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Southern Highlands Study

Across a vast area of eastern Tennessee, eastern Alabama, western North Carolina, Georgia and much of South Carolina, one sees very similar pottery styles, architecture and cultural practices at the time of European Contact. The pottery styles are called Lamar, Dallas, Mouse Creek, Pisgah, Lake Jackson, etc. but they are really not that different from each other – compared to the regional differences in Mexico and the Southwest. Yet the eyewitness accounts of French explorers, beginning with René de Laudonniére, clearly describe peoples speaking many languages and even practicing different religions in this region.

Seventeenth Century French and Dutch documents currently being translated, suggest that there was a period of violent warfare between ethnic groups, which destroyed many great towns in the Southeast. Suspicion is that the sudden sacking and abandonment of Etalwa (Etowah Mounds) around 1375 AD is evidence of this bloody period.

According to these newly appreciated documents, the province of Apalache persuaded the warring provinces to make peace under the umbrella of a High King in the capital of Apalache, which was originally south of the higher mountains, but now was located in the Nottely River Valley of Georgia. Apalache was the wealthiest of the provinces because of its control of the greenstone trade. Greenstone was the only stone suitable for making wedges and axes for splitting wood. The best greenstone was found in volcanic strata that also contained gold and precious stones – and was concentrated around present day Dahlonega, Helen and Blairsville, GA. The high king established borders and settled disputes between provinces, but did not govern internal affairs of provinces, but did not govern internal affairs of provinces.

By the mid-1600s the regional confederacy had broken down into sub-confederacies, but the King of Apalache still functioned as something like the Dalai Lama. His own kingdom had shrunk to the area immediately around the prime gold and greenstone deposits.

That these 350 year old archives are credible is proven by the names of some of the provinces that were listed as once being part of the Apalache Confederacy. They include Alibamu (Alabama), Koweta, Kusate (Coosa), Konchate (Apalachicola) Ustanali (Oostanaula River, etc) and Kataapa (The Catawba province north of Atlanta.)

The last High King of Apalache in the 1670s was described by the French documents as being named Maydo. Mahdo in different spellings is how several Southeastern tribes say “thank you!”

You are welcome!

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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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