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Satellite image during 2016 drought reveals probable mounds of Chiaha

Satellite image during 2016 drought reveals probable mounds of Chiaha


The record breaking drought in the Southern Appalachians, which resulted in horrific forest fires and even a fire storm in Gatlinburg, TN, did result in one unexpected benefit.   It lowered the waters of Fontana Lake sufficiently to reveal earthworks on an island, which is the probable location of Chiaha.  What is especially remarkable about the image is that the mounds are arranged in a semi-circle on the eastern end of the island, just like the arrangement of the mounds of Kusa, which was contemporary with Chiaha and also visited by the Hernando de Soto Expedition in 1540. 

According to De Soto’s chroniclers, the capital of Kusa was on the eastern end of the island, below the confluence of two broad mountain rivers, the temple mounds being farthest east.    The western end was cultivated fields.  This 2016 drawing will have to be revised to reflect the discovery of three mounds in a semi-circle.

In 2010 and 2011,  former National Park Service Director, Roger Kennedy, subsidized my search for the routes used by the De Soto Expedition in 1540 and the Pardo Expeditions in 1566-1568 through the North Carolina Mountains.   I became convinced that the location of Chiaha was directly north of Cheoah Mountain in Graham or Swain Counties NC because it matched every geographic detail provided by the chroniclers of these expeditions, plus had the Anglicized place name of Cheoah attached to that region.  However, since the location had been under the waters of Fontana Lake since 1942 and no archaeological studies had occurred prior to that time, it seemed impossible to go any further with the speculation.

Then in 2015, the United States Geological Survey digitized and published its 1904 topographic maps of western North Carolina.  A long island was shown immediately downstream from the confluence of the Little Tennessee and Tuckasegee Rivers.  This matched exactly the description of Chiaha.  Still, without the ability to see under the water to this island today, the location seemed even more probable, but not provable without underwater archaeological studies.

Just recently,  ERSI embedded new high resolution NASA satellite imagery into its GIS software.  The images included highly magnified photos of western North Carolina.  Earlier, POOF showed you massive earthworks in Tomatla, NC near Murphy that had never before appeared on satellite imagery.  The new high resolution view also happened to be photographed during the drought.  Three mounds and interconnecting earthworks appeared on the eastern end of our supposed Chiaha Island.  They reflect a similar site plan at Kusa in Northwest Georgia, when the Lower Reservoir of Carters Lake, which was drained for one day in 2006.   Bingo!

The narrowest river channel of this island was on its south side, exactly as described by the Spanish chroniclers.

In another satellite image, a smaller mound appeared to the north of the two larger mounds. Note that the largest mound is oriented to the Winter Solstice Sunrise.

In this photo taken on August 22, 2006 from a canoe at the site of Kusa, one can clearly see that the mounds form a curve on the northwest side of the plaza.


What about the Chiaha article in Wikipedia?

It is malarkey created in the 1980s, by some Southeastern anthropology professors, who decided that De Soto and Pardo had to go through Asheville, NC for financial and possible occult reasons . . . then ignored the archaeological facts when publishing their books.  The Zimmerman Island location in Tennessee was covered by the waters of Lake Douglas in 1943 without being studied by archaeologists. No archaeological work was done here because the rush to develop electric power for the Oak Ridge Laboratories’ secret role in the atomic bomb project.  The island contained some probable, small Woodland or Archaic Period burial mounds and shell middens, but they were in the center of the island, not on the upstream end as described by De Soto’s chroniclers.  

State archaeologists and the local historic preservation commission in Asheville told these professors to their faces that there were NO occupied Mississippian Period towns in the French Broad River Valley during the mid-1500s and that Cherokees NEVER lived in the Asheville Area.  It was Shawnee Country until whites occupied the region. The local officials in Asheville were astonished that the visiting professors (all with PhD’s in either anthropology or history) did not know the meanings of any of the Native American words in the De Soto Chronicles,  plus could not even pronounce the Spanish words correctly . . . much less, know the meanings of the Spanish words.  Nevertheless,  the professors gave a press conference that afternoon at the Biltmore Estate, which announced that state and local historic preservation officials had endorsed their route for De Soto through Asheville and that the three feet tall Biltmore Mound was the site of the ancient capital of the Great Cherokee Nation, Guasuli/Guaxule, where De Soto spent the night. 

Archaeological work at the Biltmore Mound between 2001 and 2003 by a team from Appalachian State University confirmed that the small village, where De Soto spent the night in 1540 was actually abandoned around 550 BC. 

The professors also stated that the village of Conasaugua was where Reems Creek joins the French Broad River near Weaverville, NC.   There was never a Mississippian Period village at that location.  It was an Archaic and Woodland Period fishing and mussel gathering camp site.  It is impossible to put accurate archaeological and linguistic information in the Wikipedia articles on the De Soto and Pardo Expeditions.  Zealous disciples of those Late 20th century archaeological gurus, quickly return the articles to their current fraudulent state.


This news article begins a new series in the People of One Fire, which will provide readers with all the updated information on the presence of Itza Maya immigrants into the Lower Southeastern United States.   The series honors the fifth anniversary of the premier of America Unearthed on December 21, 2012.  My have things have changed!


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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 shall look forward to further series Richard. Thank you.


    As always, Richard, it’s a delight to read the latest findings, here on POOF. Intrigued by the location of the likely site for Chiaha, I looked directly south, through Ocmulgee, Georgia, all the way to the location of a major archaeological site known as Guyaba, near Turrialba, Costa Rica. No surprise, actually, that it is nearly directly south, (at 9.971131, -83.688922), of the Chiaha site in NC, (at 35.2630, -83.37425). Continuing south of Guyaba, through Costa Rica to the Pacific coast, brings you to the Diquis Delta, home of the largest concentration of giant stone spheres. It is the conclusion of Ivar Zapp that the Diquis Delta was an ancient university- using strategically scaled and oriented stone spheres in teaching oceanic navigation. Following straight lines from the Diquis Delta around the world to important naval ports, Zapp provides a pretty compelling case for his assertations. These same principles also readily indicate the precise locations of major inland settlements, particularly here in the Southeast.

    • Andrew, I see signs of very precised surveying over long distances everywhere I go in the Southeast. Right now, I just can’t explain how they did it!


        Let’s remember that in the ancient past, by the time people figured out how to reliably secure resources for their needs, the pace of life may have been significantly slower than today, offering opportunities for much more intimate observation of natural phenomenon such as sun and moon movements throughout the seasons, as well as ocean and wind currents by day, and star and constellation patterns by night. We know of a variety of ancient measuring systems and devices around the world, including navigational instruments. Recalling the fundamental KISS rule – (Keep It Simple, Silly)- why not travel and settle along straight lines?


    GoogleEarth’s history feature clearly shows the island mounds in 1995. 98, 2008, 2009, 2013 and 2015 at low water times in the winter. The 2013 maps shows more of the island but with less details than revealed by your article. I’d love to know what you really know, but I’m not the researcher. Love reading your findings. Really curious to get my canoe out and head to Fontana…but getting to old for anything more than armchair research. Keep up the good work.

    • Thank you for the information! I had not even know that Google Earth carried historic satellite images!


        Hey Richard
        If you look at the top bar on Google earth there is a slider with makings that show any historical imagery. Most of it us pretty bad resolution. Check out Trackrock and Thunderstruck Mountain over the years.
        Do you know if any of thw Sandy Creek Terraces are under the lake there. In one spot they appear to go down in the water. The lake is not large but the main river chanel ran almost down the middle according to the old map I found, but there was no mention of terraces on the map.
        Thanks for the great articles

        • I don’t know about the stone walls, but the lake covered at least three mounds, which were never studied by archaeologists . . . even though the UGA Dept. of Anthropology is 6 miles away.

          Thanks for telling me about the slider bar on Google Earth. I didn’t know that!


    Jan 2015 GoogleEarth, my bad.


    Will look forward to the new series, and as always, just wanted to say thanks for all you do!


    I am completely new here and may not be posting in the correct area. I recently found my Great Grandma’s grave in the Oxford, MS area and there is a symbol on it that I have learned is probably a hogan representing long time or permanent home. Continued ancestral research has led me to the possibility of her coming from a Pee Dee lineage. Am I understanding correctly–or am I being too simplistic– that the Pee Dees came from the Muskogean Creeks who came from the Apalache who came from the Maya? If this is somewhat correct, how does the Peruvian Goddess Amana fit in?

    I’m so delighted to find your work! The next book I’m writing is about the Divine Feminine and the Divine Masculine. I couldn’t agree more about the Goddess being eradicated from the Judeo-Christian tradition.

    • Yes, Pee Dee is the Anglicization of the Itsate Creek word, Vehete, which means “Archer People.” I am part Pee Dee Creek myself. Now the Choctaws had communal buildings that were eight sided and looked something like a large hogan. So your explanation of the meaning of this symbol makes sense. Each town or village would have at least one communal building, which was the center of their community.


        Richard and Duann
        I just looked up the hogan symbol that you mentioned and was floored.
        The symbol is identical to the Norse symbol for the nine world of Yggdrasil. Also hogan and it’s varients (haugan, hugan) means mound or hill in the post Indo-European Germanic languages. Now if you look at a picture of an old style Dine hogan, it looks like a mound or hill.

        I just found this interesting, for the such disperate cultures and languages to have so much in common.

        Thanks for all your hard work, inspires deep thought and honest research.


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