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The Southeastern Holocaust: an unsolved case of genocide

Former Atlanta Journal-Constitution columnist, John Pennington, was the first person to drawn the lines between the dots, and then tell the public. There was a sudden, catastrophic drop in the Native American population of the Southeast during the last few years of the 1500s. Ground zero for this holocaust was northwestern Georgia.

Pennington is best known within his profession for his award winning political exposés during the Civil Rights Era. Conservative, white Southerners forgave this faux pas because of his many fascinating articles on the early history of their region. Pennington was perhaps the only newspaper journalist of his era to closely follow the expeditions of archaeologists in the Southeastern states. He made those articles interesting to the reader. His series on specific archaeological sites boosted the AJC’s circulation.

Since the early 1970s, it has been become generally accepted that the Native American population of the eastern United States declined by about 90-95% after contact with Europeans. Author, Charles Mann, created a best seller on that subject. The depopulation of the Southern Highlands was sudden, and almost complete, however. That phenomenon has not been explained. This catastrophe occurred over four decades after the de Soto Expedition passed through the region.

Perhaps over a million Native Americans in the Southeast perished during a relatively short period of time in the late 1500s. Suspects in this crime include European diseases introduced by Spanish Conquistadors or Jewish Sephardic colonists; exotic plagues introduced by escaped Moslem galley slaves; a hemorrhagic fever that only infected indigenous peoples living in mountainous areas; and a fratricidal war between the three main divisions of the Creek Indians. The preponderance of Turkish, Levantine, Egyptian and Sub-Saharan DNA among North Carolina Cherokees is probably related to the answer of this whodunit mystery.

This article analyses the pros and cons of each alternative theory. If interested in reading more on this subject, go to: Read more

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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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