The Chronology of Cultural Achievements in the Americas
One sees on the internet a wide range of misunderstandings about the chronology of cultural achievements in the Pre-Columbian Americas. These misunderstandings are then used as a basis by individuals to promote their particular “football team” as the creator of these achievements. Most commonly, these “football teams” were based in the Old World and their proponents are trying to give them credit for cultural achievements by indigenous Americans. Their team “brought civilization to the Americas” or their team “introduced agriculture or mound-building to the Americas.” Strangely, we rarely hear from proponents of “Team Ireland” even thought there is solid evidence of Pre-Celtic Bronze Age Irish and Early Medieval Irish religious refugees settling in Southeastern North America.
Below is an overview of the actual dates of cultural advancement in the Americas:
Clovis Points (c. 12,000 BC or earlier) – So far, the oldest Clovis points have been found in the Savannah River Basin of Georgia and South Carolina. The greatest concentration of Clovis Points are currently found in the Cumberland River Basin of North-Central Tennessee. However, northern Florida is coming up fast a major area of Clovis point discovery. No Clovis points have been found in Siberia. There is no evidence that Clovis points were made by one ethnic group . . . aka “the Clovis People.” This fact has led several paleontologists to postulate that the Clovis Point was developed in the Southeast during the Ice Age. The locations where these points are most commonly found would have been lush grasslands and had almost ideal climate conditions for large mammals, while locations further north would have been like northern Siberia.
Earliest plant domestication in Central and South America (c. 8,000 BC) – Right now the oldest domesticated American crop is believed to be descended from the Wild Squash. However, there is increasing evidence that the non-edible bottle gourd many have been domesticated around 9,000 BC from wild seeds brought over from Asia.
Earliest practice of mummification – Pacific Coast of Peru (c. 6,000 BC) – The earliest Peruvian mummies predate Egyptian mummies by many thousands of years. They were created by soaking the bodies in salt water, coating the bodies with clay and sun-drying them. Apalache mummies in Northern Alabama and Georgia were created in the same way, but at a much later date.
Earliest pottery in South America – Pedra Pintada Cave, Brazil (5,500 BC) – Until this discovery, Stallings Island pottery in Southeast Georgia was thought to be the earliest pottery in the Americas. (See below.)
Earliest plant domestication in North America – Sunflower family – Interior of the Southeastern United States (5,000 BC) – Many plants that one sees on roadsides and overgrown gardens in the United States are actually feral descendants of crops domesticated by Native Americans.
Earliest American civilization – Bandurria, Western Peru (c. 4,000 BC) – The earliest signs of advanced culture, permanent towns and agriculture are currently found on the Pacific Coastal Plain of Peru. It is now a desert, but back then would have been an ideal habitat for Neolithic humans.
Oldest “stonehenges” in world – Prairies of Alberta and Saskatchewan, Canada (3,500 BC or earlier) – Similar stone ceremonial complexes did not appear in Wales and England until 500 years later.
Oldest mound in North America – Bilbo Mound, Savannah, Georgia (3,550 BC) – This appears to have been a burial mound, but the sandy coastal soil was so old that it was impossible for the archaeologist to determine its original form.
Oldest complex earthworks in North America – Watson Brake, Louisiana (3,450 BC) – Watson Brake consists of a large circular earthwork with about a dozen mounds built on top of it.
Earliest American city – Caral, Western Peru (c. 2,600 BC) – Although the villages in Bandurria are much older, they were not true cities with large scale planning and massive public monuments.
Earliest pottery in North America – Stallings Island Pottery, Georgia and South Carolina (c. 2,500 BC) – The oldest Stallings Island pottery is not found on Stallings Island, but closer to the coast in Southeast Georgia. Eastern Mexico would not have either ceremonial mounds or pottery for another thousand years.
Earliest shell rings in the Americas – Georgia coast near mouth of the Altamaha River (c. 2,500 BC or earlier) – The construction of shell rings first migrated northward to the South Carolina Coast then the practice migrated southward until it reached the coast of Colombia and Venezuela. By then those in Georgia and South Carolina had been abandoned (c. 1,800 BC).
Oldest known permanent village and effigy mound in North America – Poverty Point, Louisiana (c. 1,800 BC-1,200 BC) – Poverty Point consists of concentric semi-circular earthen platforms. The massive effigy mound is in the shape of a bird. There is no evidence of agriculture at this village.
Oldest known pyramidal platform mound in Mexico – San Lorenzo, Vera Cruz, Mexico (c. 1,400 BC) – Between 1,200 BC and 800 BC, this was the largest city in Mesoamerica. However, San Lorenzo began developing beyond the scale of an agricultural village around 1,600 BC.
Oldest known pyramidal platform mound north of Mexico – Booger Bottom Mound on Chattahoochee River near Atlanta, Georgia (c. 800 BC or earlier) – Georgia earthen pyramids were unique in the world. They were ovals. Later, around 800 AD, five sided mounds were introduced as another unique architectural tradition in Georgia. However, until the ancestors of the Creeks stopped building mounds around 1600 AD, oval mounds were always common.
Oldest rectangular pyramidal platform mound in North America – Mandeville Mounds on the Lower Chattahoochee River (400 BC) . This style of mound was being built in Georgia 1,400 years before they appeared at Cahokia in southern Illinois. This town predates the construction of any pyramids at Teotihuacan by about 300 years.
Oldest known permanent agricultural village north of Mexico – 9FU14 on Chattahoochee River near Atlanta (c. 200 BC – 450 AD) – Apparently, early forms of an indigenous sweet potato, along with other indigenous plants, were the staple crops of this village. The village associated with the Booger Bottom Mound may have practiced agriculture, but no archaeological work was done outside the mound. Also, Mandeville Mounds probably had agriculture before this site, but there was no solid evidence of it. Before this village site was permanently covered with 20 feet of clay fill, the archaeologists removed sand to reveal a rectangular pyramidal mound with a ramp. However, the mound was never excavated and it is not definite that the mound was originally in this shape.
Earliest five sided pyramid in North America – Kenimer Mound, Nacoochee Valley, Georgia (c. 700 AD?) – The only other location where five-sided earthen pyramids were constructed in the world, was the areas of the highlands in Central America, occupied by the Itza and Kekchi Mayas.
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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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