Richard Thornton | May 9, 2017 | 23
This shell gorget is the Rosetta Stone of Southeastern indigenous history
This style of gorget is found from North Georgia to eastern Missouri and is commonly labeled by anthropologists, “The Two Hunters” or “The Sacred Fire.” It contains many secrets that were somehow missed in the past. Perhaps no one looked at the art closely, or because what the art portrayed conflicted with orthodox concepts of the Southeastern indigenous peoples, they chose to ignore the gorget’s implications.
For unknown reasons, no one ever noticed over the past century that these men were wearing conical hats. They were also wearing kilts, typical of Mesoamerica, with Maya glyphs on them. The glyphs on the kilts are for the planet, Venus. The cycles of Venus in the night time sky were associated by the Mayas with the appropriate times to make war. The conical hats are typical of Satipo Province in eastern Peru. However, there is much more to the story than that.
The man on the right is portrayed exactly as the Chiska Oni warriors of eastern Peru looked, yet he is a Chiska warrior from Tennessee. The pot in the center is NOT a Sacred Fire. It is a traditional Mesoamerican brazier for burning copal incense. That means copal, or something similar to copal, was also used in North America. In fact, late 16th century Spanish explorers called the Track Rock Terrace Complex in Georgia, “Great Copal” because its incense was always burning from stone altars in its acropolis. Since this style gorget was also found at Cahokia, we can assume that copal, or something similar to copal, was also burned there.
Charles de Rochefort wrote in 1658 that the mountaintop and hilltop temples of the Apalache in North Georgia burned incense 24/7. It was their means of offering prayers to their Sun Goddess.
A variety of copal was cultivated in the Southeast that would thrive in a temperate climate. Some of this copal went feral in the Rich Mountains near Ellijay and Cherry Log, GA. Several years ago, some people in that region began drinking copal tea to “trip out.” Too much of the tea and they became literal zombies. The repeated accounts of seeing young men and women walking aimlessly through the pastures and woods at night around Cherry Log provoked national news stories about “Hillbilly Zombies” in North Georgia.
As can be seen in the colorization of the gorget above, the elements of this gorget display cultural elements from the Southern Highlands of the United States, the Itza Mayas of the Chiapas Highlands and Satipo Province in the eastern foothills of the Andes. It is indeed a cultural Rosetta Stone.
A traditional artistic motif of the Conibo People of Satipo Province is a vertical column of concentric circles. This can be seen on the young man’s tunic on the left. The traditional pattern on his tunic can be found on Swift Creek pottery.
The traditional head covering of a Seminole or Miccosukee Keeper (Holy Man) in Florida is a pillbox-shaped hat. Even today, Conibo and Shipibo priests, chiefs and princesses wear identical hats. Note that Georgia’s Apalache, the Conibo and the Shipibo wore a loose-fitting tunic that evolved in the Southeast into the famous Creek Longshirt. The women of the Apalache elite word ribbon dresses. These ribbon dresses are now a tradition among many Southeastern tribes.
Note the serpent on the copal brazier pot. This is from the Itza Maya religion, which worshiped a “sky serpent.” Stone serpent effigies can be found on many mountain tops in NE Alabama and North Georgia.
We believe that these style of gorgets were made in North Georgia and Eastern Tennessee, because they portray an alliance between the Apalache (left) and the Chiska (right.) Their presence in such a broad band across the interior of the Southeast suggests the major urban centers of the Pre-Columbian Southeast had cultural and trade contacts.
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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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