Mesoamerican glyphs continued to evolve after arriving in Dixie
First translations of the Apalache writing system!
As various peoples immigrated into Southeastern North America from other parts of the Americas then began to mix and mingle at parties, a hybrid writing system evolved. It had elements from several regions, but the way they put the pieces together was far out and funky!
Several petroglyphs and surviving remnants of Muskogean art in the Lower Southeast contain what looks like extraterrestrial sun flowers. Would you believe that those deformed sunflowers are actually examples of indigenous writing? Here is the scoop.
Sun Lords in Dixie
Look above at this section of the famous Bonampak murals. Note that several of the Maya men are carrying ceremonial torches that really are scepters with quetzal feather flames. This “badge of office” means that they are Hene Ahaw’s or Sun Lords. Sun Lords in most Maya kingdoms were the brothers and sisters of the Great Sun or High King. They functioned as representatives of the Great Sun, when visiting satellite towns. They also served as circuit judges.
In his chronicles of the two Juan Pardo Expeditions (1567-69) Juan dela Bandera mentioned the term heneha several times. The heneha was described as a judge, who traveled between towns and villages. In modern Muskogee, henehv (henehaw) is the official title of the Second Chief of the Muscogee-Creek Nation.
In ancestral Creek towns, the ceremonial scepter of a hene ahaw was at least sometimes crowned with an abstract copper flame. You can see the scepter is this gorget excavated from Mound C at Etowah Mounds in Northwest Georgia.
The several forms of these copper flames have become synonymous with the Mississippian Culture. It is quite possible that the original scepters in the Southeast had feathered flames, but those have completely decomposed. Only the copper flames or their representation in art, survive. Note the abstract symbol on the dancing priestess’s pubic guard. That is the Itza glyph for mako or great. In this sense, it has the same meaning as mekko in Muskogee.
This priestess at Etowah Mounds is wearing the headdress of the priestess of the Maya god, Kukulkan (Quetzalcoatl). Like much of the art at Chichen Itza, she carries a human head or a wooden sculpture of a human head in her other hand.
Back in 2012, the Eastern Band of Cherokee’s Tribal Cultural Heritage Office adopted this specific gorget from Etowah Mounds as their logo in order to provide “proof” that the Cherokees, not Itza Maya immigrants, back around a thousand years ago, built the 14+ terrace complexes in the Georgia Piedmont and Mountains. Okay . . .
The High King of both a Maya kingdom and a Southeastern province was called a Great Sun. On Boulder Six of the Track Rock petroglyphs are pure Itza Maya glyphs for Great Sun ~ Lord Kukulkan. These glyphs probably date from the late 900s AD, but there is no way to be sure. They also appear separately on shell gorgets and copper art at several Muskogean towns.
As can be seen below, the standard Maya glyphs for Hene Ahaw or Sun Lord consist of a “Royal Sun” and and a stylized Maya scepter. In many shell gorgets, individual scepters appear. Some gorgets also portray the royal sun. The big mystery, though was the strange sunflowers. I finally figured that those were not sunflowers, Great Sun Flowers. Unlike Maya hieroglyphics, the ancestors of the Creeks merged the two glyphs together in a three dimensional object. This suggests that their writing system could have well been three dimensional.
Some of those Great Sun Flowers look particularly bizarre. They have multiple leaves, resembling an agave plant in Mexico, but still have the 3D Royal Sun as their head. Do the extra leaves have an additional meaning or are they just “art.”
There is a possible explanation. Late 17th century French ethnologist, Charles de Rochefort, stated that the Apalache in Northeast Georgia grew a giant flower with leaves that would wrinkle when touched by humans. His book provided an engraving that showed the High King of the Apalache and his wife standing beside one these plants, which were grown on mountainside terraces. This cultivated plant has disappeared from the Southeast, but its wild and cultivated cousins still thrive in eastern Peru. Note that the High King and his Queen are wearing pompoms on their conical straw hats to signify royalty. Okay . . .
Apparently, this is a situation in which originally two abstract Maya glyphs were joined to create a single glyph that resembled a sun flower. Perhaps over time, subsequent generations forgot the origin of this glyph and considered it a sunflower. The Apalache apparently wanted to have their symbol of royalty symbolized by the flower with which they were associated. Thus, they modified the glyph further with the additional leaves.
The bison velum read by High King Chikili in Savannah on June 7, 1732 required several pages to be printed in English. It is obvious that the importation of glyphs from Mesoamerica was only the first step in the evolution of a writing system, which became quite different in structure than Maya hieroglyphics.
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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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