Hey Toya! . . . a goddess worshiped in the Andes, the Southeast and Bronze Age Spain
Ever wondered about the meaning behind the spiral earthen pyramids in Georgia and northeastern Mexico or the spiral petroglyphs that abound in the Andes, the Appalachians and at Bronze Age sites on the western edge of Europe? Captain René de Laudonnière didn’t quite “get it right” when he wrote down the name of the god worshiped by the peoples of the South Atlantic Coast. However, when we put it all together, the implications were astounding.
The Indigenous Peoples of the South Atlantic Coast – Part Four
For those of you, who have read Three Voyages, the edited version of the memoir of Captain René de Laudonnière, you will recall that while attending religious festivals around Port Royal Sound, SC, the commander of Fort Caroline recorded that the Native people frequently shouted “Hey Toya!” De Laudonnière speculated that the name of their “sun god” was Toya. This seemed to make sense because a Spanish friar later recorded that the Calusa People in southern Florida worshiped a god that seemed to be named Toya.
This same god was worshiped on the Georgia coast too – apparently in most of Florida, also. What particularly disturbed De Laudonnière was that the people sacrificed babies and juveniles to this solar deity in order to assure bountiful crops.
The problem was that nowhere else in the Americas, or even the world, did anybody else worship a deity named Toya. I finally figured that enigma out. The deity that the Edisto People worshiped in South Carolina was named Atoya. It was not a Sun God, but a Goddess of Fertility and Rain. This is when it really got interesting.
Atoya was one of the oldest deities of the Andes Mountains. Her body was covered with circular and spiral tattoos. Atoya was not particularly liked by the Incas because she was venerated by the folks they conquered. She was considered the ancient mountain goddess, who along with her husband, Ilape, god of lightening, controlled the rainfall and snow melt run off that irrigated the arid regions of Peru Ecuador and Bolivia.
Some of the ethnic groups in the Andes regularly sacrificed babies to Atoya and Ilape to insure rainstorms at the right time. When there were especially severe droughts they would sacrifice teenage girls on the tops of mountains to persuade Atoya to send down more snow in the winter, so it could melt in the spring and run down into the Nazca Plains to irrigate the crops. In recent years, retreating ice caps have revealed several mummified sacrificial victims on the mountain tops of the Andes. Now we know where the practice of human sacrifice came from on the South Atlantic Coast.
The glyphs for Atoya was either a spiral or concentric circles. You can see the concentric circles over her shoulders above. The concentric circles also adorn the Reinhardt Boulder, which was found in the Georgia Mountains.
It took over a year more research to get to the origin of Atoya. In the period between about 2,400 BC and 800 AD, she had been the principal goddess of the peoples living in the western arid region of Peru. They included the Paracas (Paracusi) People on the Nazca Plain. Being that they lived in a region that was rapidly becoming desert, the water flowing down out of the Andes was a critical concern of their existence.
The Paracusi left around 100-200 AD . . . just as Swift Creek stamped pottery was appearing in Georgia. The people of Peru made stamped pottery several centuries before it appeared in the Southeast. Conibo pottery was almost identical to Swift Creek pottery. The Nazca Plain was eventually abandoned around 800 AD by the Nazca People, because it turned into a parched desert.
There did not seem to be a connection between the circular symbols for Atoya and snow-capped mountains. Then more research revealed that the wells and rain catchment basins built by the Paracusi were spiral ramps cut into stone. Rainwater was channeled into the wells by the ramps. The ramps ended well below the water table. Like the Maya cenotes (sink holes) in Central America, the spiral wells were also sometimes used for sacrifices.
That seemed to be the very interesting end to a line of research, when I stumbled upon an intriguing “New Age” website. It was named, Atoya, the Great Spiral Goddess. However, investigation revealed that this Atoya did not live in the Andes, but in the Iberian Peninsula, during the Bronze Age (c. 1800 BC – 600 BC). The worshipers of Atoya were conquered or driven out by Celtic tribes carrying iron weapons.
Spiral and concentric circle petroglyphs are endemic in southwestern Spain. They all date from the Copper Age (2600 BC- 1800 BC) or the Bronze Age. There was to be one more surprise.
During the period between 2600 BC and 600 BC, peoples living in dryer regions of Iberia and also on the islands of Sardenia and Corsica, built spiral ramp wells. They also sometimes young people to Atoya in these spiral wells.
Remember the Fig Island Shell Complex. The article can be read again at Edisto Island. The original complex (lower right) was constructed around 2,200 BC and consisted of spiral ramps leading up to two concentric circles, built out of shell.
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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