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Footnote: Confusion over when Etula (Etowah) was abandoned

Footnote:  Confusion over when Etula (Etowah) was abandoned


I have received three personal emails from readers, who were confused about the chronology of Etowah Mounds . . .


From the very beginning of the People of One Fire over ten years ago, the prime objective of our alliance was to educate the public and in particular, Native American descendants, about the intrigues and Byzantine politics that go on behind the scenes among government bureaucrats and archaeologists (most of whom draw their salaries from governments.)  Just as in the famous novel, “1984”, history in the United States is modified and even fabricated for political agenda . . . in particular . . . Native American history.  For reasons that defy logic,  Gringo academicians have claimed exclusive domain over our history and become quite preadolescent, when Native Americans state their opinions on such subjects. 

My opinion on Etowah Mounds, from the perspective of technical professional, is that far too little of the archaeological zone has been studied, to make broad generalizations and dogmatic statements . . .  such as when Etowah Mounds was first settled and fully abandoned.   For the past 150 years, Gringo archaeologists have focused on the excavation of mounds, then extrapolated their discoveries to explain entire towns and all Southeastern Indians.  This is a particularly dangerous practice for archaeologists in the Muskogean regions, because we have numerous Spanish, French and British eyewitnesses, who observed that the elite and commoners lived in different towns.  In the Piedmont and Southern Highlands, it was common practice for Creek extended families to live in dispersed farmsteads.

Descriptions of this town should be limited to descriptions of specifically what has been found there to date.  This is especially true because of the profound compulsion of archaeologists in the United States to present their pet theories as ironclad facts.  Much of what you read about our ancestral towns in such references as Wikipedia (with the exception of radiocarbon dates and eyewitness accounts) are theories, not facts.   This assessment definitely applies to Etowah Mounds National Historic Landmark.

Virtually all references and archaeological books produced in the last 30 years have stated that Etowah Mounds was abandoned between 1550 and 1600 AD.  Most currently say 1550 AD.  This is not at all what the nationally famous archaeologists said, who actually worked at Etowah Mounds in the 1950s.   The new dates were created about 30-40 years after the Etowah dig and officially based on the interpretation of pottery shard samples.  However, the fact is that several of the archaeologists involved, were simultaneously on contract with entities wanting to build a Cherokee gambling casino in North Georgia.  One of the proposed casinos was only a few miles north of Etowah Mounds.    A relatively small group of academicians produced this new orthodoxy.  

What Lew Larson,  Arthur Kelly and William Sears said

Lew Larson and Arthur Kelly specifically stated that they excavated house ruins and artifacts at the highest occupation level of Etowah’s acropolis, which were typical of those found in proto-Creek towns in the Macon, Georgia area during the late 1500s and 1600s.   William Sears excavated an identical type house, but also found numerous European artifacts typical of the very late 1600s and 1700s.  All of this information has been completely erased from information available to both anthropology students and the general public. 

The three archaeologists disagreed about the interpretation of the discoveries made by Sears.  Sears believed that he had found a Cherokee house because it contained late 17th century or 18th century European artifacts.  Kelly and Larson believed that the house, Sears had unearthed was Proto-Creek, because they had found identical houses and artifacts in many 18th century Creek town sites farther south in Georgia.   Joseph Caldwell, director of the Department of Anthropology at the University of Georgia, along with Roy Dickens, a graduate student working at Etowah sided with Sears. 

The archaeologists agreed that they would make final decision on the ethnic identity of Etowah’s 17th and 18th century occupants after Caldwell excavated the Tugaloo town site in the northeastern corner of Georgia.  Caldwell had the money from the Corps of Engineers to do radiocarbon dating at Tugaloo.  There were no funds for radiocarbon dating at Etowah.

To his surprise, Caldwell discovered that Tugaloo had been founded by people making Swift Creek pottery around 500 AD.  From then on the architecture and art of Tugaloo was very similar to what was found in middle Georgia . . . and consistent with the ancestors of the Creek Indians.  Caldwell determined that Tugaloo was ransacked and burned around 1700 AD or a little later.  Another, far more primitive, ethnic group then built a small village, consisting of simple round huts, in the southeastern corner of the plaza.  They did not make use of the mounds.   At that point, Kelly, Larson, Caldwell and Sears agreed that both Etowah and Tugaloo were proto-Creek towns.  Dickens refused to go along and dedicated the rest of his life trying to prove that the Cherokees built most of the mounds in the Southeast’s interior. 

In the 1980s,  economic princes in North Georgia began pushing for the establishment of a Cherokee casino in their region.   The University of Georgia began offering full scholarships to North Carolina Cherokee students, but not to Creeks from anywhere.  An Institute of Native American Studies, whose logo was in the Cherokee language, was established to give degrees in Cherokee history and minors in Cherokee language.   The Georgia Historical Commission erected state markers near Tugaloo, which stated that Tugaloo was the oldest Cherokee town in Georgia and was founded around 1450 AD.   The signs also stated that the Cherokee priests maintained sacred fires in the temples on top of the mounds.  The official state history curriculum was modified to show that Cherokees had always lived north of a line that ran between Savannah, Macon and Columbus.  The state history books told students that Tugaloo was the oldest known Cherokee town anywhere. 

It was in this period that the Lew Larson’s and Arthur Kelly’s description of Etowah’s continued occupation at least into the late 1600s by ancestors of the Creeks was completely erased from all references, except their original report . . . which was no longer given out to the public at Etowah Mounds.  North Carolina Cherokees began saying that they occupied North Georgia immediately after De Soto came through.  They also suddenly claimed that all those towns with Creek names in North Carolina and Tennessee, which were visited by De Soto in 1540,  were Cherokee towns.

And now you know!


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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.



    “Gringo”? This is a derogatory term given to White people by the Mexican Mestizos. Yes, I know that they deny it is a denigrating term, but having been in Mexico and around Mexicans, I know better. Perhaps a more accurate and acceptable term would be Anglo-Americans or even European-Americans? Wouldn’t want the POOF people to be known as racists, would we? lol

    • Wrong! While in Mexico, my Mexican friends called me a Gringo and made a point of saying that Yanqui was the insulting label. The alternative is pale skinned citizen of the United States. American can be anyone in the Americas. North American can be anyone in North America.


    Around this last Christmas we went to the Tellus Muesem in Cartersville, GA to see the Smithsonian display from the Etowah mounds that’s there on loan for 11 months. I was expecting to see lots of artifacts but was very disappointed in what was displayed. They could have hauled all of it in a small wheelbarrow or maybe even in a 5 gallon bucket.

    Different subject Do you think or know if the Indian villages along the Chattahoochee River in Gwinnett County, GA were Creek? The area I’m especially interested in is just down stream from where the Suwanee Old Town is said to have been located and upstream from the GA 120 bridge on the Gwinnett County side. I used to look for artifacts in the plowed fields there about 40 years ago.

    Thank you for sharing your knowledge. I enjoy reading your posts.

    • All village sites in Gwinnett County that date prior to 1794 are either Apalache-Creek, Historical Creek or Shawnee allied with the Creeks. Suwanee is the Anglicization of the Creek word, Suwani, which means, Shawnee. Saunee, as in Saunee Mountain in Forsyth County, is another Anglicized word for Shawnee. The only “Cherokees” who settled in Gwinett, Hall and Forsyth were either whites with a little bit of Cherokee heritage or members of other tribes, who were allowed to settle on the fringe of the Cherokees new territory. In fact, very few Cherokees at all settled in the mountainous sections of Georgia. The ethnic Cherokees were concentrated in the fertile Appalachian Valley west of the Cohutta and Pine Log Mountains.


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