The Surprising Connection between Teotihuacan, Tallahassee and Tallequah
News about archaeological discoveries in central Mexico might seem irrelevant to your tribe, but think about this . . . three key Totonac root words, Tula (town), Tama (trade) and Chiki (house) can be found in various forms in the place names of many modern towns of the Southeastern United States and Lower Mississippian River Basin.
A dirty little secret revealed by the excavations at Teotihuacan
The first great city of the Americas was in the Peten Jungle of northern Guatemala. Known today as “El Mirador,” it was founded after the collapse of the Olmec Civilization in the 500s BC. In Maya folklore, El Mirador is remembered as the Place of the Reeds or Tula. This name came from the marshes near the city which sustained its life. The typical soil of the Peten is very infertile. The early Mayas scooped up rich organic soils from the marshes and filled stone walled terraces and raised planting beds with them to grow crops. This intensive form of agriculture supported a population of around 100,000 people at Tula I’s peak size and sphere of political influence around 350 BC.
A few years ago, archaeologists discovered that what appeared to be a small mountain in the heart of El Mirador was actually a man-made pyramidal temple mound. Today, it rises to the height of 230 feet (70 m). The temple is missing, so it was actually more like 270 feet (82 m) tall.
Around this time, colonists from Tula I traveled 700 miles (1120 km) to the northwest to found a new town in a marshy section on the northern end of the Valley of Mexico. It was also named Tula, because reeds also grew there. . It is probable that as the religious shrine grew into a great city, its name changed to E-tula or “Important Place of the Reeds.”
As Muskogean farmers will always tell you, anywhere that river cane grows is also a grand place to grow American corn. The name, Teotihuacan, or “Place of the Gods” was given Tula II by the Aztecs, about 500 years after the town site had been abandoned.
Teotihuacan was probably the largest metropolis that ever existed in the Americas until the mid-1700s when Mexico City surpassed it in population. Estimates for its peak population range from 150,000 to 250,000. The city began as a sacred cave with a temple in it or over it. The oldest known buildings found on the town site dated from 200 BC.
Major construction on the Pyramid of the Sun was completed around 100 BC. The last phase of this massive structure was completed around 250 AD. Today the pyramid is 246 feet (75 m) high. However, like El Mirador, its cap and temple are missing. The original height was probably in the range of 290 feet (88m). The Pyramid of Cholula near Pueblo, Mexico is the largest pyramid in the world in volume, but is currently only 180 feet (55 m) tall. The tallest pyramid in the world is at Giza, Egypt. It is 455 feet (139 m) tall.
Around 600 AD there was a rebellion in Teotihuacan in which all the public buildings were burned. Commoners continued to live there in fairly large numbers until around 750 AD, when it was almost completely abandoned. Immediately after the torching of the public buildings, a new city was begun in northern Vera Cruz State near the present day city of Pozo Rico. This new city was the capital of the Totonacs until 1230 AD, when it was sacked by Chichimec barbarians. It was probably also called E-Tula, but is known today as “El Tajin” – hybrid Spanish-Totonac words meaning “The Thunder.”
See this BBC article on the recent discoveries of artifacts at the end of a tunnel:
- Mexico tunnel in Teotihuacan reveals ancient relics
- In pictures: Relics discovered in Mexico’s Teotihuacan
There is something else highly significant about the excavations that have occurred around and under the Pyramid of the Sun during the past 15 years. Archaeologists are finally able to see the real architecture of the Pyramid of the Sun. INAH press releases are not mentioning the revelations, but look at the virtual reality image done by INAH architects on the left. Note that the architecture of this great pyramid was very different than the “restored” form seen by tourists. The pyramid was composed of a series of terraces with window like niches at each level. It is exactly the same style architecture as was built at El Tajin after the public buildings were sacked at Teotihuacan. Apparently, little damage was done to the original pyramid, when it was covered over with dirt and another fieldstone veneer.
Back in the Early Bronze Age when I was studying down in Mexico, I received a hint that there was something amiss at Teotihuacan. I was in Dr. Piña-Chan’s office in the Museo Nacional de Anthropologia for an orientation to Teotihuacan, on the day prior to my first visit to the great site. While his beautiful “graduate assistant,” Alejandra, had stepped out to order our lunches at the cafeteria, the famous archeologist whispered to me in English some surprising information. He obviously did not want anybody else to hear what he was saying.
“Ricardo, don’t spend too much time at the Pyramids of the Sun and Moon. Their architecture is wrong. Concentrate of the Temple of Quetzalcoatl. It is correct.” I didn’t quite understand what he meant, but once on site, I could not resist photographing the two massive structures from every possible angle. I even climbed a 12,000 ft (366 m) Cerro Gordo mountain due north of the Pyramid of the Moon to photograph all of Teotihuacan from the air. [See photo below.] I was given a sack lunch by the radar station crew on top of the mountain and ate it at the ruins of Montezuma’s private temple.
In later years, I have come to understand the mandated secrecy concerning the true appearance of the two great pyramids at Teotihuacan. Their real architecture was extremely sophisticated and much more “Southeast Asian” in appearance. However, it would probably cost a billion dollars to rebuild them to their original complex appearance, especially if the temples were reconstructed. The Mexican government would rather not have the tourists know that what they are seeing is magnificent, but not authentic.
The Totonacs were the elite of Teotihuacan, while the commoners were composed of several ethnic groups such as the Otomi and Mixtecs. The Itza Mayas in southern Mexico originally spoke a non-Maya language, but absorbed many Totonac words while under the domination of the Totonacs between 200 AD and 600 AD. It could well be that the other words in the Creek languages that differ from their counterparts in Choctaw, Chickasaw and Alabama are actually archaic, non-Maya Itza words.
The significance of the word, Tula
One of the reasons that I was always 100% convinced that there was direct contact between Mesoamericans and the Muskogeans, was the endemic presence of the word, Tula, and its derivations in the Southeast. The Totonac, Itza Maya and Itsate-Creek word for town is tula . . . pronounced te( : ü : la(. That is the root of the name of Tullahoma, Tennessee – which means “Town Red.” That fact proves that south-central Tennessee was once occupied by Itstate Creeks – descendants of Itza Maya immigrants. So it should be no surprise that the name of the Tennessee River before 1785 was the Callimaco, “Palace of the King” in Itza Maya. [It is pronounced Ka“ : le- : ma- : ko-.] A regular house in Totonac, Itza Maya and Itsate Creek is called a chiki. Ma- : ko- became Mekko in Muskogee-Creek.
The immigrants from eastern Peru and Arawaks, who settled in the Southeast adopted the word, tula, into tali as their word for town. Hernando de Soto visited a town named, Tali, while marching down the Little Tennessee River. By the late 1600s, the town is shown with an Arawak name of Tali-koa or Tali People. It eventually became the Cherokee town of Talikoa or Talequa. Anglo-American settlers wrote it down as Tellico. Cherokees chose the name of their first town in the North Carolina Mountains as the name of their new capital in Oklahoma – Tahlequah.
The real name of Etowah Mounds was E-tula. Now where have we seen that word before? When the Muskogees came along, they pronounced it E-tvl-wa. The Apalachicola Creeks pronounced it E-taliwa. Tvlwa and taliwa became their words for any significant town. The Itsate word for a hamlet was tulapa. That is pure Itza Maya and means “town place.” The Muskogee Creeks changed it to tvlafa, but it meant the same.
The Totonac-Itza rood word, Tula, evolved into the Creek word, talli, which means “to measure out a town.” The trained professional, who measured out a town and designed buildings, was a talliya – an architect in English.
Itsate Creeks used the word T’ulula for a medium sized town with just one mound. English speakers wrote the word down as Talula or Tallulah. Thus, we have the origin of Tallulah Falls, GA, Tallulah Mound, the Tallulah Highway and Tallulah Creek in Graham County, NC, plus Tallulah Bankhead, the flashy actress from Alabama.
“Why shezam Andy! Graham County is in the heart of the North Carolina Smokies! That means that there were Itsate Creeks, who were descendants of the Itza Mayas, living in the Smoky Mountains, when English-speaking settlers came along. That can’t be. The Cherokees have lived there for 10,000 years?“
“Well Gomer, it don’t seem right, but not everything you read in a tourist brochure is the truth.”
Tallahassee, the capital of Florida, is actually pretty close to the real name of the Native people that Spanish conquerors and Florida anthropologists call the Apalachee. The real name of these people was Tula-halwa-se . . . Offspring of Highland Towns. The Florida Apalachee started out as colonists from the real Apalache in northeast Georgia.
And now you know!
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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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