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The Rosetta Stone of Southeastern Shell Art

A style of gorget that is found in northern Georgia, northern Alabama, eastern Tennessee, Arkansas and Missouri provides proof of cultural connections to both Mesoamerica and eastern Peru.  The gorget’s design was probably the “coat of arms” of the Kingdom of Apalache in northeast Georgia, but was traded to other parts of the Southeast.

Without REALLY looking at the design elements of this gorget, 20th century archaeologists and art historians labeled this style gorget either “The Two Hunters” or “The Sacred Fire.”   It does portray two hunters, but much, much more.

Copal Combo

First, we’ll back track a bit.   For seven years, I have been intrigued by the provincial, ethnic and town names in the Coastal Plain of South Carolina and Georgia.  Some words are Itza Maya-Itsate Creek or Muskogee-Creek.  Even more have Itza Maya, Huastec or Muskogee ethnic suffixes like te, le or ke.  However, the majority could not be translated by any major Southeastern or Mexican indigenous language.

Thing got really kornfuzing in the Jawja Mountains last year.  Marilyn Rae and I studied the 17th century writings of Charles de Rochefort, who described in detail a 1653 expedition into northern Georgia.  De Rochefort provided all the detailed aspects of the Apalache commoners . . .  their houses, their towns, their fortifications and their customs.  The descriptions matched 100% what American archaeologists would not discover about pre-European Creek towns until the late 20th century.

The Apalache elite were an enigma. The elite families lived in separate locations on the sides of mountains and hills.  Their temples were built of stone.  The foundations of their houses were fieldstone.  They wore brightly colored clothes that looked like the traditional clothing of the Seminoles and Miccosukees.  However, none of their words were Muskogean!  Their language was a mixture of some unidentified tongue and Itza Maya.

The high king of Apalache was called the Paracusti. The Paracus (Paracas) built the complex animal and bird effigies on the floor of the Nazca Plain in Peru.  They departed the Peruvian coast around 1-200 AD.  The suffix “ti” is Itza Maya and Itsate Creek for “people.” The straight lines on the Nazca Plain were built afterward by the Nazca People. Two thousand years ago, the Paracus People wore turbans identical to those worn by Creeks in the 1700s and 1800s.  We don’t know what their turbans looked like earlier.

Who in the heck uses the word, ”bo”?

I tried reverse engineering the ethnic suffix, “bo.”  It is found along the South Carolina coast and the northern end of the Georgia coastal plain. It definitely means “people.”  For example, Westo is a Anglicized form of the Creek word, Oueste or WesteWeste  now means “scraggly hair.”  At the time that they were making life miserable for the Native folks in the Coastal Plain, they were more commonly called the Westebo or “Scraggly -haired People.”  However, I could find no North American, Caribbean or Mexican language that used “bo” for “people.”

Shipibo-ConiboThen while studying the indigenous peoples living around Fort Caroline, I came upon several towns that had as their root, Sati.  Next, in an obscure South Carolina Colonial archive I discovered that the Santee Indians of the South Carolina Coast usually called themselves the Sati.   SO . . .  the Sati or Santee on the South Carolina Coast, north of Charleston, were one and the same as the Sati on the Georgia Coast.  The Georgia Sati lived between Brunswick and St. Marys in the Satilla (Sati-le) River Basin.

During the late 1500s, the Sati in Georgia fought a valiant war to keep out the Spanish, but eventually were pushed inland.  The Sati were the primary reason that the first St. Augustine was moved southward to its present location in March of 1566. Originally, it had been built next to the Sati capital of Satipo near the Satilla or Little Satilla River in Georgia. That is stated verbatim in the memoir of Don Pedro Menéndez de Avilés, founder of St. Augustine.  He gave the latitude of St. Andrews Bay, Georgia as the original location of St. Augustine in September 1565 and the latitude of St. Augustine Bay, Florida as the second location in 1566.   Florida historians have ignored that first latitude number for 150 years.

Satipo’s all over the place

Then arrived the realization that the 16th century Spanish visited a town named Satipo in the Smoky Mountains, just west of the Tennessee-North Carolina border.  Iin the 1700s, the Cherokees called the town Sati-koa, which is Arawak or Carib for Sati People.  Anglo-American frontiersmen called the town, Citigo.  Citigo Creek runs through the Satikoa archaeological zone today.

I ran a google search for the word, Satipo.  Son-of-a-gun . . . it is a province in eastern Peru. Satipo is the Hispanicization of the Native word Sati-bo, which means “Sati People.”   I had found the homeland of “bo” and the Sati/Santee People of the South Atlantic Coast.  In fact, most of the tribes along the mountain tributaries of the Amazon River in Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia have “bo” had the end of their name. Within that region I found many town and village names that had a sister native town on the South Atlantic coast . . . including Tacatacuro, where Frenchman Dominique de Gourgue was based before attacking Fort San Mateo with his Satibo allies.

The Conibo’s and their sister tribe, the Shipibo’s speak dialects of the Panoan Language Family.  There is not a whole lot of Panoan reference material in the USA, but one does see many words that can also be seen on the South Carolina coast in the 1500s.

Remember the Chiska?

Of course, all you dedicated Native American scholars know who the Chiska were.  They had long, scraggly hair and blackened their faces to look like birds of prey.  They were consummate warriors.  Oh?  You thought I meant the Chiska in the Appalachian Mountains that were encountered by Hernando de Soto and Juan Pardo in the 1500s.  No I mean the greatly feared Chiska warriors in eastern Peru. Chiska means “bird” in the Panoan languages.

Except . . . you are about to see a Peruvian Chiska warrior engraved on a gorget that was made in the Georgia Mountains. Very similar gorgets have also been found in Missouri, Arkansas, Alabama and Tennessee.  I told you that you were going to fall out of your seats!

Seminole threads

My Native heritage is pretty much identical to that of the Seminoles and Miccosukees.  I was born next to the Okefenokee Swamp in southeast Georgia.  Therefore, I have always been fascinated by the Seminole’s traditional clothing.  What they wore in the early 1800s was really a bit different than what the Creeks, living farther north, wore.   You can instantly spot a Creek, who moved south into Florida in the early 1800s and joined up with the Seminoles.  His turban and long shirt are different.

What intrigues me most are those strange pillbox shaped hats worn by Seminole Keepers (priests) and the intricate patterns on the early 19th century Seminole cloth.  Their motifs cannot be found in the art of the Mississippian Culture or among Creeks, living in Alabama and western Georgia.

Guess what?  I found those same pillbox hats and intricate designs among the native peoples of Satipo Province, Peru.  The story of the Southeastern Indigenous Peoples just got a whole lot more complicated.

To this day the Native peoples of Satipo Province, Peru, wear the gowns that Seminoles and Creeks call “long shirts.”   Also, at weddings and tribal ceremonies, they wear the same conical straw hat that the Apalache elite of northern Georgia wore in the 1600s.

The other day, I told Dr. Bill Romain, an archaeologist in Ohio, that any book I wrote before the summer of 2014 is now obsolete.  Now you know why.


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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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