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Southeastern Archaeology Became Fossilized

Highly respected archaeologist, Timothy Pauketat, a major myth-buster himself, is a man on a mission. He is rapidly becoming the Martin Luther of his profession. His book, Archaeological Chiefdoms and Other Delusions, riddles the orthodoxies that developed among archaeologists, who were studying the Southeastern Indians during the late 20th century. Pauketat theorizes that for these archaeologists, their profession has literally become a cult to which membership is defined by acceptance of a set of beliefs . . . that may or may not be equivalent to reality.

The team of Minnesota historians, scientists and film makers, who conceived the idea of the new History Channel series, America Unearthed, believe that true science and advanced technology should be injected into the decision-making process by which anthropologists and historians interpret the past. They have found that far too often, what students have been taught about the history of the Americas can be in the realm of mythology.

Two years after I returned from my fellowship in Mexico, I was invited to give a lecture to the Atlanta Archaeological Society at Georgia State University. At the close of the slide presentation, I asked the audience how many people had been in a romantic relationship with an American Indian. We were called Indians back then. No one raised their hands. I then asked them how many had kissed or held hands with an Indian. No one raised their hands. I then asked how many had entertained an Indian in their home. No one raised their hands. I then asked how many had ever eaten food cooked by an Indian. A few archaeologists, who had worked in the Southwest or Mesoamerica, raised their hands. Their expeditions had hired Indian women as servants. I finally asked the audience how many had written academic papers on Indian courtship, architecture or foods. Everyone raised their hands.

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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.

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