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Kolomoki, Serpent Mounds and two Comet Catastrophes

During the past four years, forensic geologists have found evidence of two massive comets that crashed into the North Atlantic Ocean in 539 AD and 1014 AD. Probably, several hundred thousand people on both sides of the Atlantic died as a result of these impacts. The physical damage was worst along the Atlantic coast of North America . These catastrophes altered the history of Eastern North America. The article specifically on these two comets may be found at TWO COMETS. This Brainfood article explores the effects of the comets on the cultural history of the Southeast.


Discoveries by geologists and archaeologists, plus architectural analysis of old archaeological reports, are rapidly changing the understanding of North America’s past. This research answers the riddles left behind by the archaeological orthodoxies of the 20th century.

From 1998 to 2001, archaeologist Thomas Pluckhaun led the excavation of several sites with Kolomoki Mounds National Landmark. Kolomoki is located in southwest Georgia, about a 20 minute drive east of the Chattahoochee River. The 300 acre+ town site was occupied almost continuously from 350 BC to 600 AD. The eight visible mounds were constructed between 250 AD and 950 AD.

Kolomoki Temple Mound

Kolomoki Temple Mound

Kolomoki is the Anglicization of the Muskogee-Creek words Kolimv-ki, which mean Colima People. The Colima originated in the present state of Colima in northwestern Mexico. They, along with the Itza Maya colonists (Itsate) assimilated with late 17th century remnants from at least 24 other ethnic groups to form the Creek Confederacy. However, the Kolimv-ki lived around Kolomoki Mounds several hundred years after the town was abandoned. It is not known which indigenous people was responsible for originally building the town, but it was probably ancestral to one of the groups, who formed the Creek Confederacy.

After his remarkable experiences at Kolomoki, Pluckhaun wrote, “Kolomoki: Settlement, Ceremony, and Status in the Deep South, A.D. 350 to 750.” The book never quite made the New York Times Bestseller List, but it is still an important reference for scholars studying the Southeastern Indians. Aside from having a title not appropriate for the Text Messaging Generation, the book also ended several cherished archaeological orthodoxies. It was quite a “thorn in the saddle” for some traditionalist archaeologists.

Throughout much of the 20th century, Kolomoki was believed by archaeologists to be an insignificant, off-the-beaten-tracks colony of Cahokia Mounds in southern Illinois. Famous Georgia archaeologists such as Lewis Larsen and Arthur Kelly tried to convince their peers in other parts of the nation otherwise, but their viewpoints rarely were included in books published by Midwestern archaeologists. Pluckhaun, himself originally from Minnesota, proved with radiocarbon dating that the Kolomoki site was first occupied almost a thousand years before Cahokia. Kolomoki’s Woodhenge predates the one at Cahokia by at least 600 years . . . even though some Midwestern archaeologists still claim that Cahokia’s Woodhenge was the first one in North America.

Kolomoki’s principal mound is bigger than any mound at Cahokia, except Monks Mound. About 200 miles to the north, near Cartersville, GA, was another large town, now named Leake Mounds. It was contemporary with Kolomoki. Its principal mound covered about two acres. Thirty miles to the south of Leake Mounds was another town named the Sweet Potato Village that was even older than Kolomoki or Leake Mounds, but somewhat smaller. All three towns produced the same styles of pottery between 200 BC and 350 AD and built pyramidal mounds that clearly reflected Mesoamerican architectural influences.

Key-hole Houses

Southeastern archaeologists dearly love those English names that they gave Native American pottery, but one of the other discoveries by Pluckhaun directly relates to recent research by forensic geologists. Pluckhaun excavated a neighborhood composed of houses built partially underground. They seemed to date from the late 400s AD to around 600 AD, when most of the population left Kolomoki. The town site was reoccupied by another ethnic group from around 900 AD to 1050 AD.

The builders of these houses excavated a rectangular hole down to just above the groundwater level. The house walls were extended a foot or two above the surface grade then roofed with thatch or palmetto fronds. The only entrance was a tunnel like structure leading from the below grade house floor to the surface.

Keyhole houses are quite unique for the Gulf Coastal Plain and Florida Peninsula. Typical indigenous, residential architecture in that region was lightly structured and allowed plenty of air circulation. Very often the only footprints of these subtropical houses today consist of small post holes and a hearth.

At about the same time as Pluckhaun’s work, archaeologists working in southern Illinois identified a identical style house and associated it with the first newcomers to arrive at the Cahokia site. Around 800 AD, the builders of keyhole houses brought with them Mesoamerican varieties of corn, beans and squash. Keyhole houses appeared at the Toltec Mounds Site in central Arkansas about 100 years earlier.

Around 1050 AD the keyhole houses around Cahokia were replaced by a Mesoamerican style of house first introduced in Georgia around 800 AD. It was a prefabricated, “post-ditch” house that is called a chiki in Georgia Creek, Seminole, Totonac and Itza Maya. The construction of keyhole houses moved up the Mississippi and westward into the Great Plains. They were last built in Minnesota and the Great Plains.

From the viewpoint of architects, keyhole houses would be a very irrational form of residential architecture for Southwest Georgia. Their construction was almost identical to the “hell holes” used to torture American prisoners-of-war in the South Pacific during World War II. One could not conceive of a more miserable place to call home in southwest Georgia.

Winter temperatures in the region rarely drop below freezing. Throughout much of the year, the weather is hot and the humidity, high. Almost daily thunderstorms in the summer would send rainwater into the sandy soil that could fill the subterranean floor with a foot or two of water.

The movement of the keyhole architecture after 600 AD, across the landscape of North America in a general northwestward direction, also could not be explained. These presumed environmental contradictions seem to have never been a concern of the archaeologists, who found the keyhole houses in several part of the USA.

Two visitors from Outer Space

Since 2009 forensic geologists at Columbia University, the University of Wales, the University of Texas and in Japan have assembled very convincing evidence that the coastal areas of eastern North America was devastated by large comets impacting the North Atlantic Ocean in 539 AD and 1014 AD. (See link below.) The 539 AD comet impact was preceded by massive volcanic eruptions in El Salvador and Iceland, which began dropping the world’s median temperature in the late 400s and catastrophically in the 530s AD.

During the past decade, anthropologists have become increasingly convinced that the volcanic activity in Iceland and Mesoamerica caused a drop in the median temperature of the North Atlantic region that then contributed to the abandonment of Hopewell Culture Heartland in the Scioto River Valley of eastern Ohio around 500 AD.

The big towns in Georgia and northern Florida continued to thrive for awhile after the Hopewell’s demise. They begin declining somewhere in the middle part of the 500s and had small populations after 600 AD. There was also a revolt in Teotihuacan, Mexico around 600 AD in which all the public buildings were burned. That great city’s began declining afterward.

Geologists have determined that the two comet impacts caused stark increases in the ammonia content of the atmosphere. Geological evidence suggests that the 1014 AD comet was off shore from New England. It appears that the Georgia and north Florida towns were directly “down range” from the 539 AD comet’s impact. The combined effects of the volcanism and comet impact could have had a disproportionate impact on the micro-climate of the Lower Southeast.

What is implied, but not yet proven, is that the weather in the Lower South temporarily became like the weather that is normal today for the Upper Midwest. Perhaps the humidity and annual precipitation also dropped. This would explain why a Native American house suited for Minnesota was constructed in southwestern Georgia.

As North America’s climate warmed, the keyhole houses moved northward. Perhaps the builders of the keyhole houses moved northward with them. A hundred years is plenty of time to walk from southwest Georgia to central Arkansas. It could well be that Southern fried turkey, hush puppies and yellow squash were on the original restaurant menus in Cahokia.

The Second Catastrophe

There was another volcano induced drought in the Maya lands between 800 AD and 1000 AD. This was followed in 1014 AD by another massive comet impact in Atlantic Ocean. (See link below.) The second impact seemed to have less effect on the climate of southeastern North America.

Many people in eastern North America saw that massive comet. It is not clear yet, if the Native American pottery with English names also saw the comet, however. Throughout the region from southern Ohio to the mountains of Alabama and Georgia can be found stone serpent effigies and serpent mounds. Most serpents that can be scientifically dated were constructed in the decades after the 1014 AD comet. The one major exception is a large serpent mound at the Ortona site in southern Florida, which appears to date from the period immediately after the 539 AD comet.

The half square mile Track Rock terrace complex in the Georgia Mountains still contains many mysteries. Why was it built? Conventional Native American towns with mounds developed in nearby river valleys literally in eyesight of Track Rock Gap, at the same time that immense labor was required to build stone walled terraces and stone buildings on the side of that mountain. Geologists have provided one possible hint. The second comet impact occurred on September 22, 1014 in our modern calendar. Currently, the oldest date for terrace construction at Track Rock is about 1018 AD. Is there a connection?

Okay, enough of winter, it’s time for spring!

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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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