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Video: Coosa . . . The Rediscovery of an Ancient Native American Capital

Video:  Coosa . . . The Rediscovery of an Ancient Native American Capital


It was the inspiration for the best-selling book and blockbuster movie, Deliverance, by James Dickey!

The construction of Carters Dam on the Coosawattee River in Northwest Georgia was one of the most vitriolic political controversies in Georgia during the mid-20th century.  It was first proposed as an emergency war measure during World War II, but found to be too costly.  The project was then resurrected late in the Eisenhower Administration.  Throughout the controversy,  the John Kennedy and then the Lyndon Johnson presidential administrations withheld critical information from the general public, which would have torpedoed the project.  No one was told that what was then the largest earthen dam in the world was to be built on a fault line.  Geologists now know that the dam sits on the intersection of two fault lines.   Archaeologists had been digging test ditches at mound and town sites in the proposed reservoir basin since at least 1886, but the public was only given vague information such as “Indians lived near the falls on the Coosawattee River from time to time.”  Nationally respected archaeologist, Arthur Kelly, was retained by the US Army Corps of Engineers to carry out a survey of the Coosawattee River Basin.  However, what he found and where he found it, was never told the general public.  They certainly were not relayed his suspicion that the great town of Coosa, visited by Hernando de Soto in 1540, was located here. 

The dam was found to be economically infeasible so Georgia politicos and economic development interests came up with the idea of a state developed,  120,000+ acre planned community,  they named “Industrial City.”  It was blatant socialism proposed by conservative politicians, who in almost the same breath were yelling rants of “Communism” to the pressure by courts to integrate Georgia’s public schools.  Industrial City would envelope Carters Lake and the flood plain of the Coosawattee River with heavy industry, which would be dependent on cheap electricity.   This allowed federal government bureaucrats to delete the cost of constructing long distance electric transmission lines from their cost-benefit formula.   The costs of the dam were still found to be greater than the amortized long term benefits.

Engineers then proposed that a second lake be constructed beneath the main dam.  Water would be pumped up to the primary reservoir at night then run through the generators in the day time.  An exaggerated value for prime day time electricity was then tweaked into the cost benefit ratio in order to make the project feasible.  However, Congress and the general public were not told that the Lower Reservoir would cover a dense concentration of Native American archaeological sites, which included the capital of Coosa.  In 1540,  Coosa contained over 3,000 houses! 

This video provides the viewer an overview of the dramatic events that occurred before, during and after the construction of Carters Dam then focuses on the rediscovery of the site of Coosa and the probable appearance of the town.  Many of the images are from the original slide show, contracted by the Muscogee-Creek Nation in 2006. They have never been shown to the general public.

Ya gotta laugh . . .  otherwise you would have to pull your hair out!

Barking dogs! My two herd dog pups drove me crazy, while I was trying to create this important video. It’s like owning two juvenile Velociraptors . . . extremely intelligent and athletic. There were five attempts to produce a decent video. I finally gave up since it is now illegal in Georgia to put a muzzle on a non-attack dog. This weekend they became jealous of the attention I was giving my computer.
  • Attempt One: They came into the studio and played “Queen on the mountain” with my office desk until I gave up trying to record a video.
  • Attempt Two: I shut the door of the studio. They barked and jumped on the door until I gave up trying to record.
  • Attempt Three: I locked them in my bedroom upstairs. They howled like wolves or moaned as if I was torturing them, until I gave up and stopped trying to record
  • Attempt Four: I gave the dogs beef rib bones and chicken broth in the kitchen. When they finished the broth, they brought their bones in here and laid down at my feet, contented with chewing on their bones. However, when I played back the video, you could hear crunching bones throughout the video.
  • Final attempt Five: I gave the pups a big platter of cooked chicken and rice in the kitchen. When finished with the chicken and rice, they raced into my studio to warn me, barking all the way,  that a garbage truck had emptied my Curb-Buddy. They came in several more times to either bark to tell me that their was a squirrel in the front yard or to stand on their hind legs and then used their front legs to push my hand off the computer mouse. A fellow jest can’t get no respect! Well, at least you now know that I am not a professional Hollywood producer. You probably didn’t think that anyway. LOL


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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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