is second in overall size to the later Mississippian-culture Monks Mound at Cahokia, built beginning about 950-1000 AD in present-day Illinois.
1,400 BC ~ Horr’s Island Mound B – Marco Island, Collier County, Florida: Mound A, the largest at 20 feet in height, had a large pile of shells at its core. There was no evidence of prior habitation on the ground surface where the shells had been piled. Several layers of sand had been added over the shells. One layer of sand had charcoal added. The additions of sand by individual baskets could be distinguished by the variations in the amount of charcoal in the sand. The final layer of sand had shells mixed in it, and the mound was topped by another layer of shells. Two burials were found in Mound A. The graves had been dug into the top of the mound after it was completed. Radiocarbon testing for one of the burials yielded a date of about 1,400 BC.
1,200 BC ~ Deptford Mound – Savannah, GA: The Deptford Mound was first excavated by Joseph Caldwell in 1940 and later by Antonio Waring. The Early Woodland pottery found within the mound was given the name, Deptford Style Ceramics and the people, who made them, the Deptford Culture . . . which is not called the Deptford Phase in archaeological lingo. Eventually, the Deptford Culture spread to a significant area of the southeastern quadrant of the Southeastern United States. In the Upper Piedmont and southern edge of the Appalachian Mountains, the “Deptford People” occupied chains of villages along white water rivers . . . many of which remained occupied until the 1700s or even the early 1800s. The densest populations were along whitewater sections of the Chattahoochee and Etowah Rivers.
What those archaeologists apparently did not realize was that Deptford ceramics were the same shape and had the same decorative features as the ceramics made by the Beaker People in Northwestern Europe. In both regions, the use of cords to create decorative motifs on pottery was common.
c.1,200 BC ~ Booger Bottom Mound – Buford, GA: This was probably the largest Deptford Culture mound. It was located near the Chattahoochee River, a short distance to the northeast of Buford Dam. Joseph Caldwell excavated the mound in the early 1950s as the dam was being constructed. At the time, radiocarbon dating was not generally affordable. Archaeologists were confused because this large truncated oval mound contained Deptford ceramics and artifacts associated with hunter-gatherers, not the types of stamped pottery normally associated with Mississippian Period mounds. Because the official policy of the archaeological profession at that time was that the earliest mound-building occurred in Ohio, the mound’s discovery was not publicized. It would have messed up their belief system.
At the time archaeological work began on the Booger Bottom Mound, it was described by archaeologist Joseph Caldwell as one of the largest Pre-European structures in the Southeast. This is an exaggeration, because the Emerald Mound and Mound A at Etowah Mounds are much bigger.
The mound was oval in shape, about 250 feet long and 200 feet wide and 7 feet tall. The flat surface of the mound had been cultivated for over a century and was presumed to have been substantially taller when built. The mound was begun prior to the arrival of ceramic technology from the Savannah River Basin, but most of its construction occurred in two stages, both containing first Archaic then Duncan and Deptford (Early Woodland Period) potsherds.
The archaeological report described the first phase of the mound as being a burial mound, but makes no specific mention of skeletons. The report does not explain why the archaeologists labeled it a burial mound. The archaeologists stated that the mound in its final form was neither a burial mound nor a platform for a building. They had no explanation of the mound’s actual functions. However, given its size, the mound certainly would have been an important public structure.
The archaeological team did very little work in the surrounding village site. They did not find any footprints of houses or other types of buildings, but also did not dig a significant distance from the mound.
1,000 BC ~ Robertstown Mounds – Helen, GA: These two, very large, Early Woodland village sites and mounds were excavated by Robert Wauchope in 1939. They were on an island in the Chattahoochee River adjacent to the intersection of GA Hwy. 75 and GA Hwy. 356, where tourists turn east to reach Unicoi State Park and Anna Ruby Falls.
9Wh20 was a village on the east bank of the Chattahoochee River, one mile upstream from Helen. It was occupied during the Upper Early Woodland (Dunlop), Transitional Mississippian (Woodstock) and Late Mississippian-Proto-Creek (Lamar) Cultural Periods.
9Wh21 was a village on the west bank of the Chattahoochee River, one mile upstream from Helen. It was occupied during the Lower Early Woodland (Mossy Oak), Middle Woodland (Swift Creek), Transitional Mississippian (Woodstock) and Late Mississippian-Proto-Creek (Lamar) Cultural Periods.
The mounds were still visible until the 1980s, when the City of Helen graded the island to make a parking lot for tourists, wishing to ride rubber rafts or inner tubes down the Chattahoochee River. The bulldozer work leveled the larger of the two mounds, 9Wh21. The Native American history of the Upper Chattahoochee River is very important to White County residents. The mounds probably would not have been destroyed had local leaders been aware of their existence. Mound 9Wh20 has been leveled and is only visible now in infrared imagery.
800 BC – 500 BC? ~ Morgan Falls-Cochran Shoals Stone Boat Grave – Roswell, GA: This archaeological site may be much older than stated here. However, the archaeologists found Early Woodland Period artifacts in the general vicinity of the Stone Boat. The Stone Boat Grave is located on a large hill overlooking the west side of the Chattahoochee River at Morgan Falls Dam. It is in the general area of a stone cairn complex, free-standing stone walls and a rock shelter. There is also a stone walled agricultural terrace complex on the east side of the Chattahoochee River at this location. However, it is associated with Mississippian Period artifacts.
These stone architecture features were first identified in 1939 by archaeologist Robert Wauchope then thoroughly studied by archaeologist Arthur Kelly in 1959. Kelly brought in a professional geologist to study all of the stacked stone structures. He determined that all the stone structures were man-made and were probably at least 1500 to 2000 years old.
Kelly described the Stone Boat as “oversized Indian canoe,” but in fact the structure bore no resemblance to traditional Native American canoes and was identical to stone effigies of Scandinavian byrdinger . . . a type of boat used for navigation of rivers, which could be portaged around rapids. In fact, there is absolutely no difference between the Morgan Falls Stone Boat Grave and those stone boat graves found in southeastern Sweden.
Bronze Age Scandinavian Culture
Many cultural traits of Neolithic and Bronze Age Scandinavia are far more similar to contemporary cultures in the region from Georgia to Ohio than are the much closer contemporaries in Germany and Ireland. One important difference though, was that pre-Germanic Scandinavians kept livestock in addition to being fishermen, hunters and gatherers. They also grew barley and probably several members of the cabbage family.
The heart of the Scandinavian Bronze Age Civilization was the Őresund, a channel that carries the only slightly salty water of the Baltic Sea into the North Sea. It is much narrower than the English Channel. At all locations the opposite shore is visible from both sides. The only major inhabitable island in the Őresund is Ven. It was considered the most sacred place in the region and the location of important shrines and religious ceremonies.
Bronze Age religious shrines such as Ven, Tanum in Bohuslän Province, Sweden and Bornholm, an island in the Baltic Sea owned by Denmark, contain petroglyphs that are identical to those found in North Georgia. In fact, the Scandinavian Bronze Age glyph for a high king (image at right) is identical in every detail to the Proto-Creek glyph for Great Sun found on art at Etowah Mounds, Georgia and in all Maya cities. It is very likely that the Bronze Age Scandinavian title for a high king was “Great Sun,” since this symbol is a combination of the Solar Cross with the calendar symbol for four seasons.
There is a peculiar linguistic connection between Scandinavia and the Panoan Peoples of Eastern Peru. The root word and suffix, bo, means the same in all their languages. It means “living place” and can be seen today in such Georgia-South Carolina geographical place names as Cusabo, Ossebaw and Westibo. The Itzas were not ethnic Mayas and apparently were originally Panoans. Their equivalent words are po, pas and pa. The Angle-Saxons also had a word derived from bo, which is the root of the modern word, borough. Pa is used in the Itsate (Hitchiti) Creek language today, while it has become fa in the Muskogee Creek language.
Denmark, Southern Sweden and Southern Norway have a burial mound tradition going at least back to the Neolithic Period or around 2,500 BC. Unlike the United States, Scandinavian countries provide extensive protection for almost all prehistoric earthworks. Over 26,000 burial mounds are protected by Denmark’s Historical Register alone.
During the Nordic Bronze Age (1700 BC-500 BC) burial mounds in northern Denmark and southeastern Sweden were virtually identical to those built by the Adena Culture in the interior of North America. They consisted of one to three burials with grave goods, surrounded by a log tomb. Just as at Adena mound sites, the conical burial mound was surrounded by a circular ditch and an ceremonial earth berm.
Also, during the Bronze Age, Scandinavians and northern Germanic tribes such as the Angles began to bury very special persons in boats. At inland locations, stone boats were constructed out of field stones. It is not known what determined the decision to bury someone in a round mound, stone boat or real boat. However, both the boat burial and stone boat burial traditions continued into the Viking Age, while the round burial mound tradition ended earlier.
The round huts of the aboriginal Swedes and Norwegians, presumably ancestors of the Sammi People, were identical to the round huts built by the people in southeastern North America associated with the Copena and Adena Cultures . . . and more recently the Caddo People of Texas, Louisiana and Oklahoma. The aboriginals also lived in teepees and corbelled fieldstone houses, similar to those found in Ireland and Scotland. Southern Sammi, also known as Gamla Folk (Ancient People), utilized these beehive shaped structures during the warm months until the late 1800s.
The ancestors of modern Scandinavians arrived in southern Scandinavia by boat during the Late Bronze Age. They initially lived only in coastal areas, but eventually occupied the interior regions and pushed the aboriginal Scandinavians northward into less hospitable climate zones. These people apparently lived in rectangular, timber-framed, wattle and daub houses . . . not terribly different than the houses built by Muskogean peoples during the Mississippian Period.
Around 1200 BC, a massive tsunami or storm swept over northern Denmark and southwestern Sweden, flattening almost all the trees. Archaeologists have also found a layer of dark mud and waterborne debris associated with this event. The scale of the flood was such that probably most persons, not in a boat, were killed. This holocaust temporarily wiped out the Bronze Age Civilization in Denmark and the lower elevations of Skåne (now part of Sweden). Apparently, other ethnic groups began to migrate into the coastal regions afterward, since the landscape was virtually uninhabited.
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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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