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Lake Jackson Mounds . . . Tallahassee, Florida

Lake Jackson Mounds  . . . Tallahassee, Florida

The Florida Connection

Part Three

This architectural study was sponsored by a member of the Nene Hutke Ceremonial Ground near Chattahoochee, Florida, which is 34 miles northwest of the Lake Jackson Archaeological Zone.   Two years ago, she and other members of Nene Hutke played a major role in the rediscovery of the Yamacutah Shrine in Northeast Georgia.  In coming months, studies of other Native American town and worship sites in the Southeast, sponsored by individuals or groups, will be presented to the readers of the People of One Fire. 


Lake Jackson Mounds State Park is located on Lake Jackson in Leon County, Florida about four miles north of Downtown Tallahassee and Florida State University.  The archaeological zone is considered by the anthropology profession to be one of the most southerly examples of “Southeastern Ceremonial Culture” and the capital of an indigenous province that the Spanish called Apalache.   The people of this province did not call themselves by that name until told to do so by their Spanish overlords. There are seven mounds visible today.  Since the site has not been fully studied by archaeologists, the footprints of other structures may be hidden underground.  

The town was settled around 1050 AD by colonists, carrying different cultural traits than the indigenous villagers of Northwest Florida. This is a very important fact.  The original small village apparently developed into a capital and principal religious center of a thriving province.  It had been recently abandoned when the Hernando de Soto stayed at a nearby village during the winter of 1539-40.  Most likely the same smallpox epidemic that decimated the Yucatan Peninsula in 1500 AD was the culprit.  The new capital village, located on the grounds of the Florida governor John Martin’s mansion was named Anihaica, which means “Elite – Place of” in Southern Arawak.  This is highly significant and links the Florida Apalachee to South America.




Aerial view of the town site around 1475 AD, looking southwest

Despite being so close to the state capital and a major state university,  Lake Jackson Mounds has received surprising little attention in recent decades from Florida anthropologists and architects. Park facilities consist of a small parking lot, two picnic tables and a walking trail. Visitors to the archaeological site are presented with an inaccurate sketch of the town’s appearance that is only partially relevant to what archaeologists actually discovered. Visitors are left with a “dummed down” understanding of Florida’s rich indigenous heritage.

To read an summary of archaeological work here, go to Lake Jackson Mounds in Wikipedia.

The true history of Lake Jackson Mounds is a book not yet completed, because so many questions have been left unanswered.   Twentieth century anthropological and architectural analysis was carried out in a cultural vacuum that totally ignored Muskogean cultural history, immediately to the north in Georgia.   The People of One Fire offers readers a fresh look at this very important Native American town site.  We can add many details that the Florida academicians missed.

Information sign at Lake Jackson Mounds Archaeological State Park, Tallahassee, Florida. Photo by Lucy Beebe Tobias

Want to know what Lake Jackson Mounds looked like 500 years ago?   The sign above (Image 1) is about the only information on architecture that a visitor to the state park gets.  A pamphlet, available to park visitors, explains how mounds were built and what archaeologists do.

(1) The State Park information sign portrays the town as being a composition of randomly placed mounds and small huts.  There are no ancillary domestic buildings such as kitchen sheds and barns.  There are no communal buildings such as council houses, granaries and warehouses.  Eyewitness account by European explorers mentioned seeing such buildings.   European explorers in the Southeast also consistently mentioned formal arrangements of buildings to create public plazas and strees.  Builders of a town would have never permitted a stream to run through the center of a plaza.

(2)  This site plan of the town is from the book, Pre-Columbian Architecture in Eastern North America, was prepared by an architect in Jacksonsville, yet is very inaccurate.  The mounds are not their actual shapes and are in wrong locations.  The plazas are also the wrong shape and dimensions.  Note that the round burial mound is in the lower southeast corner.   At least the architect got the location of Lake Jackson generically correct, because . . .

(3) This abstract sketch by a Florida professional archaeologist not only put the mounds in the wrong locations, but also put Lake Jackson on the south side of the town!  This illustration accompanied a professional article on housing densities in Florida Apalachee villages.  The artist or archaeologist apparently, sort of, copied the site plan from Pre-Columbian Architecture, but then made his or her on innovations.  The round burial mound was moved to the northwest corner.  However, there was very important information in this article.  The houses were aligned and fairly close together next to the plazas.  Away from the plazas were spread apart and randomly spaced.  Apparently,  the “edge of towners” maintained gardens next to their houses. 

(4) This sketch, made with felt tip designer colors, is the closest to accuracy.  The mounds are not quite the right shape, but at least they are in the right locations and the locations of the plazas are correct.  Formally planned towns would NOT have had a small stream running down the middle of a plaza.  Over the past 500 years a branch meandered from beside the plaza into the plaza.  Alternatively, the owner of the 19th century plantation on which these mound stood, may have re-routed a stream in order to expand a cultivated field.


The town plan

Archaeological excavations at Jackson Mounds suggested that the settlement there began as a hamlet roughly where Mound B is now located.  As the community’s population expanded, replacement houses were located more formerly, while the locations of the former homes of elite families became the locations of mounds.  One very distinct difference between Lake Jackson’s town plan and most proto-Creek towns is that its burial mound was maintained on the northeastern edge of the original village.   This is an identical arrangement to the layout of the Sweet Potato Village (9FU14) on the Chattahoochee River near Atlanta, which was occupied from around 200 BC to 450 AD.

Beginning at Waka (Ocmulgee) Proto-Creek towns typically constructed their burial mounds at locations on the western side of the time.  Waka’s Great Funeral Mound (Mound C) was on the western side of a ravine, with a small stream running through it.   Some towns built after 1375 AD placed their burial mound on the west side of creeks or rivers.  This symbolized that the souls were required to cross the bands of the Milky Way or perhaps, the Mississippi River, in order to reach indigenous heaven.

Unlike contemporary towns in Georgia and Alabama,  the one at Lake Jackson was aligned to true North-South.   Both Waka (Ocmulgee Mounds) and Etula (Etowah Mounds) were aligned to the Winter Solstice Sunset.  The calendars of most Mesoamerican societies began on the Winter Solstice, so it was important that astronomer priests know precisely when that date occurred. Their architecture became their observatories.  The principal mounds in Georgia, built after around 1375 AD, abruptly switched to being oriented to a true North-South or East-West alignment.  This reflected a change to the Tamauli calendar, which began on the Summer Solstice.

The placement of the largest mound in the center of a plaza is not found in proto-Creek towns to the north of Florida.  Between 900 AD and 1375 AD the main mound in proto-Creek towns was supersized and typically on the southwest face of a rectangular plaza.  From 1375 AD to the cessation of mound construction, the largest mound faced an oval plaza and often was on the western end of this oval.

Mound A is located at the extreme northern end of the town.   Archaeologists could not explain why this major mound was built so far from the location where the community began.   It may have an astronomical function or represent a different ethnic group, who settled in the town at a later day than the original founding.


Roods Landing (real name lost) is one of the largest town sites in the United States, but is virtually unknown outside the archaeology profession, even in Georgia.

The 180 acre Roods Landing town site on the Chattahoochee River in Southwest Georgia was the nearest major proto-Creek town to Lake Jackson during the Southeastern Ceremonial Culture Period (900 AD – 1600 AD).  This town was probably occupied by ancestors of the Apalachicola branch of the Creeks.  Note that the spatial relationships between its mounds are quite similar to that at Lake Jackson, but the largest plaza was oval and the entire town was tilted to align with the Winter Solstice Sunset.

There were four other important differences between Roods Landing and Lake Jackson.   (1) The entire town at Roods Creek was formerly planned in streets and blocks.  There were no outlying houses randomly placed at a loose density.  (2) Most of the buildings and all of the houses at Roods Landing were rectangular.  Two of the most important temple mounds at Roods Landing were constructed on the southwestern edge of the town.  Only Mound A at Lake Jackson was built on the edge of the town.  (4) Roods Landing was heavily fortified.

West of the town is a 330 long pond, which is roughly the shape of a peanut.  It is man-made.  The pond apparently has ritualistic functions. The center of the pond is 4000 feet, exactly due west, of the center of Mound B.  The spatial relationship cannot be an accident.   Although not the discussed in archaeological reports, this 3D model of the town includes a ceremonial road from Mound B to the pond. 

A standard feature of Florida Apalachee towns and villages at the time of subjugation by the Spanish was a large round ball court.  Descriptions and drawings made by the Spanish put this round ball court in the centers of the villages.  The devotion of the Apalachee men to the ball game was a extreme irritant to many Roman Catholic missionaries.  Some friars labeled this game, “the seduction of the devil.” 

There was no location to place a large round ball court in the core town, so such a court was speculatively placed to the southwest of the town core, along the sacred road leading from the central plaza to the ceremonial pond.


The architecture

Most of the houses at Lake Jackson were round, with tall roofs in the shape of a teepee.  This style of housing is typical of the Southern Arawaks and several other indigenous peoples in northwestern South America. The Florida Apalache also built much larger rotundas for communal use in the same shape.  They were identical to the teepee shaped chokopas (chukofas) built by most branches of the Creek Confederacy up until the late 1700s.   It is possible that the Creek chokopa developed from this southern Arawak architectural tradition.  However, temples to the god Kukulkan (Quetzalcoatl) for middle class and commoner worshipers in Mesoamerica were built in a similar fashion.   Archaeologists have also found some smaller round structures, which had no hearths.  These were not houses, so they probably were structures for small meeting or perhaps storage buildings.  Identical structures were unearthed at Ocmulgee National Monument of the west side of the Great Temple Mound.

Very few, if any, round structures were built at Etowah Mounds.   In contrast,  the founders of Ocmulgee built round houses exclusively until around 1000 AD then rectangular houses became more and more common . . . until around 1050 AD, when construction of round houses ceased completely.  Jackson Mounds was constructed around 1050 AD.  Its architecture was identical to that at Ocmulgee between around 900 AD (or earlier) and 1000 AD. 

At the reconstructed Mission San Luis de Apalache on the west side of Tallahassee, both the houses and the rotunda were construction with large openings in the center of the roof.  This is highly unlikely since such a structure would be extremely uncomfortable in rain storms and prone to mold, plus wood decay, since rain would saturate the interior, yet not be exposed to sunlight, which could dry out the interior.  The drawings show a type of rain shade that was typical among Southern Arawaks in Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela.


Mound A was the same form as Mound B, but somewhat lower.  It is about 800 feet north of the largest mound,  Mound B.   Why this mound was built so far north of Mound B is not known.   Long processions between the two mounds would have been possible.

Mound B Today - Photo by H. Roe

Mound B Today – Photo by H. Roe

Mound B, the oldest mound, was identical in form to the Great Temple Mound at Ocmulgee, but significantly smaller. Very little of this mound has been excavated by professional archaeologists.

Mound C was much smaller, but unique. There was a timber palisade on top, which concealed activities on the mound top. The bungalow style building on this mound was probably used for feasts or rituals.

Mound D was also a similar shape to Mound B, but even smaller.  It was constructed into the foot of a hill.

Mound E was a small mound in the southwest corner of the town core.  It probably was used as a platform for the house of a priest or political leader.

Mound F was low and linear, being quite similar in size and form to Mound B at Kusa in Northwest Georgia. It probably had two more more elite houses on it.

Mound G was a conical burial mound, identical in shape to Mound C, the Great Mortuary Mound, at Ocmulgee National Monument.


In Part Four of this series, we will discuss the evidence that colonists from Florida kicked off the “Mississippian Culture” in Georgia and that colonists from Georgia initiated the Florida Apalache culture.




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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.



    Hello Richard
    We met originally at the Springs conference a few years ago …Would very much like to have a coversation about a possible consultation position on an upcoming film project….
    Thankyou for the opportunity to discus this in more detail…
    T.Mike Jackson

    • What “Springs” conference? Because of lack of income, I have not been able to attend any conference in well over a decade . . .except the National Trust for Historic Preservation . . . and they paid my costs, since I was getting an award. You can contact me at


    I love knowing more about the culture of a place and all that. I didn’t know there was so much history in Lake Jackson. I am happy I was able to come by your post. Thank you for sharing!


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