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Everything that you ever wanted to know about the indigenous word, Tula . . . but were afraid to ask

Everything that you ever wanted to know about the indigenous word, Tula . . . but were afraid to ask


Tula, tulum, tauli, Etula, Etalwa, Etowah, talula, talofa, Talasee, Tulsa, Tallahassee, Tullahoma, Tallapoosa, Talladega, Tollan

Tula is the Totonac, Itza-te Maya, Itsate-Creek and Mikkosukee word for town. It was the probable name of both the original city Tepotzlan, Morelos and Teotihuacan, plus Tula, the capital of the Toltecs.  The Mexica (Aztec) name for the mysterious people, who built the Toltec Tula was Toltecatl, which means a native of Tula.   As an adjective Toltecatl meant “civilized.” 

From Tula has sprung a legion of modern place names in the Southeastern United States and Mexico. For most of my adult life, I have believed that what the anthropological references told me about its meaning . . . that it means “Place of the Reeds.”   However, the other day, I took the same approach with this word as I do with “dumb non-facts” about the Southeastern indigenous peoples, created by Gringo academicians. Invariably, the false anthropological facts began as a poorly researched speculation by an academic authority figure, which other academicians, then and later, were afraid to challenge.

In tracing the explanations of the word, Tula, I found the repeated, unchallenged statement for almost two centuries that Tula meant “Place of the Reeds.”  Astonishingly, though, I found one exception in a book published by Swiss-American archaeologist, Adolf Francis Bandelier in 1884.   He was the type archaeologist, who we would love to see studying our ancient towns in the Southeast.  He thoroughly studied the language and all known oral histories of a people, before ever putting a spade in the ground.

Report On An Archaeological Tour Through Mexico in 1881 by A. F. Bandelier is a must read for POOF researchers!  It can be downloaded for free from Google Books.

Bandelier focused much of his research on the region between Tepotztlan southeastward to Orizaba, where a little-known people lived until being killed or driven out by the Nahuatl city states of the Valley of Mexico . . .  now Mexico City. They were tall, plus wore beards and leather helmets with copper crests. Their civilization was the only one in Mesoamerica, which primarily created copper art and armor.  It was mined in the region around Tepotztlan.  The oral tradition of Quetzalcoatl began among this people, although the name in their lost language is unknown. He was traditionally the king, who founded Mexico’s first city at Tepotztlan.  The oldest deity in Mexico, later known as the “Old Fire God” also had a goatee style beard. 

Both figures are wearing beards and mustaches!

Bandelier did not state this, because he knew nothing about the so-called Olmec Civilization . . . but the bearded people of Orizaba are portrayed in “Olmec” art and seemed to have been the elite or at least major participants in this civilization.  They had very different physical appearance than those, who inspired the famous Olmec heads.  Nevertheless, both physical types are present in the modern indigenous peoples of Central and Southern Mexico.

Of course, long time readers of POOF will immediately recognize Orizaba as the starting point of the Creek Migration Legend.  The ancestors of the Kaushete-Creeks were driven out of their homeland by invaders, who were sacrificing their children.  However, what immediately caught my eye was the description of a mysterious indigenous people in Orizaba, who wore beards, plus created copper art and copper helmet crests.  In 1925, archaeologist Warran K. Moorehead found at Etowah Mounds over a hundred copper helmet crests, plus numerous other artifacts, fashioned from copper.

Bandelier’s analysis of the word Tula astonished me because it provided absolute proof that Tula does not mean “Place of the Reeds.”     That assumption was made by early 19th century scholars because Tula is similar to the Aztec word for reed (River Cane in the Southeast).  He pointed out that the word could not be Aztec because they were nowhere around when Teotihuacan was built.  Instead, he pointed to the Maya word, tulum as the probable origin.  Tulum was the Maya word for a type of construction, which used broken stones or field stones for its walls.  It was derived from the proto-Maya word for “to cut or break.”

Talla means “tower” in Scottish Gaelic.  It probably is not related to the American indigenous word, Tula.

Tvli (täu : lē) is the Choctaw and Chickasaw word for stone.   However, tali is the Itstate-Creek word meaning “to survey land or plan a town.”   An architect-surveyor in Itsate was called a talliya.  This seems to be derived from the archaic Irish word for land is talamh.  On the other hand, tulán, is the Gaelic word for a man-made mound or a medium sized hill.  This is a possible connection with the Mesoamerican word for a town.

Thule: A POOF reader has suggested that the ancient geographical name of Thule was the origin of Tula.  It may be a pre-Gaelic, pre-Germanic word for the lands in extreme northern Europe.  He thought that it was a Norse word.  It is not.  It has been traced to the Pre-Gaelic Bronze Age language of Ireland . . . for which we do not have a complete dictionary.  However, as discussed in previous POOF articles, there are definitely several pre-Gaelic and Irish Gaelic words in Uchee and Muskogee-Creek languages, such as the Pre-Gaelic suffix for kingdom or king, re (or le)  Irish Gaelic suffix for clan or tribe, gi. 

The British surveyor Charles Vallancey (1731–1812) was one of many antiquarians to argue that Ireland was Thule. In his book, An Essay On the Antiquity of the Irish Language, he identified several place names in Ireland today, which are derived from an old word similar to Thule. So it is possible that Tula was derived from the Pre-Gaelic Irish word Thule, but the connection is not nearly so obvious as the Maya word for stacked stone architecture. 

Evolution of Tula into several other Creek words and place names

The Itzas and Itsate Creeks place an “E” of “I” prefix in front of nouns to describe a principal town.  So, the big town on the Etowah River in Georgia was known as Etula, which became Etalwa in Muskogee Creek.  White frontiersmen spelled that word, Etowah.

The descendants of the people of E-Tula (Etowah Mounds) were known as Tulase in Itsate-Creek.  By the time of the Trail of Tears, Upper Creeks pronounced that word Tulse.  That was the original name of a town on the Arkansas River in Oklahoma, which was settled by Upper Creeks from Loachapoka, Alabama.  Whites changed the word to Tulsa

Tulase became Tvlasi in Muskogee-Creek. It is pronounced Täw: lä: sē.   That word has become the modern place name Talasee

Talula (Itsate) and Talufa (Muskogee) became the words for a small town with one mound.

Tulamako (Itsate) and Talwamiko (Muskogee) were towns, where a provincial king lived.

Tullahoma (Tennessee) is an Itsate word that means Town – Red.

Talladega (Alabama) is derived from the Muskogee-Creek words, Talwa Vtehketv, which literally means “town in a bottle.”   That term probably refers to the town on the Talladega River, which was on a long horseshoe bend in the river.

Tallapoosa (River) is derived from the Muskogee-Creek words, Talwa Posa, or Grandmother Town. 

Tallahatchee is derived from the Muskogee-Creek word, Talwa Hachee, with means Town Creek or River.  That word is derived from the Itza Maya words Tula Hawche, which means “Town Creek or small river.”

Tallahassee has an official meaning, which states that it is a Muskogee word meaning Town-Old.  However, in 1653, French ethnologist, Charles de Rochefort wrote that the Apalache-Creeks established a colony among the Arawaks in the Florida Panhandle, whose capital (at Lake Jackson in Tallahassee, FL) was named Tula Hiwalse, which means “Town from Highlands.”   Rochefort’s explanation is more probable.


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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.



    FYI my later Father-in-law Hawhshaw Eager (Muskogee) born 1896 pronounced & called Tulsa “Tulsee Town.” Most “southerners” pronounce final a or ah as “ee” Sary, Beckey, Mattie , etc. Some say it Keltic influence. Bur could it be Creek.?

    • Tulse is the post 1800 pronunciation of the word by Upper Creeks. Your father-in-law pronounced it correctly!


    Wow, Richard, another home run! Jaw dropping scholarship, really.
    I was the reader who suggested — following the lead of a German ethnologist — that there might have been a connection between the most ancient European use of the word Thula (or, Thule) and Tula (as in Tulatechas, the Toltecs)…since they are pronounced the same. Norway was not my first, best guess, however, only that Thule referred to some vague, nonspecific region that ancient Greeks and Romans regarded as the “uttermost-north.” But, I will also give early Bronze Age Ireland a big thumbs-up…whoever lived there were certainly an incredibly artistic, brilliantly metalworking, and adventurous seagoing people. Some suggest they were early Bell-Beaker folk or maybe of Phoenician-Carthage descent!? Maybe both, or another? Well above my pay-grade ;-}
    Anyway…I have a very special request. When you have some extra downtime (lol), I sure would like your in-depth take on the truly enigmatic “Mayan” port city of Comalcalco, the ruins in Tabasco. It (and a much smaller nearby Gulf coastal site) was the only Mayan-like Temple State constructed entirely of clay tiles (bricks), rather than usual limestone masonry. I am sure you are most familiar with it. The tiles were made the same way, size, and marked with many identical makers-ensigns as those used by the ancient Romans in their civic buildings, including the great Coliseum at Rome. It required millions, by some estimates, of these tiles to construct the same temple platforms and temple buildings seen in other typically Chontal Maya (Itza) cities. The Chontal were the seafaring merchants…right? Did they ever cross the Atlantic in their longboats…or was it always just one way…this way?
    More amazing still, some tiles appear to have practice doodles of other ancient Mediterranean languages alongside equivalent Mayan symbols…and drawings of elephants. For some reason, this does not get much press.
    An excellent and beautifully presented reference (and just a good place to start) is:
    What’s your thinking??
    Thanks ahead, and please keep those great articles coming…they are the best!
    Ed Guidry

    • Keep in mind that it is highly probable that the same ethnic group lived in Ireland and southern Sweden during the Bronze Age. The petroglyphs are very similar, but the oldest ones are in Sweden. They were Eurasians, who would have strongly resembled American Indians . . . at least mixed-blood American Indians.

      Here is a scientific study done by Mexican scientists, who specialize in ceramic science. I can actually understand most of it because I was required to take courses in ceramic science, prior to going on the fellowship in Mexico. They believe that the brick making came after the tradiing center had become well known for ceramic ware, and thus was an outgrowth of firing pottery. The quality of the bricks varied considerably. Most of the landscape of Tabasco has little stone. The boulders for the giant Olmec heads had to be floated on rafts from the Tutzla Mountains.


    Take a careful look at the man in the Orizaba panel; he is wearing tefillin, correctly wrapped. BTW, I did not find this, it has been noted since at least the 1950s, but it would take me several hours to track the eary sources down in my library.

    • I thought a telfillin was a rectangular box, wrapped in cloth?


        The exact shape seems to have changed somewhat – the forehead one shown maybe so, but the wrappings on what looks like his right arm would result in the actual “box” being out of sight on the outside of his arm. Browse the topic online. I’m not the best authority on this, was Episcopalian, now Buddhist.

        • Those wrappings are also what a Mesoamerican ballplayer wore.


    Richard, It’s a very interesting tail of misinformation the universities have passed on all this time? Very little work has been done on the main city site of the so called “Olmecs” by the Mexicans but all those faces do appear to be a multi culture society. Of course as has been known since 600 BC as far as Egypt this landmass was known to the other side of the Atlantic. Do you happen to have a meaning for the name Tusca-lusa with a possible connection with the city called Wi-lusa (Troy) there are clues of connections between the Bronze age people of America / Europe / Mediterranean? Thanks for your articles.

    • The original Muskogean word was Tawska-lusa, which means Warrior-Black.


    Hey Richard,
    I went back and looked up your previous articles on the warriors of Etula to see the petroglyph carving of the warriors found by the Union general after the war. The copper crest shown are almost identical in both pictures. In the panel carving above is the warrior wearing a kilt? The petroglyph carving in the older article shows the warriors with copper crest, and kilts with concentric rings on the kilts. Great articles Again!

    • Yes, Creek men wore kilts when hunting or fighting or when it was hot. In the winter, they wore long shirts, which were essentially robes.


    This is very interesting I always thought that Tallahassee meant City of the Sun Tula meaning place of residence and Hasse Hvse meaning sun I am glad to find out more on the subject thank you for your efforts.


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