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Massive Apalache town sites identified in Metro Atlanta

They are  one-half to three miles in diameter. All contain the ruins of stone structures and cairns.  Most also contain one or more agricultural terrace complexes.   Atlanta Metro county governments have requested that we provide specific locations for only two of the eight sites, in order to protect the others.

All of the Atlanta Area Apalache towns are on lands ceded by the Creek Confederacy to the United States government in 1786, 1805 or 1818.  However, 16th and 17th century maps label this region, Apalache.

Several of these archaeological zones were given site numbers by the Smithsonian Institute in the 1886 or archaeologist Robert Wauchope in 1939, but were generally ignored by archaeologists of later generations because they contained stone ruins and therefore were assumed to be from the 1800s.  The major exception was Phillip White’s (Harvard University) brief visit to stone architecture sites in Georgia in 1951. 

Apalache Foundation researchers currently have identified fourteen other terrace complexes outside Metro Atlanta in East-Central Alabama, North Georgia and NW South Carolina.  The most northerly site is the Track Rock Terrace Complex, which was ceded by the Creek Confederacy in 1785.  The two most southerly terrace complexes are in the Flint River Gorge, east of Columbus, GA, which were ceded in 1827.  Their earliest artifacts date back 1,500 years older than those found at Track Rock Gap.  

A section of the 1693 Morden Map of North America.

A section of the 1693 Morden Map of North America.

The longest Apalache town site stretches for about seven miles along the Chattahoochee River in White and Habersham Counties, Georgia.  Here there are many Class 3, 4, 5 and 6 rapids.  This town is labeled “Apalache” on the 1693 map of eastern North America by Robert Morden.  The Apalache town of Vitacuche on his map, was named Chattahoochee between 1721 and 1776.  The town of Tuckabachee was located there between 1777 and 1827.

(Click images to enlarge them)

This site perspective was is a "snap shot" of a virtual reality computer model, created from the LIDAR scan below. The town was at least two miles in diameter. Only structures visible by LIDAR are shown. Test pits dug by an archaeologist in 1992 suggest that there are many building footprints hidden under the surface.

This site perspective was is a “snap shot” of a virtual reality computer model, created from the LIDAR scan below. The town was at least two miles in diameter. Only structures visible by LIDAR are shown. Test pits dug by an archaeologist in 1993 suggest that there are many building footprints hidden under the surface.  Probably, there are also some small mounds that LIDAR and infrared missed because of being covered by alluvial soils, deposited by floods.

The stream and street names were blacked out on the LIDAR image below to conceal the location of the archaeological zone.


If you still have your copy of The Apalache Chronicles,  read it again . . . but don’t pay any attention to the section where Marilyn Rae and I say that Charles de Rochefort might have exaggerated a bit on the size of Apalache towns or the exotic descriptions of some Apalache religious structures in his 1658 book.   De Rochefort never mentioned mounds, but he said that the Apalache towns ran for at least  a French league ( lieue ancienne or about two miles) along rushing white water rivers.   That didn’t sound like any “Mississippian Culture” town I had ever visited, and surely, towns that huge would have long ago been found by archaeologists.  By golly,  that is it exactly what these  towns that we are finding in North Georgia and east Alabama, are like . . .  always on white water rivers, but no super-sized mounds.

Because most Apalache mounds were modest ovals, covered with cobblestones, and the towns were so huge archaeologists did not recognize them as such.  In fact, there were several cases in which late 20th century archaeologists dug exploratory pits within Apalache towns and labeled each one a separate archaeological site consisting of an uninteresting rural hamlet that was not worth exploring.

Colorization of a 17th century lithograph of an Apalache town in NE Metro Atlanta.

Charles de Rochefort stated that the leaders of Apalache were mummified, just like they were in Peru.  When the mummy began molding due to Georgia’s humidity,  they were  buried in tombs dug out of the sides of mountains.   By golly, we have found two large Apalache Royal Burial Complexes.  Both are at the west-facing crests of mountains, overlooking beautiful valleys.

The temple in a large cave under a waterfall did exist.  It was at De Soto Falls State Park on Lookout Mountain at the eastern edge of Alabama.

A spelunker has found the 25 feet high, 200 feet deep cave temple near Mellilot that De Rochefort described.   Apparently, it was hand dug, because the igneous rock near Atlanta does not normally have caves.

The cone shaped mountain with a solar observatory has also been identified.  The ruins of the temple are still on the mountaintop.  It is in NE Metro Atlanta and aligns along the azimuth of the Winter Solstice with stone ruins on a large hill in one of the largest Apalache town sites.

All the Apalache towns are either on steep mountain slopes or adjacent to fast running, clear, “mountain type” rivers.   Those in Metro Atlanta also contain some fertile bottom land, but the flood plains are relatively narrow.  Apparently,  Apalache farmsteads and hamlets were stretched continuously along these narrow flood plains, but agricultural production was augmented by intensive cultivation of biochar soils in terrace complexes.  There is significant evidence at all terrace complexes, including Track Rock, that many or most most terrace walls were of log construction.

Relationship to modern day Creek Indians

The origin of the Highland Apalache People appears to have been the Deptford Culture, which appeared during the Early Woodland Perod.  The Deptford Mound is located adjacent to Downtown Savannah.  In the “Migration Legend” documents, discovered in England during April 2015,  Chiliki, the Apalache Principal Chief of the Creek Confederacy,  stated that “our first emperor is buried in Savannah.”   He also used the words Palache and Coweta interchangeably and in his closing speech, stated that they meant the same.

In other related documents Tamachichi (Tomochichi in English) who was Principal Chief of the Itsate Creeks on the Ocmulgee River until 1717, stated that his original ancestors were buried at another mound in Savannah.  Tamachichi is a Totonac and Itza Maya word.  This indicates that both the Panoan (Peruvian) and Itza Maya ancestors of the Lower Creeks entered North America from the Atlantic Coast near Savannah.  Other branches of the Creeks had Migration Legends which described their ancestors entering the Lower Southeast from the west.

In 1653, the Paracusa (High King) of Apalache told the explorer from Barbados, Richard Briggstock,   that their people congealed their self-identity in the region around Lake Tama.  Lake Tama was formerly located along the Ocmulgee River about 60 miles south of Macon, GA.   He said that over the centuries, the capital of the Apalache moved northward.  By the 1600s, they were concentrated in the end of the Appalachian Mountains and in the Piedmont of Georgia.  However,  by that time, the Apalache dominated a confederacy that stretched from southwestern Virginia to the Florida Panhandle.

Therefore, we can state with confidence that the Apalachicola (means Apalache People),  Hitchiti-speaking Creeks & Seminoles and the Coweta Creeks are direct descendants of the Apalache.  However,  other branches of the Creeks, including the Upper Creeks, are not, unless by intermarriage.

The Apalache elite dressed like the people of Satipo Province in Peru and probably spoke a language that mixed Panoan, Itza and Muskogean.  Their language is extinct.   The exotic clothing, hair styles and hats of 19th century Seminoles were directly descended from the Apalache elite.

The Apalache Commoners dressed like the “Creeks” encountered by the first colonists in South Carolina.  They spoke either Itsate (proto-Hitchiti) or proto-Muskogee.

A massive V-wall at Sandy Creek Park that is oriented to the Winter Solstice Sunset.

A massive V-wall at Sandy Creek Park that is oriented to the Winter Solstice Sunset.


Visiting Apalache sites in Metro Atlanta

Both Apalache town sites that are open to the public are county-owned parks.  They have marked trails, paved parking, plus picnicking and other recreational facilities.  They are patrolled by rangers and are very safe for family visits.  Both Little Mulberry River Park in Gwinnett County or Sandy Creek Park in Clarke & Jackson Counties have their own websites, where you can obtain detailed directions.

Little Mulberry River Park is probably the location of one of the earliest European colonies in North America (1565) – Melilot.   It covers about 2/3 of the three mile long Apalache town site.  You will see a wide variety of stone ruins, plus the remnants of terracing created by log retaining walls.  Last March, I am fairly certain that I found the ruins of 17th century European buildings and will be studying them further this winter.

Sandy Creek Park is part of a massive Native American archaeological zone along this stream.   Unfortunately, the most interesting stone ruins are on private property.  However, the hiking trail in the northwest corner of the park goes past many stone walled agricultural terraces, very similar to those at Track Rock Gap.  In our last visit to Sandy Creek, we found what appeared to be the ruins of a 17th century European compound.  I found evidence of gold smelting activities.  The site is on private land.

US 129, the highway that provides access to Sandy Creek Park follows the general route of the Nene Hvtke Rakko  (Great White Path) that connected Chiaha in the Smoky Mountains to the Gulf Coast at the mouth of the Suwannee River.   Near the end of the Migration  Legend of the Kaushete People,  it is stated that the builders of a mountainside town in the Georgia Mountains probably built this road.


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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.



    Thank you Richard for this informative article on these different sites. One question I have is, Will you be photographing the sites you plan to uncover during the winter? I look forward to see what you do discover, and hope you shed true light on the original inhabitants of the area!

  2. Yes – some of them. I will photograph the foundations that I think are for the houses of 17th century English colonists. However, I have promised not to publicize any information about the 200 feet long cave temple. The county government just does not want the hassle of having to provide police at the entrance to the cave.


      I apparently missed something about the 200 ft cave temple? There are many caves in TN too ( where I live) & an elderly relative related a story of some Cherokee’s who came and left an offering at the entrance to a local cave. Thank you for sharing your knowledge & information.


    really enjoying this! thanks, Richard


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