Mysterious silver crosses unearthed from Kusa burial mound in Georgia
Many metallic object were discovered by early Anglo-American settlers in North Georgia, Northeast Alabama and East Tennessee. Also, several archaeologists have casually mentioned finding bronze weapons and tools in Southeastern burial mounds or archeological sites. By far, the greatest concentration of these metal objects was in the Nacoochee Valley in Northeast Georgia.
Because they were metal, the discoverers assumed them all to be of European manufacture, since the last occupants of the region, the Cherokees, did not know how to work metal, when first contact was made with British colonists. However, the ancestors of the Creeks had been making lead, gold, copper, and brass objects for at least 2,000 years.
Virtually all of these objects have disappeared. That we know about them at all, is because certain curious scholars described and sketched them for posterity. Many families in the Nacoochee Valley “loaned” metal art and artifacts to archaeologists or universities. However, for inexplicable reasons, the metal artifacts were neither returned to the owners nor put on public display!
The two crosses above were first mentioned by pioneer archaeologist, Charles C. Jones, Jr. in 1873. His book, Antiquities of the Southern Indians, he stated that the crosses had been dug up in 1832 from a burial mound at “Old Coosawattee Town” at Carter’s Bottom. He did not say who the owner of the crosses was. He did say that the crosses had been examined by a metallurgist and found to be almost pure silver.
The story behind these crosses is odd, because in 1832, Carters Bottom was still occupied by the Martins, one of the wealthiest families in the Cherokee Nation. They were from anywhere from 1/16th to 1/128th Cherokee, but still called themselves Cherokee. Some relocated voluntarily to the Indian Territory in 1837. Those with especially light complexion and blond hair avoided forced removal to the Indian Territory, but they nevertheless, lost their lands in Carters Bottom, and typically took the money paid them for their real estate improvements to other areas of the South or Texas . . . where they could blend in with white newcomers.
Contemporary references, such as Wikipedia, briefly describe the crosses as being found in a “Cherokee” burial mound on the Coosawattee River and probably being gifts to the locals, left by the Hernando de Soto Expedition in 1540. Of course, Northwest Georgia was Upper Creek territory until 1786 and the Cherokees did not bury their dead in mounds. The Kusas were Upper Creeks. The De Soto Expedition DID come through Northwest Georgia in 1540, but are these crosses of 16th century Spanish manufacture? That is a very pertinent question that no one is asking.
Neither Charles C. Jones, Jr. or the authors of contemporary references on the subject were aware that there were silver and gold mines at the foot of Fort Mountain, GA as early as 1600 AD. That is the radiocarbon date of the sawn timbers in a silver mine at its western base. Thus, there were definitely Europeans living about nine miles north of the capital of Kusa at the tail end of the 16th century.
Look at the crosses above. One has an owl on the top arm, while the other has what appears to be a butterfly, with the head of a horse below it. These were common symbols on pagan Scandinavian engravings during the Viking Age, but certainly are never seen on 16th century Spanish crucifixes. That is the first question that caught my eye. One does see pagan symbols on Christian Scandinavian and Anglo-Saxon crosses, but such things certainly would not have been engraved on Southern European Roman Catholic crosses.
You can see when compared to Mexican and Southern European crosses, the artistic motifs of the Kusa Crosses bear no resemblance to 16th and 17th century Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox and Russian Orthodox religious art. The form of the cross is Gothic . . . an artistic tradition of Scandinavia, Normandy, the Netherlands and Northern Germany. The Mexican cross is especially significant. At the time that the De Soto and Pardo Expeditions were crisscrossing the Southeastern United States, this crude silver cross was being mass-produced for Spanish missionaries to give to Indians in Mesoamerica and the Caribbean Basin.
The engraved text
The letters appear to be: SXVWXEHOD. That certainly is not Latin or Spanish. In fact, does not appear to be any known language. It could be that the artist, who sketched the crosses could not read the lettering and so made up some. It could also be that the letters represent an abbreviation of several words. Whatever the case, W was only used in the Germanic languages during the Middle Ages and Renaissance. Even in Spanish, French and Italian today, W is only used when a foreign proper noun is being printed. It is highly unlikely that an indigenous American in a Spanish colony created these crosses.
The letters are engraved on the circle of what appears to be an Etula (Etowah) Cross, now known among Uchees and Creeks as the symbol of the Sacred Fire. As discussed in an earlier article, during the Bronze Age, this cross was the symbol of the Scandinavian Winter Sun God, Yama.
The shape of the Kusa Crosses is much more similar to that of the Gaelic-Gothic artistic tradition of Ireland, Scotland, Scandinavia and Northern Germany. However, it is not quite the same. The artistic motif seems perhaps to be a simplified interpretation of these artistic traditions. The Kusa Crosses are most similar to the form of the Medieval Irish Cross, but they do not have the circular background as has always been standard with Irish and Scottish Crosses . . . commonly known as Gaelic Crosses or Celtic Crosses.
Within each stylized Latin cross, both Kusa crosses contain what is common called a Maltese, Templar or Viking cross . . . although the Templar Cross was typically flared only on the ends, not throughout like the Maltese and Viking Crosses. It is intriguing that Christopher Columbus attached Templar crosses on the sails of the ships in his first voyage . . . despite the fact that the Templars had been declared heretics a century earlier and burned at the stake by the Inquisition.
It is not clear why, but from the very beginning Scandinavians, who converted to Christianity, were fond of the Maltese Cross. Perhaps it was already an ancient religious symbol in the region. Sanct Ibbs Kyrka on Ven Island, Sweden contains numerous 1000+ year old Maltese crosses. Maltese crosses were also interposed onto Bronze and Viking Age petroglyphs on the cliff below it.
From the early 1500s to the late 1700s, you will almost never see Maltese Crosses on Roman Catholic crosses . . . except in Scandinavia before those nations converted to Protestantism in 1528. The reason is that the French and Swiss Protestants adopted a stylized Maltese Cross as their “logo.” The Lutherans and English Protestants adopted the rose as their logo. Yet both of these Kusa Crosses contain Maltese Crosses. This suggests that the Kusa Crosses are Protestant crosses, not Spanish Catholic ones.
On the other hand, the style of the engraving is quite inferior to what the Anglo-Saxons, Irish, Scots and Vikings were creating over 500 years earlier. This suggest that the creator of these crosses was either a novice silver smith from Europe or else indigenous. However, according to orthodox North American history, only Spanish-speaking explorers visited Northwest Georgia in the 1500s and none of the Proto-Creek peoples in northern Georgia converted to Christianity until the late 1700s. The memoirs of Captain René de Laudonnière, Commander of Fort Carolina, did say that one of his officers, La Roche Ferrière, did go on a six month long trading expedition up into northern Georgia in 1564 and 1565, but Ferrière was a soldier, not an artisan.
Of all the styles of cross pendants produced in Europe between 900 AD and 1600 AD, the one with a profile most similar to those of the Kusa crosses is the Huguenot Pendant Cross on the left. It represents a much higher level of craftsmanship than the Kusa crosses, but it does contain some of the same artistic elements.
The answer to this riddle may come from the writings in 1658 by French Huguenot ethnologist and historian, Charles de Rochefort. He stated that 10 of the residents of Fort Caroline were away from the fort when it was massacred by the Spanish in September 1565. The Spanish got word of the survivors and offered rewards for their capture, dead or alive. Fortunately, most of the Natives in Georgia hated the Spanish and liked the French.
Of those survivors, six were able to make their way to northeast Georgia, where they were given sanctuary by the Paracusi (High King) of the Apalache Kingdom. A condition of the leader’s protection was that the Frenchmen marry Apalache women and teach his people European technology.
De Rochefort went on to say that the six Frenchmen soon gained the full respect of the Paracusi and his people. Their status rose to being close advisors of the leader. Eventually, they converted the High King and his family to the French version of Protestant Christianity. This eventually caused the Apalache Kingdom to disintegrate because the priests of the old religion rebelled and the Apalache commoners returned to their traditional religions. However, until that time, Kusa was NOT an independent “paramount chiefdom” as all anthropologists believe, but a vassal province of Apalache. Nevertheless, De Rochefort told us that there WERE Protestant Christian indigenous peoples in North Georgia from about 1570 AD onward. Over time, their practices probably evolved to be different than European Christians, but they were some of the ancestors of the Creek Indians, who the colonists of Georgia greeted in 1733.
This fact would explain a story People of One Fire recounted in a series, published in 2015, on the founding of Georgia. After the Rev. John Wesley (founder of the Methodist Church) finished his sermon to the people, living in the Creek town of Palachicola, its leaders asked him, “Why are you here?” We believe the same things you do, but prefer to worship outdoors.”
The interpretation of the Kusa Crosses will probably remain in the realm of speculation until some time in the future, when the Lower Reservoir can be drained completely for a long enough period for archaeologists to completely study the entire town of Kusa. It contained at least 3,000 houses, according to the chroniclers of the De Soto Expedition. Until then . . . the truth is out there somewhere.
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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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