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The mystical use for stone basins in the indigenous Southeast

The mystical use for stone basins in the indigenous Southeast


Throughout the Southern Highlands and Piedmont, one finds ancient boulders or outcrops with hemispherical basins carved in them.  There are thousands upon thousands of them.  Most are so perfectly round, they must be man-made, but what was their purpose?

When I was working on my Archaeology merit badge for Boy Scouts, my counselor . . . an anthropology professor at Brenau College (now University) . . . told me that Indians made these basins to crack nuts in.  To this day, that’s what virtually all white archaeologists tell people.  You will also see this explanation on signs in national parks and special exhibits by the US Forest Service.

MiikasukiGirls2One of the most memorable experiences in my life was when I was age 11,  Boy Scout Troop 26 in Gainesville, GA hiked for two weeks on the Appalachian Trail.  I came back in wonderment with the things I had seen . . . like ancient stone walls, stone cairns and dozens of basins carved out of boulders.  I asked my Granny Ruby (aka Mvhvla) about the rock basins being used for cracking nuts.  She responded, “That is horse manure!  Why would anyone crack nuts out in the woods and then try to carry the pieces back to their home 5-20 miles away? You don’t crack nuts until you need to eat them.  The shells keep the meat from going bad.”      She made some very valid points.

A few years ago, I asked the same question to a Seminole elder.  She was familiar with the explanation by archaeologists and essentially gave an identical response to that of Granny Ruby.  She said that our ancestors cracked nuts the same way they cracked corn . . .  in a wooden mortar and pestle at their farmstead. It was the only way that one could be sure of keeping all the nut meat.

Sacrifice Rock is at the center of a Woodland Period village site. It is two miles from the source of the Etowah River.

Sacrifice Rock is at the center of a Woodland Period village site. It is two miles from the source of the Etowah River.

A place for human sacrifice?

At certain locations, such as the petroglyphic boulder pictured at the top of this article and the satellite image immediately above, early white settlers created folklore that these basins were utilized to hold blood after human sacrifices.  Actually, that was a purpose for stone basins in Iron Age Britain, Scotland and Ireland.  Druids would cut the throats of victims and then drain their blood into basins.  Such sacrificial basins have also been found a Bronze Age sites on islands in the Mediterranean Sea.

HOWEVER,  spilling of any blood . . . even from hunting . . . was absolutely forbidden within two miles of a Highland Apalache, and later, Creek temple or shrine.  Unlike the indigenous peoples of Florida, the ancestors of the Creek Indians did not sacrifice humans or animals. 

There is no doubt that the volcanic rock outcrop now called Sacrifice Rock was a Native American sacred spot.  A spring spouts water from outcrop’s southwestern edge and a Native American mound is located due south of the spring.  If anyone sacrificed human victims on this stone, they lived here before the Apalache . . . and that’s a lot time ago.

So . . . if these thousands of stone basins in the Southeast were not used for cracking nuts or storing the blood of sacrificial victims, what other reason would our ancestors had for grinding out basins in boulders?  A great deal of human labor was involved in their creation.

Note:  Those of you are new to the People of One Fire are probably not aware that over the past three years, we have been finding absolute proof that the core cultural traditions of the Creek and Seminole Peoples are not from either North America or Mesoamerica, but eastern Peru.  These traditions include turbans, mummification, the Stomp Dance,  Sacred Black Drink from yapon holly, using tobacco smoke as a form of prayer and the actual name of the chief of a village . . .  orataw.   This information is probably as heretical to anthropologists as the shock that the Itsate Creeks were originally the same people as the Itsate (Itza) Mayas.  However, when almost all on the place names in the Coastal Plain of Georgia, plus many of the place names in eastern Tennessee and western North Carolina, such as Nantahala (river with many rapids) are eastern Peruvian words, well . . . if it quacks like a duck, swims like a duck and looks like a duck, by golly it must be a duck! 

Water-ripplesThe answer came last year we POOF featured a BBC documentary on the Kogi (Jaguar) People on the northern coast of Colombia.  You can watch the video below.  In the opening scene, a Kogi priest, called a mama, looks intently in to a carved stone basin and drops pebbles into it. The pebble creates the concentric rings that are abstractly portrayed in dozens of Southern Highland petroglyphs.  Later in the program a mama explains that the basins are portals which enable him to communicate with the Earth goddess. With this information the priest is able to know what will happen in the future.   

This description of the basins exactly jives with Uchee tradition.  Uchee priests called the concentric rings glyph a time portal.  I am not aware of any surviving Uchee or Creek tradition, which involves dropping pebbles into basins, but a lot of information has been lost in the past 300 years.


Entrance to a rock shelter and man-made cave near Amicalola Falls

I watched the program on the Kogi again last night and discovered something I had missed the first time.  The film crew returned again to interview a mama, who was divining inside a rock shelter.  The special function of rock shelters and caves is important information.  There is a rock shelter near Sacrifice Rock, which contains many petroglyphs . . . just like the Kogi rock shelter filmed in Colombia.

This time the mama was examining crystals being held under the water of the basin.  Apparently, the crystals provide the priests more detailed information than the concentric patterns of the pebbles.  The priest was trying to determine the most effective words for warning modern civilizations that they were destroying the natural environment permanently.   There was a brief scene when the priest was also examining the crystal in the sunlight outside the cave.  Apparently, this is another form of divination.

Quartz1Many of you are probably aware that crystals were very important to the indigenous cultures, which were ancestral to the modern Southeastern tribes.  Archaeologists have known for many decades that crystals had special significance, because they were found in many burials.  However, this BBC film provides us an eyewitness account of how they were used by priests. Learn something every day! 



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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.



    Wow. Fascinating. Again. Now I am wondering about those spirals that I always thought were portals. Maybe they could also be symbols of ripples in water?

    • I am not sure about the spirals. In Bronze Age Spain they were associated with the Sun Goddess. This is one thing that is very interesting. Both the Bronze Age people of the western coast of Europe, the Apalache in Georgia and the original settlers of Teotihuacan in Mexico worshiped a female sun goddess.


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