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Some days turn out to be more important than others!

Some days turn out to be more important than others!


You Are There!

Dr. Roman Piña-Chan of the INAH

It was a rainy day in late June 1970 and my first day at the Museo Nacional de Antropologia de México. I was to be given a tour of all six floors of the world famous museum by two of the most respected archaeologists in the world at that time,  Ignacio Bernal and Roman Piña-Chan. Bernal was director of the Institutio de Antropologia E Historia de México and Piña-Chan was director-archaeological curator of the museum.  Both had been designated coordinators of my fellowship by Relaciones Exteriores, who had been led to believe by the Mexican Consul in Atlanta that I was a professional architect from a wealthy Gringo family, interested in donating money for archaeological digs. 

About five minutes into the tour,  Dr. Bernal realized that (1) I was just an architecture STUDENT, (2) I was a mestizo from a middle class Gringo family, not from the Gringo Elite, and (3) I was just beginning to learn Spanish.  He looked at his watch, uttered “Idiotas” and walked away, never to be seen again.  At the end of the tour, I gave Dr. Piña-Chan both books that were intended as gifts for he and Dr. Bernal. 

As I was waiting at the edge of the front plaza for a bus, one of Piña-Chan’s graduate assistants, Alejandra, rushed out and called me back into the building.  I was invited into the inner sanctum of the museum and sat in awe as the famous archaeologist pulled books off the shelf to compare the architecture and art of the Creek People with the civilizations of Mexico.  During that first, unscheduled hour and half conversation, he solved many of the most important riddles of Southeastern Anthropology . . . such as  . . . the two famous marble statues at Etowah Mounds portray escaped Maya slaves, who apparently founded Etula (Etowah). 

All that information laid in the cobwebs of my mind and the notes in my journal for four decades, until they suddenly became important after I beheld the ruins at Track Rock Gap in the Georgia Mountains.  Life, indeed, is like a box of chocolates.

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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.



    Any idea who the Mayans were at war with or country they were conquering at the time to have two such highly intelligent and motivated captives like these? Escaping from captivity is one thing, but starting a kingdom like Etowah puts these refugees in a whole different category.

    • They would have lived in the suburbs of Chichen Itza. Ichesi and Etula (Etowah) suddenly appeared in Georgia right after Chichen Itza was captured by Toltecs from Central Mexico.
      The houses in the suburbs of Chichen Itza were identical to the houses in the first phase of Etowah Mounds.


    Richard, Thanks for your articles. Was there any pit houses found at Etowah? The fist city of Chichen Itza (200-900 AD), Teotihuacan (100-600 AD), and Kolomoki (200-600 AD) all had pit type houses for some of the people living there. Its likely these were laborers from Teotihuacan vast domain that were used to building that type of house. Could the Toltec Topiltzin Cē Ācatl Quetzalcōatl / Kukulcan followers be the founders of Etowah? An Mexica/ Aztec king had the histories of Mexico rewritten so we don’t know if the numbers he used are right….but the lore was included.
    “Tlillan-Tlapallan [ˈt͡ɬilːan t͡ɬaˈpalːan] ‘Place of the black and red colour’ is a legendary place or region on the Gulf Coast of Mexico where king Quetzalcoatl went on his flight from Tollan in order to burn himself and change into the Morning Star.” The Creeks delivered a “red / black writing system to the British of Savanna, Ga does sound like a connection for part of that lore and the rock track symbols are a clear connection as well.

    • About 95% of the town of Etula (Etowah) has never been excavated. In 2006 and 2007, technicians did use underground radar on the entire site, but the details of the print out have never been shown the public.


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