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Symbols of the earliest known Olmec Writing System found in Florida and Georgia

Symbols of the earliest known Olmec Writing System found in Florida and Georgia

The Creek Migration Legends appear to be accounts of related Mesoamerican tribes, who were originally part of the Olmec Civilization or subsequent Epi-Olmec Culture, but who were driven out of Mexico from 500 BC to 1200 AD, when their particular region was invaded.   Archaeological evidence in Florida suggests that the first wave of migration began around 500 BC.  The second Olmec writing system, which resembled the later Maya writing system, did not appear until around 0 AD or later.

Throughout the 20th century,  college anthropology textbooks in the United States told students that there were no advanced civilizations or agriculture between northern Vera Cruz and the Mississippi River Basin. There was no evidence that humans and Mesoamerican cultural traits ever migrated from Mesoamerica or South America to the Southeast.  The first cultivation of corn, beans and squash in North America occurred in the vicinity of Cahokia Mounds, Illinois around 900 AD.

Say what-t-t-t?

Of course, it is totally illogical that corn and bean seeds could jump 1200 miles from Vera Cruz to the St. Louis Metro Area, but that is why the Georgia archaeologists made such strange statements during the 2012 Mayas In Georgia Thang.   They had never grown intellectually beyond those  inaccurate 20th century textbooks.

The Mayas Then and Today – Part Five

When I read these things in a college class, I was just a wet-behind-the-ears architecture student, but still thought the statements were ludicrous.  After getting to Mexico, however, I learned that the Mexican anthropologists, who mentored me, had very different perspectives.  They were just were beginning to make the discoveries, which would refute Gringo orthodoxy,  but these men and women were asking the right questions.

What neither the anthropologists at Mexico’s INAH nor I knew, though, was at that very same time,   archaeologist William Sears was making discoveries at Fort Center Mounds near Lake Okeechobee, Florida that would completely shake up his professional peers’ orthodoxy.   He determined that newcomers arrived in that region around 500 BC, who cultivated tropical species of tobacco and corn in raised beds.  They also knew how to make hydrated lime to process the corn.

Other Southeastern indigenous peoples later would use lye, made from wood ashes, for the processing corn.  This process, known as nixtamalization, alters the corn kernels chemically, so that their nutrients are more available for human nutrition.

American corn grows poorly in the acidic, swampy soils around Lake Okeechobee and also in the very similar soils near the coasts of Vera Cruz and Tabasco in Mexico.  It is necessary to build heavily limed, biochar beds in order to obtain significant grain production.  Raised biochar beds are also necessary in the Amazon River Basin.

Sears published his book on Fort Center in 1982.  In the book, he theorized that these newcomers were from South America,  a heretical statement equivalent to saying that Mesoamerican refugees came to Georgia.  This provoked outrage from his peers.

Sears’ theories were generally ignored or even bitterly attacked until after his death in 1996.  In 1995, biologist, Miream Fearn published a report in American Antiquity, which described finding primitive maize (Indian corn) pollen in Alabama’s Gulf Coastal Plain, which radiocarbon dated to around 1500 BC.  That really shook things up.

Today,  the advanced cultures around Lake Okeechobee are briefly mentioned in some anthropology books about the Southeastern Indians, but almost never in textbooks of national scope.   Sears is described as “controversial” but most authors grudgingly go along with his discovery of early corn cultivation.  They quickly challenge his theory that newcomers brought corn seeds with them from outside North America, but have no alternative explanation.  Keep in mind that 500 BC is the official “end date” of the Olmec Civilization.

The Cascajal Tablet

During the late 1990s, road builders bulldozed into a mound complex near the village of Lomas de Tacamichapa, Vera Cruz State, Mexico.  The town site was subsequently named Cascajal.   An engraved 14” x 8” x 5” serpentinite stone tablet was found in a midden containing detritus, broken pottery and figurines.  It weighs about 25 pounds 11.4 kg.   The engravings consisted of 62 symbols, arranged roughly in a horizontal format.

Archaeologists Carmen Rodriguez and Ponciano Ortiz of INAH de Mexico examined the stone tablet and determined that it was an authentic artifact.  They also declared the symbols to be part of a previously unknown writing system.  The tablet was dated to about 900 BC, but the truth is that the archaeologists really didn’t know.

The Olmec Civilization didn’t even have pottery until around 900 BC.  These more sophisticated potsherds obviously were newer than 900 BC.  Also, those who determined the age of the tablet did not employ a forensic geologist to determine the age of the oxidized material inside the engravings.  For several years a team of North American anthropologists tried to translated the tablet, but to no avail.

The Cascajal Block orTablet was announced to the world in the September 15, 2006 Journal of Science.  Most archaeologists didn’t know what to think of the symbols. Some were recognizable as such things as an ear of corn or a sacrificial knife.  However, many of the symbols were described by those archaeologists writing the peer review as “meaningless blobs.”  Some archaeologists in the United States, who had never seen the tablet, declared it to be a fake.  Others said that it did not represent a writing system, but rather was a list of sacred objects.  Why certain symbols were repeated, as in a typical writing system, they had no explanation.

None of the professional and journalistic websites that discuss the Cascajal Tablet mention the obvious connection of several of those symbols with the “Mississippian” Culture.   A possible explanation is that the Mesoamerican writing specialists have minimal knowledge of Southeastern indigenous cultures.

 

I have seen these symbols before!

Those symbols were not blobs.  I had seen them before . . .  several are primary icons of the Southeastern Ceremonial Culture aka “Mississippian Period.”   They were first displayed literally as earthworks at the Ortona site near Lake Okeechobee, Florida in the period between 300 AD and 700 AD.  They then appeared on the famous copper repousse  art at Ocmulgee then on the far more abundant examples of copper repousse art at Etowah Mounds then at Cahokia and ultimately at some town sites in Southeastern Tennessee.

There is more to the story, however.   Julian Harris, the architect of the Etowah Mounds Museum, was one of my professors at Georgia Tech.  He was friends with  Arthur Kelly and Lewis Larson and arranged for these famous archaeologists to give us a guided tour of the site and Etowah museum.  At the end of their presentation,  Kelly and Larson gave us a copy of their archaeological report . . . which supposedly doesn’t exist.  I still have that report.

The exhibits and paintings that were later installed in the Etowah Museum in 1991 are fairy tales.  Mound C was built on top of a stone temple!  The two famous marble statues were on a wooden platform in the temple at the base of the mound.  They were NOT carelessly thrown into a pit on top of the mound as the town was being abandoned.

Larson told us that most of the artifacts displayed in the museum are from its earliest occupation.  The really sophisticated art and statuary were hauled away by archaeologists, employed by the Smithsonian Institute and Harvard University.   These pieces have mostly disappeared into the private collections of wealthy donors to those institutions.  Fortunately, some were drawn or photographed prior to being “privatized.”

In 2007, I was able to obtain copies of some of the drawings and photos of the long forgotten Etowah artifacts.  Amazingly, there were several copper artifacts found at Etowah, whose forms are identical to the “blobs” in the Early Olmec writing system.   It is obvious that some cultural traditions of the Olmec Civilization were exported to Florida and Georgia.

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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.

6 Comments

  1. mlee@uwf.edu'

    Anyone wanting more info on Fort Center & other sites in Florida with maize cultivation can find it in “Archaeology of Precolumbian Florida ” by Jerald Milanich. Nice photos & lots of maps, etc. It makes same points that Richard has made about Fort Center & its being influenced in maize agriculture techniques by probable interaction with folks from Mexico & the Yucatan via boat. It has earliest maize pollen date at 450 BC in that area. By 900 AD maize cultivation was taking off in east northwest Florida area of the Tallahassee Red Hills & Appalachicola River Valley. Not so much to the western panhandle as the soil is too poor until you get to Baldwin County in Alabama where there are the Bottle Creek & Bear Point sites.
    Another interesting thing is the excavation by Calvin Jones many years ago now of the Lake Jackson Mounds near Tallahassee found several high status burials with copper plates which are first cousins to the Etowah copper plates along with other items similar to Etowah. Actually the Lake Jackson burials as described in Milanich’s book sound a lot like the burials found in Peru with more than one person buried along with rich grave goods including a child & a dog. Reed mat remains were found with the remains of the deceased & may have been body wrappings. Also the copper plates were found wrapped in remains of what seems to be a kind of woven cloth. Another site with ceramic effigy figures not far from Lake Jackson is the Fort Walton temple mound site. In the museum there are reproductions of two large human effigy pots. One looks very like some of the effigy pots found in Peru & is painted, the other a plain ceramic human more like a small child. The originals are of course in the possession of a northern university.
    Another thing to bring up is that in the Gulf of Mexico there is a current that moves north to east to south from the east coast of Mexico along the northern Gulf coast then back south along the west coast of the Florida peninsula to Cuba. So anyone sailing north from Mexico who knew about this current such as the Chontal Mayas or Olmecs would have had no problem exporting their knowledge of many things like maize cultivation along with trade goods. And going home again by sailing due south from the Gulf Coast area between east of New Orleans to Pensacola you hit the Yucatan dead on. Many years of the annual sailing race from this area to Yucatan by local yacht clubs along the coast gives this knowledge. So before 1492 the Gulf was really a great big Mesoamerican Lake.
    Marcie

    Reply
    • Thank you Marcie! Excellent information. I don’t know why the “national scope” archaeology books leave out Southern Florida. The advanced cultures there were fascinating.

      Reply
    • Have you read the article on Fort Center in Wikipedia? It implies that few archaeologists supported the theories of the archaeologists working on that site. The article does not mention that Gerald Milanich had included an update on Fort Center in his book.

      Reply
      • mlee@uwf.edu'

        I did check out the Fort Center Wikipedia article & compared to many of them it was well done. I agree that south Florida is kind of ignored in its pre-contact civilizations. Even the great sites on the west coast of the peninsula like Key Marco, Crystal River & Safety Harbor aren’t well known in textbooks for the general public. I guess I was lucky in that in my archaeology classes days we had a great week visiting several sites beginning with Lake Jackson mounds & meeting Calvin Jones. We were given an off the dirt trail trek into the Lokahatchee Wildlife Refugee by rangers & archaeologists to see in a vertible jungle some mounds there which were truly unremarkable but did produce some pottery shards, also gators, & strangest of all wild orange trees planted by who knows whom which had edible fruit. That was the best part as we were hungry from walking through head high saw grass on spongy peat soil. Seminoles were said to have been hiding in the area during the Seminole Wars maybe they were living on the mounds as they were highest ground around.
        We were supposed to see Fort Center which at that time belonged to the Lykes family who were using the area to graze cattle but we were told due to rounding up the cattle when we got there we couldn’t come in. So onward we went to Crystal River which was absolutely awesome. There is something about the place with its location right on the river which is acessesable by boat from the Gulf. The mounds there are well arranged with a large plaza like area before the largest mound which at that time the interpretor said had remains of at least buildings in top. There have been some people who say the mounds there are aligned to Venus risings & movements. The big mound right on the river has a great view from the top. The two stele which were housed inside of metal cages to protect them from visitors are interesting but the one with the figure of a man or god is I believe the only stone stele found in Florida. Its a bit crudely done but that could be due to weathering. Excavations there have produced many fine pots, some quartz crystals, copper & mica artifacts, etc. many from far from Florida. The guide said it was a place of trade & possible pilgrimage from places further away. Nice little museum.
        Also got to see Turtle Mound on the east coast near Cape Canaveral. Said to have been a place of refuge from high water during storms. The Spanish & others used it for navigation point. It was taller than it is now but was minded for some of its shells during early 1900s. Another great site. Glad I got to do that when I was young because now can’t climb steep steps & walk long distances anymore.
        Marcie

        Reply
  2. mlee@uwf.edu'

    Just came across this in a book (not a new one) by Patricia Galloway that in a chapter called The Pensacola Variant & concerns artifacts found at the Bottle Creek site in the Mobile-Tensaw delta. “In 1702 Bienville, governor of the French Louisiana colony collected some Southeastern Ceremonial Complex artifacts from the site (Bottle Creek): five clay statues, a bear, an owl, a man, a woman & a child. These were sent to France where they may be stored in the attic of some museum.” Have you ever heard about statues found at Bottle Creek before? It would be great to know more about them & if they still exist anymore. Marcie

    Reply
    • No I have never heard about that at all. I wonder what museum they would be in? Perhaps he gave them to a noble family . . . who would have been guillotined 80 years later.
      Tomorrow I will do a Google Search in French and see if anything pops up.

      Reply

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