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The Savannah Connection

The Savannah Connection

 

It is clear that Savannah was a fountainhead for indigenous civilization in the Americas and the point of entry by ancient Bronze Age mariners from Europe and the Mediterranean Basin.

In 2017, the People of One Fire has been studying the Native American history of Northeast Alabama, Northwest Georgia and Southeast Tennessee. By closely analyzing the archaeological studies in this region, we learned that the aboriginal peoples of this region were Uchee and Southern Siouans.  The descendants of these Siouans now live on the Great Plains.

Who introduced the advanced cultural traditions that we now call Creek People?  The foundations of Creek culture were the result of blending the traditions of the Chickasaw, Panoans from Peru and Itza Mayas from the Chiapas Highlands.  However, who introduced the construction of large, formally planned towns and the massive temple mound at Etula (Etowah Mounds)?  The path leads to Savannah.

Etymology

(1)  Yamacraw is the Anglicization of the Apalache-Creek word, Yamakora, which means “Yama People.”  The Province of Yama was located in southern Vera Cruz State, Mexico . . . east of the Orizaba Volcano and along the Yamapo River.  It is possibly the real name of the Olmec Civilization.

(2) Yamasee is the Anglicization of the Creek word Yamasi, which means “offspring or colonies of Yama.”

(3) Apalachicola, Palachicola, Chicora and Chicola are Europeanizations of the Panoan word Aparachikora, which means “From-Ocean-Descendants of-People.”  It was the name of the capital town located in Downtown Savannah until the 1600s and located upstream about 35 miles in 1733.

(4)  Tomochichi is the Anglicization of the Itza Maya and Itsate Creek name Tvmvchichi or Tamachichi. It is an Itza Maya word meaning “Trade Dog” or Itinerate Merchant.”   Tamachichi was henemako or king of the Itzate Creeks on the Ocmulgee River in Central Georgia until the end of the Yamasee War.  He was deposed and forced into exile, in order to gain favor with the British.  These Itsate entered the Southeastern United States via Savannah.  Another province of the Itsate entered North America via the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee River System and settled in the gold fields of Northeast Georgia.

(5)  Coosa is the Anglicization of the Panoan (Peruvian) word “caushe,” which means “strong or elite.”   It was written more correctly as Coça by the Spanish.  The “ç” is pronounced “sh.”   When visited by the De Soto Expedition in 1540, the Coosa controlled a powerful province that stretched from Childersburg, AL to Loudon, TN . . . a distance of about 400 miles.

(6) Cusabo is the Anglicization of the Panoan word, Caushebo, which means “strong-elite – living place of.”    However, the “bo” suffix means exactly the same in Proto-Scandinavian languages.  The ethnic label, Cusabo, applies to an alliance of all the provinces from Charleston, SC southward to Port Royal Sound, SC . . . just north of Savannah.

From 1717 until 1732, Tomochichi led a band of slave catchers at the new location of Palachicola, which was at the southern tip of what is now Allendale County, SC.  He moved his band of about 50 followers to Yamacraw Bluff in 1732, when he learned that a town was planned at that location.  Yes, it was a scam.  Tamachichi was NOT the chief of the Yamacraw Indians as all university-published books tell you.  He was a squatter and leader of a renegade band composed of many branches of the Creek Confederacy. He conned the British into paying him a sizable sum of money.  However, Tomachichi’s ancestors HAD lived in Savannah many centuries before them.

Between 1937 and 1958 several nationally recognized archaeologists made astonishing discoveries at mound sites near Downtown Savannah and 56 miles to the south at the mouth of the Altamaha River.  Most of the work was done before radiocarbon dating was invented or else it was not generally available to archaeologists, working in the Southeastern United States.

The Bilbo Mound was initially investigated by Smithsonian archaeologist, Joseph Caldwell, in 1939. Nevertheless, in 1958 when William C. Haag, continued work on the mound and identified the oldest known architecture (3545 BC) and then the oldest know pottery (1800 BC) in the Americas, he was ignored by archaeologists in Georgia.  Despite the fact that Haag was a professional geologist and professional archaeologist, national professional journals refused to publish his report on the Bilbo Mound.  Haag went back to his home state of Louisiana, where he achieved worldwide fame for his word a Poverty Point (1600 BC – 600 BC).

Forty years later, much older pottery was discovered in the Savannah Area and the Watson Brake Earthworks in Louisiana were discovered to be only a century younger than the Bilbo Mound in Savannah.  However, most of the archaeological profession had forgotten the Bilbo Mound by that time.  The People of One Fire published the archaeological report on this site in 2015, which was written by Savannah-born archaeologist, Antonio Waring in 1959.  The state’s principal archaeological laboratory is named after Waring.

POOF received several sarcastic emails from regional academicians and archaeologists, instructing us to stop making “uneducated, misleading and false statements about subjects for which we have no qualifications.”   Then at least some of them, after the fact, bothered to read The Waring Papers, which was published by the Peabody Museum of Harvard University in 1968.  Then they realized, “OMG, we have royally screwed up!”  Now, though, they can’t mention the Bilbo Mound because in doing so, they would admit that there had been a booboo.

So . . . highly competent, professional archaeologists have known for decades that some of the oldest structures in either North America or Mesoamerica can be found in Savannah, GA.  They also know that some of the oldest pottery in all of the Americas is found here.  They also know that what is now Savannah, Georgia had a very large indigenous population from at least 1200 BC until the middle 1600s.  They also know that the Deptford Culture originated in Savannah and then spread across much of the lower Southeast after around 1000 BC.  Yet, the public seldom sees these facts in nationally published archeology books or on websites associated with Native American history.  

Why?  That’s a good question that we can’t answer.

1735 map of Savannah. This is before Oglethorpe began creating the city’s famous Park Squares.

The real estate seller and buyer meet on site

In February 1733, Tamachichi, the mikko of a small, heterogeneous band of Native Americans, living on a bluff overlooking the Savannah River, led Supervising Trustee, James Edward Oglethorpe, on a walking tour of the real estate that the Georgia Board of Trustees had just purchased.

(1)  Tamachichi pointed to the tract of level land, where Savannah was to be built and stated, “This is where our first town was built.”   Chikili, High King of the Creek Confederacy, said the same thing in June of 1735, while visiting Savannah, so the statement is probably true.

(2)  Tamachichi pointed to two or three burial mounds located near the confluence of the Savannah River and a creek ravine.  He stated, “My ancestors are buried there.”   Tamachichi did not want the mounds disturbed and also placed as a condition of the land sale, that his village would remain next to the mounds.

(3) Tamachichi pointed northwestward across the ravine to Irene Island, where a large mound and several smaller mounds still stood.  He stated, “This was our first capital and where our emperor lived.”  Two years later, Oglethorpe and missionary John Wesley decided that the first school for Creek childen was to be built on top of the Irene Mound.

(4) Tamachichi led Oglethorpe to the far southeastern corner of where the English officer wanted to build Savannah.  He pointed to a modest conical mound and said, “This is where our first emperor was buried.”

(5)  Tamachichi then led Oglethorpe northward along a small creek.  He pointed to perhaps a dozen mounds near the river and stated, “This is where the first people lived.”

 

1947 Archaeological conference at Harvard

All the big names in archaeology met at Harvard University that year to adopt an orthodoxy for explaining the pre-Columbian history of eastern North America.  At virtually the same time, Dr. Willard Libby, a chemist and nuclear scientist at UC-Berkeley first invented the radiocarbon dating process.  Libby first proposed his idea of carbon dating in 1947 and over the next 11 years he researched and perfected the process.

The radiocarbon dating of the Bilbo Mound in Savannah was the first use of the perfected process in the Southeast.  Archaeologist William C. Haag, was an early “disciple” of Libby.  The primary reason that Georgia archaeologists refused to acknowledge Haag’s date for the Bilbo Mound was that they did not yet understand the scientific principals involved.

The Harvard Conference adopted the following statements as scientific facts that were not to be challenged any further:

(1) All American Indians were descended from Clovis Peoples, who crossed the land bridge between Siberia and Alaska around 8,000-6,000 BC.

(2) The Archaic Period lasted from 6,000 BC to 1,000 BC.  During this period, American Indians did not live in permanent villages or cultivate plants.

(3) The Woodland Period lasted from around 1000 BC to 1000 AD in the Middle Mississippi River Valley.  It continued until the arrival of European settlers among tribes in most other parts of the Eastern United States, except the Lower Southeast.  The Adena People in Ohio (1000 BC)  were the first people to live in permanent villages, build mounds and make pottery.  The Hopewell People in Ohio were the first people to build large earthworks and cultivate plants.

(4)  The first cultivation of corn, beans and squash . . . the first construction of large planned towns with large platform mounds occurred in the Middle Mississippi River Valley in eastern Missouri and southern Illinois.  The many mound complexes in the Lower Southeast were established as colonies of Cahokia in Illinois.  Therefore, the period between 1000 AD and 1600 AD was labeled the Mississippian Period.

The northern origin of all advanced indigenous culture has been unraveling for many decades, but the death knell of this belief occurred around 2012, when comprehensive radiocarbon dates were obtained from many locations in Cahokia.  For decades, the public had been told that “Mississippian Peoples” arrived at Cahokia around 600 AD and had a full blown Mississippian culture by 800 AD.  Actually,  the first Mississippian traits did not arrive at Cahokia until around 1050 AD.  That date is 150 years after construction began on the Great Temple Mound at Ocmulgee in Macon, GA!  Furthermore, a recent study of Ocmulgee has determined that it was occupied by Swift Creek peoples much earlier than 900 AD.  That goes for Etowah Mounds in Northwest Georgia also.  Swift Creek and Woodstock Culture occupants were at Etowah, when “Mississippian Peoples” arrived from the south around 990 AD.

 

Royal compound of the Capital of Kaushe (Coosa)

Newcomers from Savannah

The “Mississippian” occupations of Etowah mounds are officially labeled as occurring from 1000 AD to 1200 AD . . . 1250 AD to 1375 AD  . . . 1375 AD to 1585 AD.   Dr. Arthur Kelly believed that there was a fourth occupation in the 1600s and early 1700s, but after he died, his findings were redacted from the professional literature.   The period when Etowah exploded with population and constructed large mounds is the middle occupation.

Visitors to the Etowah Mounds museum are led to believe that this middle occupation was sparked by “advanced peoples, who arrived from the Mississippi River Valley.”  Actually, this is not even what Georgia archaeologists say . . . but they don’t advertise the facts, because the conflict with the basic tenants of the 1947 Harvard Conference. 

Here is a direct quote from Mississippian Period Archaeology of the Blue Ridge Mountains (1990) by archaeologist, Jack Wynn.  The booklet is published by the University of Georgia Press and utilized by all anthropology students in Georgia.

“The Savannah Culture is the only one known in the Middle Mississippi Period. It is presently understood to have lasted from AD 1200 to AD 1350, based on research at Etowah (9Br1) and Wilbanks (9Ck5) sites. It is the high point of the Mississippian “Classic” ceremonialism in Georgia, with large platform mound and plaza centers, and based on horticulture involving maize, beans, squashes and a wide variety of local cultigens. The Southeastern Ceremonial Complex of elaborate burial furniture, elite status items, and exotic trade materials continued also. This period is marked in part by the introduction of the curvilinear motifs to the paddle-stamped pottery decorations.”

The Savannah Culture got its name because the earliest manifestation of all the pottery and cultural traits mentioned above was along the Lower Savannah River Valley. Because the Georgia archaeologists don’t know the indigenous languages of Georgia, they missed another important hint.  As stated in the etymology section, the people of the Savannah- southern South Carolina Low Country called themselves Caushe centuries before the “Coosa People” appeared in Northwest Georgia.

 

The correct use of the label, Mississippian

Thus, we see that the Savannah Area probably contained the oldest advanced indigenous cultures in North America . . . if mound-building, pottery making and agriculture are acceptable measures.  The term, Mississippian, is most accurately applied to the indigenous cultures of the Mississippi River Basin.  It is quite clear that the origins of advanced indigenous culture in the Lower Southeast were different.  Its participants trace their origins to Mesoamerica, southern Florida, the Caribbean Basin, northwestern South America and (vaguely) across the Atlantic in the home of the sun.

 

Savannah is indeed a very special place on this earth and well-deserving of being designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

 

 

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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.

10 Comments

  1. markveale@hotmail.com'

    Richard, Another Great article. Those university folks did not check with the Native peoples when they wrote their Histories and I have learned more from you then their non-cents books. So you now consider the “Yamasi” the same as the Olmec’s? I don’t remember the Desoto writers identifying any people with that type of name in 1540 but I also know they didn’t make mention of the Duhare people found in 1521 somewhere around the 33 lat. line.

    Reply
    • De Soto did not pass through the region where the Yama and Yamasi people lived. He was intentionally steered away from the three regions where the true Apalachi lived – Savannah Area, northeast Georgia and the Columbus, GA area. However, the French made extensive contacts with the Apalache, since they were more civil in their relations with Native Americans.

      Reply
      • Reillyranch@aol.com'

        Another great article Richard!

        Keep them coming as long as you can.

        Reply
        • That’s a long, long time. Several of my great-uncles lived to 102. All were still driving cars and dancing when they died in their sleep.

          Reply
          • Reilly@aol.com'

            I have read that Tamachichi told Oglethorpe that a great white man with a red beard with many men had visited his ancestors in a large ship. There were also hieroglyphics of that event that were found. I’ll send you what I’ve got but you probably already have it.

          • He said that it was a Frenchman. He was referring to Jean Ribault, who visited Chicora in 1562.

  2. tidewriter@aol.com'

    From a resident of Chatham County, resident of Savannah/Tybee Island, GA: Thank you, Richard.

    Reply
    • You can also thank my ancestors in the Colonial Cemetery in Downtown Savannah! LOL

      Reply
      • tidewriter@aol.com'

        Yes. LOL! (I have a few there myself.) All the best to you! Keep on keepin’ on.

        Reply
  3. smmarlay@msn.com'

    a natural gateway..enjoyed the article and am looking forward to more. thanks

    Reply

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