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Was the Hopewell Culture founded by South Americans, who first lived in the Florida Panhandle?

Was the Hopewell Culture founded by South Americans, who first lived in the Florida Panhandle?

The Chattahoochee-Flint-Appalachicola Corridor Study

While pilfering the Native American burial mounds along the rivers of Northwest Florida in 1903,  pioneer archaeologist-grave robber, Clarence Bloomfield Moore, made a discovery, which has been forgotten by subsequent generations of scholars.  Near the mouth of the Apalachicola River and around Pensacola Bay, he found that the oldest levels of these mounds contained pottery very similar to that of the earliest Hopewell sites in Ohio.  The upper levels of the Apalachicola River mounds contained Weeden Island style pottery, which was a very different style of ceramics.

During the Chattahoochee-Flint-Appalachicola Corridor Study, all available archaeological reports for this entire river basin are being analyzed, assigned GPS coordinates and updated.  They will be posted on a website, created by the sponsor.  The project began about a year ago at Unicoi Gap in the Georgia Mountains, the headwaters of the Chattahoochee River.  We are now in Northwestern Florida.  

Readers will recall that earlier this year, we discovered a straight line of very important towns and shrines, which runs from the mouth of the Apalachicola River in Florida northward to the ancient Ladd’s Mountain Observatory in  Northwest Georgia. The line also passes through the Native American port on the Flint River, where archaeologist Arthur Kelly found, what he thought were Maya artifacts.  When extended northward, that line passes through the Great Serpent Mound in Ohio.

To read the article on the aligned towns and shrines, go to Ladds Mountain to Apalachicola Bay


Virtually all history textbooks and maps show northwestern Florida always occupied by the Apalachee Indians and northeastern Florida always occupied by the Timucua Indians. First of all, neither the Apalachee nor the Timucua ever called themselves by that name until the Spanish told them that was their names.  The Timucua were not even one ethnic group, but a group of tribes that the Spanish put into a single administrative district.  Within St. Johns River Basin are ruins of towns with platform mounds, which were abandoned before the Spanish arrived, but who seemed to have Proto-Creek cultural traits.

The people, who the Spanish called Apalache did not occupy all of northwestern Florida, but rather were confined to a relatively small region in the vicinity of Tallahassee, where corn grew well.  Even in this era of chemically-based agriculture, the Seminole Tribe of southern Florida had to buy farmlands in the old Apalachee Corn Belt in order to feed their beef cattle. Corn does not do well in the rest of Florida. The Ustanaulgi were a hybrid Uchee-Shawnee People, living along the Suwanee River, who gave the river its name.

A Florida Gulf Coast Native

A  Tocobago man on the Florida Gulf Coast

West of the people that the Spanish called Apalachee, were numerous ethnic groups such as the Chatot, Pensacola and Tensaw.  Archaeological studies in Northwest Florida have found even more diversity in the past.  The area on the Apalachicola River around Blountstown and Bristol, Florida was often occupied by people with cultural ties to the ancestors of the Creeks in present day Georgia.  Because Southeastern archaeologists use pottery styles to label ethnicity, the ethnic diversity of the region may have been even more extensive than apparent.


Movements of peoples and cultural innovations

Swift Creek motifs from the Mandeville, GA site

Swift Creek motifs from the Mandeville site in Georgia

Perhaps we should back track first and burst a popular bubble.  Typical American history books describe movements of advanced indigenous cultures in North America from west to east and from north to south.  That is NOT what some of the United States’ most respected archaeologists discovered in the late 20th century.  Louisiana archeologist, William Haag, discovered that the Bilbo Mound in Savannah was constructed around 3545 BC, making it the oldest mound in North America . . . possibly the Americas.  Dr. Kenneth Sassaman from Florida found the oldest pottery in North America on the Lower Savannah River.  Archeologists Antonio Waring and Joseph Caldwell found that the Deptford Culture began in Savannah, GA around 1200 BC then spread westward, northward and southward.  Archeologist Arthur Kelly discovered that Swift Creek pottery, in its most sophisticated form, first appeared at the Mandeville Site in deep southwest Georgia then was adopted at increasingly northward locations as time passed.   So . . . that the possibility that the Hopewell Culture first incubated on the Florida Gulf  Coast, should come as a surprise to no one.

The quality of pottery found in the mounds along the Apalachicola River was very different and generally inferior to that produced at that time immediately to the north by peoples called Swift Creek Culture by archaeologists.  In fact, that was a constant compliant made by Clarence Moore in his brief reports on Northwest Florida mounds . . . no trophy artifacts!   However, for a few generations around 320 AD,  some Swift Creek people lived at the Yon Mound site near Blountstown, FL. 

Whereas Swift Creek ceramics included a variety of refined shapes and its complex stamped motifs were “world class,”  the pottery along the Apalachicola and Chipola Rivers were apparently decorated with twigs.  They were not fully symmetrical, plus had rougher surfaces and thicker walls than the sophisticated Swift Creek pottery. 


Hopewell style pottery found at the confluence of the Apalachicola and Chipola Rivers in Florida

Despite seeming anxious to move on to areas with more trophy artifacts, Moore instantly recognized a similarity between the pottery he found in the region where the Chipola River joins the Apalachicola River to Hopewell Culture ceramics of eastern Ohio and the cooking ware found in sites in northern and western Louisiana.   All three areas produced pottery with curvilinear motifs, which seemed to have evolved from the patterns of pea vines.  The Hopewell-like motifs on the Apalachicola pottery are a bit more refined than those at Marksville, LA, and early Hopewell pottery in Ohio, but none are as complex or as well crafted as Hopewell pottery in Ohio, during the peak of its sophistication.

Marksville Style jar

Marksville Style jar

During the past 20 years, archaeologists have recognized a similarity of pottery at the Marksville, LA town site with contemporary Hopewell pottery in Ohio.  It was explained with the theory of the “Greater Hopewell Cultural Sphere.”   In this theory, Hopewell traders or explorers paddled down the Mississippi River . . . avoiding most locations until they reached northeastern Louisiana, where they taught the locals theirs cultural ways.   The only trouble is that the architecture at Marksville looks nothing like Hopewell ceremonial sites and entirely what eventually could be seen at many towns along the LOWER Mississippi River.   It is only 287 miles from Pensacola, FL to Marksville, LA.    The canoeing distance from Chillicothe, Ohio to Marksville, LA is over 1,100 miles.  Wouldn’t it make more sense that “Proto-Hopewell” people from Pensacola Bay migrated over to Louisiana.  They would have introduced their pottery style, but developed different styles of architecture.

The South American Connection

The conventional explanation of the Southeast’s past never did make any sense, but like the emperor’s lack of clothes, succeeding generations of anthropology students never challenged it.  It they wanted to graduate, they had to replicate the caco de toro

Essentially, it went like this . . . The ancestors of the indigenous peoples of the Southeast arrived at the end of the Ice Age and never left.  No new peoples entered or left the region afterward.,except the Cherokees.  Now North Carolina anthropologists (bless their hearts) are saying that the Cherokees have been here for 12,000 years and invented Clovis points, even though the main river through the Cherokee reservation is a Creek word.  In this belief system, all cultural changes were the result of incremental evolution within the same populations.  That is why Southeastern archaeologists now call cultural periods, “phases.” 

There was no explanation as to why there was such a sharp cultural and linguistic divide between the Muskogeans and the ethnic groups to the north.  There was no explanation why most of Florida’s tribes seemed to speak languages that belonged in the Caribbean Basin or South America.  No academician dared to look up indigenous place names on the South Atlantic Coast in indigenous dictionaries from south of the border, for fear that they might find a match and hence be banned in their profession.  No one had an explanation of how tobacco, maize, beans and several species of squash jumped thousands of miles from the tropics to such places as the Tennessee River Valley.

Nowadays, there are quite a few people, who will admit that the last people to live in Northeastern Florida came from “somewhere in the Caribbean Basin . . . maybe even the northern edge of South American.  Yet I have noticed an opposite and quite disturbing trend in which young anthropologists and journalists have suddenly been calling all Native American sites and artifacts in Northeastern Florida from the past 5,000 years . . . Timucua . . . even though there was never any tribe called the Timucua. Nevertheless, until the summer of 2013, it never dawned on me that there might be a profound connection between the Muskogean tribes and South America.  That is when Marilyn Rae uploaded a copy of Charles de Rochefort’s book to me.  The book contained engravings from 1658 that showed the immediate ancestors of the Creeks dressed exactly like the people of Eastern Peru.

A Conibo orata

A Conibo orata near Satipo, Peru

Now we know that such basic Muskogean traditions,  such as the Long Shirt, turban, ribbon dress, Stomp Dance and Sacred Black Drink, plus their indigenous names, came from Eastern Peru. We now know that Apalache is the Anglicization for an indigenous word that means “From Pará – Descendants of” in the Panoan language of South America . . . Pará being the name today of the Amazonian headwaters region of Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia and Brazil.   We now know that Cusabo and Coosa are the Anglicizations of the Panoan words for “Elite People” and “Elite” respectively.  We now know that the towns of Satipo on the coast of Georgia and Satipo in the Great Smokies were from Satipo Province in Peru.

 I have translated 17th century town names in Northeastern Tennessee with Peruvian indigenous dictionaries. Is it so implausible that peoples from the eastern slopes of the Andes and headwaters of  the Amazon originally settled farther north in Ohio? No, it is not.

There was little difference between the ceremonial earthworks of the people of Pará and the people of the Hopewell Culture. There were cultural differences that developed as the separated peoples adapted to two very different climates, topographies and cultural environments. The intense biochar agriculture of Pará made possible dense populations, sophisticated ceramics and major public infrastructures such as roads, causeways and canals.  The people of the Hopewell Culture remained gardeners living in transient villages, but they were still able to construct phenomenal earthworks.

It has been popular over the past 40 years for alternative history enthusiasts to promote the idea that Extraterrestrials, Celts, Britannic Druids, Chinese, Jews, Africans, Romans or Southeast Asians were the “high priests” of the Hopewell Culture.  However, the truth is that there is nothing in the Old World on the scale of the Hopewell Earthworks.  There is, and more so, in the Amazon Basin.

The Truth is out there somewhere!


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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.



    Thank you for raising questions and documenting historical evidences. One day it will all coalesce and the big picture will be seen as long as people don’t keep denying what’s right in front of them.

  2. Thank you Karla for your constant intelligent comments!


    Really enjoyed this article, Richard. Makes good sense.

    Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!


    Aha, Richard, since the Ho Chunk also produced mounds and are thought to have come from the Hopewell Culture, we may yet be kin! ;~) They also had myths of a tall-redhaired woman, which is endlessly fascinating as well.

    Beautiful work you’re all doing — just plain beautiful. It must be so deeply rewarding to see all this take shape. Thank you, and Happy Thanksgiving.

    • No Nancy, I did NOT know that the Ho Chunk were thought to be descended from the Hopewell Culture, but it make’s sense. Anytime that you want to send in articles that tells us more about the Ho Chunk, please feel free to do so.



        I am really not the one to provide this information: my Ho-Chunk grandfather died in 1915 and I only learned of him relatively recently. Nor can I claim my rightful blood quantum, bc although I held the documents in my hands as late as 1985, I had no idea what they represented and they are now long gone. So I can’t make any great claims. But I did finally learn a fair amount about my grandfather, a Carlisle graduate who accomplished some pretty neat things in his 42 brief years on this mortal coil, including breaking the color bar as a Minor League pitcher and introducing the peyote religion to his people. More germane here is that he also assisted the anthropologist Paul Radin in more deeply understanding his people’s culture and transcribed for him many of their myths and legends.

        I have assembled and will try to summarize a couple of articles on the Ho-Chunk (Winnebago) and various Midwestern mounds, but I’ll probably be fairly clumsy in so doing. Otoh, I’d like to refer you to one of them directly bc it’s waay more at your professional level than mine and I think you’ll find both the techniques used and results obtained quite interesting indeed. It’s from 1998 so of course there’s more, and more recent, stuff, but this is a pretty good place to start.

        And if you’re still interested, I’ll try to put something together but I’m really more comfortable reading than writing!

        • Sure . . . please send us what you can . . . and thank you for doing it!


            Okay, I’ll try but it’ll take me a while. In the meantime, do read that piece — you, of all people, will appreciate what was learned and how they did it. I’d read it a while back but re-reading it now just in light of what I’ve learned from you put everything in a totally different — and now familiar — light. Read it: you won’t regret it, I promise! ;~)


    Hi Richard
    I have a piece of pottery that appears to be Mayan that was dug up by a member of my family while digging with a trenching machine in Gulf, NC in 1950. I would like to send you some pictures of it and get your comments on it’s origin. Thank you for your assistance.

    • Hey Larry,

      Because of my time in Mexico, I will recognize Mesoamerican pottery much more readily than indigenous North Carolina pottery. Just keep that in mind. I know nothing about the ceramics in the part of North Carolina, east of the mountains.

      Send the photos to


    There is a large earthwork in northwest Florida, possibly the tallest mound north of Mexico : Rocky Mound near Century, Florida. On maps today , it is shown to be over 95 feet tall. why would someone pile rocks that high, unless it was a town of some sort ? There are at least 2 other mounds in the vicinity , one is called Sand Mound and is over 55 feet high, the other that you can see on maps is unnamed. The florida master site list does not list this place , nor before 3 years ago , did it list the Spanish mission they are now excavating about 10 miles below it.

    Your answer is here : in extreme Northwest Florida and the adjoining South Central Alabama, an area that still needs exploring by archaeologists.


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