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Hey buddy! Can you spare a quarter so I can buy a copy of the Etowah Mounds Archaeological Report?

Hey buddy!  Can you spare a quarter so I can buy a copy of the Etowah Mounds Archaeological Report?


Native American architects can play the parrot game too.  Especially, when their professors for Etowah Mounds were Julian Harris, Arthur Kelly and Lewis Larson.

It continues to astound me how contemporary archaeologists continue to parrot what their lazy professors told them back in college rather than to examine primary sources of information.   In this case, we are talking about Etowah Mounds National Historic Landmark in Cartersville, Georgia.  The primary reference in this case is the concise report that the nationally famous archaeologists, Arthur Kelly and Lewis Larson, wrote about their excavation of Etowah Mounds B and C, plus the terrain in between during 1954, 1955 and 1956.  It seems to be unavailable now, because many people, who read it, would quickly realized that the University of Georgia professors, who guided the renovation of the museum’s exhibits between 1986 and 1995, royally screwed up.  The State of Georgia spent a considerable amount of money to create a new featured exhibit, which is pure malarkey.

Kelly’s and Larson’s close friend, Architect Julian Harris, was the co-professor for our Pre-Columbian Architecture class at the College of Architecture at Georgia Tech and the designer of the Etowah Mounds Museum. As mentioned in an earlier article, he arranged for Arthur Kelly and Lewis Larson to be our professors, when we studied Southeastern Indian mounds. During that period, Larson taught introductory anthropology at Georgia Tech, but this was the first time I had met him.  The previous year, I had done some drafting work for Dr. Kelly. 

The highlight of the amazing experience was a guided tour of Etowah Mounds.  It began by the professors handing out copies of their report.   For unknown reasons, despite it seeming totally irrelevant to anything that would happen in the remainder of my life, I threw the report in a box, mostly containing memorabilia from college days . . . composed primarily love letters and photos of young ladies, who I danced with and kissed long ago   There was also a racy seňorita pin-up calendar (of all things) from Almencen de Papeles Kraft, S.A. on Calle San Antonio Abad – Mexico, Distrito Federal.  That was the business, which Alicia’s mother and uncle co-owned. When I stumbled upon the document several years ago, I moved it to a box of my most important anthropology books then when I moved this cabin . . . to drawer of a bureau that the previous occupant of the cabin had owned. She died in a one car traffic accident at ravine up the highway . . . three days after moving in.

The treasured Etowah Report had a close call during the Rat Wars this past winter.  A mama rat wriggled into the drawer, where I thought the document was safely secured.  She nibbled on it a bit then urinated on it . . . then went on to eat all my ready-to-mail Christmas cards. Guess the colorful ink of the Christmas cards was more tasty.   A fellow just can’t get respect anymore!

Making of the myths

I am currently working on a long semi-video about the secret history of Etowah Mounds.  Until Microsoft releases a Moviemaker 18 without bugs, it still will be a glorified slide lecture, but this one will be longer and better crafted.  One is supposed to be able to zoom in and out, plus insert real videos . . . but the new version of Moviemaker, when a component of the new version of Microsoft Office, skips over any slide in which the new bells and whistles are inserted.

The research this week focused on understanding how the current generation of Southeastern anthropologists became fossilized into a Pre-Columbian world only populated by “Creeks and Cherokees.”  The short answer is that from the very beginning, anthropologists, working in the Southeastern United States, operated in an anthropological vacuum.  The never studied historic maps or attempted to translate Native American proper nouns that were recorded in the chronicles of early European explorers. They never had any significant personal contacts with Creek Indians . . . certainly never went on a date with a Native American or had one as a guest in his or her home.  That criticism, unfortunately also applies to my original mentor, Arthur Kelly.

Even at the time when “Explorations at Etowah Indian Mounds” was published in 1962, archeologists were still arguing as to whether the town was occupied by Creeks or Cherokees.  If you read their arguments from that era, it is painfully obvious that their profession didn’t know diddlysquat about either the Creek’s or the Cherokee’s cultural history. They know little more today, unless they read People of One Fire.

Adam King is one of the few, if not the only contemporary archaeologist, who has shown significant interest in Etowah Mounds.  Last week, I re-read his book, Etowah: The Political History of a Chiefdom Capital, which I first purchased 12 years ago, while doing research for the Etowah Mounds Model. Having gained a great deal of knowledge and wisdom during my six-year stay in this hovel, I recognized passages, which reflected the flawed orthodoxies of King’s professors at the University of Pennsylvania. 

The archaeological excavation work that Adam King has done personally since 1995 has been very scientific. It’s a shame that he can’t spend 100% of his time, working at Etowah Mounds, but he must teach classes at the University of South Carolina to pay his bills. He is a very likable person, who would get along great with visitors and the staff.  However, he does need to start breaking up his long paragraphs into shorter ones . . . each with its own topic sentence. LOL  Archaeologists are really bad about that.

Dr. Elias Cornelius was a Professor of Natural Science at Yale University before being ordained to become a missionary to the Cherokee and Creek Indians. He established his mission where the home of the Rev. Sam Jones, Roselawn, is now located. The location near the border between Cherokees and Creeks was intentional. He spent 18 years among the Native peoples of Georgia and became intimately familiar with Etowah Mounds, which was about two miles from his home. Note that Mound C (left) was originally cone-shaped.  The ramp that appeared in later 19th century drawings may have been built by grave robbers.

Two versions of how the Etowah marble statues were discovered

One can see in the drawing of Etowah’s Mound C by Yale professor Elias Cornelius in 1818 that even before the Cherokees were marched onto the Trail of Tears “someone” had been digging into the top of Mound C.  The last occupation level of the mound was already gone.  After the Etowah Mounds tract came under white ownership in 1832, the site was regularly rented out to artifact collectors for many decades.  In the mid-1880s, John P. Rogan, an untrained archaeologist for the Smithsonian Institute, directed laborers to remove vast chunks of the mound until they could find no more trophy artifacts.

After being fired from the Bat Creek Mound site two years later, Rogan returned to Cartersville, GA to marry a local woman and develop a choice piece of downtown real estate on West Main Street with money earned from selling artifacts on the side  . . . apparently both at Etowah and at Bat Creek.  He was still living in Cartersville in 1925, so assisted archaeologist Warren K. Moorehead with his dig.  Between 1887 and 1925, Rogan regularly advertised in Georgia newspapers with an offer to assist “gentlemen of means” in the pillaging of Native American mounds in the Cartersville area.

1925 ~ Warren K. Moorehead’s laborers removed all of what was visible of Mound C with shovels and picks! Moorehead is wearing the straw hat.  Mound C was obviously much larger than the reconstructed mound.  In the mid-1880s,  the Smithsonian Institute excavated the mound down to where they assumed there were no more artifacts.   Moorehead’s crew found many artifacts, including ornate copper ceremonial maces, plus stone/ceramic statues.

As can be seen in the photo above that I restored with my new fancy-dancy software, Warren K. Moorehead directed his laborers to remove all that he thought remained of Mound C.  From 1926 onward, Mound C was not visible.

In 1953, Arthur Kelly discovered that the base of Mound C was covered by 15 feet of alluvial silt.  Virtually all the artifacts on display in the Etowah Museum came from the earliest occupation periods of the town.  Most of the statues and ornate artifacts carried away by the Smithsonian Institute and Warren K. Moorehead have disappeared into a legion of private collections around the world or have been sold to other museums. Both the Smithsonian and Moorehead digs were financed by wealthy families, living in the Northeastern United States.  They were rewarded with trophy artifacts and the skulls of our ancestors.

Thus,  it would be impossible for late 20th century archaeologists to discuss anything about the last days of the third occupation of Etula (Etowah Mounds) in the late 1500s – based on the artifacts in Mound C.  All evidence of that time point had been stripped away at least a century before they were born.

Let’s see what Adam King said in his book about the discovery of the marble statues.  The passages are obviously what he was taught in anthropology school, because they are heavily referenced.  Visitors to the Etowah Mounds Museum are told this version and it is what you will read in all references, such as Wikipedia, plus all anthropology books, published in the past 30 years. Note that the passage opens up by stating that the burial of the statues occurred just before the town was abandoned.  

Photo taken by Lewis Larson at time, which the marble statues were discovered. Note the round patterns of post holes, created by round temples.

Official 21st century version

Late in the construction sequence, an interesting series of mortuary events occurred that may relate to the burning of Etowah’s palisade.  These events were initiated by the placement of a long-lined tomb (Burial 150 at the base of Mound C’s ramp.  In this grave Larson’s crew found the famous male and female painted marble figures (Figure 14).  Also in Burial 15 were the disarticulated remains of four individuals, which had been scattered across the floor along with shell beads, copper-covered ear spools, antler projectiles, fragments of sheet copper ornaments and stone and clay pipes. The marble figures were found one on top of another and both had been broken, as if dropped or carelessly tossed into the pit (Larson 1971a:65).”   . . .  The same paragraph continues discussion of other burials in Mound C and ends . . .  Like Burial 15, this deposit contained the disarticulated remains of as many as four people.”

“This series of mortuary events calls to mind the hurried burial of Etowah’s ruling chiefly lineage (Kelly and Larson 1957), followed by the sacking of Mound C’s mortuary temple (Brain and Phillips 1996).  . . .  The jumbled state in which Burial 15’s contents were found represent a departure from the more orderly and undisturbed appearance of most Mound C burials, suggesting that Burial 15 may have been completed under some duress.  In some way, that duress may have been related to the events leading to the burning of Etowah’s palisade.”

Oops!   The palisade was burned six centuries after the marble statues were placed at the base of Mound C.

All drawings of Etowah Mounds from the early 1800s show Mound B as a round structure.  The Mound C that tourists see today is a fake erected by the Georgia Parks Department, which bears little resemblance to the conical mound drawn by Dr. Elias Cornelius in 1818.  The real mound was also taller and wider at his base.


The archeologists first discovered the statues in a ditch cut in the side of the tomb. Note the rounded corners of a square pattern.  That’s a building!

What my temporary professors actually said

Larson and Kelly discovered that inside Mound C were the carbonized remains of a series of timber palisades, which he defined as the walls of earlier burial mounds.  Based on my studies of southern Mesoamerican and Pre-Columbian architecture, I believe that these were originally the walls of mortuary temples.  Identical structures are found among the peoples of the so-called “Olmec” Civilization and later cultures of southern Mexico from which many of the branches of the Creek Confederacy originated.  The earliest structures were round.  Later they were square with rounded corners. Once the wood structure had decayed to an extent where it could no longer support a roof load, the temple was burned then the cavity was filled with burials up to the point that the new level of packed clay could support a larger temple. 

The burial described by Adam King as being on the edge of Mound C is Burial No. 38.  Like the other log tombs, the roof had collapsed.  It contained the remains of five humans. However, they were not dismembered, nor were most of the other burials in the mound.  The three skeletons (not four as stated by King) found dismembered in association with the marble statues, were an exception.

These “tombs” were originally mausoleums with roofs . . . small buildings as much as 10 feet wide. They were not shallow burials as displayed in the Etowah Mounds Museum exhibits.  After the roof structures collapsed, they were covered with clay.

As we approached the end of the 1956 (final) season, we were near the center of the base of Mound C.  We encountered the stone wall of a rectangular building.  Unfortunately, we had to remove the stones in order to reach the lowest levels of the mound. “ (They never had time to excavate the remainder of the stone building.  It is buried under the fake mound. However, it is important to note that there was a building above the tomb. The marble statues were not buried near the surface of the mound.)

In the log tomb below, we discovered what is perhaps our most impressive single find.  Associated with the remains of three dismembered bodies* were two large marble figures.  The roof had collapsed from the centuries of weight of the soil above. The soil had spread across the floor, leaving the contents in disarray. We believe that the statues were originally placed on a wooden alter or table. Perhaps the wood platform decomposed, causing the statues to fall to the floor of the tomb.”

*Adam King’s books stated that there were four dismembered bodies.

Elsewhere in the report are photographs of the tomb from a vantage point on Mound A and close view of the two statues as they appeared, when first discovered.  The caption reads, “Etowah effigy figures as they appeared in the remains of a log tomb. The male figure had toppled over and was broken by roof timbers of the collapsed tomb.”  Both statues were not broken as stated above.  Today, visitors to the museum are told that the male figure was broken because it was dropped, while being buried in haste as the enemy attacked the town.  Horse manure!   The people living in Etula, when that tomb was constructed were a different ethnic group than those living in Etula in the 1500s.

It was the custom of Itza Mayas and the ancestors of the Creek Indians to bury most of their dead under the floors of their houses. When both spouses had died, the house would be burned and covered with clay.  In fact, it was there custom to burn ALL wooden structures, when they became too decomposed by termites, other wood-devouring insects or mold to be safely occupied.   This could have represented a ritual “burying” of a dead structure or it might have been a practical measure for killing wood-destroying insects so they would not infest the new building erected in its place.  The burning of the structures would also kill pathogenic bacteria living in the house.  It is also an architectural fact that if the wood continued to decay underground, the soil would make a poor foundation for new structures.

Late 20th century archaeologists in the Lower Southeast interpreted the widespread appearance of burned buildings at Etowah Mounds and other proto-Creek town sites as evidence that these towns had been burned by enemies. That theory from the 1980s became a fact in the 1990s that “The Cherokees had conquered and burned Etowah Mounds in 1585!” However, that conflicted with the more popular myth then rising that the Cherokees built all of the mounds in the Southeast,  so myth reverted back to discussions of a “time of turmoil” as described in Adam King’s book.

While president of the Georgia Council of Professional Archaeologists, University of Georgia departmental director, David Halley, successfully erased discussion of the fourth phase of Etowah’s occupation by the Conchakee (French name for Highland Apalache), which would have been during the 1600s up to the American Revolution.  That is the origin of the myth about the Battle of Taliwa.   Taliwa is the Apalachicola word for town.  It is equivalent to tula in Itsate Creek and talwa in Muskogee-Creek.  Since time,  Georgia archaeologists tend to label any site in North Georgia, containing a mixture of Native American and  European artifacts as being “Cherokee.”

Per the guidance of a team of University of Georgia anthropology professors in the mid-1980s, the State of Georgia installed this pricey, but fictitious, diorama in the Etowah Mounds Museum. Note the shallow 3′ x 7′ “grave” – not a log building with a roof. In 1991, my late friend, George Stuart, wrote a very popular article on Etowah Mounds in National Geographic Magazine, which featured this diorama. That article turned a recently concocted myth into orthodoxy. For 28 years, all anthropology students have assumed that this what what Kelly and Larson found in 1956.  As a teenager,  George worked at the Etowah Mounds dig, but he had already returned to school, when right at the end of the project, Larson’s team found the marble statues.

Human sacrifice?

The guided visit to Etowah Mounds was a long time ago so I only remember bits and pieces of the experience.  Arthur Kelly did most of the talking.  Lewis Larson was a jovial, likable fellow, but did not seem to remember many of the details of the excavation at Etowah Mounds. He would repeatedly go off topic and interrupt Kelly to throw in descriptions of recent projects that he had been involved with. Sometimes, this irritated Kelly.  Larson was later diagnosed as having Alzheimer’s Disease.

Kelly stated that since the marble statues were found deep within the oldest part of Mound C, he thought that they represented the founders of Etowah.  There was absolutely no discussion about the burial occurring while the town was under attack or that the town had been burned by an enemy . . . like the Etowah Mounds Museum now states.  He thought that the town had been wiped out by a European disease.

Someone asked him if the three dismembered skeletons were human sacrifices like the Aztecs did.  He said that this was possible, but through the years, he had encountered many burials composed of dismembered bones mixed together.   He said that the De Soto Expedition had visited temples that contained the bones of royal ancestors in wooden chests.  Perhaps wooden chests had been placed in this tomb, but the wood had rotted.

It is important to remember that the three-year excavation at Etowah Mounds by Kelly and Larson only disturbed about 1% of the land area of the town within the defensive ditch. They produced enough artifacts to fill up a museum and a warehouse. There has been very little archaeological study of the portion of the town outside the palisade since 1885.  We can only speculate what marvelous archaeological discoveries may be waiting under the “virgin” landscape in and around Etowah Mounds National Historic Landmark. Like many sites in Alabama, Tennessee, western North Carolina and South Carolina,  Etowah Mounds is in desperate need of continued, on-going investigations by professional archaeologists, who are not fossilized by the myths of their former professors.

Florida,  you are doing a much better job than the other Southern states in preserving Native American heritage sites . . . but you do need to make Ortona a state or national park, before it turns back into a jungle.  LOL

Oh . . . and It is my sincere wish that readers are experiencing a joyous Passover and Easter.  We don’t do April Fools jokes on the Passover and Easter.






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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.



    Richard: This “professional peer review” process puts too much pressure on the weak minded and willfully ill informed. Take the classic example of the Great (Egyptian) Pyramid date scandal. It went without question for decades, until modern technology, that English Col. Richard William Howard Vyse’s “proof” regarding the time of construction was indeed planted by him. A “devout Christian”, whose GGF was Bishop of Lichfield, wanted to make sure the pyramid did NOT date BEFORE the Old Testament’s account of actual human life on earth….needless to say, it really does conflict with those beliefs. According to Scott Creighton (THE GREAT PYRAMID HOAX): “From Vyse’s strong religious convictions we may begin to perceive a possible motive for fraudulent activity at Giza. In 1828 the Catholic Church funded Champollion’s first (and only) trip to Egypt on the condition that he would never reveal anything that would contradict the teachings of the church…” Apparently these lies and deceits are for our own good? This mode of thinking still exists, sadly.

    • Well, I was not there when those things happened, but I do know that Adam King has always done excellent, reliable archaeological work, yet he seems intimidated by the purple gatekeepers.


    is it possible that dismembered bodies could indicate “canabalism “.?
    Don Mcmahon

    • Probably not. Creek religious beliefs did not allow the shedding either of human or animal blood within two miles of a temple or sacred site. Most likely it is what Dr. Kelly said. The bones of important ancestors were stored in wooden chests. When the tomb collapsed . . . perhaps even due to an earthquake, the bones and jewelry were scattered about the tomb. Unlike Cahokia, there has never been any evidence found of human sacrifice in Georgia. It may have occurred during the period when Mesoamericans first arrived, but most burials involve only one body accompanied by grave offerings.


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