Excavating a Lost World 10 Miles from Downtown Atlanta – Part Three
A bitter public debate on whether or not Site 9FU14 had agriculture ultimately turns into a personal catastrophe for Arthur Kelly and a tragic cultural loss for the people of Georgia
Atlanta Journal-Constitution columnist, John Pennington, had pushed Site 9FU14 and Arthur Kelly into the public arena. However, being a highly professional journalist he invited other archaeologists to express their viewpoints. Some did. Others were not comfortable seeing their names and opinions in a newspaper read by the ignorant masses. Instead they worked behind the scenes to permanently get rid of Kelly as a spokesman for their profession.
It was in the spring of 1969 that thread of my life briefly interwove with that of Arthur Kelly, John Pennington and Site 9FU14, with totally unexpected results for all of us. Those events would have repercussions for the next four decades.
To read Part One of this article: Arthur Kelly at Sandtown
To read Part Two of this article: Arthur Kelly at Site 9FU14
To read about the visit of three professors to the 9FU14 site: Archaeological Orthodoxy
By spring of 1969, most of the dramatic work of revealing a lost village had been done. The excavation work was phasing out. The only major task ahead was exploration of the small mound. After Larry Meier revealed the mound to media, night time poachers dug into it. The archaeological team was forced to erect a fence around it. Meanwhile the lab work continued on the artifacts unearthed. Kelly was looking for proof that the people in this village had been farmers.
As the weeks wore on, it probably seemed more and more obvious to Great Southwest executives that the archaeologists were intentionally dragging their feet on cutting a trench through the mound. Meanwhile, John Pennington was fanning the public’s support for preservation of the site by touting its uniqueness and cultural importance. What the archaeologists really seemed to be doing is preserving an architectural fact, which would be in the way of the developer’s plans . . . in particular, the construction of a railroad spur to serve the industrial park.
Kelly’s rivals in the archaeology profession grew to hate this archaeological site on the Chattahoochee River as much as they hated Kelly. They were jealous of the adulation he received in the media and his ability to sit down over a beer and have a pleasant time chatting with regular folks. The fact that he disagreed with their interpretation of the Southeast’s past was just proof to them that he was crazy and a threat to their profession.
In spring of 1969, it looked like their nemesis was going to win and they were going to lose . . . this hated archaeological site was going to be preserved. At any moment one of the Atlanta Coca-Cola millionaire families could be calling Trammel Crow in Dallas to suggest that if he wanted any more favors from them, he would have to save the Indian village.
A cool way to meet babes
Near the end of Winter Quarter at Georgia Tech, I began looking for a summer job. (Georgia Tech would not switch to the semester system for several more decades.) A “Jobs” bulletin board was maintained in the main hallway of the Architecture Building, just past the entrance to the Director’s office. I spied a note with the seal of the University of Georgia on it.
The note had been on the wall for quite awhile. It was signed by some professor named A. R. Kelly. He was looking for a volunteer to draw an ink on mylar plastic “engineered” site plan of an archaeological site. “Geez . . . they are cheap at Georgia. They don’t even want to pay someone.” Then I read on and realized that this was the archaeological site on the Chattahoochee River that had been in the news so much . . . Sandtown . . . the place I had visited my senior year in high school. Hmm-m-m . . . those archaeology coeds from Georgia State were foxes. I saw them on a TV newscast. With only 128 coeds at Georgia Tech, there was not a whole lot of opportunity to meet intelligent females close to home.
Despite the attraction of the coeds, I probably would have not preceded any further, if I had not visited the site as a teenager. Being so busy with school work, I would never have paid any attention the newspaper articles, if I hadn’t already known the archaeological site.
I called the UGA Anthropology Department. Apparently, it was the first call that they had ever received on the note. I heard a man in the background telling the secretary to set up an interview ASAP. She asked me if I could meet Dr. Kelly at Georgia State’s Anthropology Department in two days. This was a problem, because I had 48 hours of class a week, while Liberal Arts students typically had 15 hours. Nevertheless, I set up the appointment when I was supposed to be in a design lab and then feigned a family emergency with the professor.
On the designated afternoon, I rode a MARTA bus downtown and eventually found my way to the Anthropology Department. Dr. Kelly was in the office of a GSU anthropology professor. They were looking at artifacts and photos of artifacts. The office desk was covered with pieces of old pottery. The professors proceeded to tell me all the English names of the pottery styles and stone artifacts that had been made by Indians . . . ad nauseam.
I told them, “Wow, that’s interesting!” . . . but was thinking . . . “Okay, when do get to meet the archaeology coeds?”
It was initially obvious that Dr. Kelly was accustomed to being sharper than everyone around him. That would not have been the case at Georgia Tech, but I could see why the other archaeologists might be jealous of him. I showed them some ink architectural site plans that I had done in class. That got me the non-paying job.
Kelly explained that Great Southwest Corporation and the Fulton County Building Inspection Dept. had demanded a precise as-built site plan in ink on mylar plastic and at a certain scale. He had never in his career been required to do such a thing . . . even by the National Park Service. They had refused to accept the pencil and ball point pen sketches that archaeologists normally created back then. Surveying firms had demanded $5000 or more to re-survey the site and produce the plat. That’s the equivalent of about $30,000 today. There was no money in the team’s almost expended budget to pay surveyors.
The archaeologists were not being persecuted. They were working on a construction site with a building permit. What the client and county building officials requested was standard procedure in the construction industry.
I asked to see the archaeologists’ site sketches. They were a mess. Various parts of the site had been done by different people at different scales. Dr. Kelly did have an aerial photograph of the exposed site, but it was at an unknown scale and apparently made by 35 mm camera that didn’t correct for perspective. The two professors didn’t have a clue what I meant by the last comment.
There was an obvious and cheap solution. With the help of one of the Georgia State students, I could measure three of those light colored circles that form a ring on the site, plus measure the diameter of the ring. With that I could triangulate the scale of the aerial photo to account for perspective. An architectural graphics shop could then photographically enlarge the photo to the scale requested by the client. I could then trace over the calibrated photo on translucent mylar. The actual drawing might take 3 to 4 hours of my time . . . max. Today, enlarging the photo and creating the drawing could be done in a few minutes with CADD. How times have changed.
Dr. Kelly thought I was an Einstein and henceforth treated me as a professional, not a student. However, the truth was that at this point, my knowledge of architecture was not a whole lot more than diddlysquat. Two years of hell at Georgia Tech had taught me how to draw, plus a hefty knowledge of math, physics, environmental science and geology. The professors invited me to join them and John Pennington the following Saturday for a tour of the site.
Walking on the surface of Mars
It was like walking onto another planet. I barely recognized the place I had visited in 1967. An unimaginably vast area had been stripped of all vegetation. Giant earth movers were scrapping down the hills that were about a mile from the Chattahoochee River and dragging them down into the flood plain. The project would be in violation of a myriad of federal, state and local laws now. However, even in 1969 there were plenty of environmental laws that were “waived.” It was truly an environmental disaster.
John Pennington and I instantly hit it off. Eastern Creeks seem to carry a spiritual beacon inside of them that instantly enables us to identify each other. I only experience this phenomenon among some Oklahoma Creeks. They are mostly Muskogees and also have been mixing with other tribes for two centuries.
I asked John, “What about the poor folks downstream from here? The Chattahoochee now looks like a mud puddle. When it floods, all the water, which would have been absorbed here, will be dumped on them.”
He nodded his head affirmatively. “I know. I tried to tell the public about it three years ago. My editor nixed the articles. He said that it would cost us advertisers and some powerful people would be very, very angry.”
The Georgia State students were very friendly. Several invited me to see what they were doing at specific parts of site. You could tell that they had a lot of pride in what they had accomplished. I stood out like a sore thumb, though. They all had long hair and were wearing “hippie clothes.” I was dressed like a forest ranger and was wearing the standard officer’s hair cut, required by the US Navy. It was not an Army crew cut, but made me look like Pennington and Kelly. Perhaps because I walked onto the site with Pennington and Kelly, the students thought that I was someone important.
We visitors were given a thorough tour and explanation of the site by Dr. Kelly, but he made no mention of the sites that Robert Wauchope had discovered across the river. After the tour, Dr. Kelly explained what I would be doing on the site and asked for a volunteer to help me. A cute freshman in art raised her hand first. She said that her grandmother was Creek. She looked a spitting image of the beautiful rock singer, Linda Ronstadt . My fiendish scheme was working.
The following Saturday afternoon, my measuring partner showed up stoned, scantily clad and giggly. That, I guess was fine, considering that real purpose for being here was to meet someone like her. However, we were not at a disco and gawking at her made it hard for me to concentrate on measurements. We were invited by the other students to join them at a restaurant, then to come back and party.
It was at the campfire party that I realized my scheme had been an illusion. All the students, including my date, were getting thoroughly stoned. Many were taking pills or morning glory seeds to trip out.
I could not dare consume anything. At age 18, I had signed an S & E contract with the US Navy to become either a Seabee or Naval Intelligence officer that would be valid until age 74. If I was arrested for illegal drugs or even tested positive for drugs while in college, I could be immediately drafted by the Navy and sent to basic training to be an enlisted sailor or Marine – at its discretion. The Viet Nam War was at its worse stage. As my date became more drugged and I wasn’t, she lost interest in me and moved onto conversations with others . . . so it really didn’t matter.
Within a couple of weeks, I had completed the site plan and mailed it to the Department of Anthropology in Athens. There was no acknowledgement of its receipt, but about a month later Dr. Kelly sent me a small check and a brief thank you note. He asked me to consider going after a PhD in anthropology, when I was finished at Georgia Tech. He said that the profession needed technical people like me. I don’t think that he realized that my five year curriculum at Tech would be followed by a three year commitment to the Navy. Well, that was the end of my brief involvement with archaeology, I thought.
Out of the blue, at the beginning of summer vacation, Dr. Kelly called me at my parent’s home. Someone at the fraternity house had given him my home number. The developers were learning that there was a price to pay for raping Mother Nature. A heavy rain storm had caused Utoy Creek to flood . . . duh-h-h-h, what do you expect when you strip away all the vegetation? The flood waters has ripped away months of grading work, but also cut a new channel into the archaeological site. A Cherokee, who worked for the grading contractor, had called Dr. Kelly. He could see hundreds of potsherds and stone artifacts on the ground where the creek had temporarily flowed.
There was a problem. Dr. Kelly had out of town commitments. Because of complaints about the drug parties, the Georgia State students had been banned from the site on weekends, unless Dr. Kelly was there. It was probably Great Southwest’s method of shutting down the project, but most of the students were on vacation anyway. Dr. Kelly said that he didn’t trust Larry Meier anymore, but he needed someone he could trust to check out the Cherokee man’s story. He had heard “from the grapevine” that I didn’t do drugs and didn’t look like a typical student anyway.
Dr. Kelly asked me to do “a Georgia Tech thing.” He said that the creek had probably exposed a garbage midden, but he wanted to be sure. He told me to go on site. Mark the location of the new channel on a blue print of my site plan. Photograph the exposed artifacts. Pick up a cross selection of potsherds within a ten feet by ten feet area so that he could make a shard boat. I asked him to explain what a shard boat was, but still didn’t understand when he told me.
Because of the continuing problems with artifact poachers, I didn’t want to go alone. As a precaution, though, I called Larry Meier to tell him that I would be on the site Saturday afternoon, to do some more survey work for Dr. Kelly. Meier seemed upset that Kelly had communicated with me directly, but acknowledged my message and said that he would tell the Fulton County Police.
I couldn’t invite the foxy art student because of the drug user ban. The other gals I knew were out of town. Finally I thought of calling Susan Muse. We had attended church and high school together. She was one of the church youth, who went with the minister to archaeological sites. I called her home. She was finishing her second year at Young Harris College in art and was interested in seeing the archaeological site. She had plans on Saturday, but could go on Sunday afternoon.
It was a beautiful sunny day in late spring. We parked a considerable distance from the village site next to Utoy Creek and quickly found the new channel. Indeed it was covered with Woodland Period potsherds. We started picking up interesting potsherds from a 10 ft. by 10 ft. square then I noticed something. What appeared to be the new bank of the creek had different colored bands of soil, chock filled with potsherds, broken stone tools and ancient bones.
Then I looked closer. There were numerous jars with conical bottoms. Where the force of the flood waters had broken open the pots, I could see charcoal and bits of bones. Those strange jars were filled with cremated human bodies. Oh (expletive deleted) the creek had opened up a burial mound.
Susan and I walked along the new creek bank and found more burial mounds. I had learned enough that spring to know not to touch those mounds. Each contained a different style of pottery. A couple had what looked like the remains of human bones. We stopped picking up potsherds, photographed the exposed mounds and decided to walk down to the river, before calling it a day.
Just then we saw a full size car, a monster car typical of the early 60s, slowly drive across the exposed flood plain to the archaeological site. I assumed that it was a poacher, because the driver was being so cautious. Obviously, he could not see my car because the view was blocked by a large pile of dirt. He drove straight to the mound. We moved closer and hid behind the bushes so the driver couldn’t see us.
The driver got out of the car, unlocked the gate of the mound fencing and quickly went inside. He pushed something into the side of the mound and then departed just as quickly. While driving out of the construction site, he noticed my car and then veered directly toward us.
When the car got closer, I recognized the driver as one of the paid employees of the dig. I stood up. Susan continued to hunker down. The archaeologist presented a frozen smile, when walking toward me. “Hey Richard . . . I thought you were supposed to be here yesterday?”
By then he was about 20 feet away. “Oh, Susan couldn’t come with me on Saturday, so we did the survey today. I had to stop, though. These are mounds. Dr. Kelly needs to know as soon as he gets back in town.”
The archaeologist looked puzzled then saw Susan. His smile turned to rage. He shouted, “Get the hell out of here, before I call the police.” I responded that Dr. Kelly had asked me to inspect the new channel of the creek. That made things worse. The man went totally manic. He started cursing wildly and called us nothing but (multiple expletive deleteds) artifact poachers.
The man pretended to drive off the construction site, but then I noticed that he had parked behind a tree about a half mile away. We quickly jumped into my car and got the heck out of there. This guy was crazy.
The final week
The following day, a Monday, Site Supervisor, Larry Meier, officially started excavation of the mound. Almost immediately he found a stone hoe in the flank of the mound. Back then stone hoes were considered by archaeologist to be a tool exclusively associated with the cultivation of crops such as corn.
On Tuesday, the AJC ran a brief article concerning discovery of a stone hoe at the 9FU14 site. Local news crews interviewed Meier at the site in what amounted to being a press conference. Dr. Kelly was nowhere around. Meier stated the stone hoe was proof that agriculture had occurred at this village site.
On Wednesday, John Pennington interviewed Dr. Kelly by telephone. Kelly said that he had not seen the stone hoe, but it would be evidence that there was agriculture at the 9FU14 site. He said that it would be especially significant, if more hoes were found in the mound. He would reserve more comments until when more excavation work was done on the mound.
On Thursday, Dr. Joseph Caldwell, head of the University of Georgia’s Archaeology Lab, held a press conference, which was quoted in the AJC that evening and partially shown to viewers of local TV newscasts. Caldwell was the son-in-law of Dr. Kelly. He announced that he recognized the stone hoe from the black and white photo in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and it had been stolen from the laboratory. It was originally unearthed at the Manville Site on the Chattahoochee River.
Caldwell didn’t tell the reporters that Dr. Kelly was the chief archaeologist at the Manville Site and it was this village in which Kelly found what appeared to be Mesoamerican artifacts at a layer dating from the 700s or 800s AD – at the same level that stone hoes and corn kernels were found. Caldwell recommended that University of Georgia officials conduct an investigation.
On Friday, both the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the local TV stations gave extraordinary emphasis to a press conference held by a group of Georgia archaeologists, who said they represented the professional archaeologists in Georgia and the Society for Georgia Archaeology. Arthur Kelly founded the Society for Georgia Archaeology and was a co-founder of the Society for American Archaeology. They said that they had met on the previous day and adopted the following resolution.
It was a stiffly worded document that sounded like the death sentence being read by some judge. It called Dr. Kelly a mentally unbalanced criminal, who should be fired immediately. The archaeologists told the media that they were giving full cooperation to an ongoing criminal investigation. That was the last that the public would hear on the matter.
I was at the Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity house at Tech during the newscast. A group of us fraternity brothers were going together to a free rock concert that evening. I sunk deep into my chair when the word, Arthur Kelly, was mentioned . . . hoping that no one would remember that I had a connection to that archaeological site.
Then a senior in Aerospace Engineering spoke up. “Hey Thornton, didn’t you do something over at that archaeological site?” I gulped and said, “Oh, just for a day or two.”
He continued, “My sister is in Anthropology at Georgia. She says that this is pure bullshit. The archaeology lab has millions of artifacts stored in little boxes. There are several dozen stone hoes in the Manville box. There is no way that this prof could have known that this hoe was stolen from a specific box so soon. She says that it is a witch trial and it’s the profs or one of their pet students, who stole the hoe.”
Of course, I knew something that NOBODY else at this time knew. Susan and I had been a witness to the crime. On Monday, I called up the Athens Police Department, where the University of Georgia is located. They had turned over the investigation to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. The GBI agent was there.
I gulped at the opening of his conversation. “Mr. Thornton, we’re glad you called. We already know who you are. (Gulp again) This past Thursday, we got some anonymous calls from Atlanta and Athens that you had been seen over at the archaeological site near the mound this past weekend. What is your side of the story?” I told the man everything that had happened during the past few months. I also gave him the contact information for Susan Muse, so she could verify my story.
“Well, that is exactly what Dr. Kelly said, except he didn’t know that you had seen someone put an object in the mound. That is a very different story than what these professors are telling us. Dr. Kelly also tells us that you are clean cut Navy Midshipman at Georgia Tech and don’t use drugs. To tell you the truth, I would take your word over several dozen of these hippies, we are questioning. “
The investigation of Dr. Kelly was instantly dropped. Grading contractors covered over the 9FU14 archaeological site almost immediately after the stone hoe scandal. I don’t know why the real “artifact poachers” were never prosecuted. The clique of archaeologists or perhaps someone connected with the Great Southwest Industrial Park still had enough political influence to hush up the scandal and force Dr. Kelly to retire.
At least that way, he still retained his state retirement benefits. Had not Susan and I been at Site 9FU14 that Sunday afternoon, undoubtedly Dr. Kelly would have been subjected to a humiliating public trial and possible jail sentence.
And now you know!
The aftermath . . . the lives of many of people associated with Site 9FU14 took surprising paths afterward. Some of those paths led 42 years later to Track Rock Gap in Union County, GA. In the final chapter of this series, we will tell you their life stories.
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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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