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Two famous archeologists studied the Big Canoe Cairn Complex before construction began

Two famous archeologists studied the Big Canoe Cairn Complex before construction began


Offering further proof of why Cranston Engineering Group, PC of Augusta, GA is a classy, thriving outfit, while so many engineering and architecture firms went down the tubes during the Mega-Recession, its CEO, Tom Robertson, dug up some fascinating information on the early days of Big Canoe.  In his files, he found a letter that described a field investigation of the Cairn Complex by the famous archaeologists, Clemmons de Ballou and Joseph Caldwell.  This fact is apparently not known to many people.  

At the time, De Ballou was director of the Augusta History Museum, while Caldwell was Director of the University of Georgia’s Department of Anthropology.  They spent several hours on the site.  Their report stated that while the age and functions of Georgia’s stone cairn complexes are not well understood, this particular site was very important and should be preserved.  They also recommended that a University of Georgia student spend several weeks at the proposed development site, walking its landscape in search of other archaeological or historical resources.  It is not known if this actually did occur.

Cranston’s engineers worked with the grading contractor to make sure that the stone ruins were preserved.  Over a decade later, an archaeologist employed by the State of Georgia worked with the developer and residents to plan the final steps for preparation of the site.  With the enlightened help of Cranston’s planners and engineers, Big Canoe became one of the nation’s first “Ecological Communities” before there was such a thing.

That’s how things were back in those days.  Really, up until the late 1990s, archaeologists considered themselves part of a multi-disciplinary team of design professionals . . . all dedicated to preserving America’s heritage.  While I was practicing in Northern Virginia, the famous archaeologist, Bill Gardner of Thunderbird Associates, regularly helped me preserve archaeological resources on the Colonial Era farms, where I was guiding restoration.   It was a very informal process with none of the pretentious posturing of supposed intellectual superiority that we are having to deal with in this current generation of Southeastern archeologists.

Two Rambling Wrecks doing the same thing

Cranston Engineering recently celebrated its Fiftieth Anniversary.  Tom Robertson was hired by Cranston immediately after graduation from Georgia Tech.  He said that one of his first assignments was in the field, leading the bulldozers as the graded they first phase of Big Canoe’s development.  He has been with the company ever since then.

I told Tom that at the same time he was leading the bulldozers at Big Canoe, I was leading the bulldozers at the Peachtree City Newtown.   My job in Sweden involved the planning and design of a small planned pedestrian community on Ven Island, Sweden named  Gamlagårdby.  An AEP firm out of Columbia, Maryland Newtown scooped me up immediately after I returned to the States.  After a period of training at Columbia, they sent me down to Peachtree City to design and help layout the pedestrian-golf cart path system.  It was the first citywide path system in the United States, so Tom and I were simultaneously doing ground-breaking work . . . if you excuse the pun.


Nostalgia Time


This is where I was on July 21, 1972 . . . The  Stadsarkitektkontoret at Drottninggatan 5, Landskrona, Sweden.  The temperature rose to a scorching 85 degrees F.  That guy looking out the third window on the left of the red brick building is me gawking at the topless Swedish flicka’s walking down the sidewalk to the beach.  The headlines that day in the  Skånska Dagbladet newspaper  said, “Det var så varmt idag, man kan inte bära kläder!”  which means, “It is so hot today that one can’t wear clothes. ”   By golly, they weren’t kidding. 

The next day, my girlfriend, Britt-Louise, put her foot down.  She wasn’t going biking with me at Borstahusen Park in this horrid heat, if she had to wear a blouse and brassiere.  Reluctantly, I had to give into her harsh demands in order to maintain our relationship.   There is a lot to be said for “Librul” societies.  They smile and dance a lot more, plus have free children’s daycare for working women, if there are unforeseen consequences. 


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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.

1 Comment


    Ah, those ‘good ol days…memories to warm us in our old age. lol


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