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The Chronology of Cultural Achievements in the Americas

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.

watsonsbrake

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.

sapelorings-2016Earliest 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).

povertypoint

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.

mandeville-poof

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. 

 

kenimersite1-narrow

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.

9 Comments

  1. joel.mize@comcast.net'

    Hi Richard,

    This is among your best posts. Your perspective is transformational. In the future I hope to see more articles that express your vision of a) A chronology of major NATURAL EVENTS that may have propelled cultural exchange between Peru/Central America and the SE USA; the b) these natural events may include some of the following: (1) rising sea levels between 18,000 and 9,000 YBP; (2) Flooding of the MS/Ohio river systems as the ice sheet receded between 18,000 and 9,000 YBP (3) Meteor strike & Tsunami off south GA coast; (4) Volcanoes in Mexico; (5) super Hurricanes; (6) other.

    In addition, the similarity of sea-going Maya boats to that of Norsemen indicates to me that you see evidence on non-convention peopling of the Americas. Please elaborate more on how you see the sea travel influence on NA population from (1) Solutreans; (2) Polynesians; (3) Egyptians/Phoenicians; (4) Norsemen; (5) Jews; (6) other. Was any cultural-convergence of this sea travel major or is all minor ?

    Reply
    • Joel, several of your questions are out of the range of my expertise. The Chontal Maya seacraft were similar to Viking longboats, but they predated them by 500 years. I try to stick to areas, where I have professional credentials. Most people these days (especially the Georgia archaeologists LOL) don’t realize that architects and structural engineers must have a heavy background in geology and physics . . . if we don’t understand those subjects at a professional level, our buildings will fall down and people with get hurt. I have no personal knowledge to support any contacts with the Old World except the Irish and the Vikings. In fact, according to contemporary monastic journals, Viking ships from the area around Wexford, Ireland ferried the Christian refugees to the South Atlantic Coast. All the evidence points to indigenous Americans introducing stonehenges to Europe.

      Reply
      • joel.mize@comcast.net'

        Thanks. When were the Christian refugees transported ? Would it be roughly 1000 YBP ?

        I’m also recalling from your work that Copper smelting & smithing occurred in North America prior to Euro-Asia. Was this from copper deposits in Northern Michigan, or from East TN mountains ?

        Reply
        • They fled Ireland between around 1150 and 1185. The Anglo-Normans defeated the Vikings and conquered the eastern half of Ireland. They installed French-Norman bishops, who then forced the Gaelic Christians to change to a Roman Catholic liturgy. They also banned married priests and several other practices of the Early Christian Church. Several Gaelic Christians and monks were burned at the stake.

          The copper furnaces were found in the upper Piedmont of North Carolina near Lenoir. North Georgia also has commercial copper deposits near Dahlonega, but the mines are no longer active.

          Reply
  2. glenn@patent-1871.com'

    Richard – Do you have an estimated age of the shell ring at Miami, F?

    I believe that the early copper work in the Wisconsin / Michigan area was hammered instead of smelted?

    Reply
    • I believe that I recall it dating from around 0 to 300 AD. Most copper work was hammered, but the Chiska in NE Tennessee did have smelters in the 1600s. They may have brought this skill from South America or may have learned it from Sephardic colonists.

      Reply
      • joel.mize@comcast.net'

        I’ve looked up internet citation that says the Michigan copper was worked from 7,000 ybp, the same time period as first european copper was worked in Serbia. A geologist friend of mine has explained to me that the Michigan deposit was very difficult to mine as it is very high purity, already in metallic form but that the tensile strength is such that tools effective at extraction was bamboozled both red and white man.

        Reply
  3. anadalv@yahoo.com'

    Hi Richard and others,
    GREAT article. I love comparative history, especially since very few cultures lived in total isolation.

    I remember reading that the Clovis point is almost identical to Solutrean points found in Europe & archeologists speculate that the Solutreans may have come to North America by following the ice edge while hunting seals. The Solutreans were an ice age culture in the then coastal mountain areas of France and Spain (quite possibly ancestors to the Basque?).

    Also, have you any information on the Creek settlement on the Chattahoochee near LaGrange and West Point that was named “Burnt Village”? It’s under West Point Lake, but had a quick excavation before the Backwaters covered it. I believe there was some Swift Creek style pottery found, but can’t find any info nowadays about the village or its history. It seems only locals ever heard anything about that before it was hushed up. I did know a couple of guys that talked about sneaking in and seeing what was going on, but in later years they were afraid of going to jail and never talked about it again.

    I know some Swift Creek artifacts were found when they did some work on Fort Benning – I think near the commisary. I have to get an old hard drive downloaded to get the pics from it.

    Keep up the good work, love this site.

    Reply

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