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Ethnic Diversity in Pre-Columbian Southeast

Ethnic diversity in the Pre-Columbian Southeast There was never a period when “one size fit all”

In recent weeks, the world of paleontology has been rocked by two news reports from the Arctic North. First, excavations in an Alaskan cave occupation, dating from the tail end of the last Ice Age, strongly suggest that the Clovis Culture originated elsewhere. The archaeologists found fluted spear points that were akin to the Dalton points found in the Southeast, which usually date from about 8500 to 7900 BC. The Dalton Culture represents a transition after the Clovis Culture.

Then, this past week archaeologists and geneticists, working in eastern Siberia, announced that the 24,000 year old skeleton of a boy they discovered contained both East Asiatic and European DNA. They believe that the boy had brown hair and freckles! Here is the link to the article, if you have not read it: Freckled Boy

If one actually reads the numerous 16th century accounts of initial contacts between European explorers and the indigenous peoples (rather than regurgitating lectures from professors in the past) the reader is immediately struck by the diverse cultures and physical appearances of the Southeast. Native Americans today are the result of 90-95% of the population being eliminated; other DNA added; then the DNA being vigorous shook in a flask called Colonial and Post-Indian Removal Period History.

Chichimecs in South Carolina

Ceramic Stamps

Symbol of the god, Maduilzochiti from the Estado de Mexico

Remember in the De Soto Chronicles the mention of a primitive tribe in present day South Carolina of naked root diggers? The Spaniards called them Chiliki. Some Cherokee wannabe, pseudo-historians will have you believe that the Chiliki were simultaneously the FIRST CHEROKEES TO MAKE CONTACT WITH EUROPEANS, while other Cherokees were building all the mounds in the Southeast. The Chiliki were not the same as the Cherokee. The first South Carolina Cherokees, actually described in the European archives, were not mound-builders, but certainly not primitive barbarians either. They were agriculturalists. The reality is quite a bit more interesting.

Chiliki was the Totonac and Tamauli name for the Chichimecs! Chichimec is a Nahuatl word that means “Dog People.” They were the primitive tribes of the northern Mexico desert plateau, who like the Chiliki of South Carolina, grew no crops, wore animal skins and lived off of hunting and digging up roots. Chiliki means “primitive” in Itsate Creek. I believe that the meaning is about the same in Mvskoke.

Early 18th century maps show that the Chiliki had moved to southeast Georgia. They are last shown in John Mitchell’s 1755 map as living in southwest Georgia at the confluence of the Chattahoochee and Flint Rivers. This is one reason why many Alabama and Oklahoma Creeks are showing up with unexpected DNA from the Pima and other Mexican desert peoples.

The South Carolina Chiliki story is an important example of why historians, archaeologists and anthropologists should obtain translations of surviving indigenous words before making broad generalizations about Southeastern Native American cultures, such as was done in the late 20th century books about de Soto. The words are messages from the past.

Freckled people of the Southern Highlands

Remember the Tokee, who were frequently mentioned in the chronicles of the Juan Pardo Expedition? That is the Spanish version of the Mvksoke word, tokah-ke, meaning “spotted or freckled people.” The political titles of their leaders were proto-Creek words such as mikko, orata and efau, but their villages definitely did not have Muskogean names.

From camping the probable path of Pardo, I think that Tokee band that he encountered was in the high plateau that is now Highlands, NC. They were in other places, however. The Tainio Arawak form of their name, Toke-koa (Spotted People) survives as the names of two mountain rivers named Toccoa, and the Cherokee town of Tokwa in eastern Tennessee. Siti-koa and Ste-koa were also probably Arawak-Cherokee towns. It is interesting that French cartographer, Guilluam DeLisle, placed the Kofitache-te ethnic group in the two locations where there are now rivers named Toccoa. Seventeenth century French ethnologist, Charles de Rochefort, stated that the Kofitachi-te (Offspring of Mixed People) were the ancestors of the Caribs. He said that the Caribs were not Arawaks and that they had spread from the Southeast all the way to the northern coast of South America.

Today, it is the Tamauli-Creek version of “spotted or freckled people” – Tokahle – that survives in Oklahoma Mvskoke as the adjective meaning “spotted or freckled.” Tokahle is also the origin of the modern geographical place name, Tugaloo. Lower Cherokees pronounced Tokahle as Dü : gä : lü. European settlers Anglicized that to Tugaloo.

It is not clear whether the Tokah-ke were “brown haired, freckled people” or liked to adorn their bodies with many tattooed spots. Were they freckled Siberians, Celtic mestizo’s, proto-Caribs or Taino Arawaks? We don’t know. However, I imagine their DNA will give contemporary genetics labs considerable consternation.

Polynesians in Mexico and the Southeast

Many Muskogeans have shown up with a trace of Polynesian DNA and wondered why? Mexican anthropologists and geneticists now think that a people from Pacific Oceana were in Mexico long before the ancestors of the American Indians. Their earliest skeletons (14,000 BC or earlier) have Polynesian DNA. The aboriginal people of Baja California and perhaps also those on the southern coast of the state of California were Polynesians. However, Polynesians may have had a far more significant impact on Mexican and North American culture than that.

While on my fellowship in Mexico, I would periodically return to Mexico City from assigned studies of archaeological sites in the boonies of various parts of Mexico. Typically, Roman Piña-Chan would invite me over to a brown bag lunch in his office at the Museo Nacional de Anthropologia with some of his favorite graduate students in anthropology and architecture (historic & prehistoric preservation.) He much preferred such sessions to lunches with federal bureaucrats! Ignacio Bernal was much more the politician and often spent his lunches with government officials, wealthy Mexicans or Gringos, who were potential funding sources for archaeological digs.

One of the more memorable brown bag sessions pertained to the Polynesian influence. On his massive oak desk, Piña-Chan spread out two piles of tattoo stamps. One pile was composed of ceramic stamps from the Chichimecs of northern Mexico and the Nahua-speaking sections of central Mexico. The other was composed of wooden stamps from Polynesia. The Aztecs had originally been a band of Chichimecs.

Amazing! Take another look at those Mexican stamp designs such as those at the end of this article. You can see them in the book, Design Motifs from Ancient Mexico by Jorge Enciso. Many of the Nahuatl and Polynesian stamps were virtually identical. Also, take a look again at the famous stone sculptures of Zoque people . . . commonly called the Olmec Civilization. They look like the Maori Polynesians of New Zealand or the Karen People of Southern Myanmar (Burma.) As far as I know, no one has actually studied the DNA of the surviving Zoque. They still look like Polynesians or Karen-Burmese to me.

Since the founding of POOF, our genetics guru, Ric Edwards, has repeatedly theorized that the human sacrifice practices of the Nahuatl People in Mexico and the Moche Culture in Peru originated from Polynesian immigration. I am slow-witted, but he has just about made a believer out of me. Next week’s Brain Food on Cahokia Mounds will discuss the evidence of Polynesian influence there.

The moment of enlightenment came in May of 2010 in the Valkyrie Video Games Lounge in Robbinsville, NC. I had been living in a tent in the Smokies near Fontana Lake and using a county library computer. Having seven day access to my own graphics computer was much more practical, so a rented a booth at the video lounge.

The co-owner of the lounge was a Snowbird Cherokee and captain of the Snowbird Stickball Team. The Qualla Crowd sarcastically calls the Snowbird Cherokees, “Moonfaces” because they have facial features typical of the indigenous peoples of southern Mexico. One day he brought the entire team in to meet me. Oh my gosh! I thought I had stumbled into a stargate. Most of the players looked like the famous Olmec stone heads.

The next day I traveled the 45 miles to the Qualla Cherokee Reservation to do some research on the Snowbirds and also, a stone inscription written in Ladino Spanish that I had found at 5400 feet in the Smoky Mountains, overlooking the Little Tennessee River Gorge. It was dated September 15, 1615.

The Qualla archivists were most uncooperative when I started asking questions about the origin of the Snowbird Cherokees and the presence of Jewish writing in the Smoky Mountains. In fact, several Cherokee tribal police cars tailed me as I left the reservation. When I stopped at the KFC in Bryson City, NC to get lunch, another Cherokee patrol car pulled into the parking lot and watched me as I ate. It then tailed me all the way to the Graham County line.

Obviously, I was on to something very big! During the late 20th century the Qualla Crowd, with the help of some well known Southeastern archaeology professors, had created a bogus history of the Cherokees for the tourists. It bore little resemblance to the detailed history that Principal Chief Charles Hicks wrote in eight letters to John Ross in 1826 and 1827.

It was only after about a year of research after I was no longer in a tent that I was able to piece together the origin of the Snowbirds. The Snowbirds had always remained separate from the Cherokees because it was white bureaucrats who had forced them to be classified as Cherokees. They were originally Sokee People from South Carolina – pronounced the same way as the Zoque in Mexico. The Jocasee River in South Carolina, the Soque River in NE Georgia and Soco Gap in North Carolina are named after them.

The Sokee were once a powerful people with many Mesoamerican traits, whose capital was Zjhoara (Joara and perhaps also, Sara.) They were decimated by plagues and English-sponsored slave raids in the late 1600s. Jokee and Jocassee are alternative spellings for this people, because their name is pronounced Zjho- : ke-. Lake Jocasee, SC exactly matches the description of Joara’s environs.

The Sokee elite looked like Mayas. Some of their survivors and some of the commoners became allied with the Cusabo then moved west to the Chattahoochee River with them to become members of the Creek Confederacy. Another band of elite and their retainers moved south to Florida. They are now the Miccosukee Indian Tribe! Get it . . . Mikko (leaders) – Sukee (Sokee.)

The other Sokee Commoners looked like the Zoque of Mexico and the Olmec stone heads. They established a capital town and satellite villages in the northern half of Habersham County, GA immediately north of the boundary with the Creek Nation. When their land was ceded beneath their feet by the Cherokee Nation, they moved south and joined the Creek Confederacy.

Another Sokee band settled outside the boundaries of the Cherokee Nation at Soque (Soco) Gap and were eventually led by Yonahluska. Because Yonahluska had saved the life of Andrew Jackson during the Red Stick War, his band was allowed to remain in a remote corner of Cherokee County, NC, which later became Graham County. They were eventually joined by Yuchi’s from the Cohutta Mountains in Georgia. These people became known as the Snowbird Cherokees, much to their initial chagrin.

Words are, indeed, messages from the past.

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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.

1 Comment


    Hello, I read your article. I believe your article to be very true. I am a chichimec from mexico. I did my dna and it reflected European jew,39% European decent, five percent asian and 51%native American with a 9% African. We were told by our ancestors we are Jewish and Indian…Indian, Chichimec a lost Jewish tribe. I have a very moon face, rounded face. My grandma, dad’s side had around face very light skin, other nana cheer cheeks like the Chichimec.


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