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Rabun County, GA Mound, lost for 132 years, found with ERSI imagery

Rabun County, GA Mound, lost for 132 years, found with ERSI imagery


The high resolution satellite imagery, now being furnished ERSI GIS users, is an amazingly powerful tool for discovering lost cities and mounds.  When there is thick tree cover, such as typical of southern Mesoamerica and much of the Southeastern United States, infrared spectrum satellite imagery can be equally as effective.

In this particular situation,  after studying the Dillard Mound, Smithsonian Institute archaeologist Cyrus Thomas noted earthworks that he vaguely described being north of the Dillard Mound.  Several generations of archaeologists were unable to find these earthworks.  It took less than five minutes for me to find them on a ERSI high-resolution image.  There was another surprise . . .

The Mill Creek Mound was first briefly mentioned by Smithsonian Institute archaeologist, Cyrus Thomas, in 1885.  He vaguely described it as being north of the Dillard Mound at the confluence of the Little Tennessee River and Mill Creek.  It was on the east side of the river.

In 1932, William Coburn, Burnham Coburn and Warren K Moorehead tried to find this mound, but never could find a stream named Mill Creek close to the Dillard Mound.  They did walk the banks of Mill Creek in Rabun County, but saw no mound.

In 1939, while carrying out an archaeological survey of North Georgia, Robert Wauchope sought to find this mound.  He ran into the same problem.  There was no mound on Mill Creek and the stream was several miles away from the Dillard Mound.  Nevertheless, Wauchope assigned the mound an official site number, 9RA4, in hope that a future archaeologist, with more available time, would be able to locate it.   However, it would be a Rambling Wreck from Georgia Tech, who would actually make that discovery . . . 78 years later . . . but in truth, some other folks already knew about the hidden burial mound.

University of Georgia archaeologist, Mark Williams, “rediscovered” the Dillard Mound, while on his first honeymoon in 1969. He subsequently looked for the Mill Creek Mound, but could not find it.

LAMAR Institute archaeologist, Daniel Elliott, first “discovered” Dillard Mound in 1977, during a reconnaissance survey by the University of Georgia, Department of Anthropology for a series of rip-rap erosion control structure locations in the Little Tennessee River for the US Soil Conservation Service.

A local guide during the 1977 survey, U.S.D.A. Soil Conservationist Beecher Bleckley, told Elliott that the Mill Creek Mound and possibly one other were located in this stretch of the Little Tennessee River Valley. Upon viewing the other location, however, Elliott determined it to be a large natural knob surrounded by floodplain . . . or so he thought.

In 1979, archaeologist Terri Smith sought to find the mound, but could not.  During this period, she traveled to the Travelers Rest State Historic Site, seven miles east of Toccoa, GA.  She became the only archaeologist to seriously examine the Tugaloo Stone, which is on the grounds of the old inn.  She did a charcoal rubbing of the stone then converted the rubbing into a pencil sketch.  Unfortunately, she only looked at the rock upside down and so never realized that the stone portrayed three Bronze Age ships.

In 1987, David Halley, the director of the Department of Anthropology at the University of Georgia, tried to find the Mill Creek Mound.  He could not.

The magic of Google search and satellite imagery

The Mud Creek Mound is north of the Dillard Mound.

On October 8, 2017 I was writing an report on the Dillard Mound for a client.  I read the comments by Daniel Elliot in a 2012 report on the Dillard Mound by the LAMAR Institute.  Hm-m-m, all these other searches for the Mill Creek Mound occurred before the general availability of satellite imagery.   Apparently, Elliott and Williams were busy proving that the Mayas weren’t some of the Creek Peoples’ ancestors as we claim and didn’t have time to look again for the Mill Creek Mound.  Google Maps were available online in 2012.   Guess what the Native American name for the town around the Dillard Mound was . . . Itsate.

I did a Google search for “Mill Creek – Rabun County, GA.”   It flows out of the Blue Ridge Mountains in northeastern Rabun County and becomes a tributary for Mud Creek.  Mud Creek joins the Little Tennessee River.    However, there was also a business on Mud Creek, named Mill Creek Storage.   Mud Creek joins the Little Tennessee River 1,875 feet north of the Dillard Mound!   I checked some 19th century maps of Rabun County.  Some maps called this stream Mud Creek.  Other maps called it Mill Creek.   It was only a matter of zooming in on the confluence of Mud Creek and the Little Tennessee River and voila!

Pot diggers caught in the act

In Dillard, GA the Little Tennessee River is a shallow creek, which can be easily waded.  At its confluence with Mud Creek, I noticed a 110 feet diameter earthwork, plus to its southwest . . . many holes, several seemed rectangular.   Yes, the 600 feet long rise in the land at this confluence, which is perpendicular to the river, seems to be a natural feature, but just to the north of it was a distinct dark oval form . . . about 200 feet long.   Someone had dug dozens of holes.  A white SUV or van was parked on the grass immediately across the Little Tennessee.  This could very well be the vehicle of a pot-digger.  Below is a closer look at the many excavations.   Obviously, someone knew that there were many Native American artifacts here and that because the site was completely surrounded by dense vegetation, no one would notice the illegal excavation of human graves.

Several are rectangular ditches. . The person digging these trenches may have worked on a professional archaeological investigation.


The People of One Fire will now continue its expedition down the Little Tennessee River into North Carolina and Tennessee for the remainder of 2017.   There is no telling what we might discover from our eyes in the sky!




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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.



    Amazing discovery, sad and pathetic at the same time. Georgia is the worst at protecting Native American sites. We have so much to offer and it’s constantly being ignored and stolen. What a waste. Thank you for documenting what you can before it’s gone forever.



    The Little Tennessee really isn’t easily waded at that point. You might be able to do it in chest-high waders but it’s deeper than you think. Friends of mine own that property and they are not aware of any digging in that area but I’ve sent them your picture and they will double check. Will let you know.

    • I don’t know when the satellite image was made. Other satellite images of the same location do not have any pits on them.


    There is what appears to be a mound in the field beside the creek, behind the gas station at Bettie’s Creek road and 441 in Dillard. Is that a known mound ? Here in Stephens County there are several mounds that have fallen victim to diggers. Very sad. I have heard that a teacher back in the 1950/60s found the grave and an intact body and fully dressed in feathered robe Chief, or tribal leader. His body and grave contents were said to be in perfect condition and moved to a space inside a building at Toccoa Falls College. Sadly, during the historic Dam Break and flood that took 39 lives, his body was wash away as well. Many a display case contain pottery, and arrowheads throughout the county. There is a great deal of native american carvings, ect on my father in laws land as well as his neighbors. There are several ice cream cone shaped holes lined perfectly with rocks on a hill next to his farm. Any idea what they may be ?

    • Yes, that is on a known mound. An article that I wrote on the Dillard Valley, a few days earlier than this one, shows the mounds and gives their archaeological site numbers. That is very interesting about the royal burial being found. Such information has been left out of the history books. Thank you for sharing it with us.


        Thank you, I will look that up. Enjoy your work.


      Fascinating, I live in Stephens co, and I never knew we had any mounds others than the ones on tugaloo river


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