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Judiculla Rock Petroglyphs Composed a Map, Created by Hybrid Arawaks

Judiculla Rock Petroglyphs Composed a Map, Created by Hybrid Arawaks


judaculla3The Judaculla Rock is a large petroglyphic boulder on a knoll, two miles east of the Tuckasegee River and about 3.7 miles east of the town of Cullawhee, NC, where Western Carolina University is located.  The boulder’s GPS coordinates are: Latitude – 35°18’04.4″N ~ Latitude –  83°06’36.2″W. 

This rock art contains Mesoamerican symbols commonly found in proto-Creek art in Georgia, but arranged in a chaotic manner atypical of proto-Creek art.  Also, the Itza Maya symbols seem to be growing on stalks.

Southeastern archaeologists continue to give me disdainful looks and intentionally turn their backs on me afterward, when in public lectures, I discuss the fact that the ancestors of the Creeks and Seminoles came from many parts of the Americas.  However,  the reality is that when the genetic samples of Creek descendants are tested scientifically, they typically show up with  some complex combination of  Muskogean, Mesoamerican, Caribbean and South American DNA. 

A huge gap in this DNA jigsaw puzzle has been solved.  Glyphs found in mysterious cave on the island of the Domincan Republic are identical to many of those on the Judiculla Rock in North Carolina, in the Nacoochee Valley and Track Rock Gap in Georgia and at Parowan Gap in Utah. 

The Judaculla Rock, despite its North Carolina Mountain location, has great significance for the Muskogean Peoples.  It is at the center of the region that birthed of some of the most powerful members of the Creek and Seminole Confederacies . . . Kowi-te (Coweta),  Tokah-si (Tokase~Tokahpasi~Tuckabatchee), Kulla-si (Culasee) and Taena-si (Tanasi~Tennessee~Tensaw).

A special thanks goes to Professor Gene Waddell, retired from the College of Charleston, whose 2015 book, The Taino in 1492, provided a wealth of technical information with which to evaluate anthropological evidence in this section of the North Carolina Mountains. When Gene sent me the book,  I didn’t dream that it would have such important implications for a mountainous region so far removed from where most Tainos lived.  Indeed, the Taino (Taena-si) were also in the Piedmont and Highlands of the Southeastern United States.


The region around Judaculla Rock around 1400. A few years later, there was a significant decline in the population due to the Little Ice Age. Short growing seasons caused many people to move southward into present day Georgia.


Note that many of the Itza Maya symbols have stalks on them. These hybrid glyphs apparently symbolized royal families and therefore, the provinces they ruled. A royal sun on the Squirrel Mountain Petroglyphs in the Nacoochee Valley (Georgia) and Boulder Six of the Track Rock Petroglyphs (Georgia) also have stalks.

Recognizing the road map

Almost immediately after I set up my campsite on Lake Santeetlah in Graham County, NC, during early spring of 2010, the state office of the US Forest Service in Asheville announced a new rule that national forest campers in North Carolina had to move every two weeks at least ten miles.  The morning after the proclamation was issued, a USFS Law Enforcement Officer raced to Graham County and nailed the notice on a tree next to my tent.  He did not place the notice in any of the other 64 campsites at this campground, many of whose occupants continued to keep their camper trailers on the lake all summer.  However the proclamation unknowingly started the process of me making many archaeological discoveries that year.  Having previously lived in the region for a decade, the multiple camp sites enabled me to become intimately familiar with its geography.  The first discovery was that the continuous, wobbling lines on the Judaculla Rock perfectly matched the rivers in Western North Carolina.

The cultural memory of giants

judaculla5The original Cherokee legend associated with the Tucksegee River Basin, as described by Principal Chief Charles Hicks in his eight letters to John Ross, was that it was inhabited by spotted giants, when the Cherokees arrived.  After a long war, they killed or drove off the giants.  Tuckasegee is the Anglicization of the Muskogee-Creek word,  Tokah-se-ki, which means “Descendents of the Spotted People.”  The word has no meaning in Cherokee, other than being a proper noun.

Another myth or children’s tale developed in the 1800s, which is the one told to tourists today.  In this one, the Cherokees have lived in the Tuckasegee River Valley for 12,000 years, but eventually they begin having trouble from a giant man.   Judaculla was the name of this troublesome giant, who roamed the region until being killed by brave Cherokee warriors.  Neither Hicks nor contemporary Cherokee story tellers were aware that Culla, the root word of both Cullawhee and Judaculla was a province, whose descendants, the Cullasee and Tocasee, became important branches of the Creek and Seminole Confederacies.

It is highly significant the Tocasee, especially, were known for their height, brawny physiques and natural spots. It was not unusual for them to be 6′-7″ to 7′ tall.   Throughout most of the 1700s and early 1800s, their capital was Tuckabachee.   Tuckabachee was located first on the Tallapoosa River and then after 1776 in the exact section of the Chattahoochee River, where we find physical evidence of Arawak culture.

This Mayapita (Middle Arawak) house in Colombia is identical to the houses, built by the original settlers of Ocmulgee National Monument

This Mayapita (Middle Arawak) house in Colombia is identical to the houses, built by the original settlers of Ocmulgee National Monument

Ocmulgee Arawaks

The excavations at Ocmulgee National Monument produced approximately 30,000 boxes of artifacts. None were curated for over 70 years.  Many have still not been analyzed and dated.  As a result, the public was presented supposed facts about the history of the massive town site that were actually inaccurate speculations.   Virtually all anthropology textbooks contain mostly the inaccurate speculations.

In 2010 and 2011, archaeologist Dan Bigman analyzed many of the potsherds stored in those boxes in order to better determine where the various ethnic groups lived.  He also carried out a magnometer survey of the Acropolis at Ocmulgee National Monument. 

Orthodoxy said that the indigenous Swift Creek People (Hybrid Panoans) had disappeared from Middle Georgia around 600 AD.  However, Bigman discovered that Swift Creek Style pottery was made by people living in the suburbs of Ocmulgee for many decades.  This style evolved into Etowah Complicated Stamp pottery.

Bigman also discovered that the original newcomers to this area had lived in large round houses with center poles.  These are the exact same houses that are typical of the Middle Arawaks in Colombia and the Southern Arawaks in Peru, Ecuador  and the Amazon Headwaters Basin.

The Chief Archaeologist at Ocmulgee during its excavation in the 1930s, was Arthur Kelly.  He knew that the round houses typified Ocmulgee during its earliest phase of occupation, but radiocarbon dating had not been invented.  Kelly was not sure if these houses belonged to the Woodland Period or the Southeastern Ceremonial Period that followed. 

Ocmulgee began experiencing increasing influences from the advanced towns around Lake Okeechobee, Florida and Mesoamerica around 900 AD, when construction was begun on the Great Temple Mound (Mound A).   After 1000 AD an increasing percentage of houses were rectangular.  Round Arawak houses were no longer built after around 1100 AD.   This period was possibly when Arawaks with strong Maya cultural influences began colonizing the North Carolina Mountains, but this is not certain.

The archaeologists, who followed Kelly and actually planned the museum exhibits were from the Midwest.  Also, without benefit of radiocarbon dating, they presented Ocmulgee as a colony of Cahokia Mounds in Southern Illinois.  The existence of many large round houses was concealed by these archaeologists, because no such houses existed at Cahokia.  From 1950 until the present,  visitors to the Ocmulgee Museum have been led to believe that the great town always had Muskogean-Mesoamerican style architecture.



Toa Arawaks

In the spring of 1540, the De Soto Expedition passed through the province of Toa on the Lower Ocmulgee River.  It never dawned on academicians that the Toa were a major branch of the Arawaks in Cuba and Puerto Rico.  The reason was that they did not know the Muskogean languages.  By the late 20th century, they did recognize that the Toasi (Anglicized to Towasee) in Alabama were an Arawak People because an escaped Toasi slave in Virginia provide local scholars with a glossary of Toasi words . . . which were obviously a mixture of Caribbean Arawak and Muskogee.  Incredibly, no one in academia connected the fact that the ethnic name of the Toa People on the Ocmulgee River was also described as Toasi in the De Soto Chronicles.  Toasi means “Descendants or Colony of Toa.”

The strongest archaeological evidence of an Arawak presence in Southwest Metro Atlanta comes from the Sweetwater Creek Stela and Owl Rock, across the Chattahoochee River from the Sweetwater Creek stela.  The stela was found a little over a hundred years ago on hilltop shrine near present day Six Flags Over Georgia.   The stela had fallen over, but was surrounded in a circle by stones and stone slabs.  Stone steps led up to the hilltop shrine from the hill’s base below. This is exactly how the Taino constructed their shrines.  The Toa carved boulders in the shape of owls in the Toa River Valley of Cuba.

Taino stelas at the Caguana Archaeological Zone in Puerto Rico with Zemi images

Taino stelas at the Caguana Archaeological Zone in Puerto Rico with images of Zemi demons

The Tamakoa

Tamakoa is a hybrid ethnic name that joins the Totonac-Itza Maya word for “trade” (Tama) with the Middle Arawak word in Colombia for “people or tribe” (koa).   Sixteenth century Spanish conquerors wrote the word a Timucoa.   Although the true Tamakoa lived briefly on the northern edge of the administrative district named Timucoa before fleeing, it became the name for a group of Native provinces in northeastern Floida, who spoke a different language than the Tamakoa, which was derived from the Warao language of the Orinoco River Basin in Venezuela.

Captain René de Laudonnière,  commander of Fort Caroline, mentioned that about 25 miles northwest of Fort Caroline on the May River, began the territory of the Tamakoa, who were the arch-enemies of the Sati or Santee, who occupied the coastal region between the Altamaha (May) and Satilla (Sati-le) Rivers.   These were all Georgia Indian tribes and composed the earliest evidence I found that Fort Caroline was really in Georgia, not Florida. 

After the Spanish took control of the Georgia Coast, the Sati moved inland, eventually settling on both sides of the Chattahoochee River near present day Eufula, AL.  One of the principal Sati towns, mentioned by de Laudonnière was Ufaula. 

The Tamakoa fled upstream on the Altamaha River and then its tributary, the Oconee River.  By the time of British settlement of Carolina, all Tamakoa were living together between the Middle Oconee and North Oconee Rivers in present day Jackson County, GA.  Then, this location was the heart of the Apalache Kingdom and their Apalache name was a mouthful . . . Tama-koa-ke-an.  The “ke” was the Southern Arawak-Muskogee word for people, while “an” was the plural suffix in Apalache language of North Georgia and the Panoan languages of Eastern Peru.  British colonists called them the Tomocoggans and they were soon members of the Creek Confederacy.  That word became the original name of Jackson’s county seat, which is now called Commerce.

At the time, I learned this bit of history, I thought it was odd that a coastal Arawak people would be so well accepted by the Koweta Creeks. The answer would soon come from a French Protestant minister, who became the most respected ethnologist of the 17th century.

The Appalachian Arawaks

In 1650s,  the Rev. Charles de Rochefort wrote a book on the peoples, flora and fauna of the Caribbean Basin, while he worked as a minister to French Protestants and Scottish Presbyterians living there.  The book was anonymous, because it was a capital offense in France for a Protestant to publish any book.  In 1658, De Rochefort moved to Protestant Holland, where he published an expanded version of his book under his name that added 2 1/2 chapters on the Native peoples and geography of present day Georgia and the Southern Highlands.  Jews, French Protestants and English Protestants were welcomed to settle in the northern portions of the Apalache Kingdom.  The Rickohockens were beginning to attack the Southern Appalachians for Native American slaves.  The Paracusi-te (High King) of Apalache planned to create a barrier between ethnic Apalache and these raids with European settlements . . . thinking that the Europeans would also supply the Apalache soldiers with firearms.  At this time, the Koweta, Culasee and Tokase were provinces within Apalache.

De Rochefort stated that what is now Western North Carolina was originally densely populated by Caribs . . . the 17th century word for the  Arawaks living in Colombia.  The region was now mainly occupied by Apalache (Itsate Creeks) but some “Caribs” remained.     Initially, I thought these statements, like much of De Rochefort’s book were poppycock.  However, as Marilyn Rae and I fact-checked each of De Rochefort’s statements about the 1600s, we found that the good Reverend was always right and the 19th century Ivy League academicians, 21st century Southeastern anthropologists and Cherokee bureaucrats were wrong.   They results of our study was published as The Apalache Chronicles and is available from Ancient Cypress Press.

I discovered that the Cherokees typically kept the original name of a town in Western North Carolina, when they captured it.  However, over time the pronunciations and spellings changed.  For example, Satikoa became Seticoa and ultimately Stecoah.   Talikoa became Tellico and then Tahlequah. Itza-koa became Etchecoe.   Tokah-koa became Toccoa and the Tocqua . . . etc.

So Marilyn and I had linguistic proof that there were indeed Arawaks living in Western North Carolina prior to the arrival of the Cherokees.  However, the pottery and architecture of that region is very similar to that of Georgia during the Woodland and Mississippian Periods.  We found no art that was similar to what Gene Waddell discussed in his book.   After our book was published, “things” remained in a standstill.

Some of the oldest paintings at the Cueva de Jose Maria. The same glyphs can be seen above in the Judacula Rock.

Some of the oldest paintings at the Cueva de Jose Maria. The same glyphs can be seen above in the Judacula Rock.

Original Taino cave art

The Jose’ Maria Cave Paintings are located in the eastern tip of the Dominican Republic.   When discovered a few years ago, archaeologists assumed that all the painted or engraved images dated from the period when the Spanish initially invaded the Caribbean Basin.  Sections of the murals clearly portray Spaniards,  Spanish ships and Spanish atrocities.  Recently, closer examination of the art in this and nearby caverns have revealed some that date from the earliest era of the Taino’s existence.  It is believed that a distinct “Taino” Culture originated around 800 AD in most areas of the Antilles.

As can be seen above, the artistic themes are very similar to that found on the Judicula Rock.  They are traditional Itza Maya symbols that in some designs have have stalks and leaves on them.   However, unlike Itza Maya and Proto-Creek art, the glyphs are arranged chaotically, rather than in intertwined compositions.

Most history text books present a very simplistic picture of the Caribbean Basin’s past very similar in the nature of its inaccuracies to the simplistic description of Southeastern Native American past in history textbooks.  A new generation of archaeologists have identified a very complex pattern of many ethnic groups and cultural influences sweeping through the region from the west, north and south.  They now view the Taino People as a unique, hybrid culture, which evolved in the Antilles.

Anthropologist Irving Rouse has identified two alternative explanations of the Taino’s arrival in the Caribbean Basin. One faction of ethnologists contends that the ancestors of the Taíno came from the center of the Amazon Basin, and are related to the Yanomama. This is indicated by linguistic, cultural and ceramic evidence. They migrated to the Orinoco valley on the north coast. From there they reached the Caribbean by way of what is now Guyana and Venezuela into Trinidad, proceeding along the Lesser Antilles to Cuba and the Bahamian archipelago. Evidence that supports this theory includes the tracing of the ancestral cultures of these people to the Orinoco Valley and their languages to the Amazon Basin.

The alternate theory, known as the circum-Caribbean theory, contends that the ancestors of the Taíno diffused from the Colombian Andes. Julian H. Steward, who originated this concept, suggests a migration from the Andes to the Caribbean and a parallel migration into Central America and into the Guianas, Venezuela, and the Amazon Basin of South America.

Essentially, what both theories are saying is that immigration into the Caribbean Basin consisted of many small bands from South America and Central America, whose cultures homogenized once they reached the Caribbean Islands.   That description seems to equally apply to the Southeast.  In an era before the Taino Culture developed to its full fluorescence,  Arawak bands entered the Southeast and migrated northward, perhaps as far north as the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia.  They partially mixed with the existing Uchee, Muskogean, Amazonian and Panoan Peoples and then were culturally modified by the arrival of Mesoamericans.  The varying mix of these diverse cultures resulted in the provinces encountered by 16th century European explorers.


Less easy to explain is the extreme similarity between petroglyphs in North Georgia and Western North Carolina to the petroglyphs at Parowan Gap, Utah.  Parowan means “Amazonian People” in the Ute Language, which is essentially the same meaning as Apalache.   The most likely explanation is the bands of Apalache-Arawak hybrids ventured at least 1,700 miles westward.  They may have reached the Pacific Coast.

Because anthropologists have never compared the petroglyphs in the Southern Appalachians to those in Utah, there has been no research into the impact of contacts between Muskogeans and Uto-Aztecans in the Southwest.  The Creeks do have cultural memories of long expeditions to the north and west, but no one among the Creeks ever considered that these expeditions might have reached the Sierra Madre Mountains or even California.  Did a Muskogean tribe develop in the Southwest from these bands Apalache explorers?  Again, no one has ever asked the question before.

See the previous People of One Fire article on Parowan Gap to compare those glyphs with those on the Judaculla Rock and in Georgia.

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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.



    Hi Richard,
    Loved this article. It finally helps to make sense of where that tiny bit of Taino DNA showing up in the family probably came from. Never thought they would have been living in NC and/or GA which is where the families comprising my Lee lines were from. We were beginning to think the Taino DNA might have come from someone who either got lost or escaped from one of the Spanish entradas in their wanderings in the southeast & ended up with one of the local tribes at that time. Good work.

    • Hey Marcie

      You know it is looking like that the vast majority of peoples in the Creek Homeland during the Woodland Period were from either South America or the Caribbean Basin. Right now, I am not sure there were any Muskogeans until around 600 AD.



    Thank you, thank you, thank you for this abundance of valuable information.

    • You are quite welcome Karla. The enormous presence of the Arawaks has been a surprise to me, because it has never been mentioned in any anthropology books.


    Richard, “Santee?”, “Lakota?” trail (Ita-zi-pa-cola) for the (Great white path?)… these words seem to confirm that some Sioux people migrated from the South to the upper Mississippi river area as late as the 1700’s. Like all migration events there had to be a cause and some left behind… perhaps your Atlantic comet strike data could have been the “first migration wave” to have moved many peoples away from the Atlantic seaboard and from being mostly settled fisherman to migrating hunters.
    The collapse of the “Tallagheny /Allegheny” (Ala-gheny) Hopewell? trade network around 300-539 AD corresponds to smaller populations and towns for the South. Also the invention of the American long Bow (300 AD from Canada) or perhaps (a trade item from Europe) could have been one of the factors in the movement of people for that time period. (Bow) and arrow heads found starting at that time moving from North America to the South.
    You stated the “Keyhole type” house people from Kolomoki (1000 BC-500? AD) appear to have migrated towards the West to include Arkansas’s (Toltec temple mounds) then Cahokia (900 AD). The “Sioux” word meaning (Snake People) with snake, medicine wheels “symbols” being found in many locations to include Kolomoki, the Itza place: “Rock track”, and the boulder stone in N.C…. does indicate some of the Sioux could have built those type of houses and left some of those symbols and ancient earth works.
    The “Itza Royal Sun” symbol has the appearance of the medicine wheel symbol with “4 dots”: perhaps for 4 lands the Giant people “nobles” claimed? The Nakota / Lakota people are the tallest of all the Native people of the America’s and among them long ago…. Giants?

    • Different Santee. In the Southeast, Santee was an alternative name for the Sati – both words being Panoan from Satipo Province, Peru. In fact, the capital of the Sati in Georgia was also named Satipo.


        Again, Great articles Richard!!! I don’t know of any star charts that have a pentagon listed so why did the Maya people that arrived from Central America in the 750’s AD build that shape? Perhaps it symbolized a spear head. The “Tula” of Arkansas stopped the cavalry charge of Desoto men with their spears and the “Sati or Santee” of Georgia are also having formations perhaps using spears by the time of the French Fort Caroline. In any case, many Native peoples state they arrived by boats to the South and many DNA connections from South America.


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