Two mountain gaps . . . 1,600 miles apart . . . same petroglyphs
There is still much that we cannot currently explain about North America’s past. This is certainly one of those situations. Until this past week, the geographical specialization of anthropological research in the United States kept the shared glyphs of two widely separated, indigenous archaeological sites unknown for over 200 years. What we can do is show the reader those glyphs, but until more research is done, the explanations of those similarities must remain in the realm of speculation.
Parowan Gap, Utah (37°54’35″N 112°59’8″W) – Parowan Gap is a ravine in the desert of extreme southwest Utah that is known for its immense number and variety of petroglyphs. The ravine was created by a stream that originally flowed westward from a large inland lake during wetter times in the Southwest. The bottom grade of the ravine is about 5,700 feet above sea level on the eastern end and 5,600 feet on the western end. The remnant of this body of water is known today as Little Salt Lake. The stream bed is a highway and the wind has widened the cut through a ridge on the western edge of the ravine. To the general public the cut through the ridge is what is commonly called Parowan Gap.
Parowan Gap and the adjacent Red Hills are owned by the United States government, under the stewardship of the Bureau of Land Management. Both the aboriginal landscape and the petroglyphs have been protected by the BLM. A highway runs the length of the ravine. As a result, the petroglyphs are easily accessible by the general public.
On the other hand, BLM involvement with the archaeological zone means that the interpretations of the petroglyphs have been homogenized. Several Native American tribes have claimed to be the authors of the petroglyphs. Southwestern archaeologists have argued bitterly over the meaning and significance of these petroglyphs. What the public reads in such media as Wikipedia has been dumbed down so that no tribe or faction of archaeologist is offended. Yes, there is extensive censorship in America today.
The photos of petroglyphs generally seen on the internet are complex, but fairly typical of the Southwestern United States. Several years ago, Archaeologist Garth Norman was awarded a contract to study the petroglyphs. Norman has spent most of his almost 50 year career studying the Mayas and Mesoamerican cultures in general. He brought a fresh perspective to interpretation of the glyphs. Among the more common Southwestern glyphs associated with the concerns of hunter-gatherers, he identified distinct Mesoamerican symbols associated with astronomy and political positions. He interpreted the western end of the gap as an astronomical observatory.
Several of the petroglyphs reproduced in Norman’s fascinating book, The Parowan Gap, immediately caught my eye. They are the very same glyphs that we see on Georgia’s petroglyphic boulders, plus Judaculla Rock in the North Carolina Mountains. I was particularly puzzled why the Maya glyph for a Great Sun (High King) would be both on the Track Rock petroglyphs and the Parowan petroglyphs. Etymology suggests that there may be a direct ethnic connection between the two archaeological zones, separated by 1,600 miles. (See below.)
When I got to meet Garth Norman in person this week, there was another big surprise. Early in life, he worked as a teacher among the Zuni People for six years. The Zuni are one of the tribes claiming association with Parowan Gap. Despite being told by white archaeologists that they have lived in the same location for 3-4,000 years, the Zuni also claim to have originated in Mesoamerica, just like the Creeks . . . but the parallels extend far beyond that.
According to the Zuni Migration Legend, their ancestors left Mexico for the same reason as the Kashita Creeks, persecution by powerful and more advanced nations. The Zuni migrated eastward as far as the Atlantic Ocean then began migrated back westward until they reached the Southern Rocky Mountain Region, where they live today.
Etymology of Parowan
“Wan” was easy. That’s Southern Nahuatl (Mexica/Azteca) and means “people or occupants.” The Tepehuan Indians to the south of Utah are Nahuatl. Their name means “Hill People.”
“Paro” stumped me at first. Absolutely no Ute-Aztec, Totonac, Purepeche, Zoque, Miztec or Mayan language contains that phonetic combination. However, Andean language are chock full of words containing paro, para and pari. Paro/para can mean either river or ocean in those languages. Thus, Parowan may be a hybrid Andean-Nahuatl word meaning “River People.” However, Paro also was the Panoan name of the people living “baja Inca,” according to a Peruvian dictionary. In other words, that was the Panoan name for the aboriginal people in the land that the Spanish called the Paracas or Paracus aka the Nazca Plain.
The neighbors of the Zuni, the Pima, call themselves Akimel O’odham, which means “River People.” There may or may not be a connection to Parowan. The Pima speak a Northern Ute-Nahuatl language.
Parowan in Georgia’s ethnic history would be the Parasi – anglicized to Palache or Apalache. The “A” prefix is Panoan for “from.” Thus, the same ethnic group was once in mountain gaps, 1,600 miles apart. That would explain the identical glyphs associated with political positions and astronomy.
Track Rock Gap Petroglyphs
Track Rock Gap, Georgia (34°52’55.3″N 83°52’40.6″W) – This is large archaeological zone on the northern edge of the Georgia Mountains near the town of Blairsville. It consists of eight boulders covered with petroglyphs and a complex of stone terrace walls, cairns and building ruins that cover about a half square mile.
Ecologically, the location couldn’t be more different than Parowan Gap. The northern slope of the mountain receives 55 inches of precipitation annually, while the south side receives about 70 inches. The location is densely vegetated. The Track Rock Petroglyphs are at about 2,250 feet above sea level, while the stone ruins can be found up to about a 3,600 feet elevation.
Track Rock Gap is the result of erosion over the eons. The eastern slope of the gap is the wall of an ancient, collapsed caldera volcano superimposed over a mountain range that is part of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Streams flow down both the north and south slopes of the gap.
The first mention of the petroglyphs was in the 1830s, when the boulders were shown to whites passing through the area by some local Native Americans. These Cherokees stated that they didn’t know who carved the glyphs or built the stone-walled terraces, immediately to the southeast. Nevertheless, the initial assumption of white settlers after 1838 was that the Cherokees built them. Within a couple of generations, local residents assumed that they were built by early white settlers.
Most of the Track Rock Petroglyphs appear to be quite old, although there are some European initials plus the inscription of a Jewish girl in 1715 – (Liube 1715). There is also evidence of multiple authorship in that some inscriptions overwrite others. The site was within the territory of the Apalache Kingdom in the 1600s. It passed into the territory of the Creek Confederacy and stayed so until 1786 at the Treat of Augusta. Some of the symbols on the boulders can be found farther south in town sites ancestral to the Creek Indians, such as Etowah Mounds and Ocmulgee National Monument.
In the second part of this series, we will compare and translate petroglyphs from Parowan Gap and the Southern Appalachians . . . in particular, Track Rock Gap.
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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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