Track Rock Archaeological Zone
Archaeological site 9UN367 – Union County, Georgia
Dozens of readers have sent emails in recent months, asking “What is going on at Track Rock Gap?” During the year since this enormous archaeological zone was first publicized, POOF has added many new subscribers. We will give all of you an overview about what is now known about the site and what isn’t known. Genetic and linguistic studies carried out in 2012 suggest that there are at least some Creek, Cherokee, Seminole, Miccosukee and Koasati Indians today, who are the descendants of the builders of the Track Rock Terraces or its satellite towns in the Georgia, North Carolina and Tennessee Mountains. In 1713, the Cherokees captured the region to the north of Track Rock Gap in North Carolina. This explains why DNA typical of the Georgia Creeks would show up in that region today.
Politics became entangled with the search for new knowledge. Strange, behind- the-scenes machinations by USFS bureaucrats in Georgia (many of whom are originally from North Carolina), ultra-right extremists in North Georgia, the Eastern Band of Cherokees in North Carolina and a cult based in Florida obstructed further study of the Track Rock by professional archaeologists, botanists and geologists, but then, because of the extreme measures they took, caused the site to become the focus of the international media.
So far the primary result of all this nonsense has been that a North Carolina Indian tribe has successfully blocked the Track Rock Terrace Complex from becoming one of Georgia’s most important and spectacular tourist attractions. Apparently, the North Carolina Cherokees do not want tourists being drawn away to the Georgia Mountains. Union County, GA has already lost hundreds of thousands of dollars of tourist income by the bizarre efforts of the US Forest Service and North Carolina Cherokees to discourage visitors to the Track Rock ruins.
Perhaps it should come as no surprise that the Eastern Band of Cherokees pays the Union County, GA Chamber of Commerce at least $1000 a year, plus provides perks for its officials at the Cherokee casino, as a reward for promoting tourist attractions 82 miles away in Cherokee, NC. This would explain why Union County Chamber officials have made no effort to promote tourism at Georgia Creek heritage sites in their county, such as Track Rock Gap near Blairsville and Fort Mountain in the southern part of the county.
A fascinating program on Track Rock Gap is currently scheduled to be broadcast in North America and Europe by the History Channel during the evening of December 21, 2012.
Archaeological Zone 9UN367 (Track Rock) is a half square mile complex of stone ruins, petroglyphs and earthen terraces in the Chattahoochee National Forest of the North Georgia Mountains. Visible on the surface are at least 150 stone retaining walls, the ruins of rectangular and round buildings, several stone cairns, a +/-150 feet long fieldstone effigy of a serpent, a +/- 40 feet long effigy of a crescent moon, and carved stone steps into what appears to be an altar overlooking the valley. There is also a circular hydrological structure identical to what is found at several Pre-Columbian terrace sites in western Belize, northwestern Guatemala and Chiapas State. Drainage channels and large terraces cut into the side of the mountain with no visible retaining walls. At a location we keep secret nearby are over a hundred hand-dug burial chambers. They were sealed with quarried rocks lain with clay mortar and stuccoed with a plaster still retains some blue, green and white colors.
The plaza within the acropolis, 700 feet above the archaeological zone’s base, is oriented to the sunset of the Winter Solstice. There is a line of mountain top stone structures along this azimuth, which terminates at Mound A at Etowah Mounds National Landmark. Mound A is also oriented to the Winter Solstice. Etowah’s massive plaza is supported by a six feet high stone masonry retaining wall. There is another mountain with extensive stone ruins which is visible from Track Rock Gap. Known as Fort Mountain, it appears to have been a fortress for guarding the intersection of several important trade routes that intersect in the Nottely River Valley. It is not the same archaeological zone as the much better known Fort Mountain State Park in Murray County, GA – but interestingly, is on the same latitude line. Also, about a dozen small stone-walled terrace sites have identified elsewhere in Georgia gold-mining country.
Track Rock Gap is in Union County, GA and is located about five miles south of the North Carolina state line. It is immediately west of Georgia’s tallest mountain, Brasstown Bald. The gap is within a cluster of ancient volcanoes that left rich gold deposits as a vestige. Commercial gold mining continued in the Coosa Creek area of Union County until the 1950s, when $3 an ounce gold made mining non-profitable. There is also a dormant volcano fumarole (vent) within the archaeological zone.
All of the zone is within the boundaries of the Chattahoochee National Forest, and therefore is owned by the citizens of the United States. Since the administration of President Jimmy Carter, the U.S. Forest Service has maintained signs in the area, directing tourists to the Track Rock Gap Archaeological Zone, but visitors to the petroglyphs on Track Rock Gap Road were not made aware of the massive zone of stone ruins nearby. Nevertheless, the USFS maintained the Vent Trail for hikers to walk through the ruins up to the dormant fumarole. No information signs were erected on vicinity of the ruins.
At the time of the founding of the Colony of Georgia in 1732 until 1783, Track Rock Gap was shown on official British maps as being within the territory of the Upper Creek Indians. In 1785 the United States government “gave” north central and northwestern Georgia to the Cherokee Nation, while allotting much of the future state of Alabama to the Creek Nation as compensation for lost lands in Georgia.
From 1785 until 1838, the location was within the boundaries of the Cherokee Nation. However, Upper Creek Indians continued to live in the region immediately west of Track Rock Gap in an area now known as Coosa Bald Mountain and Coosa Creek. The source of the Coosa River of Georgia and Alabama is on the west flank of Coosa Bald. Upper Creek descendants still live in Union and Fannin Counties, GA. Coosa is the Anglicized name of the Upper Creek Indians!
Georgia Creeks and Florida Seminoles are known to carry some Maya DNA and have spoken many Maya and Totonac words. However, in 2012 it was determined that some Cherokees who trace their heritage to immediately north or east of Brasstown Bald Mountain also carry Maya DNA. Some “BIA card-carrying” Cherokee families in Towns County, GA – east of Brasstown Bald – carry Quechua (South American) and Maya DNA with no evidence of having any Algonquian-Iroquoian Cherokee ancestry. Therefore, tribal consultation concerning future archaeological work at Track Rock Gap should involve all of the federally-recognized tribes, who trace their heritage to the Southern Highlands.
The Track Rock Terraces in Literature
As Hernando de Soto and his conquistadors were leaving the Florida Panhandle in the late winter of 1540, local natives told them that the Apalache people in the mountains far to the north, had much gold. The capital of the mountainous gold mining region, named Yupaha, was a large wealthy city. De Soto headed north to find Yupaha, but his chroniclers never mentioned the name again. Unknowingly, they did mention town names probably associated with Yupaha.
After leaving the capital of Kvse (Coça ~ Coosa) the conquistadors stayed in a town that the chroniclers wrote down as Itaba. Twentieth century anthropologists in the Southeast have uniformly assumed that Itaba was Etowah, because none of them knew the Creek languages. The Creek name for Etowah is Etalwa, which is pronounced, E-dawl-waw. There is no “b” in the Creek languages, but Spanish speakers often wrote a “b” for a Creek “p” sound. In actual pronunciation, Itaba would have been awfully close in pronunciation to Itsapa – the place of the Itza Mayas.
After leaving Itaba, de Soto next stayed in the town written down by the Castilians as Ubahale. That name was actually Yupaha-le . . . Yupaha People in Lowland Itsate-Creek.
The memoir of Captain René de Laundonniére frequently mentions the Apalache of the Georgia Mountains and the valuable commodities that they exported. Between 1562 and 1565 French explorers based at Charlesfort (Parris Island, SC) and later, Fort Caroline (location has never been found) dispatched several small exploration parties to the Georgia Mountains. As a result French maps from 1684 onward contained rather accurate descriptions of the Savannah and Altamaha River Basins. The French planned to establish the capital of New France on the Oconee River near the present day campus of the University of Georgia in order to exploit the minerals and other resources of the Georgia Mountains. However, Fort Caroline was massacred by the Spanish before this capital could be founded.
In the last paragraphs of A Migration Legend of the Creek People (Albert Samuel Gatschet) the Kashita Creeks traveled southward from the Little Tennessee River until they came upon a recently abandoned town on the Hiwassee River (probably the Peachtree Mound Site.) They then followed an important trade route called the Great White Path (US Hwy. 129) to a great city on the side of the largest mountain in the region. The citizens of that city refused to give them food, so the Kashita claimed to have sacked the city, leaving only two men and a white dog alive. The Kashita then traveled a little farther south in the Georgia Mountains until they were shown hospitality by the Apalache.
Former residents of the Spanish colony of Santa Elena in South Carolina, Pedro Moreles and Nicholas Burgiognon, gave depositions to Queen Elizabeth’s officials which describe both the Apalache and a capital city deep within the Georgia Mountains that the Spanish called Great Copal. Traders from Santa Elena made several journeys to the Apalache to trade for gold, rubies and sapphires. However, the Apalache refused to tell them where Great Copal was hidden in the mountains. The Apalache were apparently vassals and middlemen traders for the advanced people, who lived in and around Great Copal.
The Cherokees also had a tradition that an advanced people once lived in large towns on the mountaintops. The Cherokees called them the Nunne’hi. In this legend, the Ancient Ones still existed when the Cherokee hunters first entered the Southern Highlands. They were friendly to the Cherokees. The legend may have grown out of discovery of many mountaintop stone ruins, or may have been based on contacts with a real ethnic group.
In the early 1800s, some Georgia Cherokees told whites that the stone ruins at Track Rock Gap were the burials of thousands of Creek warriors who died when Cherokees conquered northern Georgia. This myth is probably associated with efforts to counter the State of Georgia’s legal argument that the Cherokees were not indigenous to the state. A 20th century version of the story is that the fieldstone cairns are the burials of great Cherokee warriors, who died while the Cherokees conquered northern Georgia.
Neither legend about buried Creek or Cherokee warriors has any basis in fact. Such cairns elsewhere in Georgia, the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia and the Ohio Valley of West Virginia have been radiocarbon dated to the Woodland or Late Woodland Periods. In 1780 British Army officials stated that the Cherokees had three small villages and approximately 25 men of military age in the entire Province of Georgia. At that time, Track Rock Gap belonged to the Upper Creeks and the Upper Creeks were on friendly terms with the Cherokees. In fact, at the end of the Revolution, the Upper Creeks invited Cherokees fleeing the wrath of North Carolina and Tennessee whites to take refuge into their mountains.
Previous Archaeological Study of Track Rock Gap
In 2000 the USFS retain the archaeological firm of Stratum Unlimited, LLC to study and document the Track Rock petroglyphs. The lead archaeologist for the project was Johannes Loubser from South Africa. The USFS also retained Loubser to give a cursory study of the stone ruins immediately east of the petroglyphs. A local group in Union County paid Loubser and an associate to carry out a more detailed survey of the site that included digging two test pits and radiocarbon dating.
Analysis of the single agricultural terrace tested revealed that the original fill soil had been applied around 1018 AD and that two other layers had been applied during the Etowah I Period (Early Mississippian Cultural Period.) The fill soil contained potsherds associated with Late Woodland and Early Mississippian occupation of the Georgia Mountains. It also contained substantial charcoal. Loubser did not realize that the potsherds and charcoal were the signature ingredients of tierra prieta or biochar – a technique of soil improvement that apparently originated in the Upper Amazon Basin, but was also used by the Highland Mayas.
In his final report, Loubser did not state who he thought built the stone structures at Track Rock Gap. His interpretation of the site focused on dissimilar sites 45 to 85 miles away in North Carolina, plus some stories told to ethnologist James Mooney in the late 1800s by an elderly North Carolina Cherokee living on at the reservation in North Carolina, 85 miles from Track Rock.
Loubser’s report did not mention the extensive stone ruins on nearby Fort Mountain in Union County, GA. The report also did not refer to the numerous Native American town sites near Track Rock Gap that were identified by USFS archaeologist Jack T. Wynn in his book, Mississippi Period Archaeology of the Georgia Blue Ridge Mountains (1990.) These towns were associated with the Swift Creek, Napier, Etowah I, Etowah II, Etowah III and Lamar Cultures – which were built by the Creek Indians’ direct ancestors. Many town sites had mounds and/or stone box graves. Starting at least with the Etowah I sites, these towns were occupied at the same time that Track Rock Gap was occupied. In fact, there is a contemporary Etowah I town site which is visible from the plaza of the acropolis at Track Rock Gap.
Despite the omission of information about nearby Muskogean town sites, the Stratum Unlimited, LLC report was technically competent in is analysis of the only terrace that the firm could afford to study within the allowed budget. It was definitely an agricultural terrace using biochar techniques. Without this information, any significant architectural analysis of the site would have been highly speculative. However, in a 180 degree turn-about from his published report, Loubser is now giving speeches around Atlanta, sponsored by the USFS and Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, in which he describes the terraces as “ceremonial platforms for performing sacred Cherokee dances.”
Stumbling into the Past
I first became aware that there was “something” across the road from the famous Track Rock petroglyphs in mid-June of 2010. I had been homeless for many months and was looking for a place to camp. I parked at the USFS parking lot at the petroglyphs and walked my three herd dogs across the road so they could get water in Track Rock Branch. I noticed the foundations of two long fieldstone walls in the electric line right-of-way. Building stone walls was just not a tradition of the pioneers, who settled the Georgia Mountains. Their livestock were generally not enclosed.
In April of 2010, while camped out in the Smoky Mountains, I found a stone inscription at 5,400 feet elevation, written in the Ladino dialect of Medieval Castilian, which memorialized a Sephardic wedding on September 15, 1516. Later in the spring, I found what appeared to be the stone ruins of a Sephardic silver mining village on the Tuckasegee River near Sylvia, NC. In June I was looking for evidence of the Sephardic gold mining villages in Georgia.
Shortly, after stopping at the Track Rock Gap, I found extensive evidence of early gold mining activities about six miles to the southwest in the Wolf Creek Gorge. I focused my attention there throughout the remainder of 2010.
In June of 2011, I found the drawings of the six main petroglyphic boulders at Track Rock Gap posted online by the US Forest Service. One of the boulders had “Liube 1715” inscribed on it. Liube is a Jewish first name. In 1715 the area was supposedly occupied by Native Americans, but that was also the year that both the Yamasee War and the Creek-Cherokee War began. I drove the short distance from the former chicken hatchery I lived in to Track Rock Gap. After looking again at the petroglyphs, I walked across the road to the power right-of-way and again found the old wall foundations. A walk down to the stream revealed more walls and evidence of a pond and very old dam. I thought this might be a Sephardic gold-mining village.
After I contacted several local historical societies for information about Track Rock Gap, a gentleman emailed me a copy of the Stratum Unlimited, LLC report. I was astounded by the scale and arrangement of the terraces and radiocarbon dates of the terrace fill soil. The use of biochar agricultural techniques strongly suggested a cultural connection to the south. Interestingly, none of the stone walls that first drew my attention to the site were shown on the Stratum Unlimited site plan.
In September, Jon Haskell drove down from Indiana to film the Track Rock gap terraces. We found more stone walls on the lower areas of the site, I don’t think that the archaeologists realized in 2000 and 2001 that the mountainside town extended all the way to Track Rock Gap Road.
Throughout the fall of 2011, I continued to study Track Rock Gap and compare it to Itza Maya agricultural terrace sites in Mesoamerica. I created a three dimensional computer model of the archaeological zone so I could understand it better. I also found many more walls on the northern and northwest side of the zone, which were not on the Stratum Unlimited site plan. I prepared a 28 page booklet that physically described the archaeological zone and its similarities to Itza Maya terrace complexes.
On December 21, 2011 I wrote an article about my study of Track Rock Gap for the National Examiner. What I assumed was that several competent archaeologists would read the article and become interested in Track Rock Gap. They then would prepare grant applications to study it further. My primary goal at this point was public understanding of the rich cultural heritage of Southeastern Native Americans and economic development of Union County. The county has suffered terribly from the high cost of gasoline combined with the collapse of the real estate market. Public awareness of such a massive archaeological zone was bound to draw in the tourists. I presumed that local economic and political leaders would “jump up and down” with joy. They would take the ball and run with it; obtaining the grant money that would pay for a comprehensive study of the half square mile archaeological zone.
The Politicization of an Archaeological Site
They say that the best plans of mice and men sometimes come to no avail. The article had one of the largest readerships ever on the National Examiner. That gave me the money to buy a powerful new computer and make some critical repairs to my car (i.e. no steering wheel.) The article soon spread to news agencies around the world. However, it was almost immediately lambasted by professional archaeologists who obviously knew nothing about the ruins, the documented Mesoamerican heritage of the Creek Indians or the Itza Mayas. Simultaneously, I was flooded with hate mail from right-wingers around the country, who somehow equated the discussion of a remarkable archaeological zone to me being a communist and anti-American.
Apparently, none of the most vociferous professional critics had never even seen the Track Rock site or knew anything about the hundreds of Itza Maya terrace complexes in Central America. Some archaeologists in Florida even set up a website to personally attack me. None knew that many years ago I had received a fellowship to study Mesoamerican culture and architecture in Mexico, and had taught the subject a Georgia Tech. Well, they also didn’t know how little they themselves knew about the Creek Indians or the Itza Mayas.
In retrospect, I realize that part of the problem is the different worlds that architects and archaeologists live in today. Architects provide services for the use of other people. To me Track Rock Gap was just another “project,” not an extension of my ego. I am accustomed to being part of a professional team also involving engineers, surveyors, landscape architects and contractors. Track Rock to me was merely something that I started which I was turning over to specialists to finish up.
If a potential client comes to me to design a hospital, I tell them to go to an architecture firm with the technical competence to design a hospital. If they ask me to restore a colonial building, or study the site plan of a Native American or Mesoamerican town, I tell them, “Well sit right down and have a cup of tea!”
There was many things going on, however, that far exceeded a few anthropology professors feeling that their authority had been challenged. Almost immediately the rightwing power structure in Union County became rabid. While the majority of Union County’s locally born residents were excited that such an important archaeological zone was in their midst and those involved with tourism were salivating, the Florida retirees who now control the county, while they spend their days playing golf, quickly turned Track Rock Gap into partisan political non-issue. Saying that Track Rock Gap was built by the Cherokees was proof that you were a good, god-fearing, heterosexual Republican. Saying that illegal Mexican immigrants built Track Rock Gap meant that you were a Marxist, atheist, sexual pervert, gay-and-or Jewish, anti-military, heathen revolutionary. I am not exaggerating. The situation has become so ridiculous in Union County that the local newspaper has never run an article on the Track Rock ruins, even when national television channels broadcast programs about their county.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution ran the first article about the site after the Examiner article spread around the world and was covered by CBS. The writer lined up Johannes Loubser, Charles Hudson, Mark Williams and a retired electrical engineer from Florida, living in Union County, as the experts on Itza Maya and Creek Indian architecture. Loubser had never had visited Mexico. The other three made no references to Mexico and certainly had never visited an Itza Maya terrace complex. Apparently, Loubser was the only one of the archaeologists who had visited the whole site.
Of course, all four knew for a fact that no Mayas ever came to the Southeast. The Maya DNA carried by Creek, Seminole, Miccosukee and Cherokee Indians must have arrived via Immaculate Conception. The Maya and Totonac words in the Creek languages were discovered on golden tablets found underneath Stone Mountain.
The national news media immediately recognized that the AJC article was a “set up.” They read the Examiner article and then what the AJC said and correctly suspected local political influence. That immediately resulted in inquiries from the Travel Channel, History Channel and National Geographic Channel to produce shows about the site.
The Travel Channel program aired in April. Soon thereafter, the USFS sawed well over a hundred down trees over the Vent Trail to prevent hikers from using it. When hikers complained about that outrage, the Southeastern Public Relations Officer for the USFS issued a public statement belittling those who complained and stated that a few trees had been blown down by the wind.
The official response of that program by the US Forest Service in Gainesville, GA was to refuse commercial filming permits to the other two television channels. Alan Polk, Staff Officer for Recreation and Engineering in the Gainesville office issued a letter to the History Channel, stating that their film crews were denied access to the site because the stone terraces composed a North Carolina Cherokee sacred site and the Cherokees did not want the graves of their great warriors filmed.
The History Channel then requested permission for professional archaeologists and geologists to visit the Track Rock archaeological zone, but not take photos. This was also denied by the USFS office in Gainesville, on the grounds that Track Rock was a Cherokee Sacred Site. The person making this request was wearing a mini-camera. He is a member of the Cherokee Nation and a personal friend of its principal chief. Cherokee elected leaders have no clue what the USFS is talking about. In fact, those in Oklahoma didn’t even know where Track Rock Gap is located.
To cover up this total screw-up by USFS personnel in the Gainesville, GA office, USFS officials then turned the matter over to federal law enforcement on the grounds that I was a known anarchist and anti-government terrorist. Guess they forgot to mention that I have had many friends in the National Park Service. The hope was that by contriving a false description of my background, the History Channel would pull the plugs on the TV program that made some USFS employees look so incompetent. However, the History Channel’s own historians, geologists and archaeologists did a thorough investigation before authorizing the expenditure for a major prime time program and the pilot for a new series. “America Unearthed.”
Ultra-rightwing Federal law enforcement officers did some bizarre things. I am now in a cabin, of sorts. They told my neighbors that I was “delusional”, violent and owned three dangerous killer attack dogs that would kill their pets and children. My three highly trained Scottish Farm Collies are mushes, who adore people and particularly, children. When the neighbor’s miniature Pomeranian barks at them, they run! LOL Otherwise they sit down next to my neighbors, hoping to get petted.
They also told officials at the University of North Georgia in nearby Dahlonega that I was a predator of college coeds. Heck, I can’t even afford to eat out by myself, much less afford to date. They put a tracking device on my car. I have to pass the University of North Georgia to reach the supermarket and Walmart. Almost every time, I drive past the University, a campus cop car races out to the parkway to make sure I don’t abduct one of the coeds and haul her off to the Fresh “N Frugal Supermarket, where I will take advantage of her innocence in the fruit and vegetable section.
Your tax money then paid for those folks to go down the list of my former clients. I have no clue what was said, but none of the clients are communicating with me now. About two weeks ago, a Georgia college associated with the United Methodist Church put a block on the POOF email address so that the 16 professors there, who subscribe to our newsletters, can’t receive them any longer.
There is a reason that I passed along all these nitty gritty details at the end of this report. Most conventional people would be afraid to divulge them. However, evil only thrives in the absence of light. It makes you wonder, “What else do Americans think are historical facts, which are actually the behind the scenes contrivances of bureaucrats and academicians?” Are Native American tribes still being used and manipulated to further the ambitions of others?
Our national park system, our national forests, our nation’s heritage . . . they are not Democratic issues or Republican issues. They are not OWNED by the federal employees who administer them. They are the precious inheritance of every person, who is fortunate enough to be a citizen of the United States of America.
You can download my book on the Track Rock Gap site for $15. It contains over 180 pages and 350 original color photographs and drawings, so the printed book is pricey. Itsapa: the Itza Mayas in North America. The book is published by Lulu Publishing, Inc. out of Raleigh, NC.
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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.
Latest posts by Richard Thornton (see all)
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- Very pertinent film from the Atlanta Board of Education in 1947 - August 14, 2017