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The Mysterious Mountain Cliff Tombs of North Georgia

The Mysterious Mountain Cliff Tombs of North Georgia

These hand-dug tombs are virtually identical to those on the eastern slopes of the Andes in Peru.  The only difference is that Gringo archaeologists have forgotten their existence, since they were first mentioned and explored by Archaeologist Robert Wauchope in 1939.  None of Georgia’s tomb complexes are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  They have absolutely no protection, unless they happen to be on state or federal-owned land.

Featured Image:  The photo above was taken from another mountaintop about two miles away with a telephoto lens.  Artifact looters built wooden scaffolding to reach the man-made caves.  The tombs were dug out of volcanic rock on the walls of an ancient collapsed caldera.  There are several tomb complexes in North Georgia that were dug from the upper slopes of ancient volcanoes.  Such geology in Georgia does not normally have caves.

The lifestyle, living location, burial customs and clothing of the Apalache elite, who occupied the Southern Highlands and Piedmont from the Middle Woodland Period until the late 1600s, were almost identical to that of the Chapapoya or Cloud People in northern Peru. Indeed, “Swift Creek pottery” was made in northern Peru for a couple of centuries, before it appeared at the Mandeville Mounds site on the Chattahoochee River in southwest Georgia.  To this day, the Conibo People of northeastern Peru wear clothing with motifs identical to that found on Georgia Swift Creek pottery. 

The Chapapoya People appeared in the eastern foothills of the Andes at about the same time as Swift Creek style pottery appeared in Georgia . . . c.100-200 AD.  The Conibo People, living downstream from the Chapaboya have an artistic tradition almost identical to that of the Creeks in the Southeastern United States, but have different burial customs than the Apalache and Chapapoya.  Therefore, the chronological and ceramic evidence suggests that these peoples are descended from the same Pre-Moche Culture . . . not that the Apalache were descended from the Chapapoyas.

Apalache town on the headwaters of the Oconee River in Jackson County, GA. This is a colorized engraving that was published in 1658 in the Netherlands.

Readership of the People of One Fire has increased about 2400% in the past three years, so we will first explain who the Apalache were.  Apalache is the Europeanization of the Panoan (Peruvian) word Aparashi, which means either “From-ocean-descendants of” or “From-Pará-descendants of.”  Pará is the name of an ancient civilization that spanned across Peru and the Amazon River Basin. It is today the name of a large state in northern Brazil and the origin of the name of the nation of Peru.

Conibo-Swift-Combo2

The “Apalachee” People of northwestern Florida did not originally called themselves by that name.  It was name given them by the Spanish, based on the name of one village, named Apalachen, which means “Apalaches” in the language of North Georgia.   Their real name was Tulahalwasi  (Tallahassee) which means “Descendants of Highland Towns.”  

According to explorer Richard Briggstock in 1653, the real Apalaches in North Georgia long ago founded a colony near the Gulf of Mexico, which built towns with mounds and culturally was similar to those people in Georgia.  However, eventually, large numbers of immigrants came from the south, who intermarried with the Apalache colonists and so changed their language that it was unintelligible to the Apalache and latter-day Creek Indians.   If Florida academicians had bothered to translate the names of the original towns encountered by the Hernando de Soto Expedition in 1539 and 1540,  they would have realized this.  The capital of the “Florida Apalachees” in the 1500s was Anihaica.   This word is Southern Arawak from Peru and means, “Place of the Elite.”   In fact, all but two of the village names in 1540 were Southern Arawak words and none of these villages contained “Mississippian” platform mounds.  The people encountered by De Soto were really not the same ethnic group, who built the mounds near their villages.  They were hybrids.

According to the long lost, “Creek Migration Legend” documents that I discovered on April 29, 2015 in Lambeth Palace, Surrey, UK , the Apalachee believed that they had first arrived in North America at the mouth of the Savannah River and established their first capital where Downtown Savannah is today. The Uchee were already living in that region and had first arrived in North America at the mouths of the Savannah, Ogeechee and Altamaha Rivers. 

It is highly likely that the mound-building “Cartersville Culture”, which began along the Chattahoochee and Etowah Rivers around 400-300 BC, marks the arrival of the first small bands of South American immigrants.  They established small villages, which would later attract Conibo immigrants from Peru making Swift Creek Style Pottery and later, Shipibo immigrants from Peru, making Napier Style pottery.

The Itsate (Itza Maya Creeks) Migration legend says that they first crossed the waters of the Gulf of Mexico and lived in southern Florida near Lake Okeechobee, but later migrated to Georgia via the mouth of the Altamaha and Savannah Rivers.  Still later, they moved inland to Ocmulgee Bottoms and the Upper Savannah River.  As more and more of their kinsmen arrived from Mesoamerica, they gained control of the Southern Highlands. Traders from the Spanish colony of Santa Elena told English scholar, Richard Hakluyt, that normally were Spanish were forced to trade with the Apalache living around present day Helen and Dahlonega, GA and were not allowed to approach the mountainside towns of the Itsate that were in the higher mountains.   In the 1500s, the Apalache were vassals of the Itsate, but by the 1600s had established a vast kingdom, in which the Itsates had been subjugated and composed some of their vassal provinces.

1600-Apalache

The engraving above portrays Conibo Indians in Satipo Province, Peru during the 1800s, but is also exactly what the ancestors of the Creek Indians would have looked like in the 1500s and 1600s. The photo below is of a Conibo rock singer "dreaming" of her future marriage to her boyfriend. Conibos still marry in traditional costumes.

The engraving above portrays Conibo in Satipo Province, Peru during the 1800s. The photo below is of a Conibo “pop & traditional” singer “dreaming” of her future marriage to her boyfriend. Conibos still marry in traditional costumes.

The names Apalache, Apalatci (above) Apalatcy or Apalachen appear on almost all European maps in what is now North Georgia until around 1707. The Appalachian Mountains get their name from the plural of Apalache in their language . . . Apalachen.  Their culture is described in varying detail in 16th and 17th century European archives. 

Note the Europeanized word “Appalou” in the center bottom.  That is actually the Conibo word Aparu.  It means “From Peru!”  Apalaches and their descendents, the Creek Indians, rolled their R’s so much that they sounded like L’s to Europeans . . . hence the transition from Aparashi to Apalache.  That town name has been ignored by academicians for over 400 years.

Chikili, High King of the Creek Confederacy, told the leadership of Savannah on June 7, 1735 that the words Apalache and Koweta “meant the same.”  He used the Apalache writing system to write the “Migration Legend of the Kashita People.”  However, for reasons that are not fully understood, North American anthropologists chose to completely erase them from the history books.   

The Miccosukee are the descendants of one branch of the Apalache elite. The Apalache commoners were the direct and immediate ancestors of the Kowetas, Tuckabachees, Oakfuskees, Apalachicolas and Seminoles.  Their elite and commoners spoke different languages and lived in separate towns. The commoners spoke proto-Creek languages, but the elite in the mid-1600s spoke a language that mixed Panoan from Peru and Itza from Mesoamerica.

In 1658, French ethnologist, Charles de Rochefort, described the towns and architecture of the Apalache commoners in detail.  They were identical to the architecture and towns of the Creeks in the early 1700s.   In contrast, De Rochefort described the Apalache elite as living in round houses with stone foundations on the sides of hills and mountains.  These stone rings and circles can be found in many archaeological sites in the Upper Piedmont and mountains of Georgia, eastern Alabama and northwestern South Carolina.

 

About the same time that the People of One Fire publicized the Track Rock Terrace Complex, archaeologists discovered to smaller terrace complexes in the Blue Ridge Foothills, near the Savannah River. They included extremely well-preserved foundations of the round houses lived in by Apalache elite. The bosses of this expedition forbade the archaeological team to publicize the find . . . because they did not want to give support to what POOF was saying about these stone architecture sites. In other words, it was more important for the professional to attempt "saving their faces" than for new knowledge to be made known to the public. The archaeologists, nevertheless, sent me their photos and findings.

About the same time that the People of One Fire publicized the Track Rock Terrace Complex, archaeologists discovered two smaller terrace complexes in the Blue Ridge Foothills, near the Savannah River. They included extremely well-preserved foundations of the round houses lived in by Apalache elite. The bosses of this expedition forbade the archaeological team to publicize the find . . . because they did not want to give support to what POOF was saying about these stone architecture sites or to challenge what orthodoxy said about the Southeast’s past. In other words, it was more important for the archaeology profession to attempt “saving its face” rather than for new knowledge to be made known to the public. Some of the archaeologists, nevertheless, sent me their photos and findings.  They wanted the truth to be known.

Apalache commoners wore a plain tunic exactly like the clothing of the Tayrona (Tairona) in Colombian and the Panoan peoples of Peru.  In the 1700s Anglo-American frontiersmen called these tunics, “Creek long shirts.”    Apalache elite wore colorful tunics or long shirts that were identical to the “traditional Seminole clothing” that you see in Florida today.  Until the early 1700s, both commoners and elite wore conical split cane hats that were identical to those worn by the Panoan Peoples of Peru today.

The mummy of a recently deceased Paracusi-te is carried along a ridgetop road from one temple to another.

The mummy of a recently deceased Apalache Paracusi-te is carried along a ridgetop road from one temple to another. The author has found six foot (2 m) wide roads running on the brows of mountains near burial tomb and agricultural terrace complexes that have ancient stone retaining walls on steep slopes and where it was necessary to bridge swales in the natural terrain.

Shared burial customs

Painted Vulture (now extinct)

Painted Vulture (now extinct)

During the Woodland Period (1000 BC-900 AD) the indigenous people of Georgia typically either cremated or desiccated the bodies of commoners on stone cairns.  The flesh of commoner cadavers were first eaten off by semi-domesticated Painted Vultures or Northern Caracaras. Both these birds became extinct in the Southeast, after most of the large mammals were killed off in the early 1700s. In some sub-cultures, the bones were cremated, placed in jars shaped like amphoras and then buried communally in mounds. In other cultures, the bones were bundled together and buried in either mounds or caves.

Throughout the Woodland, Mississippian and Early Colonial Period to around 1700 AD, the cadavers of Apalache elite had very different treatment.   The Paracusi-te or High Kings were mummified in a seated position.  Just like as was the custom in the Andes, the mummy of the fallen High King was carried around on a liter and stored in public view.  These mummies soon began to mold in the damper climate of Georgia and so when too deteriorated to display, were buried in hand dug tombs on the cliffs of high mountains.  

The cadavers of the elite Apalache families were also mummified, but in a flexed position like one sees on the elite mummies in Peru.   These mummies were either buried in hand dug tombs on the sides of mountains and high hills, or else buried in low, oval-shaped mounds, covered with cobblestones and a then covered with quartz rocks in shape of an oval or circle.  These oval shaped stone mounds are endemic in the Georgia Piedmont and Blue Ridge Foothills, even today.

This is a very large royal burial complex in Union County, GA on the upper rim of an ancient collapsed caldera. It is near Track Rock Gap. Photo (1) is of a typical looted tomb among many on this cliff. The tombs were created by removing clay and stone rubble from underneath stable rock strata.

This is a very large royal burial complex in Union County, GA . . . .  containing well over 100 tombs . . . on the upper rim of an ancient collapsed caldera. It is near Track Rock Gap.  The tombs face the azimuth of the Winter Solstice Sunset, plus extremely high storm winds that blow at this altitude.  Photo (1) is of a typical looted tomb among many on this cliff. The tombs were created by removing clay and stone rubble from underneath stable rock strata.  A stone quarry was excavated about 200 feet (61m) beneath the tomb complex.  The tombs were sealed with igneous stone ashlar walls (Photo 3) that were laid with clay-lime mortar.  The walls were then plastered with red clay and then finished with stucco.  Visible were white, blue and green colored stucco, as can be seen in Photos (3) and (4).   Some of these tombs may have not been opened.  The spaces at the top are too small for a human to crawl through and the stone ashlar walls are still intact.  Therefore, the People of One Fire will not disclose their exact location.  The scale of the man-made caves can be seen from the POOF explorer in the center of Photo (3).

As readers will see in the fascinating video below, the burial customs of the Chapapoya People were identical to those of the Apalache in Georgia and also date from the same time periods.  There was definitely a cultural connection.

Hand-dug cave tombs versus mound-builder burials

One of hundreds of stone sarcophagi in the Nacoochee Valley of Northeast Georgia.

One of hundreds of stone sarcophagi in the Nacoochee Valley of Northeast Georgia.

Around 800 AD, Mesamerican immigrants into the Southeast, particularly in North Georgia, began introducing the custom of burying intact bodies.   The Itza Mayas buried their elite in flagstone lined sepulchers that were often grouped in cemeteries.  Itza Commoners were buried under the floors of their houses.  Then the houses were burned.  These were exactly the burial customs of the Apalache Commoners in the 1500s and 1600s, when they were described by the earliest European explorers.  Around 1000 AD Itza Commoner immigrants set themselves up as the elite over indigenous commoners. The mixed-heritage descendants of these Mesoamerican immigrants buried their dead in mounds so as to architecturally affirm their right to rule because of descent from the Sun Lords . . . hene ahau.

The Paracusi (High Kings) of Apalache were buried exactly these Paracus mummies in Peru. Do you see the linguistic connection?

The Paracusi (High Kings) of Apalache were buried exactly like these Paracus People mummies in Peru. Do you see the linguistic connection?

However, in the core Apalache province, which occupied the lower Appalachian Mountains and Upper Piedmont in Georgia,  the elite continued to mummify their elite dead and bury them in hand-dug caves or oval shaped mounds.  The only European explorer to provide a detailed description of Apalache elite burials was Richard Briggstock in 1653.  

Contemporary archaeologists in Georgia have generally ignored Apalache towns because they contain many stone structures and few large mounds, plus they developed at a low density in one to three mile corridors along white water rivers.  They were very different from “Mississippian” or Mesoamerican style towns, which were compact, fortified, plus focused on the large mounds of the elite and central plazas.

The only professional archaeologist, who showed any interest in the Apalache hand-dug tombs was Roger Wauchope in 1939.  Most of the tombs in the mountains were looted by local mountaineers, looking for gold in the 1800s. In 1905, a local mountaineer found eight stone tablets in a burial cave near Mount Yonah in the Nacoochee Valley.  They were written in Elizabethan English and described the fate of the Roanoke Colony.   Wauchope only found some potsherds in what was probably Eleanor Dare’s tomb on Squirrel Mountain.  However, near the entrance, he found a stone tablet, which appears to be inscribed with the Apalache writing system. 

Squirrel Mountain Tablet - found by archaeologist Robert Wauchope near entrance of tomb, where it is believed that Eleanor Dare was buried. She was married to a mikko in the Nacoochee Valley and therefore would have been placed in a tomb.

The Squirrel Mountain Tablet was found by Robert Wauchope near the entrance of tomb, where it is believed that Eleanor Dare was buried. Eight tablets, inscribed in Elizabethan English were found in this tomb in 1905. She was married to an Apalache orata (chief)  in the Nacoochee Valley and therefore would have been placed in a tomb.  (Right) D and A are the last names of two women Roanoke survivors.

Wauchope was able to find one intact royal burial cave in northern Bartow County, GA . . . about 13 miles north of Etowah Mounds.  The skeleton was in a seated position and wearing copper ear spools and bracelets. The ear spools were identical to those found on Chapapoya skeletons.  Around the skeleton were very high quality Swift Creek jars and bowls; shell ornaments and flint implements.   There was just one skeleton.  The Apalache did not practice human sacrifice.

Even though hundreds of Apalache tombs have been looted in North Georgia, there are probably hundreds or thousands more that remain intact because after 2000 to 500 years, the rich ecological environment of the region has completely concealed their entrances.  Many discoveries await those archaeologists with intellectual curiosity.

Featured BBC documentary series:  Lost Kingdoms of  South America –  S1 E1

In this fascinating program, you will also get to see mummies that were folded up and buried exactly as they were in Georgia.  The archaeologist rappelled down cliffs to peak into tombs that have not been seen in hundreds of years.  This produced some extremely dramatic scenes in the documentary.  The only difference between tombs in Peru and Georgia was that the acid soil, numerous fungi and high humidity of North Georgia quickly ate away the mummified flesh of cadavers.

 

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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.

3 Comments

    • Lee,

      I am writing a formal, academic style paper on this subject. A copy will definitely be sent to Dr. Cooper.

      Thank you!
      RT

      Reply
  1. tfworthy@bellsouth.net'

    Richard, please call needs at 706-289-0638. The Kawita Creek Tribe is preparing a final push for recognition by the Alabama Indian Affairs Commission. Your histories of the Creeks in Russell and Lee County, Alabama, will be invaluable. Need to share confidential info.

    Best regards,

    Tommy “TBird” Worthy
    Kawita Creek Tribe

    Reply

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