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Massive Ballcourt Discovered in Northwestern Habersham County, Georgia

Massive Ballcourt Discovered in Northwestern Habersham County, Georgia


Horseshoe shaped, earthen ballcourts were typical of the Olmec Civilization and its descendants in southern Mexico.

Based on a tip from a prominent family in the Nacoochee Valley, who have been extremely supportive of POOF’s research efforts,  a survey team that included three enthusiastic herd dogs, today found a massive Mesoamerican style ballcourt  in the beautiful mountainous region between the Chattahoochee and Soque Rivers.  It is located beneath and north of the Alec Mountain Stone Circle. People living near the archaeological site told the People of One Fire patron that when the field around the structure was cultivated,  many Native American artifacts, including Swift Creek and Lamar Complicated Stamp potsherds, appeared on the surface after rains.  Therefore the location can be assumed to be a fairly large village, occupied for many centuries. The archaeological zone also includes a man-made pond, immediately to the east of the ballcourt. 

This ballcourt is the exact shape and size of a ballcourt in front of the Nacoochee Valley Community Center that Marilyn Rae and I found in October 2013.  The newly discovered ballcourt is 2.68 miles east of the Sautee ballcourt.  Unfortunately, the Sautee archaeological site has since then has been heavily damaged by grading and the construction of a pavilion. 

The newly discovered ballcourt has a flat playing field, which is approximately 315 feet (96m) north-south and 145 feet (44m) wide.  The east and west sides of the field are earth berms, which are approximately 3 feet in height today.  They probably were 8-10 feet high at least five  centuries ago, when the field was in use.  Like the site in nearby Sautee, the north end of the ballcourt is a series of semi-circular terraces, cut into the side of a ridge. 

The Soque Ballcourt, discovered by Smithsonian Institute archaeologists in 1886, is smaller and constructed with volcanic field stones.

The Sautee Ballcourt was first given an official archaeological site number by archaeologist Robert Wauchope in 1939.  As a listed archaeological site and ancient structure in a National Historic District, it should have been off-limits to construction and protected by local, regional and state planning officials.  The structure first lost a corner of its seating terraces in the 1980s, when a state highway was straightened and widened.  However,  since protection of archaeological sites were centralized to the University of Georgia Archaeological Laboratory and the overworked State Historic Preservation Division in Metro Atlanta, the ancient earthen structure has become one of many major Creek heritage sites in Georgia, seriously damaged or destroyed by publicly funded construction or private investors, who bulldozed river bottomlands to grow corn for federal ethanol tax credits.   It has become very clear that Native Americans must be given oversight of their major historical structures.  Native American heritage is obviously not a priority of 21st century bureaucrats.

Probable appearance of the Sautee ballcourt around 1100 AD. It also ran North-South and was sculptured out of the natural terrain of the site.

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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.



    I recall seeing an old map showing a Native American Ballcourt in Madison County, GA on or near the site of the current Black’s Creek Baptist Church Cemetery. I think the map was in the book “A History of Jackson County, Georgia” written in the early 1900’s.

    • Yes, you are correct. Some of my Creek ancestors lived in Madison County!


    Richard Thornton, I do not know how to get up with you except here…. but I want you to know about the latest effort by the Town of Franklin, NC, to deed the Nikwasi Mound over to a non-profit “Nikwasi Initiative” for purposes of a 60-mile long “tourism corridor” that will stretch from Cherokee southward into Georgia. The proposal by Barbara McRae (Vice Chair of Franklin Town Council and Co-Chair of the Nikwasi Initiative non-profit) is now becoming available through news outlets in the region, and many of us here in Macon County are absolutely opposed to deeding away the Nikwasi Mound to this Cherokee-led non-profit. We are disturbed that the Creek Nation occupation of the Little Tennessee River Valley prior to the coming of Cherokee and Europeans is totally ignored, even though most of the place names in the Little Tennessee River watershed are Creek, not Cherokee, and are still used today.

    Here is one news report that came out today regarding the Town of Franklin Council Meeting at which McRae made the proposal to deed away the mound. I know that you are extremely knowledgeable of Creek history in Western North Carolina and throughout the Southeastern USA, and I hope you will pay some attention to this matter.

    Here is the text of a letter I have mailed today to the local newspapers:

    “We’ve already gone through several highly publicized controversies over ill-advised efforts to deed away the Nikwasi Mound, and the overwhelming public sentiment has always been for the Town of Franklin to retain the deed. Why does this matter continue to erupt?

    The Creek Indians populated the Little Tennessee River Valley prior to Cherokee and European immigrants, and Creek descendants might want to have a say in any proposed disposition of the Nikwasi Mound. In fact, the Creek Nation named numerous locations throughout the watershed with Creek names still used here today.

    Furthermore, non-profits come and go and are notoriously unregulated, while governments are far more stable. The Town of Franklin should honor the intent of their deed and retain ownership of the mound in perpetuity, which of course would not preclude allowing other interested entities in jointly taking care of it.”

    By the way, Richard, I live between Franklin and the Georgia line and am quite familiar with our history here.



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