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Oldest continuously occupied archaeological site in North America

Oldest continuously occupied archaeological site in North America

A location that was ideal for catching fish on the Chattahoochee River was one of many amazing archaeological sites, discovered by Archaeologist Robert Wauchope in 1939.  Wauchope gave it an official site number on the state registry, but soon after moved to Chapel Hill, NC.  Because World War II intervened, the location was apparently  forgotten by subsequent generations of archaeologists.

Site 9FO1 in Forsyth County, GA contains artifacts from the Ice Age to the late 1700s, when the land was secretly taken from the Creek Confederacy by the United States and given to the Cherokees. The area was on the extreme fringe of the short-lived Eastern Cherokee Nation and was never significantly re-occupied until white settlers arrived. 

StricklandFerry-SatelliteImage3

The land adjacent to shoals on the Chattahoochee River at Strickland Ferry, 2-2.4 miles south of Buford Dam, was occupied continuously and longer than any Native American archaeological site in North America. In 1939, in addition to a wide range of projectile points, Archaeologist Robert Wauchope found a continuous chain of pottery from the Early Woodland, Middle Woodland, Late Woodland, Early Mississippian, Middle Mississippian, Late Mississippian and Proto-Historic Periods.   This is particularly amazing, since he was unaware of the multiple village sites containing mounds that are just upstream in the bottomlands of the Chattahoochee River.

Soapstone bowls and stone tools from the Middle and Late Archaic Periods have been found at a village site just upstream from the shoals.  This suggests that the ancestors of the Uchees and Creeks lived here in permanent villages from at least 3500 BC to 1790 AD.  That’s in the range of a whopping 5, 300 years!

Site 9FO1 should definitely be considered a Uchee and Creek Sacred Heritage Site,  plus placed on the National Register of Historic Places. The land is owned by the federal government and in a natural state, but a locale with such a legacy deserves special recognition.

StricklandFerry-SatelliteImage1

Public land, but a dangerous place to visit

The archaeological zone is in a booming section of Metro Atlanta, just north of GA Hwy. 20 that connects Cummings with Buford.  It was saved from destruction by real estate development by the US Army Corps of Engineers.   When  Buford Dam was constructed upstream in the mid-1950s,  the federal government quickly became aware that sudden releases of water from the dam would be a hazard downstream.   The land was purchased from a local family and left in a natural state.

The shoals on the river were an ideal place to spear fish or to trap fish in nets and weirs.  The bottom of the river was rich with freshwater mussels.  That attracted bands and eventually permanent villages of indigenous peoples for at least 12,000 years.  Still today huge trout teem above and below the shoals.

The fishing opportunities attract fishermen and young people, who like to lay on the rocks next to the shoals.  That creates a problem.  A siren goes off when water is released from the dam.  Sometimes the visitors to the shoals have not heard the sound of the siren.  There have been several drownings here as a result.

The terrace above the shoals is safe, however.   Native peoples camped here, while fishing and gathering mussels from the river bottom.  What remains a mystery, though, is the presence of large amounts of Late Woodland and Mississippian mound builder pottery shards on the banks below the terrace.   It would make no sense for people to hauls these large bowls and jars downstream a half mile, just to fish.

One possibility is that apocalyptic floods in the past washed the ceramics downstream.  During the Little Ice Age (Colonial Period) weather patterns were different in the Southeast.  The Georgia Mountains received so much snow in the winter that there were often impassible and called by the Creeks, “The Snowy Mountains.”  When the snow melted in late March and early April,  the waters rushed down the Chattahoochee, Savannah and Oconee Rivers.  Vast areas of southeast Georgia and north central Florida would flood.   In 1776,  explorer William Bartram stated that the Okefenokee Swamp would swell in the spring to cover most of Southeast Georgia after the snow melted in the Appalachian Mountains, 280 miles to the north.

The climate has changed, indeed.

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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.

6 Comments

  1. stuhar@onlymyemail.com'

    That’s not even close to the oldest continuously occupied site in North America. A site near Puebla, Mexico, was inhabited for perhaps 100,000 years, from the Old Stone Age to the Middle Stone Age, beginning around 270,000 BC.
    Frankly, I doubt your site was continuously occupied. Everywhere I look there is a break of 500 or more years, either after 1540 BC in the Mississippi Valley or after 1200 BC in the Appalachians. There is no continuity of people on either side of this break. Ohio was empty of settlements from at least 1200 BC to 400 BC, no artifacts, campfires, etc, etc. I think it was empty from 1540 BC.
    Florida has been unable to establish a tree-ring sequence beyond 1200 BC because they can’t find any trees. No trees in the entire state.
    So I would take the word ‘continuously’ with extreme caution. A very nasty event occurred in 1540 BC, the end of the cities on the Mississippi and Yucatan, and double events in 1200 BC and 1179 BC, the latter marking the end of the Bronze Age in Europe when no more than 2% of the people survived in Turkey, Greece, Italy, and Spain; perhaps 5% in the Baltic; no more than a handful survived in England and perhaps none in Ireland, where every animal died as well.

    Reply
    • I was quoting the archaeologist, Robert Wauchope, who was amazed that he found a continuous chain of pottery styles without gaps. He said in his report, “The Strickland Ferry site was occupied throughout Georgia’s Pre-history. That area of Georgia did not have a break in occupation around 1540. Neither De Soto nor Pardo went there. Farther north in the Nacoochee Valley, Wauchope found several sites with almost continuous occupation back to Early Dunlop and Deptford pottery styles, but there was always some gap – usually the Middle Mississippian Period.

      Reply
    • By the way, those ancient dates in Mexico are not accepted by the INAH.

      Reply
  2. markveale@hotmail.com'

    Richard, William Bartram left us with a statement of an ancient city that was in ruins by the 1700’s:
    “NOT far distant from the terrace, or eminence, overlooking the low grounds of the river, many very magnificent monuments of the power and industry of the ancient inhabitants of these lands are visible. I observed a stupendous conical pyramid, or artificial mount of earth, vast tetragon terraces, and a large sunken area, of a cubical form, encompassed with banks of earth; and certain traces of a large Indian town, the work of a powerful nation, whose period of grandeur perhaps long preceded the discovery of this continent”.
    He seemed to imply that it’s design was much like the ancient city of Caral, (Carbon dated: 2700-4700 BC)
    Peru, with “sunken plazas”.
    The “ring and the bar” design found in Native American pyramids can be found in Peru, North West Mexico, some sites of the “Anasazi” people of AZ., NM., CO. and perhaps now Georgia.
    The finds in Peru are placing the first step pyramids in Peru not in the Middle East. “UR” 2800 BC
    Some of the ancient megalith “stone” builders do seem to have migrated from South America, Mexico, Eastern U.S. then across to Alba/ Spain /Mediterranean/Middle East based on the carbon dates of Peru. Those ancient “stone pillars” are like bread crumbs to the Middle East. Happy Easter… Richard. http://philipcoppens.com/caral.html

    Reply
    • Mark, that’s the Rembert Mounds in Elbert County, GA. My ancestral Creek village was a couple of miles upstream from the site. My uncle used to take us cousins there. The raised agricultural platforms are definitely a Peruvian tradition.

      Reply

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