Image: Semi-circular terrace complex in Middle Georgia
This archaeological site is on private land and is not open to the public.
Native American Province: Apalache
Location: Monroe County, GA
The Bibb Terrace Complex consists of a stone veneered mound at the top of a terrace, a series of man-made terraces with stone retaining walls and multiple stone cairns. The site overlooks the Oconee River. The upper stone-walled terraces apparently circled the entire crest of the hill, when the site was originally developed. The stones, used to build a foundation and chimney for an early 19th century house, apparently were removed from the upper walls. The Bibb Terrace Complex was one of several stone architecture sites in Georgia, which provoked bitter acrimony among archaeologists in the Late Twentieth Century.
The complex is unusual since it is semi-circular and oriented to the northeast, toward the Oconee River. This orientation away from direct sunlight may represent an esthetic function for the architecture or possibly the need of a particular plant to be shaded from the late afternoon sun. Also, this is the first cairn complex that I have seen in which the cairns were not on the southwest slope of a hill or on generally flat land. These cairns seem to have astronomical functions.
Pioneer Southeastern archaeologist, Charles C. Jones, Jr., stated in his 1872 landmark book on the Southeastern Indians that when the first white settlers arrived in Northern Georgia, they found the landscape littered with stone ruins. These included stone veneered mounds, stone cairns, the ruins of stone buildings and terrace complexes with stone retaining walls. It was generally agreed by residents of the state that these were ruins of a lost civilization. There was little agreement whether that civilization was indigenous or from the Old World. Within two generations most of the stones had been utilized for foundations, chimneys and walls.
Having forgotten what Charles Jones wrote, the majority of archaeologists in the Southeast during the late 20th century believed that the mysterious stone ruins on Dixie’s landscape were created by early European settlers. They believed that the ancestors of the Creek Indians lacked the intellect to precisely stack stones into buildings and walls. This opinion was especially true in Georgia, which has far more stone cairns and stone terrace complexes than any other state in the Union. In 1991, a prominent Georgia archaeologist wrote that this site couldn’t possibly be the work of Native Americans because it contained terraces! However, a general consensus was eventually reached by the profession that the mound was Native American, but the cairns, terraces and walls were the work of a frontier settler.
The archaeologists forgot that in 1956 a stone temple was found in the base of Mound C at Etowah. In 2007, ground radar discovered a six feet high retaining wall around the entire plaza at Etowah Mounds. Of course, the radiocarbon dates at the Track Rock Terrace Complex proved that its construction long predated the arrival of European settlers to the colony of Georgia – over 700 years.
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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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