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Kenimer Mound – GIS Studies

GIS Studies and Satellite Telemetry Find Many New Structures around Kenimer Mound

Routine GIS work by a county planning department has resulted in a major archaeological discovery. Mounds, ceremonial earthworks and what appear to be hydraulic structures were build around the massive earthen pyramid. Archaeologists had previously assumed that it was an isolated monument that was abandoned soon after its creation. It appears to have been the center of a major town.

A long forgotten archaeological report in the mid-20th century described a U-shaped earthwork just north of the Kenimer Mound. The archaeologist was not aware of the Kenimer Mound and pondered why a structure that was identical to a southern Mexican ball court was doing in the Georgia Mountains. The earthwork is now covered by dense vegetation, but does appear on infrared and Lidar scans. A second U-shaped earthwork has just been discovered by the GIS analysis.

Left, VR image of the Kenimer Mound, not showing newly discovered earthworks. Right, View of south side of Kenimer Mound in late November.

Left, VR image of the Kenimer Mound, not showing newly discovered earthworks. Right, View of south side of Kenimer Mound in late November.

There are many unique aspects to the Kenimer Mound. It is the earliest known five sided mound in the United States. Practically all of the five sided mounds in the United States are concentrated in the areas of Georgia, western North Carolina and extreme eastern Alabama, where the ancestors of the Creek Indians lived. The ceremonial structure is only 1/100th of a degree off from being due north of the Great Temple Mound at Ocmulgee National Monument.

Perhaps what is most significant about the Kenimer Mound is that it was sculpted from a large hill. Soil cut from the sides to create its precise geometric shape were added to the top. This is exactly how the Itza Mayas built their five-sided earthen pyramids during the Classic Maya Period. The Itzas did not build stone pyramids during this era.

The Kenimer Mound is located in the Nacoochee Valley National Historic District. The Nacoochee Valley is in northeast Georgia. It was created by the escarpment of the Blue Ridge Mountains and a line of ancient volcanoes to the south. The Chattahoochee River forms on the slopes of Brasstown Bald Mountain about 7 miles to the north. The source of the Hiwassee River is only a short walk away. The Chattahoochee flows directly to the Gulf of Mexico, while the Hiwassee joins the Tennessee River near Dayton, TN. For thousands of years, the Nacoochee Valley was the “cross roads” between several important trade paths that interlinked the Atlantic Coast, Florida, the Gulf Coast, the Great Lakes Basin and the Mississippi River Valley.

The portion of this large district near the village of Sautee could be one of the most important archaeological zones in the United States. In contains many layers of human occupation, dating from the Clovis big game hunters up to the nation’s first major gold rush. Significant Native American occupation began during the Archaic Period. The Nacoochee could very well be one of the first locations where indigenous plant domestication began around 5,500 years ago. Woodland peoples built small mounds near the Chattahoochee and Soque Rivers. A Swift Creek village was eventually established there. During the Late Woodland Period a Napier Culture village was established.

Around 800 AD Kenimer Mound was rapidly constructed. At about the same time new people entered the valley and started burying their dead in stone box graves. At about the same time as construction began on the nearby Track Rock Terrace Complex a mound began growing over a cluster of stone box graves in the western end of the valley. At this time the valley’s occupants made pottery similar to that produced around Etowah Mounds, 70 miles away. Changes in pottery styles paralleled those at Etowah Mounds until around 1600.

Eight stone tablets inscribed with Elizabethan English were found in a cave used for Native American burials near the Kenimer Mound in 1939. They tell the story of some survivors of the Roanoke Island Colony. One of the tablets is the grave marker of Eleanor Dare. The eight tablets were originally declared to be authentic by a team of Harvard scientists.

The Kenimer Mound is one of the largest and least known mounds in the United States. In fact, it is so little known that most residents living in its vicinity think that it is a very large hill. Yesterday, when this investigator sought to interview shopkeepers in the village of Sautee, adjacent to the mound, none were aware that it was a mound. One person said that he was told by an “expert on Indian history,” who relocated to Sautee from New England that the Cherokees used to dance the Eagle Dance on top of the hill.

The Kenimer Mound is one of the largest and least known mounds in the United States. In fact, it is so little known that most residents living in its vicinity think that it is a very large hill. Yesterday, when this investigator sought to interview shopkeepers in the village of Sautee, adjacent to the mound, none were aware that it was a mound. One person said that he was told by an “expert on Indian history,” who relocated to Sautee from New England that the Cherokees used to dance the Eagle Dance on top of the hill.

In 1941 they were labeled as hoaxes by a writer for the Saturday Evening Post, who had no background in geology. His only argument was that it was ludicrous for the survivors of the Roanoke Colony to walk to the Georgia Mountains. It is now known that European gold miners and traders began coming to the Nacoochee Valley as early as 1564. In July of 2012, geologist Scott Wolter of the History Channel’s America Unearthed, visited the Nacoochee Valley then examined the eight Dare Stones at Brenau University. Using modern forensic equipment, Wolter determined that the stone tablets were inscribed about 400 years ago. They are authentic.

According to French ethnographer Charles de Rochefort, six French survivors of the Fort Caroline massacre were allowed to settle there in 1566. In 1621, English colonists were unable to dock at Jamestown because of an Indian war. According to Rochefort, they were cast ashore by the boat captain somewhere on the Georgia or South Carolina coast. From there they made their way to an existing European colonial village in the Nacoochee Valley. The King of Apalache gave them sanctuary and allowed them to build a Protestant chapel.

In 1546 the governor of Spanish Florida in St. Augustine ordered a road built to the Nacoochee Valley and a trading post established there. When English colonists first settled Charleston in the early 1670s the Spanish gold mining village around this trading post was named Apalache, while the adjacent Native American town was named Itstate. Itsate is what the Itza Mayas called themselves. The word means “Itza People” in both Itza Maya and the Creek language spoken in Georgia.

Sometime between 1715 and 1725 the Spanish trading post and Itstate-Creek town were replaced by two Cherokee villages named Chote and Naguchee. Chote was the “nickname” of Itsate. It probably got its name from the Cho’i Language spoken by the Itza Mayas. The Cherokee village disappeared from the maps from about 1725 to 1768. Being former Creek villages on the frontier between the Creek and Cherokee boundary, they were probably abandoned due to constant attacks.

In 1828, gold was rediscovered in Dukes Creek, which flows through the Nacoochee Valley. Historians suspect that Georgia’s leaders already knew about the gold deposits. The previous year, the Cherokees were informed that they had misunderstood a 1794 treaty. The treaty boundary did not include the Nacoochee Valley. At that time however, there were only about 125 American Indians in the valley. The vast majority of Cherokees lived in northwest Georgia, where there were no gold deposits.

County Mapping Results in New Discoveries

While developing a three dimensional terrain model of White County, GA with GIS software, Chris Ernst discovered several geometric forms in the Nacoochee Valley that appeared to be ceremonial mounds and earthworks. Knowing that the soil in this valley is chock full of Native American and Early Colonial artifacts, he speculated that these earthworks were constructed by Native Americans at some time in the past. He showed the images to John Eberle, site manager of Smithgall Woods State Park, which includes many prehistoric and historic sites within its approximately 6,000 acres of land. Eberle also thought that the earthen forms were man-made.

Eberle wears another hat as President of the Sautee-Nacoochee Valley Community Association. He discussed the images with Chris Brooks, Director of the Folk Pottery Museum. Brooks has an educational background in anthropology and historical archaeology from William and Mary University and the University of Georgia. He participated in the excavation of the Shoulderbone Mounds Site in Hancock County, GA under the guidance of archaeologist Mark Williams. Williams also led the only archaeological study of the Kenimer Mound. It only was a day long. Ernst, Eberle and Brooks feel that there is much more history to be uncovered from the Nacoochee Valley’s soil.

Continued Study of the Nacoochee Valley

In March of 2013 an international team of archaeologists and anthropologists were filmed in the Nacoochee Valley for an upcoming public television documentary on the migration of tropical plants and peoples to the Southeast. This documentary will have a broader focus than the “Mayas In Georgia” program on the History Channel.

While filming the segment in front of the Kenimer Mound, the cast was repeatedly interrupted by local residents. Twentyish males with bleached blond military haircuts and all black clothing rolled down the window to tell them to go away . . . They didn’t have a permit from the US. Forest Service. The filming was on a county road right-of-way running through private property. They a middle aged woman, wearing occult jewelry, stopped by twice to tell the famous anthropologists to go see a certain man from New England, who will tell them the true history of the Indians . . . “The Cherokees built all the mounds in the United States, you know.”

The group laughed and asked me if there was a mental hospital nearby. A female anthropologist from Paraguay could tell that I was embarrassed by the weirdness of my fellow countrymen. She announced to the group that she was convinced that the Nacoochee Valley was hiding many secrets important to the history of the Americas. She told me to tell my friends to continue the study of this valley. Many revelations were to come in the future.

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.

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