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Ocmulgee National Park was a continuation of the “Olmec” Civilization

Ocmulgee National Park was a continuation of the “Olmec” Civilization


Many discoveries are backing up 100% the Migration Legends of the Creek Confederacy. The types of houses, mounds, and folk temples in Olmec towns were exactly like those in Ocmulgee after around 1000 AD.  These oral histories, often with detailed geographical information, describe the journeys of refugee bands from various parts of Mesoamerica. 

After decades of focusing on the ruins of large cities, whose restoration would attract tourist dollars, pounds and euros, the Institituo Nacional de Anthropologia E Historia de México (INAH) is now doing some serious anthropological research.  Very little of this new information is getting into English language anthropological references such as Wikipedia and Archaeology Magazine, so one has to use Spanish search words in Google then hit the “Translate” button, if you do not know Spanish.

These discoveries are identifying key dates of cultural changes, plus producing detailed descriptions of the lifestyles of the “regular folks,” who composed about 95% of Mesoamerica’s population.  Heretofore, North American archaeology has focused on the lives and buildings of the “rich and famous.”   It is clear.  Certain traumatic events resulted in emigration of commoners at the same time that new cultural influences appeared in the what is now the Southeastern United States.

Birdseye view of LaVenta – the largest Olmec Civilization city

First, we should explain that the Olmecs had nothing to do with the Olmec civilization.  North American archaeologist, Mathew Stirling, applied that name to an ancient civilization in southern Mexico that he was studying in the 1940s because a Nahua-speaking people, named the Olmecs, lived near some of those ruins.  Stirling’s articles in National Geographic Magazine gave readers in the United States the impression that HE had discovered the civilization.  In fact, Mexican archaeologists had been aware of these ruins since at least 1906, but did not publicize their discoveries outside of Latin America. The correct name of the civilization, which now becoming more widely accepted, is the Zoque Civilization.  Zoque is the Mixtec-Zoque word for “civilized.”   The Anglicized version of that word was applied to a river in the mountains of Northeast Georgia, the Soque, but indigenous peoples pronounced Zoque and Soque, identically.

The Olmec Civilization did not mysteriously “disappear” around 500 BC as virtually all TV documentaries . . . include those by National Geographic  . . . tell you.  The large city of La Venta was abandoned at that time, but occupation of some other towns and village continued for many centuries thereafter.  Some are occupied today.  In fact, the Epi-Olmec or Isthmian Civilization was culturally more sophisticated than the preceding Olmec Civilization. However, there were no large concentrations of population.  The direct descendants of the Olmec Civilization still live today in southern Mexico, southern Florida, Oklahoma, in the Auburn, AL area and near Robbinsville, NC. 

The earthen pyramids and burial mounds of southern Mexico and Tamaulipas are identical to their counterparts in the Southeastern United States.  About the only locations in the world, where one sees five-sided earthen pyramids are in the State of Georgia, USA and the highlands of Chiapas, southern Guatemala and Belize.  There was virtually no difference in the lifestyles of commoners in the Southeastern Ceremonial Mound Culture and the indigenous commoners of southern Mexico – other than the southern Mexicans grew many more varieties of vegetables and fruits, while the Southeastern Indians had access to more animal protein.

Background on Ocmulgee Archaeology

During the 1930s, the largest archaeological excavation ever carried out in the United States was located on the Ocmulgee River near Macon, GA.  Hundreds of laborers, paid by the WPA or other similar federal programs, were supervised by archaeologist Arthur Kelly and Georgia Tech graduate, Joe Tamplin.  For several years, they were the only two people on the project with college degrees.  Incredibly, Kelly never submitted a report on his excavation until 1974.  By then, many suppositions and speculations by other archaeologists about Ocmulgee had became orthodoxy.  The mythological version of Ocmulgee’s past is what one sees in the Ocmulgee museum to this day.

  • Waka (Creek name for Ocmulgee) was really a conurbation of several dozen towns and villages, which stretched for 38 miles along the Ocmulgee River.  The boundaries of the former 783 acre Ocmulgee National Monument mainly contained the Acropolis (Downtown) and inner ring of neighborhoods . . . each neighborhood having one or more mounds and plazas.

Kelly’s presentation at the 1974 Ocmulgee Conference had little impact on the official body of knowledge that one sees in nationally published archaeology books to this day.  Kelly stated that the architecture and town plan of Ocmulgee, changed radically over time.  Initially, the houses were round.  Later, =/- 35 ft. x 35 ft houses were built on a large plaza in the acropolis, while elsewhere people switched from round houses to either small rectangular house or small square houses with earthberm walls. Kelly stated that the area around the Great Plaza in the Ocmulgee Acropolis was densely developed with large, square houses,  even larger structures with wrap-around overhangs (they looked like bungalows), round structures with no hearths, plus very large warehouses.

Also, a team of National Park Service archaeologists presented their report on their excavation and radiocarbon dating of the “Lamar Village” [Itzasi~ Ichese] which is two miles south of the Ocmulgee Acropolis.  They found that this village was founded in the 990s AD – not around 1250 AD as stated in the museum.  They also determined that the same people, who founded Itzasi, settled Etula [Etowah Mounds] a few years later.  Both towns were laid out on the locations of earlier villages.  Archaeologist Robert Wauchope found Deptford and Swift Creek culture mounds on the current south side of the Etowah River.  Around 1200 AD, the Etowah River shifted southward and the Ocmulgee River shifted eastward during a catastrophic storm . . . placing older town sites on the opposite side of the river from the ones, focused on by archaeologists today.  Neither the Etowah Mounds or Ocmulgee museums tell visitors this.

The 1961 Ocmulgee booklet was used for over 25 years.

A team of National Park Service archaeologists from the Midwest designed the exhibits at the Ocmulgee Museum in the early 1950s. They believed that the first “Mississippian Culture” town was Cahokia and that Ocmulgee was a primitive colony of Cahokia.  They also believed that the Swift Creek Culture, which preceded large mounds on the acropolis, was created by a people from New England.  At the time, very few of the 30,000+ boxes of Ocmulgee artifacts had ever even been opened.  Artifacts that looked Mesoamerican were never shown to the public. Well, the archaeologists thought that the shell-tempered redware would not imply a Mesoamerican origin, but in fact shell-tempered redware potsherds compose about 90% of the ceramic artifacts at any Maya city site. Maya commoners were only allowed to make shell-tempered redware.

I still have the guidebook to Ocmulgee National Monument, which was published in 1961.  Ten years later, it was what was distributed to our Georgia Tech Architectural History class, when we visited the park.  Here is an overview of the book’s version of history.

  • Visitors are not told that Clovis points are found along the Ocmulgee River because at the time, the Clovis Culture was assumed to be the people, who crossed over the Bering Sea land bridge then only settled in the Southwestern United States.  Actually,  during 1939, WPA archaeologist Robert Wauchope found 35 Clovis points in the Georgia’s Nacoochee Valley . . . without looking for them.  In the 21st century,  University of South Carolina archaeologists found the oldest known Clovis Points on the Savannah River.  The greatest concentration of Clovis Points are in Middle Tennessee, the Savannah River River Basin and the Chesapeake Bay Basin.  This suggests that the “Clovis People” didn’t even come across the Bering Land Bridge.
  • Advanced indigenous culture began in the Midwest.  Actually, the two oldest examples of architecture in North America (including Mexico) are the Bilbo Mound in Savannah (3545 BC) and the Watson Brake earthworks in NE Louisiana (3450 BC).  They predate any mounds in the Midwest by 2,000 years.
  • The Southern Indians were primitive hunter-gatherers until Adena people arrived from Ohio and introduced the idea of pottery and mound building. The Midwestern-inspired results was called the Deptford Culture.  However, the mounds in the south were smaller and the pottery that the locals produced was cruder.   Actually, that crude pottery was Stallings Island pottery, which is the oldest pottery in North America, and predates the Adena pottery by 2,000 years.  The Deptford Culture began in Savannah several hundred years before the Adena Culture began in Ohio.  Deptford Mounds are oval, not cone-shaped like Adena mounds . . . and they could be quite large.  Deptford Culture was very sophisticated and virtually identical to the Bell Beaker Cordware of northwestern Europe during the Bronze Age.
  • The Swift Creek Culture was a colony of the Hopewell Culture in Ohio.  Actually, Swift Creek pottery was made in northern Peru about 200 years before it appeared in Georgia around 100 AD.
  • Master Farmers from Cahokia founded the town on a natural terrace over-looking the Ocmulgee River around 1100 AD. The Master Farmers introduced the concept of pyramidal platform mounds and the cultivation of corn, beans and squash.  Actually, the large scale cultivation of corn, beans and squash, plus the construction of platform mounds at Ocmulgee predate those in Cahokia by about 150 years.  Mound construction began at Etula and Itzasi in Georgia about 50 years before mound construction began at Cahokia. Mound construction began at Kolomoki and Leake Site i in Georgia about 900 years before those in Cahokia.  Construction of the large platform mound at the Mandeville and Six Flags (9FU14) sites began 1400 years before those at Cahokia!
  • The famous Ocmulgee Earthlodge was a sod-covered early lodge built by Mandan immigrants from the Upper Missouri River Valley.  Actually, it was NOT an earthlodge, but a cone-shaped, thatch-covered type of temple for commoners that was endemic in Mesoamerica. There are no native grasses in the Southeast, which create sod and in the humid, rainy climate of Macon, sod was impractical.  The great Temple of Quetzalcoatl in Tenochtitlan was a stone masonry replica of these commonplace temples, which were typically dedicated to either Quetzalcoatl or the sun god. There is irony in this myth.  All of the Siouan “earthlodge” peoples of the Missouri Valley have migration legends, which begin in the Southeast.  The Kansa were from NE Alabama and NW Georgia.   The Ota or Otoe were from the Ocmulgee River Basin near Warner-Robbins, GA. They are labeled “Otasi” on 18th century maps of Georgia.  The Mandans were from the Gulf Coast region, while the Quapaw were from near Georgetown, SC.   Of course, Wikipedia articles, written by Midwestern professors have all of these tribes originating in the Midwest.   LOL
  • The Master Farmers returned to Cahokia. Farmers from the Lower Mississippi River Valley (aka Creek Indians) arrived in Ocmulgee Bottoms around 1250 AD, but never were as advanced as the indigenous peoples of the Midwest.  Cahokia is believed to have contained the largest known population concentration, north of Mexico.  However, to say that Cahokia had a significantly more sophisticated culture than such locations as Moundville, AL,  Ocmulgee, Etowah Mounds, the Lower Mississippi Town States, etc. is dubious.  Furthermore, the Late Mississippian Apalache Kingdom, whose capital was in northeast Georgia, was infinitely more advanced in clothing, metallurgy, writing, religion and agriculture than Cahokia.  The Apalache just thought it was stupid to waste human labor on mounds.  Nevertheless, in 1653 the Paracusa (High King) of Apalache bragged to British explorer, Richard Briggstock, that he had over 7,000 warriors within two days walk of the capital.   The Highland Apalache were the real Apalache and gave their name to the Appalachian Mountains.  The Florida Apalache never called themselves Apalache until the Spanish told them that Apalache was their tribal name.

Later research

Until 2012 only THREE sets of radiocarbon dates had been obtained for structures in the Ocmulgee Acropolis.  Nevertheless, these clearly showed that the “Mississippian Culture” arrived in central Georgia about 150 years before it arrived on the Mississippi River!

Model of the Ocmulgee Acropolis – built for the Muscogee-Creek Nation – note the dense concentration of buildings.

  • 1970 – My fellowship coordinator, Dr. Román Piña-Chan, stated that most of the art at Etowah Mounds, except the pottery, resembled that of the branches of the Mayas in southern Veracruz, Chiapas and Tabasco States, Mexico.  In contrast, he found that the art of Moundville Mounds, Alabama was identical to that of the Toltecs, whereas its earthen pyramids and town plan reminded him of an enigmatic civilization in western Tamaulipas State (NE Mexico). It was destroyed by Chichimec Barbarians around 1150 AD . . . at about the same time that Moundville began evolving from a village to a major town.  By the way,  Román Piña-Chan wrote “THE BOOKS” on the Olmec Civilization and Chichen Itza.  What an incredible opportunity was given me by having him as a mentor.
  • 1974 – National Park Service archaeologists working at the Lamar Village discovered that Arthur Kelly had stopped digging, when his laborers reached a layer of soil containing no artifacts. This “sterile” soil, in fact, was deposited by the massive flood of around 1200 AD.  The National Park Service team kept on digging until they reached the base of Lamar Village Mound A, which they determined was constructed around 990 AD.  This coincides with the capture of Chichen Itza by Toltecs and the mass emigration of Itza Commoners from the city.
  • 2006 – While doing research for a town model of Etula (Etowah) for the Muscogee-Creek Nation, I discovered that most of the glyphs on an Olmec stone tablet, recently discovered in Cascajal, Vera Cruz. could be found in the art of Etula (Etowah Mounds).  It was also during this research project that I realized that the word chiki means “house” in Totonac, Itza Maya and Georgia Creek!  The houses in the suburbs of Chichen Itza before 1000 AD and the houses in Etula and Itzasi (Lamar Village) after 1000 AD were identical and had the same name. Since then,  I have determined that at least a third of the Itsate Creek & Miccosukee languages are Itza or Totonac words.  Several rivers in Georgia, such as the Chattahoochee and mighty Altamaha have Itza Maya names.  The Creek languages also contain quite a few Panoan words from Peru.
  • 2008 – Some Anthropology professors at the University of Oklahoma informed the Muscogee-Creek Nation that the new murals erected in the Ocmulgee Museum were not accurate descriptions of what archaeologist Arthur Kelly had discovered.  MCN Judge Patrick Moore asked me to thoroughly study the archaeological reports for Ocmulgee then build an accurate model of the Ocmulgee Acropolis.  It was during this research that I realized the inaccurate portrayal of this megapolis to the general public and even to the contemporary archaeological profession.  The model, which I constructed exactly matched the footprints of the buildings on Kelly’s sketch site plans.  However, he also showed round structures and a town layout with dashed lines.  I didn’t understand what this meant and so did not show the round houses. 
  • 2012 – I now know that Kelly assumed that the round houses in the acropolis pre-dated the founding of the town and the construction of the mounds.  He was wrong about that. However, there are sections of the Acropolis and some smaller mounds, which long predate the construction of the Great Temple Mound at Ocmulgee. A couple of the mounds may be 1500-2000 years old than the Great Temple Mound.  The exhibits in the Ocmulgee make no mention of the round houses or that villages had existed on the site long before the “Master Farmers” arrived.
  • 2012 – As part of his dissertation, Dr. Daniel Bigman carried out the first ever remote sensing (ground radar) study of the Ocmulgee Acropolis.  Having been taught what was basically the 1950s mythology of the Midwestern archaeologists, Bigman was shocked to discover 35 feet diameter, center pole, round houses at the base of the Acropolis.  The earliest of these supersized houses may date as much as a century before the construction of the Great Temple Mound (900 AD) but these people were cultivating corn, beans and squash on a large scale . . . so they should be considered “Mississippians” even though their architecture was typical of the Arawaks of northern South America. 
  • The first rectangular houses appeared around 1000 AD.  Shortly thereafter the Ocmulgee Earthlodge was burned and covered with dirt.  The elite houses were grouped around plazas and were 35 ft2 square. They were built out of wattle and daub with thatched roofs.  They contained interior partitions made out of wattle and daub.   Most houses in suburban neighborhoods were smaller and in the range of 10’ by 20’ to 25’ . . . the same size and shape as the homes of the Maya Commoners. 
  • Between 1000 AD and 1100 AD, there was a mixture of round and rectangular houses, with rectangular houses becoming increasingly predominant.  After 1100 AD, all the houses were all rectangular.  Of course, Bigman did not catch the connection of the round houses to South America or the rectangular houses to Mesoamerica.
  • 2016 – I obtained a copy of the Miccosukee Migration Legend, which states that the Miccosukee are the descendants of the Olmec Civilization, but also their ancestors were participants in the Maya Civilization. They did not live in large cities, however, as this was impractical in their ecological system.   Their ancestors fled Mexico after their lands were invaded by a warlike people.
  • 2018 – INAH announced the interim findings of their projects in the residential neighborhoods of the Olmec Civilization. Archaeological work in these areas is very difficult because the damp, acidic soil has dissolved many of the artifacts and almost all the human skeletons. They determined that warlike Nahua immigrants entered southern Vera Cruz around 1000 AD, causing some of the aboriginal peoples to move elsewhere.  Shortly after 1300 AD, Nahua armies from what would become the Aztec Empire conquered most of the territory of the descendants of the Olmec Civilization.  Many commoners fled Aztec brutality. It is not clear where the refugees went.
  • The Zoque elite houses were clustered around rectangular plazas and were occupied by extended families.  They determined that the elite lived in +/- 10.7 m2 (35 ft2) houses built out of wattle and daub with thatched roofs, plus wattle & daub interior partitions.  The commoners lived in separate suburban neighborhoods or rural villages with much smaller houses – typically 10 feet by 20/25 feet in dimension. (Exactly what is found in the Ocmulgee River Basin!)  Most Zoque and Tabasco Maya villages also contained a U-shaped earthen ballcourt, where some sort of ball game was played . . . possibly the same stickball game played in Teotihuacan. As stated in an earlier POOF article, U-shaped earthen ballcourts were a standard feature of Creek villages up until at least 1776.   Now you know!


Sketch by William Bartram of a Creek town on the Ocmulgee River in 1776 – very similar to an Olmec Civilization town

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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’m constantly fascinated and amazed how you can pull so many loose ends of history together to form a clearer picture of past that has been obstructed or over looked for too long. If there was a nomination process for national indigenous historian I would submit your name. Please keep up the good work.


    Richard, Another Great article from you. The oldest mounds of the Adena people are from 1200 BC- 800 BC nowhere close to 3500 BC. The “old copper artifacts” have many connections to the “Bell Beaker” people tools and they seem to had a trade connection with the American Natives for the copper missing from this landmass of anywhere from 500,000 tons or more mined from around the Great lakes. They seem to have just loaded up their ships and headed back to the ancient Seaports … perhaps as far as Cyprus (ky-páris-sos).
    The Bronze age ended in 1200 BC in the Eastern part of the Mediterranean…just when the Adena mounds start being built in the upper Midwest. I noticed the iron age seems to have arrived first in Western Mediterranean as groups of these “Sea peoples” are identified living in places like Sardinia, Western Italy, and Libyan peoples that attacked Egypt. The city of Tarshish and Tyre could have had trade ships stopping at Sea ports all the way around Africa to India where iron was invented 2400 BC. The bronze age Bell Beaker peoples now being raided by iron age Sea peoples headed West and became known as the “Allegewi” (Adena/ Hopewell) people in Native lore of the Delaware people.
    The “Ala /Ale” ancient words can be found in Georgia (Ala-tama-ha), Gaelic France capital (Alesia) ,Cyprus (Alassa), and Syria (Alalaḫ), most likely an ancient copper / bronze age name peoples connection. “Alasiya” might have been the name of the ancient Bronze age Seaport trade city of Savanna, Ga (3500 BC) who mined copper and traded with ancient Egypt.


    Richard, you’ve done it again! Thank you. I second what Ed said. No question you are a “one of a kind” with a combination of brilliant observation and an indomitable spirit that will not be broken by lesser scholars.

    • You are so kind Edna. I just follow the evidence, wherever it takes me. The experience over the past 8 years has been like being in a time machine.


    Richard, The La Venta artwork you made with the connection of William Bartram’s sketch is Genus.


    Were the Maya and Olmecs mentioned in the above writing the same ones who depicted themselves at Bonampak Temple in Mexico or the amalgamated “natives” and $5 ‘indians’ adopting their identity?

    • Bonampak’s murals date from over a thousand years after La Venta was abandoned. As I said in the article, the Olmecs had nothing to do with the Olmec civilization. They arrived in southern Mexico around 400 years after the Bonampal murals were painted.


    Mr. Thornton my name is Ace Amerson. I read an article of yours about a possible mound in the Cove on the Flint River. My family owns the land beside it named Singers Hill and I recently visited the area from your article. I would love to share with you what I found. I know you must be busy but please if you get a chance email me. My email is

    • I responded to your first comment about this mound via email and never got a response.


    My DAR chapter is looking for a Native American cemetery or grave site to clean up as a service project.
    Are you aware of any in the central Georgia area?

    Thank you,
    Sandra Darby
    Regent, Nathaniel Macon DAR Chapter
    Macon, GA

    • Yes! Please contact the rangers at Ocmulgee. They now have responsibility for a huge area without any increase in staff. What immediately comes to mind are the Lamar Village and the top of Browns Mount. They may know of other locations. Thank you for contacting me. I am one of those rare birds, who qualified for Sons of the American Revolution because both Creek Indian and French Huguenot ancestors. I had to drop out of SAR during the Great Recession, because I couldn’t afford membership dues . . . but my support for your work is still there!


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