The Chichen Itza – Palenque Connection
“Sr. Morales, what do you think about the theory held by some people that the Mayas visited North America several times and eventually settled in the State of Georgia?”
Scott Wolter, Host
“Yes, of course, it is not a theory . . . but we also have evidence that your Indians in Georgia came here to Chichen Itza many times. “
Dr. Alfonso Morales
Chief Archaeologist at Chichen Itza
Institutio Nacional de Antropologia e Historia
The last recorded Mayan date at Chichen Itza corresponds to the earliest radiocarbon dates for Ichese (Lamar Village at Ocmulgee National Monument) and Etula (Etowah Mounds.) The corner-door chiki’s (houses) in the earliest phase of Etula are identical to the corner-door chiki’s (same word in Itza Maya) in the suburbs of Chichen Itza.
The Mayas . . . Then and Now – Part Seven
This week marks the fourth anniversary of the filming of the premier of America Unearthed for the History Channel. The program was initially viewed as a one hour History Channel special like geologist Scott Wolter had hosted in 2009, entitled “The Holy Grail In America” that would have consisted of a tour of the mysterious Track Rock Terrace Complex in the Georgia Mountains. However, the peculiar behavior of US Forest Service bureaucrats and several Georgia archaeologists, caught the attention of History Channel executives. At some point, between April 2012 and June 2012, the network decided to broaden the perspective of the ”Mayas In Georgia” program and make it a premier for a new series.
Filming for the premier was done from the LIDAR plane (video of the Georgia Mountains from above, plus the actual LIDAR scan), my cabin and terrace garden near Amicalola Falls, the campus of the University of Georgia, the Acropolis at Ocmulgee National Monument, the Lamar Village at Ocmulgee, Chichen Itza in Yucatan State, Mexico and the Xochitecatl Spiral Pyramid in Tlascala State, east of Mexico City. The final program left out about 98% of my eight hour interview, which included an explanation that all of Mexico’s round and spiral pyramids were in the northeastern part of the republic, not in region occupied by the Mayas, 800 miles to the southeast. These round pyramids were possibly associated with the ancestors of the Muscogee Creeks, not the Mayas and Itsate (Hitchiti) Creeks. However, America Unearthed viewers were led to believe that Xochitecatl was a Maya city.
Two big surprises
The two biggest surprises for me in the program, were (1) 100% proof found by scientists at the University of Minnesota that attapulgite, mined in Georgia, was used to make the Maya Blue in Palenque and (2) The similarity of several stone bas reliefs at Chichen Itza to the Creek’s ancestral art in North Georgia. Of course, I was very familiar with Chichen Itza, but nothing like Dr. Alfonso Morales! He instantly recognized an artistic connection between Etowah Mounds and Chichen Itza.
My recent research had focused on the suburbs of Chichen Itza, where the houses were identical to proto-Creek houses and the pottery was identical to that at Ocmulgee National Monument and Track Rock Gap. Most of you may recall that several examples of copper and shell art found at ancestral Creek towns show a man or woman carrying what is either a human head, mounted on a short stick or a carved human head so mounted. Dr. Morales quickly pointed out those same themes on Chichen Itza art. It never even dawned on me that such similarity could exist, so I never closely examined my color slides of the bas relief panels at Chichen Itza until AFTER watching the TV program!
The similarity of the art of the elite at Chichen Itza and the art of the elite at Etowah Mounds is not easily explained. They are not exactly the same, because the Georgia versions are more realistic and the figures wear less personal adornment. At least 95% of the Maya peoples were illiterate. The examples of the Apalache-Creek writing system that we have found are almost identical to the earliest Olmec writing system, not Classical Maya.
One would think that if some members of the Maya elite settled in Georgia, archaeologists would have found several examples of Classical Maya writing in the Southeast. So far, only one example is known and the archaeologists missed it. Boulder Six at Track Rock Gap contains Classical Maya glyphs that translate as “Great Sun (High King) ~ Lord Kukulkan (Quetzalcoatl).” This phrase is highly significant because it was a standard official title used by Maya High Kings, but in fact, may refer to someone, descended from Palenque’s or Chichen Itza’s kings.
Of course, it may also refer to THE King Quetzalcoatl, who fled the Toltec Capital of Tula and headed out into the Gulf of Mexico, about 20 years before the mountainside town was founded at Track Rock Gap. “Tula” is also the Itsate (Hitchiti) word for town. The real name of Etowah Mounds is Etula, which means “The principal town or capital.”
How do these “facts” interrelate with the known archaeological record in the Lower Southeast? How are these two, very dissimilar Maya cities, 250 miles apart, related to cultural changes in Georgia, eastern Alabama, western North Carolina and eastern Tennessee?
Palenque was incinerated by the super-volcano, El Chichon, in 800 AD. Its last recorded date is 799 AD. Chichen Itza’s earliest recorded date is 832 AD, while its last date is 998 AD. Chichen Itza had ceased to be a major regional center by 1250 AD. Obviously, there was not nearly as much going on after 1000 AD. There is evidence that the town was sacked and burned around 998. Whoever lived in the town afterward did not carve dates into stone stelas and built architecture very similar to that found in the Toltec capital of Tula, northeast of Mexico City.
This was not known in 2012, but the occupants of the “Creek Homeland” between around 100 AD and 800 AD were very similar to the peoples of Northwestern South America. Other than the Kenimer Mound in the Nacoochee Valley and possible Mesoamerican artifacts in the Lower Chattahoochee Valley, there is little evidence of a Mesoamerican influence until around 900 AD. That influence is confined to the area around Macon and Columbus, Georgia until around 1000 AD. Indeed, almost all the cultural traditions that defined the Historical Period Muskogee Creek Indians during the 1700s up until today are South American in origin.
Even today, Creeks and the Panoan peoples of eastern Peru and the Amazon Headwaters share many customs and many of the names for those customs. Those customs include the Stomp Dance, Ribbon Dance, Sacred Black Drink, Creek Square, musical instruments and even the iconic traditional clothing worn by the Creeks, Seminoles and Miccosukees. The Creek’s words for Sacred Black Drink/Yaupon Holly (ase), beans (talako), tobacco (hece), village chief (orata) and sweet potatoes (aho) come from eastern Peru. On the other hand, most of the words in Itsate (Hitchiti) Creek related to agriculture, architecture, writing, trade and government are straight from Itza Maya. This fact suggests that the Itza immigrants became the elite of Muskogean-South American commoners.
Fragmented waves of immigration
Swift Creek Pottery, that highly ornate form of pottery stamped by wooden paddles, suddenly appeared in the Creek Homeland around 100 AD. There was no evolution of pottery motifs. This time period corresponds to the rise of the bloodthirsty Moche city states in Peru. The sudden cultural change suggests significant population movements from Peru to the Creek Homeland.
For the Mayas of Chiapas to know that there were large deposits of attapulgite a 1,200 mile boat journey away to present day Georgia, means that either the Olmecs, Mayas or Totonacs must have been exploring and prospecting for minerals for several centuries prior to their discovery. Georgia was also the nearest significant source of mica via boat transportation. The Mayas used vast quantities of mica for reinforcing stucco, murals and cosmetics. So did the Apalache of North Georgia. Yet, there appears to be little evidence of a Mesoamerican presence in the Creek Motherland until the construction of the Kenimer Mound . . . which happens to be in the center of Georgia’s largest deposits of gold, mica and greenstone (only stone suitable for making wedges).
As mentioned in Five Waves of Maya Immigration – Part Six, the Kenimer Mound is the oldest known example of a five-sided mound and all but one of the five-sided mounds in the United States are in or adjacent to Georgia. The only other people in the Americas, who built such mounds were the Highlands of Chiapas, Guatemala and Belize. The greatest concentration is in the region of Guatemala and Belize occupied by the Kekchi Mayas. It must have been the Kekchi or some of their relatives, who settled in the Nacoochee Valley and built the Kenimer Mound. When encountered by the Spanish, they did not live anywhere near the former sites of Palenque or Chichen Itza.
Newcomers called “The Woodstock Phase” appeared in the Gold Belt of Georgia shortly after Palenque was incinerated. This suggest that there is a some form of connection between the two events. The “Woodstock People” introduced rectangular, post ditch houses, which are typical of the Totonacs and Itza Mayas, plus large scale cultivation of corn, beans and squash. They also apparently introduced the fortification of villages.
Around 900 AD unadorned, shell-tempered redware and grayware pottery appeared in the vicinity of present day Macon and Columbus, Georgia. These were the styles of pottery made by Maya Commoners. However, over time styles of pottery, clearly descended from the Swift Creek and Napier ware of the Woodland Period, came predominant again. The date also is associated with the appearance of Mesoamerican traits at Spiro Mounds in eastern Oklahoma.
Around 1000 AD, there were many new towns, plus entirely different styles of public and residential architecture appearing in the Lower Southeast along with a drastically expanded production of corn, beans and squash in large fields. This suggests that the newcomers were predominantly male (females made the utilitarian pottery) or that the newcomers came in such large numbers that they immediately set themselves up as the elite, even though they were commoners in the lands that they left.
There was another wave of change in the Southeast around 1200 AD – 1250 AD. However, again as stated in Part Six, the immigrants in this wave apparently came from Northeastern Mexico. They introduced the Green Corn Festival and a calendar that began on the Summer Solstice rather than the Winter Solstice.
Until archaeological evidence is uncovered to prove otherwise, it seems that the city state of Palenque had little cultural impact on the indigenous peoples in the Creek Motherland until around 800 AD . . . even though its merchants and miners were traveling to that region for many centuries. However, Mesoamerican motifs, later associated with the “Southeastern Ceremonial Cult” began appearing at towns near Lake Okeechobee around 300-500 AD . . . the time when Palenque grew into becoming a regional capital.
On the other hand, there is strong architectural, cultural and demographic evidence that a diaspora of commoners from northwestern Yucatan after Chichen Itza was sacked, triggered the “Mississippian Culture” and that these people are some of the ancestors of the Creek and Seminole People today.
The comment by archaeologist Alfonso Moreles that advanced indigenous peoples from the Southeast visited Chichen Itza on several occasions in intriguing. This might explain the similarity of Etula’s (Etowah Mounds) art to Chichen Itza. Some priests or members of the ruling families apparently made the long journey southward to Yucatan. They would have been overwhelmed by the ornate art, plus observed the dances and costumes of the Post Classic Maya elite. However, when they returned home they would have tried to recreate what they experienced within boundaries of their technological expertise.
That certainly would explain why this “Dancing Priestess” at Etowah wore the headdress of a Maya priest of Kukulkan (Quetzalcoatl) and was carrying a skull like the art at Chichen Itza, but has a much livelier posture than typical Maya art.
Mayas . . . Then and Now Series on POOF
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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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