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Native American Architecture as American Architecture

Why the Federal government should recognize Native American architecture as American architecture

The 184.5 mile long C&O Canal is a national park. The several hundred miles of canals, locks and raised causeways built by an indigenous people from 300 AD to 1150 AD to link the sophisticated towns south of Lake Okeechobee, FL receive almost no protection. After being studied by professional archaeologists in the late 20th century, knowledge of this remarkable civilization was “buried under the rug” by their peers. Even most Floridians don’t know it existed. Such knowledge would challenge the orthodoxies of the archaeology profession.

The Sandy Creek Terrace Complex contains hundreds of stone agricultural terraces, cairns, rectangular stone building ruins and stone-veneered mounds over a 400 acres+ archaeological zone. It is six miles north of the University of Georgia. To this day, UGA archaeologists have never studied these ruins.

It is a pattern seen throughout the Eastern United States. Generally, when there are stone ruins or large scale engineering projects created by indigenous peoples, they are ignored by most members of the archaeology profession and are unknown to policy makers in DC. The only explanation is that such ruins conflict with a simplistic understanding of America’s past. At least, HABS acknowledgement of these ancient ruins as architecture would be the first step to preservation. To learn more

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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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