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Many obsidian artifacts discovered in Georgia’s Nacoochee Valley

Many obsidian artifacts discovered in Georgia’s Nacoochee Valley

Obsidian is a natural volcanic glass that produces blades sharper than stainless steel.

ObsidianPointsAbout a year ago, the People of One Fire reported that archaeologist Garth Norman, who has been working at Maya city sites for over 55 years, glanced down at the ground at the edge of a gravel parking lot next to the Sautee Nacoochee Community Center and spied an obsidian flake.  This was extraordinary.  Although a small amount of raw obsidian has been seen at the Pigeon Mountain Volcano about 100 miles to the west in Northwest Georgia,  any obsidian artifact found east of the Rockies in the United States is assumed to have been brought there from somewhere else.  The existence of one obsidian flake could be a fluke.  However, yesterday it was learned that property owners of archaeological zones in the Nacoochee Valley had found many obsidian blades and points, plus the detritus left over from working obsidian. 

The presence of obsidian artifacts is is highly significant.  It is strong evidence that the Nacoochee Valley had trade connections with distant regions of North America or Mesoamerica . . . plus its residents knew how to work raw obsidian cores into precision weapons and tools.  Obsidian is much more difficult to work than flint or chert. 

Until the mid-1720s, the name of the massive Proto-Creek town where Sautee Community sits today was Itsate . . . which means Itza (Maya) People.  The indigenous name of nearby Helen, Georgia was Choite . . . which means Cho’i (Maya) People.  The Itzas lived in the Chiapas Highlands, while the Cho’i lived in the lowlands of Chiapas and Tabasco.

Much of the Nacoochee Valley is a National Historic District, but the valley is much more than that.  It is a continuous archaeological zone of national or international significance, containing multiple cultural occupations going back to the Ice Age.  Digging into the ground there is like digging in urban locations in Europe or Central Mexico. Each foot deeper takes the archaeologist farther and farther back in time.   Archaeologist Robert Wauchope found several villages that were occupied from around 1000 BC to around 1700 AD.   Their cultural traits evolved like towns in the Middle East.  He also found 35 Clovis points accidentally, while looking for “mound builder” village sites.

Newcomers arrived from various parts of the Americas and intermarried into families of earlier arrivals.  However, the villages seemed to have never been actually abandoned.  In the late 1500s, French Huguenot, English Protestant and Spanish Sephardic refugees began arriving in the valley.  They intermarried with the local Muskogean families, in the process producing a chapter of American history that has been kept out of the history books.  A group of families from Burke County, NC bought much of the valley from the few Native Americans still living there in 1821.  Burke still is a center of amateur gold mining in North Carolina.  A few years later, the nation’s first major gold rush began in the Nacoochee Valley.

Bitter experiences with archaeologists in the past

The residents of  the Nacoochee Valley have bitter memories of past visits to their valley by archaeologists from other areas of the state and nation.   Some internationally famous Native American artifacts have been unearthed there, but very few are even now in the State of Georgia.   Some are on display in the Smithsonian’s Museum of the the American Indian, but most have disappeared into private collections of wealthy families in the Northeastern United States or even into the pockets of Georgia archaeologists . . . including the very same ones, who were so proficient in yelling out personal attacks and professional slanders during the Track Rock Terrace Complex controversy.

George Heye excavated the famous Nacoochee Mound down to the ground level in 1916.  Thousands of artifacts were taken back to New York City, not to be seen again.  In 1939,  Robert Wauchope excavated dozens of sites in the Nacoochee Valley over a one year period.  He took the thousands of artifacts back to the University of Georgia with the promise that they would be returned to the owners.  Wauchope soon thereafter moved away from Georgia and never lived there again.  He took the Nacoochee artifacts with him to first, North Carolina and then,  Louisiana.  No one knows where they are now. 

A team of archaeologists from the University of Georgia obtained permission to survey the Kenimer Mound several years ago.  The property owner told me personally that she has specifically forbidden them to dig in the mound or on her surrounding property.  This order was in writing.  The academicians ignored the legal document and dug numerous pits into the mound and surrounding area.  They took all the artifacts back home.  The lady asked me if the artifacts were not her personal property.  I said, “Yes m’am they are.”

Yesterday, I was given a tour of the restoration work at a late 19th century farm northeast of Sautee.  It is an indescribably beautiful place.  On the way back I stopped at the Old Sautee General Store to buy Swedish Farmers Cheese.   Some local residents recognized me and pounced on me.  They very quickly wanted to make sure that I was NOT an archaeologist.  These angry people did have serious gripes.

First, they told me that two North Carolina realtors, who were members of the Eastern Band of Cherokees, had been snooping around the valley trying to buy mounds . . . in particular, the Kenimer Mound.  They described the two semi-Indians as being cocky.  The purchasing agents were bragging that they were going to keep the crazy people in Georgia from claiming that the Mayas came here.  The two hicks seemed to have forgotten that they were talking to “crazy people from Georgia.”   All those residents, who surrounded me, are in complete agreement with the Creek Indians that Maya refugees did settle in the Georgia Mountains. 

Then the Nacoochee Valley residents told me that several years ago, when the Hardman Farm State Historic Site was being planned for the western end of the valley, a group of Georgia archaeologists, who did not work for the state government per se, but included some professors, approached the pioneer families of the valley.  They wanted to “borrow” their Native American artifacts to put on exhibit at the Hardman Farm.  At the end of the temporary exhibit,  all artifacts would be returned to the owners. 

Most of the families refused to let go of collections that their ancestors had been building up since the 1830s.   Some families, out of let’s say, “patriotism,” DID loan their artifacts to the academicians.  Ten years have passed and they have never seen the artifacts again.  Those, who contacted the University of Georgia or the State Historic Preservation Division were told that “no one knew anything about artifact collections being loaned to the state government for the Hardman Farm.”   In other words, their prized family possessions have just disappeared into thin air. 

I tried to convince the local residents that we Creeks and Uchees here in Georgia were their neighbors and friends.  We had no interest in taking away anybody’s artifacts.  We merely wanted to answer the question, “Who are we?”

Archaeologists will be needed soon to investigate the many archaeological sites being found by local residents, hikers, LIDAR and satellite imagery.  It is our hope that we can find truly professional archaeologists, who have the personal integrity and humility to treat the the residents of the Nacoochee Valley with respect . . . for a change.  It would be wonderful, if we could find Muskogean archaeologists . . . but they are a rare commodity. 



The Sautee-Nacoochee Community Association is involved in an extraordinary variety of activities that seem more typical of an incorporated city of 35,000.  They include an outstanding folk pottery museum, dancing classes and dances, an visual arts museum, performing arts & plays,  frequent musical concerts,  historic preservation and living history farmsteads.   They are a private organization and so, are not supported by local property taxes.  Anything that you can do financially or physically to assist their programs would be greatly appreciated.  

Their website is:


P.O.Box 460 • 283 Highway 255 North
Sautee Nacoochee, Georgia 30571
Telephone 706-878-3300


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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.



    Richard, I am trying to get an email address for you.


    Richard, More evidence that some of the “Toltec’s” could have migrated to North Georgia? The Toltec’s of Mexico at Tula had a large amount of obsidian rock items. As stated by the Nobles of the Apalacha kingdom there was a road that they claimed to have built all the way to Mexico perhaps right to Tula and then perhaps further down to Chichen Itza over time. Seems to fit with your translations of many Native city names connected to the base word for Tula… (Etowah) being one.

    • We don’t know where this obsidian came from yet. It may have been imported from the Southern Rockies. Some Southwestern obsidian has been found in Hopewell ceremonial sites. To date I have seen no evidence that the elite of any of the Mesoamerican cilivizations migrated to North America. What we do see is the architecture and pottery of the commoners, who probably came in small bands to escape oppression, drought or famines. Tula is the Totonac, Itza Maya and Itsate (Hichiti) Creek word for town. Mexican anthropologists still do not know what ethnic group ruled in the town, now called Tula in Totonac and Tollan in Mexica. Tula was also the name of Teotihuacan, which had a Totonac elite.


      The posts about obsidian trading and the obsidian discoveries in the Sautee-Nacoochee Valley (SNV made me remember this : Between 1965 and 1967 I was between 11 and 14 years old. My neighborhood pals and I constantly explored the forests and and creeks near our homes in Cornelia Georgia near the base of Chenocetah Mountain. It’s maybe 20 miles south of the SNV. We built forts, played hide & seek, caught frogs, lizards, shot at rusty cans with our BB rifles etc. The usual things that boys do LOL. There was a dirt road nearby which was said to have been an old, forgotten wagon/ stagecoach trail in the early to mid 1800s. This area would have probably been Cherokee and possibly even Creek territory, because the US government’s Hawkins Line drawn as the boundary separating the two Native American nations is just a few miles south of the spot. The first quarter mile of it had been widened into a logging road for motorized log trucks in the 1930’s. Not very far from where the widened road narrowed to the supposed wagon trail, my pals and I noticed a small mound at the eroded edge of the trail. We found some chunks of black obsidian and lumps of pumice. I knew what they were because I was somewhat of a young geography & geology buff.. We dug around a bit and found smaller chunks and flakes of obsidian and several obsidian objects which looked like unfinished arrowheads. They were arrowhead-shaped , however it appeared that the sides had not yet been napped and flattened. They could have been defective/flawed throwaways. Nothing that we found was large enough to have been a spear tip or knife. It was near this spot that the trailed turned south through the gap between Chenocetah Mountain and Baldwin Mountain. Not far down that trail from where we found the volcanic material, we built a fort atop a hillside and there were small raised, pinestraw- covered mounds heavily concentrated in the pine forest. I’ve always wondered if they were Native American burial mounds or just ant or termite mounds covered with pinestraw. Looking at the Google Maps view of the area, there are now roads and homes nearby. I sure hope my childhood play areas have not been disturbed. There may be some significant discoveries to be made there.

      • May I use your letter as a regular article in People of One Fire? Yes, the line between the Creeks and Cherokees in the early 1800s ran through Cullahee and Yonah Mountains. However, all mounds would have built by ancestors of the Creeks. The Cherokees did not live in Georgia very long. In 1776, there were only about 100 Cherokees is the entire Province of Georgia, which then ran all the way to the Mississippi River.

        Richard Thornton


    Fascinating! Obsidian sourced from here in Montana has been confirmed in Ohio archaeological sites. Have any of the obsidian flakes or objects mentioned undergone analysis to determine the source of the raw material?

    J Del Duca
    PhD Student in American Studies

    • To date, no obsidian has been tested. I didn’t even know about the other obsidian artifacts until Feb. 7, 2017. As I said in the article, the residents of the Nacoochee Valley have repeatedly been scammed by archaeologists and so I will have to go slow. The residents of the Valley are well-educated and generally affluent so don’t get the image of hillbillies. However, after having such a enormous number of artifacts taken away, never to be seen again, they are very reluctant to give them to strangers. I think that the solution is to get the Sautee Nacoochee Community Association involved with the testing of obsidian artifacts so their residents will have some protection from con-artists with PhD’s in Anthropology. The current president of the SNCA is an attorney.


    Richard T. Have you seen America Unearthed season 2 episode 13: The Spearhead Conspiracy aired on February 22, 2014? Scott Wolter was investigating a story about an obsidian spearhead found by Trevor Carter and Bryan Axtell in Haleakala National Park in Hawai’i which is believed to have been Mesoamerican in origin.
    Could it be that the obsedian spearheads and blades are from the same source (Mexico / Mesoamerica)? If there ever was a traderoute stretching from Polynesia to (southeastern) north America it could also explain why some words in different native American languages and dialects have similar Austronesian (Eastern-Polynesian) words and meanings.

    Source Links:

    • I watched that program, but I was not sure of what the facts were in that particularly case. For example, the producers of the show indicated that it was a “fact” that “little people” built the irrigation system. Yet when one researches that subject, the “little people” are treated as a myth. On the other hand, a red-haired people DEFINITELY lived in New Zealand prior to the arrival of the Polynesians. They could have also lived on the Maui. They could have brought the axe from South America, since the DNA of the red haired Maori of New Zealand matches a light skinned ethnic group in Peru.

      I am not that knowledgeable on Polynesian cultural history. One of my cousins is. He and his wife are in the process of moving to the island of Hawaii right now. He plans to study the genetic and cultural connections between the Americas and Polynesia.

      I am hesitant to state opinions on subjects in which I am not that familiar with. I hope that you understand my position.


        Richard, Your position is completely understandable.
        The connection between America and Polynesia has been subject for centuries and fairly recently it has been backed up with DNA proof not only between native Americans and Polynesians but also with Andamanese (Onge / Negrito), Australian Aboriginals, Papuans and Melanesians especially in Amazone South America. In Central America the Cabécar of Costa Rica showed DNA links with Andamanese Negrito.
        There are, as always, many arguments and theories on how those Polynesians and non-Polynesian Oceanians ended up in America. As far ‘m aware of, a good amount of Polynesians are between 20% and 30% admixed with Papuans and / or Melanesians. The Maori migrated from east to west towards Oceania; did the Maori mixed in Oceania (red/blonde haired Australo-Melanesians (Australia, Solomon islands) or on the American continent (South America in particular)? Than there is the question; did the Australo-Melanesians mixed with red/blonde haired fair skinned people?
        As you may know there are atleast cultural links and seemingly genetic links between the natives of the Pacific Northwest; Haida and Tlingit and Polynesians. Surprisingly there was Autralo-Melanesian DNA found in Aleutian islanders.
        Perhaps your cousin and his wife are also able to ask the Hawai’ian (Maoli) Elders about any memory of a dark / black tribe or natives living on the Hawai’ian islands.

        There is indirect evidence of an Pacific American traderoute. The South American Potato also known as Kumara found it’s way into Polynesia and the Island Southeast Asian / Oceanian coconut found it’s way into Central America in Panama in pre-Columbian times.

        In other posts I have already mentioned the similarities between canoe petroglyphs in Scandinavia (Sami / Saami), Southeast North America (Uchee) and Rapa Nui /Easter Island. Alfred Haddon and James Hornell already noticed the similarities between Scandinavian canoes and canoes from Island Southeast Asia and Oceania in the early 20th century.


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