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Etowah Mounds – Introducing Bubba Mythbuster

Etowah Mounds – Introducing Bubba Mythbuster

Faster than a speeding hacker! More powerful than a pickup truck load of white trash Neo-Nazis, if they’re drunk! Able to leap brain dead academicians at a single bound!

“Look up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! No, it’s Bubba Mythbuster!

Six month old Bubba lands his space ship in the Okefenokee.

Six month old Bubba lands his space ship in the Okefenokee Swamp. He was adopted by a couple in nearby Smalltown.

“Yes, it’s Bubba Mythbuster, strange visitor from another planet, who came to the internet with an empty bank account and abilities to make phony intellectuals rage incessantly. Bubba Mythbuster, who can change the contents of ludicrous history books, cut caca de toro with in his bare hands; and who, disguised as Forrest Gump, mild-mannered goatherd for a great metropolitan organic farmstead, fights a never ending battle for truth, justice, and the Native American way.

Season 1 – Episode 1:  Oh the absurdity of it all

Read again the article above about Ocmulgee National Monument. In 1935, the famous archaeologist, Arthur Kelly, discovered that the newcomers at Ocmulgee lived in large, conical houses, typical of the Southern Arawaks of Peru, Ecuador and Colombia. The footprints of these houses were identical to that of the Miami Circle in Miami, Florida. They made plain redware pottery, which literally covers the ground of the suburbs of Maya cities, but also was common among the Arawaks.

In his memoirs, Kelly also mentioned that the pottery produced six miles away on Browns Fort was different. It was often adorned with owls. What Kelly did not know was that in 1947, Tennessee archaeologists would find that same owl-adorned pottery at the original settlement on Hiwassee Island and date it 25 years younger than the base of Mound A at Ocmulgee.

What none of the Gringo archaeologists knew was that this same  “Owl” pottery was also typical of the Ciboney People of the Toa River Valley in central Cuba. The Toa People also liked to carve boulders into the form of owls. Rock Owls are found in several locations in the Georgia Piedmont, including Metro Atlanta. Remember when Hernando de Soto visited the Toa Province on the Lower Ocmulgee River?

YET . . . for 70+ years the true identity of Ocmulgee’s founders was concealed from the public and subsequent generations of anthropology students. A mixture of concealed facts, half facts and falsehoods were presented to the public in the Ocmulgee Museum and anthropology textbooks to make people think that Ocmulgee was settled by people from north of the Mason-Dixon Line . . . southern Illinois . . . Cahokia.

Subsequent generations of anthropologists created a highly flawed orthodoxy for the Native American history of the Southeast, based on this propaganda. It was a set of religious beliefs that had no scientific substance, but if challenged would have one shunned and outlawed for life as a heretic.

Don’t always trust National Geographic Magazine

In 1991, National Geographic Magazine ran a feature article on Etowah Mounds. Creek Indians and Southerners in general were proud as peaches to finally have this National Historic Landmark get the national exposure that it deserved. The article was edited by George Stuart, a senior editor at National Geo, who had actually worked at the 1955-1956 archaeological dig as a teenager. One would think that it would have been extremely accurate given that Stuart had grown up near the mounds. Instead the article created myths that have been fossilized into stone and accepted as facts by the current generation of Southeastern archaeologists.

One can forgive Stuart for being ignorant of the linguistic evidence, describing the real ethnic history of the region around Etowah Mounds. He was functioning as a journalist and the archaeologists, who he interviewed still carry that ignorance.

Neither Stuart or the others were aware that the Etowah River originally flowed to the north of Mound A until around 1200 AD so the bulk of the Early “Mississippian” town of Etula (Etowah) is now on the south side of the river and not part of the publicly owned land. Archaeologist Adam King was also not aware of this fact when he wrote his dissertation on Etowah about 15 years ago. He described the first occupation as a relatively small village with no major structures.

Etowah-statues-color-3A major feature of the National Geo article was a myth about the famous marble statues of a man and a woman, wearing the turbans of Maya slaves. Only Mexican archaeologists and Bubba Mythbuster seem to be aware of the turbans’ significance. Stuart wrote that the statues were hurriedly buried in a pit, perhaps just before Etowah was about to be sacked and burned around 1375 AD. The statues were chipped as they were accidentally dropped into a small pit.

The painting of this incident was printed in National Geographic. People assumed that it was based on a discovery made by archaeologists Lewis Larsen, Arthur Kelly and Joseph Caldwell. The painting was adapted to a diorama that is now a major feature of the Etowah Museum.  You can see a photo of the diorama above.

I have found this story repeatedly regurgitated in a legion of dissertations, theses, Wikipedia and Native American history web sites. It is pure caca de toro.  Read the actual 1957 archaeological report from Lewis Larsen!

The statues were found on the floor OF A TEMPLE at the base of Mound C.  Mound C was later created by piling dirt over the temple. They had been placed on a wooden altar, apparently next to the graves of this man and woman. When the wood rotted the statues fell to the floor of the temple. The statues date to the very founding of Etula, around 1000 AD.

Another myth created by National Geo was that Etowah was burned to the ground around 1375 AD and not occupied for a couple of decades.  It was a custom in both the Southeast and Mesoamerica to burn buildings, when they had passed their usefulness.  This does not mean that an entire town was burned to the ground at one time.

In 1886, there was a massive flood on the Etowah River that ripped a vast chunk of land between Mound C and the present river bank, plus deposited 15 feet of alluvial soil around Mound A.  So Mound A was actually 30 feet higher than today in 1818.  Also,  since the extensive occupation zone on the present south side of the river has never been surveyed,  there is a strong possibility that the town was not abandoned for fifty years after 1200 AD, but rather people continued to live either where the soil is now gone, or on the south side.  None of the standard references tell you that!

Creating history from reading the front cover

While reading the memoirs from Lewis Larsen and Arthur Kelly, I was astonished that even in 1955, and for unknown reasons, there was extensive political pressure, plus constant arguments started by Joseph Caldwell, to label Etowah Mounds a Cherokee town. Of course, that didn’t happen and Caldwell later changed his mind. Only graduate student Roy Dickens, who worked at Etowah one summer,  continued to pump the myth for the rest of his career that the Cherokees built most of the mounds in the Southeast.

There was an even bigger surprise from reading these reports. Very little of Etowah has ever been excavated . . . maybe 3% of its total area of the second and third occupations of the town have been excavated . . . less than 1% of the original First Occupation town. Until the entire Second Occupation town was completely surveyed by remote sensing devices in 2006 and 2007, everything said about the town was based on a minuscule statistical sample. Yes, Mounds B and C were fully excavated, but that just told us something about the elite, who lived on those mounds.

I used infrared images to create the 6 ft. x 8 ft. model of Etowah for the Muscogee-Creek Nation. I showed the pattern of blocks and streets that appeared on those images. Underground radar confirmed that pattern. Unfortunately,  I would not know until 2015 that the Mound A, which we see today is not its original form.

The painting that National Geographic commissioned for the article is show above. Not only did the artist grossly undersize the town’s area, but he also showed it to be essentially a ceremonial center with a spattering of a few houses and a lot of raw red clay. In actuality, it was a very densely populated, sophisticated, planned town with gardens and orchards inside courtyards.

Model of Etowah Mounds at Muscogee-Creek Mound Building

Model of Etowah Mounds at the Muscogee-Creek Mound Building.  The portrayal of Mound A’s shape is incorrect.

There very well could have been neighborhoods where specialized artisans and professionals lived. There could be samples of the Apalache writing system underground. We don’t know. The residential areas have never been excavated. So much of what has been written in dissertations and professional papers about the inhabitants of Etula is somewhat speculation.

For example . . . Mound A at Etowah was measured and drawn by a Natural Science professor from Yale University in 1818, as some Cherokee neighbors looked on. It had a very different shape than today and was at least 15 feet higher. The final temple had a basement and two side access tunnels. There were three ramps. It was at least as tall as Monks Mound at Cahokia, but did not contain nearly as large a volume of dirt and clay as Monk’s Mound.

1818-EtowahMounds-DetailThe form that is seen today is the result of the Tumlin Family, who owned the mounds, leasing the grounds to artifact collectors for $200 a day throughout the period from 1832 to the Civil War. There is absolutely no way of telling what has been ripped out of that mound and where it is located.

The Smithsonian Follies

The third big surprise came early in 2015, while I was doing research for Access Genealogy. John P. Rogan was the “supervising archaeologist” on the 1883-84 excavation of Etowah Mounds in Cartersville, GA by the Smithsonian Institute. He was an unemployed Union Army veteran and a cousin of Cyrus Thomas, the head of Smithsonian’s mound digging efforts, who also had no professional education or experience in Native American archaeology when hired.

One of two "birdman" copper repousse plates found by John P. Rogan at the Etowah Indian Mounds site in Alabama in 1883.

One of two “birdman” copper repousse plates found by John P. Rogan at the Etowah Indian Mounds site in Georgia  in 1883. The details of the Birdman exactly match details of Birdmen, on shell gorgets in Georgia that were definitely made locally.

Rogan is best known for the “Rogan Plates.” They are a set of repousséd plates or hammered copper plates, the most famous being the Birdman.  He was supervising workmen when they excavated them from near the top of Mound C.   The grave probably dated from the period just before European Contact, when Cahokia had already been abandoned.

The latest theory from north of the Mason-Dixon Line is that the Rogan plates were made in Cahokia because their style is similar to copper plates found in Cahokia and Etowah Mounds in Georgia did not have had any local sources of copper. The article in Wikipedia, written by an Illinois archaeology professor, goes on to state that Warren K Moorehead later on found different, less sophisticated, styles of copper plates in Mound C, which means that the people of Etowah later developed their own styles of copperwork from the more sophisticated Indians in Illinois.

Woe! Bubba Mythbuster might be an ignorant peon, pseudo-archaeologist, self-styled historian, part-time blogger, self-published author and . . . what is that old, bald white man that dresses in Injun clothes saying . . . a psychopath?  . . .  but common sense tells you that since Mr. Moorehead was digging deeper into a mound, he was finding older artifacts, not newer ones.  Guess I need to take archaeology courses in Illinois to learn proper interpretation of chronological evidence.

There is something that’s really odd about the reasoning for this pronouncement that the Eaglemen were made in Illinois.  Funny thing,  I live in walking distance from the source of the Etowah River and down the road a bit is the Coppermine Community, where a whole bunch of copper and natural brass used to be mined. La Roche Ferrière, an officer at Fort Caroline, picked up samples of this copper and brass in 1565, while he was exploring the Georgia Mountains. The Natives were mining copper and natural brass back then. Guess they were exporting to the Midwest, where more sophisticated Injuns knew how to work the metal.

Rogan was eventually fired by his cousin for not producing enough “trophy” artifacts, which the Smithsonian needed to give to wealthy donors in the Northeast. He was later re-hired by his cousin to excavate the Bat Creek Mound in Tennessee, but in few weeks, was fired permanently for the same reason. According to a well-referenced and universally accepted research paper by a University of Tennessee history professor, a penniless Rogan then moved to Bristol, Tennessee, where he went to work for a hardware store. According to this professor, he was never heard from again.

That’s right. Much of what the Smithsonian took out and later Harvard’s Peabody Museum archaeologist, Wlliam Moorehead, took out of Etowah Mounds was never seen by the public and now is in the hands of private collectors. Most of what you see in the Etowah Museum are items excavated in 1955 and 1956.

The name John Rogan sounded very familiar to me. I went back into the ancient journals of my architecture practice. OMG!  In 1999, I had been the architect for the Rogan Building (c 1888) on the street in downtown Cartersville that leads to Etowah Mounds. At the time, it was the largest brick commercial building in Cartersville and J. P. Rogan Mercantile was the largest hardware store in Georgia, north of Atlanta.

Hm-m, forsooth, methinks that something is rotten in Denmark. A penniless pseudo-archaeologist is fired in Tennessee then builds the equivalent today of a $5 million building  in Georgia ?

More research found John Rogan, plus later his daughter, living in Cartersville from 1885 until 1928. I found a letter in the Tennessee State Archives, written by Rogan to his cousin, Cyrus. In response to being fired again for not finding trophy artifacts, Rogan stated that he had met a woman in Cartersville and was planning to marry her.

References were made from time to time in the Cartersville newspapers that Mr. John P. Rogan had Indian artifacts for sale or was offering his professional services to gentlemen of means, who wished to dig for Indian artifacts in the Cartersville Area.

The Exploration of the Etowah Site in Georgia by Warren King Moorehead states in the opening pages, that in 1925 Moorehead traveled from his excavations at Cahokia and Natchez to Cartersville to begin work on Etowah, “John Rogan, the archaeologist for the 1884 dig at Etowah, was still living in Cartersville.” Rogan offered his assistance to Moorehead and was very helpful in pointing out likely locations to find artifacts.

In 2000, this book was republished by the University of Tennessee and edited by professor Frank T. Schnell. A later republication by the University of Florida Press was edited by archaeologist Gerald T. Milinich.

At no time did bells go off.  What in the heck was Rogan doing in Cartersville in 1925, if the accepted orthodoxy was that he moved to Bristol, TN and was never heard of again? Obviously, someone in the History Department at UT didn’t do their homework.

It is also obvious that Rogan ceased to find trophy artifacts at Etowah Mounds because he was tucking them away to sell to collectors. That is the only way that he would have had the money to hire an architect, buy a large prime lot in a booming town and construct a major commercial building two years later.

And that folks, is how things came to be at Etowah Mounds.

Signed

Your most obedient servant,
Bubba Mythbuster

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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.

12 Comments

  1. reillyranch@aol.com'

    Wow! Awesome job. You keep digging up such fantastic historical treasure facts, let the truth ring!

    Reply
    • Thank you sir! What I am trying to tell Muskogean tribal members and descendants is that they MUST take control of their heritage. Relying on others to determine their history results in situations like at Etowah Mounds.

      Reply
  2. jd@jdweeks.com'

    I have been reading POOF for some time now, and have them all printed and in binders since 2011, maybe earlier. Your research ability is incredible and your writing style in amazing. I am nearing 80 now and hope that your work will be preserved and available for the younger folks that are coming up…

    Reply
    • You are so kind JD. I didn’t realize anyone valued the old newsletters. Don’t pay much attention to the old ones. Between 2012 and 2015, my understanding of what was going on before De Soto has really changed. In 2011 I would not have dreamed that there was so much influence from the Caribbean and northern South America in the Southeast. Well, like everybody else, I just assumed that someone in anthropology would have noticed all the Arawak, Itza Maya and South American place names during the past two centuries.

      Reply
  3. csmoke@webound.com'

    I met a lady few yrs. ago who looks for surface artifact finds in IL. She looks in areas outside the Cahokia park area. She found a portion of an engraved stone birdman. I think it was considered significant, they used a stylized likeness logo on their park signage/etc. Have not been there, but sounds good.
    I did couple of pottery wheel items for her with a replica of the artifact attached. Guess there were stone birdmen in IL.

    Reply
  4. driguana@earthlink.net'

    Greetings. Loved this article. Thanks.
    Having grown up in southwestern Ohio and studied at Ohio University in Athens, I not only grew up in the presence of great earthworks but spent a lot of time studying and researching them in my own vernacular way. Much as you seem to do. I recently have become embroiled in a debate with a so-called scholar about the potential influence of cultures from the south, that is Mexico and the Caribbean areas, on the mound builders of the northern areas. He was very quick to point out that recent DNA studies , especially those done at Krupp mounds in Illinois and the Hopewell cluster in southern Ohio, clearly indicate that ALL mound builder influence came from the north and, ultimately, from Asia. I was quickly put down as an idiot and quack. Geeesh….so much for having an opinion these days, huh? While I certainly and totally agree about the validity of DNA studies, and somewhat agreed with my adversary, I also realize civilizations everywhere are, seemingly, built one on top of another for many eons and there may be deeper DNA evidence somewhere further down, so to speak. While your article deals mostly with social and cultural remnants, I was wondering if there are any DNA studies that have been undertaken for Etowah, Ocmulgee or Poverty Point? If so, I’d love to have references for them and your opinion about such studies. Thanks so much. I’ve just recently found these articles and will now follow your writings with more regularity.

    Reply
    • Hey Jack,
      Despite the fact that Etowah Mounds is a National Historic Landmark and Ocmulgee is a National Monument, about to be a National Park, virtually no DNA studies have been done at either location. However, there is lots of info coming from DNA studies of Georgia and Alabama Creeks. We are a mixture of North Mexican, Mesoamerican and South American DNA test markers. The surprising appearance of South American DNA is what started us looking closer at the linguistic and cultural evidence.

      What did the geneticist mean by “coming from the north?” That’s weird. The earliest mounds in Louisiana predate anything in the Midwest by 3000 years. There are shell mounds in South Carolina and Georgia that date from 2200 BC. The earliest pottery in Georgia was probably around 2800 BC. That’s 2300 years before the earliest pottery in Ohio.

      Reply
      • driguana@earthlink.net'

        Wow. Thanks for the fast response. You have confirmed exactly what I told this person, Geoffrey Sea. He lives in Sargents, Ohio and is the Executive Director for Neighbors for an Ohio Valley Alternative. I can’t find and copy you on the exact Facebook conversation right now but I’m sure I can find it. He is not a geneticist but seems more like an environmentalist. I was responding to a post by a friend about Fort Ancient in Ohio that I was very familiar with as the “fortification” sites are bit unusual and perhaps even a bit more challenging to understand than the mounds or effigies. I made a simple comment that I did not think that it was settled as to where the Mound Builders in southern Ohio actually came from and said that, in my mind, I still thought there may be some southern cultural influences and I pointed out that I thought this was especially relevant perhaps to Etowah and other sites in GA and SC. He snapped back that I was incorrect and that the recent DNA studies have indicated that these mounds were built by people associated with the Algonquian culture and linguistics to the north….no debate….I was wrong. And, furthermore, that all of the Ohio Valley cultures originally had Asian connections. OK. In part he may be correct especially i9f the DNA samples were taken from upper level strata. We know with some certainty that there were numerous different migrations and still some confusion and speculation of about the Adena, Hopewell and Mississippian migrations into these areas. I especially appreciate your comments about the time frames of things as the period from about 1500 BC to 3000 BC remains a bit murky. Are there any specific references you can give me about the Georgia and Alabama Creek DNA studies? I’ll google them later. Love your articles and I will spend some time going over more of them. It gets more and more frustrating to deal with the “science is settled” academics if you want to have any kind of discussion about possible options….so we press along on our own paths. I will locate the FB discussion that I had with Sea a bit later and send that to you also to see what you think. I don’t care to continue with Mr Sea, especially with issues of land!!! Thanks. Nice to make your acquaintance. jk

        Reply
        • Access Genealogy is maintaining a web page with Southeastern DNA reports in it. Right now our genetics specialist in POOF, Ric Edwards is in the middle of moving from Texas to New Mexico, so he is out of pocket to answer questions.

          All the evidence suggests that the Adena culture spread up the Mississippi and Ohio River from Louisiana. The mounds in Louisiana predate those in Mexico by about 2,500 years. The pottery in Georgia predates pottery in Mexico by about 1000 years. It is the oldest in North America. It was thought to be the oldest pottery in the Western Hemisphere, but recently older pottery has been found in the Amazon Region. Nice to make your acquaintance too. Merry Christmas

          Reply
          • driguana@earthlink.net'

            Thanks. again. Where is Ric Edwards moving to in NM? I lived in Santa Fe where I worked as a City Planner for 35 years and have many contacts, especially at the Pueblos. I’d be happy to provide him any info that might be helpful.

          • Las Vegas, NM in the northern mountains. Ric helps film makers find locations for films. You might be able to help him.

  5. driguana@earthlink.net'

    Love Las Vegas! It’s the next town over from Santa Fe. Coincidentally,as a planner for Santa Fe County I created the Media District just south of Santa Fe where Santa Fe Studios is built. I originally went to Santa Fe to study film making and was very involved in many aspects of the film business. There are now many people working in film location. I’ve been gone for several years but can certainly offer him some names. First would be to contact my friend, Jason Hool, at Santa Fe Studios, he is the Executive Director/President. He would be able to connect Ric with everybody.

    Reply

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