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Is there natural obsidian in Northeast Georgia?

Is there natural obsidian in Northeast Georgia?

 

There are no comprehensive geological studies of the Nacoochee and Soque River Basins in Northeast Georgia!

Well, it has rained or snowed every weekend since early November, so we have had no field trips to the many ancient stone ruins in the Soque and Nacoochee Valleys.   Surely, the weather pattern will change before the leaves sprout again.  In the meantime,  I am trying to determine why humans concentrated and developed advanced cultures in the Upper Chattahoochee and Soque River Basins from the Ice Age onward. Why did the Soque, descendants of the Olmec Civilization, settle there?  A major factor has to be geology.  Despite the fact that the nation’s first major gold rush occurred in this region, detailed geological information is very difficult to come by.  The last serious geological study in the region occurred in the early 1950s.  It found that the entire region is overlain with volcanic rocks, mostly rhyolite and andesite, but said virtually nothing else about its geological history. 

The only recent discussion about that subject was by (of all things) a Scottish geology professor. He did determine that the strange line of extinct volcanoes, which cross Northern Georgia, are much younger than the Blue Ridge Mountains and appear to be the result of the remnant of the African continental shelf, which adhered to the Eastern North American Continental Shelf and then slid over an ancient chain of volcanic islands. This might explain the earthquakes that occur near Charleston, SC,  the Great Smoky Mountains and Northwest Georgia Mountains.

Black lava rock

All of the rocks on my property are volcanic.  They include black lava rock, pumice, andesite, rhyolite, muscovite, gabro and basalt.  All the rocks, except the basalt, have bubbles in them. The black volcanic rock and pumice indicate relatively recent volcanic eruptions, not 30 million years ago.    My property is about a mile from a collapsed caldera and three miles from Chimney Top Mountain, a volcanic cone imposed on to the flanks of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Obsidian is commonly found within the margins of rhyolitic lava flows known as obsidian flows, where the chemical composition (high silica content) induces a high degree of viscosity and polymerization of the lava.  Thus,  since rhyolite is commonplace in the Soque River Basin,  it is highly possible that obsidian exists here.

Nacoochee Valley obsidian artifact

In early 2016,  a highly respected, professional archaeologist, V. Garth Norman, from the Southwestern United States found an obsidian blade on the edge of a parking lot at the Nacoochee Valley Community Center.  At the time, I was giving him a tour of the valley, not realizing that I would be moving here in 2018.  In April 2017,  I was asked to give a slide lecture on the Nacoochee Valley’s Native American history at the Sautee-Nacoochee Community Center.  Several people in the audience mentioned that they also had found obsidian points and blades in the Nacoochee Valley.   A few had actually gone to the trouble of contacting university anthropology professors in Georgia about these artifacts and gotten nowhere.  Most did not even return telephone calls or emails. Those that did, immediately accused these sincere citizens of being charlatans or ignoramuses.  All of the professors refused to discuss the matter further. 

I have looked at some of these artifacts.  They are obsidian, not chert.  I (legally) possess about 20 pounds of Mexican obsidian points and blades from my fellowship in Mexico.  I know what obsidian looks like!

Throughout 2017 I tried contacting geology professors at all the universities in Georgia about the question of obsidian deposits occurring in the state.  Only one responded. He was at Georgia Tech and apparently assumed that I might be a wealthy Tech alumnus, who had contributed generously to the campus.   He was doubtful that there had ever been volcanoes in Georgia and didn’t even know that the nation’s first gold rush occurred here.   I responded that my geology professor at Georgia Tech had taken our class to the Nacoochee Valley on a field trip to see the extinct volcanoes.  He then confessed that he didn’t know much about the geology of Georgia, since his specialty was the geology of Upstate New York and Quebec, plus he was going to spend the summer, studying the geology of Central Africa.  So much for that.

In autumn of 2018, I talked to several artifact collectors in the Batesville and Lake Burton area, where we will be going on several of our field trips.  They ALL had obsidian artifacts, but had never contacted academicians about them.  One man claimed to have found jade artifacts in the region, but would not show them to me or tell me where he found them.

In the 1880s,  the United States Coastal and Geodetic Survey sent a team into North Georgia and Western North Carolina to determine the location of precious gems, gold, silver and and valuable minerals.   The geologists confirmed what the Spanish had said, some large diamonds had been found by European explorers and early settlers in Northeast Georgia.  The team identified volcanic tubes in the vicinity of the Nacoochee Valley and Brasstown Bald Mountain that might contain diamonds, but did not give their location.  They described the region as containing ancient and some much more recent volcanic rocks.

So . . . at this point, we can say that . . . Yes . . . it is possible that Native Americans operated obsidian mines in Northeast Georgia.  It is also possible that the obsidian artifacts, found at Hopewell Culture sites in Ohio, actually came from Northeast Georgia.  This region DOES contain several collapsed calderas and extensive rhyolite deposits, in which obsidian is always associated.  On the other hand the obsidian artifacts being found in the Nacoochee and Soque River Valleys may have been crafted from rocks imported from Mexico or Central America.  Without scientific analysis of these artifacts, we can only speculate.

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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.

4 Comments

  1. csmoke@webound.com'

    remember the traders. obsidian was a trade item and natives went on months long trade trips. we have no granite in my area, but people farmers have found the granite axe heads here in the early settlement years. in an area of native settlement north MO, I have seen digs where the natives dug flint to use for chipping. I think someone told me that flint laying on top of ground was not suitable for use, but they needed the stone that was under surface. some surface finds I have found are pink or red and I am told was from heating, I suppose after chipping.

    Reply
  2. ah.all@inorbit.com'

    Indeed, Richard, we continue finding fine obsidian shards, indicating a processing station, on our property at Lake Allatoona, at the juncture of Gold Creek with the Etowah River. Though we rarely find obsidian blades or arrowheads, there, now, I have seen quite a few, downstream, on Stamp Creek. In the 1960’s, my sister had the eagle eye for tiny “bird” points, often rendered from obsidian, and found many. I can recall hearing there were ancient volcanoes up in the mountains, and didn’t understand why geologists would, officially, deny it, until, years later, I began having my own experiences with politically motivated behaviors. I suppose geologists, like sailors and pirates, have some sort of treasure to protect.
    Thanks, as always, for shining the light. Very much looking forward to new horizons and enriching adventures in 2019.

    Reply
    • Thank you for all your support. We will need to have another cookout . . . maybe on the Summer Solstice!

      Reply
      • ah.all@inorbit.com'

        A cookout at your place to celebrate another summer solstice sounds good to me! I’ll be sure to arrive much earlier, next time. Meanwhile, if a winter expedition comes up, be sure to let me know.

        Reply

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