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Etula (Etowah Mounds) suburbs extended 7 miles down stream

Etula (Etowah Mounds) suburbs extended 7 miles down stream


Surveys by archaeologists Cyrus Thomas (1884), Warren Moorehead (1925) and Robert Wauchope (1939) identified at least 38 mounds in the Etowah River Conurbation.  They probably missed many older burial mounds, because none of the men did a thorough job of studying the landscape.  Wauchope determined that many of the town sites, including the Etowah Mounds Site were first settled between 1000 BC and 400 BC.    Yet by the time Wauchope published his book in 1966,  many of the mounds had been destroyed and one of the world’s largest coal-fired electric plants had been constructed there.   In the 1970s and 1980s, archaeologists more thoroughly examined several sites, identified by Wauchope, while architects and historians studied many pre-Civil War structures in the corridor.  The result was the largest National Historic District in the United States.

Despite all of this research by highly respected professionals, the general public and archaeologists in other parts of North American still have the impression that Etowah Mounds consisted solely of an +/- 80 acre fortified village.  In fact, what is now called “Etowah Mounds” was merely the “downtown” of a very large town . . . a conurbation of numerous communities.  This is the perception repeated in virtually all anthropological texts, doctoral dissertations, tourist brochures and even in the Etowah Mounds State Museum.  

Massive Plant Bowen dominates the landscape west of Etowah Mounds. At least two mounds were destroyed during its construction.

In 2016, the People of One Fire ran a series of articles on the Upper Chattahoochee River Valley, where Wauchope spent much of his time in 1939.   It is the same situation in this corridor.  However, far fewer excuses for the public’s misunderstanding of the Etowah Valley.  The three largest mounds within the fortified downtown are the main landmarks of an international tourist attraction, yet there are absolutely no state historic markers, which explain the many other locations where Native Americans once lived nearby.   Oh there are a few for Antebellum plantations and institutions, plus one about the Civil War . . . but nothing honors the peoples, who lived in this valley for thousands of years.

There could well be a similar situation near where you live.   This is where you can be of service to your community.   Let people know that mounds were merely the focal points of human occupation and that prior to the mid- 1500s AD, much of the Southeastern United States contained river valleys that were densely populated.    Native American History is America’s History.

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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.



    There were copper plates of the Tattooed Arm, high priestess of the Kutani at Etowah. I remember in college researching other mound excavations and saw identical copper plates in various other locations. Do you know where all these copper plates have been found and are on display? I know many have been sold to private collectors and ended up God only knows where, but some likely found their way to a specific museum.

    Also, have any DNA tests and digital reconstructions been done on the remains of male bodies found in various mounds? I’ve read that many of them were of men who stood on average 6’8-7’0 (LaBron James and Shaquille O’Neal height). Hokolesqua (Cornstalk) of the Shawnee was 6’8 and his sister Nonhelema was 6’6. For some reason there is little to zero attention put on the Mississippian Civilization that I’m aware of. Pipe bowls from clays from South America and across the Atlantic have been found in Ohio Mounds and there is strong evidence that Stonehenge was built by Native Americans who had an identical structure in Canada 500 years earlier. I wonder about the original Pictish warriors ethnically who held off the Roman Empire prior to the Scythian-Viking invasion of Mainland Europe and the British Isles. Their full body tattoes are identical to the Powhatans. Opechanacanough had an illustration drawn of him showing all the same tats.

    Have you researched any of these subjects or published relevent articles in the past?

    • Most of the known copper plates are in the possession of the Smithsonian Institute and Harvard University. However, Etowah Mounds was “mined” by artifact collectors throughout much of the 1800s, who paid $200 a week to the Tumlin Family, its owners, for access to the site. There is no telling where those artifacts are now.

      Kitani is an Alabamu word for a priest who started the Sacred Fire with crystals or mirrors – using sunlight. Kitani was derived from the Alabamu word, kitaaya, which means “to start a fire.” It was somehow adopted by the Cherokees. Kitani in modern Alabamu means “sorcerer”. Creek and Maya priests, such as those at Etula (Etowah Mounds) are called Keepers. There are Keepers of the Sacred Fire, Keepers of the Temple, Keepers of the Day (astronomers), Keepers of History, Keepers of the People (doctors), etc.

      Most all Upper and Coweta Creeks were extremely tall. The average Creek male then was 6′-3″ and had a 13″ foot. These dimensions became the Creek yard and Creek foot. The commanding general of Creek forces in the American Revolution was 7 feet tall and 93 years old, when he died in combat.


        I’m 6’4 and have the 13 inch foot. Doesn’t come from my father’s side. Not sure where I got it. My father (Nordic ancestry all the way back through Germany into Scandinavia) is 5’10 and older brother from his first marriage is the same they are both fully European. My two older brothers from my mother’s first marriage to a Native man are mostly Central American with about 4% Sardinian and Tuareg mixed in. Less than 1% is also Senegambian. They are both 5’10 also. Everybody on my mother’s side are tiny. Her father was 5’5 and her mother is about 4’10. She’s only 5’3. I’m the odd one. Several of our ancestors a ways back on her side were said to be large men. Not sure if genetic traits can skip several generations though.

        I’ve been told these were the terms:
        Kituwa – The Sacred Fire
        Kituwagi – The Follower of the Kituwa Religion
        Kiituwani (Kitani/Kutani) – Conjurors
        Basically the Conjurors come in Two Forms – Atchila’dawehi (Fire Conjuror) ale Amo’adawehi (Water Conjurors) and they are conjuring the same spirit which appears in the form of smoke and mist within both fire and water. It was this spirit that entered human beings in ancient times when lightening from the Thunderbird or Thunder Spirit struck minerals beneath water within a volcano.

        This is not a Cherokee story at all. No Cherokee elders I know have ever heard it. I got it from my grandmother and she from her mother and her mother before her all the way back through our “Tawodi” Hawk or “Wodi” Red Paint Clan. Is complicated because our female Clan way back were called “Hawks of the Water Clan”. I think they were Yuchi from what is now Eastern Tennessee or western Virginia.

        General Joseph Martin had a daughter with an unknown Indian girl whose father was a Cherokee Tawodi Conjuror. Her mother was from the “Water” Clan. I have no clue who that would be if not the Yuchi. But General Joseph Martin had Martin’s Station there at the time. He met Nancy Ward’s daughter Elizabeth Ward and married her as a second wife (he had a white wife back in Virginia). Elizabeth Ward-Martin raised his daughter who was named “Polly Martin” and she was adopted into Elizabeth and her mother Nancy Ward’s “Waya Clan”. But my female maternal line kept the Tawodi (Hawk-Paint) identity and referred to themselves as Amotawodi and Atchila’ma’itchati (the end is pronounced Itzati).

        I’ve always been told that our people use water because all the waters flow through everything and connect everything. Supposedly all of the people living among the Mississippi, various rivers and tributaries and the watersheds were called the Kituwa originally. We come from an Uku’itzati’kituwani (Owl of the Itchati Kituwani). He supposedly comes from a very ancient line of Uku men back to the Great Owl of the Feathered Serpents. Don’t really know what that means. Cherokee seem to recognize certain words but have no clue what it refers to. Had a certain individual who will remain unnamed that actually tried to convince me we aren’t Native and are just black mixed with white. We have a little black mixed in, of course, along with Sardinian and Tuareg but it’s about 5% total with 1% of that being Senegambian. The rest is Native and from Central American on my mother’s side. And the Cherokee who tried to tell me this lools like he’s about as Native as Elizabeth Warren to me. Some folks should be happy the Dawes Commission dissolved the Cherokee Nation and allotted their 1/16 ancestor land in 1906 or else they couldn’t pretend to be Captain Indian today. Don’t speak a word of Cherokee, can’t tell you a thing about the history prior to 1808 and the Moravian Journals but think themselves the arbitor of all things Injun.


          Typo correction and elaboration:

          The Spirit didn’t enter human beings in the story. The lightening struck the boiling waters inside a volcano and the minerals inside the water were already very hot, creating a misty smoke. The sacred fire within the lightening entered into the minerals and that is how the spirit or essence of all life began. Fire and Water are sacred for that reason because the human being comes from that moment also as do all life forms. Both fire and water were needed to mix with the sacred fire (electricity).

          Is any of this at all familiar? I can no longer ask my grandparents about it. Grandfather died when I was 12 and grandmother is in her 90s with altzheimers and dementia. She never said she was Cherokee. Others called her Cherokee but she jokingly said, “My great-granny was 1/16 Irish. That’ where we get our spots.”

          To stay on subject though, do these views match any SE tribes or maybe even Central American or Amazonian? Our X female mitochondrial line showed “Guatemala” as a source of origin. But there are somehow markers from back then who mixed in matching the Tuareg and Sardinians. Could this story originate in Phoenicians and not Native Americans at all?

          • The Muskogee Creek Migration legends state that their Sacred Fire came from the Orizaba Volcano in southwestern Vera Cruz State, Mexico. The Itsate Migration Legend in 1735 merely stated that their ancestors came from across the great ocean to the south. There is no mention of a Sacred Fire. Of course, this information came after the Great Disease and Slave Raid Holocaust, which killed off about 95% of the population. The Mayas, Itsate Creeks and Bronze Age people of Sweden had exactly the same symbol for the Sacred Fire . . . a cross within a circle. The Itsate Creeks and Mayas apparently believed that the source of the sacred fire was the sun.


    Hi, Richard,

    I have often wondered if certain great mound complexes like Etowah are more than we see, or think. Obviously, many eastern woodland “moundvilles” were of great antiquity, and reveal layered and scattered burials of what must have been very different ethnic groups of successive habitation through hundreds or thousands of years. But, were they something a little different than just “temple town sites?” Of course they consist of burial mounds clustered about, with temple or living quarters mounds, but did such areas span the centuries and successive cultures as established and long-honored city-cemeteries. Apparently, they were often heavily protected and overseen by resident guards, priests and other “grave-keepers,” and kept sacred and separate from the rest of the greater population. So, then, were they each the designated focus for particular burials, each “moundville” exclusively an ancient necropolis of sorts, serving certain large districts.
    True, it is a subtle difference, but the thinking is distinct…might these areas have been small, somewhat elite “cities-for-the-dead” only, within those otherwise sprawling population areas. And were they more important in that regard than for any imagined center of government…not a capital for political control or protection, but separate areas specifically intended just for honoring and immortalizing the dead.
    This is an older idea to be sure, and is again coming to the fore. But it is still commonly said that large mound-burial sites were just fortified towns — walled, contained and self sufficient — with scattered surrounding habitation of little supporting importance. But evidence, including that shown at the metropolis of Cahokia, reveals a very different picture…the surrounding un-walled population was huge, once in the tens of thousands, and as we are here reminded, likewise the Etowah populous was once vast and easily spread down-river from Etowah Mounds for seven miles. And who knows how much larger at its height. So, then, these barricaded mound areas really might have been sacred regional cemeteries stretching into deep antiquity (with their thousands of interments, temples, mortuaries, and resident officiating priests — burial sites maintained or reestablished with each new culture) and not “towns” in the normal sense at all.
    There is late eyewitness testimony to this arrangement recorded by the chroniclers of De Soto’s expedition through “Florida,” and his visit to the dying Mississippian Culture at Cofitachequi in South Carolina. The regional center of political authority apparently resided at Cofitachequi then designated as the paramount chiefdom, but the awe-inspiring mortuary center and great burial temple was some few miles up river at Talemaco.
    Attesting further to the great extent and diversity of burials at the Etowah Mound site, and the size of the people who once inhabited the area, is this old newspaper report…from the New York Times, published April 5, 1886:
    “Cartersville, Ga., April 4 – The water has receded from the Tumlin Mound Field (original name for Etowah Mounds), and has left uncovered acres of skulls and bones. Some of these are gigantic. If the whole frame is in proportion to two thighbones that were found, their owner must have stood 14 feet high. Many curious ornaments of shell, brass and stone have been found. Some of the bodies were buried in small vaults built of stones. The whole area makes a mine of archaeological wealth. A representative of the Smithsonian Institution is here investigating the curious relics.”
    Finally, there is this new report about Teotihuacan’s Temple of the Moon, and the tunnel systems and other subsurface features discovered there using electric resistivity methods to yield incredible three-D images of all below. Well worth the read.
    Boy, to see a similar method applied to Etowah structures and surrounding area…wow, worth a double back flip.
    Sort of sums it all up.
    Thanks again, Richard, for your amazing research…
    Ed Guidry

    • The professors, who worked on a proposed route for De Soto often didn’t do their ethnological homework. They made no effort to utilize a Creek dictionary to translate the names of towns then promoted their interpretation of the De Soto Expedition in books, which sometimes are not faithful to what was actually said in the De Soto Chronicles. Cofitachequi means Descendants of Mixed Peoples. Talimikko, actually Talwamikko, is the Muskogee word for a town occupied by a mikko or regional leader. So Talimikko was the capital and Cofitachequi was the name of a town, that had been wiped out by a plague.


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