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Was There a Cultural Connection between South Ohio and South Florida?

Over 2000 years ago, a new population showed up in southeastern Ohio. When they arrived used to be placed at around 1000 BC. The most recent articles by archaeologists are now saying around 500 BC. Their physical features were virtually identical to those people, who had been building large mounds and platform villages in northern Louisiana and very different from the indigenous peoples, who probably were the ancestors of the Algonquians. They were of medium height, stocky build and had brachycephalic (broad-headed) skulls. Anthropologists have labeled these newcomers, the Adena Culture, after the Adena Estate in Ohio where one of their larger mounds is located.

Back many moons ago in college, I was taught that the big Adena Mounds were built around 800-500 BC and that the official end date for the Adena Culture was 200 BC. Those dates have remained consistent until just recently when several Adena Culture mounds were radiocarbon dated. These tests have dated Adena mounds right at the supposed end of their existence or even later. Also, back in my college days, the Introduction to Anthropology professor told us that the Adena Mounds were the oldest mounds in North America. It is now known that the Native folks in Louisiana built Watson Brake around 3400 BC.

Most of the Adena earthworks are cone-shaped mounds, surrounded by either circular ditches or a combination of circular ditches and earth berms. The Adena Culture is also known for engraving stone tablets with Mesoamerican type glyphs on them. However, many people are not convinced that the tablets were made by the same people, who built the Adena mounds.

In January 2014, archaeologists announced that THE Adena Mound was constructed around 100 B.C. to A.D. 40. Did Adena ghosts build this mound? The Mount Horeb Mound in Kentucky has recently been radiocarbon dated to around 0 AD. In his announcement of the radiocarbon date, Professor William Jeffries stated that the Adena People arrived in the Ohio Valley around 500 BC. His article did not say when the culture ceased to exist.

There have been more shocks to the world of archaeology in the past two years. Louisiana archaeologist, Dr. Joe Saunders, has dated large conical mounds in the northeastern part of his state to around 2400 BC. That’s correct. Adena type mounds were being built in Louisiana 2400 years before THE Adena Mound was built.

Poverty Point was abandoned around 500 BC. This is also the abandonment date for most Olmec Culture sites in southern Mexico. When the newcomers to Ohio began constructing earthworks, their public architecture was very different than the platform villages and effigy mounds associated with the Poverty Point Culture. It is unlikely that they traveled directly from Poverty Point, Louisiana to Adena, Ohio. The Native People in northern Louisiana built conical mounds between in the period between 3400 BC and 1600 BC. There is a huge chronological hiatus between the cessation of conical mound-building there and the appearance of conical mounds in southern Ohio.

Last year, Ohio archaeologist, William Romain, led a team of scientists in an effort to obtain a reliable radiocarbon date for the Great Serpent Mound in southeast Ohio1. Radiocarbon dating of multiple virgin earth samples, containing charcoal, provided a probable construction date of 381 B.C. – 44 B.C. Originally, the Great Serpent Mound had been dated to around 800-700 BC. Then around 20 years ago, Ohio archaeologists changed the date to around 1070 AD or slightly later. That’s the official Wikipedia date still.

Dr. Romain’s web site associates the Great Serpent Mound with the Adena People, because of the chronological alignment. From an architect’s perspective . . . coming from a profession that tries to understand how people live. . . I don’t think so. I strongly suspect that the same people, who carved the “Adena” tablets, built the Serpent Mound. If the Adena People built one animal effigy mound, why didn’t they build many more? Also, why did they wait about 300 years to build much simpler conical mounds?

By the way, I have the highest regard for Bill Romain’s work. His books sit on a shelf by this computer.

This is a game changer. From reading the professional literature, I can find no evidence that the archaeology profession is aware of how these radically different construction dates will affect their orthodoxy. Many anthropology professors around North America are still using the old 3000 BP (before the present) to 2200 BP dating for Adena Culture . . . perhaps in hopes that just like the Mayas in Georgia, the radiocarbon dates will just be forgotten, if they don’t talk about them.

Moving on down to the Sunshine State

Adena Combo

(left) Original appearance of a typical Adena Culture mound
(right) This “Adena” tablet displays a serpent in a typical Mesoamerican motif, such as found at Teotihuacan and along the Mexican Gulf Coast.

In 2002, there was a brief rash of newspaper articles around the country about the 500+ acre Ortona Archaeological Zone on the southern edge of Glades County, Florida, near Lake Okeechobee. A team of archaeologists from two universities in southern Florida had studied the Ortona site and stumbled upon a regional network of canals with locks and raised earthen causeways that interconnected most of Southern Florida. In these articles, chief archaeologist, Robert Carr, described ponds and mounds in the shape of Mississippian Culture scepters – which themselves are the shape of the ceremonial scepters carried by Maya Hene Ahau (Sun Lords.) The Mississippian Culture symbols were built in Ortona, about 4-500 years before they appeared elsewhere in the Southeast. The Mississippian Culture was obviously not the Mississippian Culture, but began as the Lake Okeechobee Culture.

Robert Carr made a mistake. He dared to suggest that the massive regional transportation system and use of Maya cultural symbols reflected a direct influence from the Maya civilization. He was immediately non-personed by his peers. The only technical articles that you will read about Ortona are in the People of One Fire. The National Park Service’s Southeastern Archaeological Center in Tallahassee claimed to have never heard of the Ortona site. Florida’s deacon of archaeology literally cussed me out when I sent him an email, asking for information on Ortona. When the People of One Fire could find no published archaeological report on Ortona, one of our founding members literally drove around south Florida, until he could obtain the archaeological report and site plan of Ortona from Bob Carr . . . which professional journals refused to publish.

There is much more to the Lake Okeechobee Culture. Ortona was just one of many large towns in the region, and one of the later arrivals. The people around Lake Okeechobee were building conical mound by around 1000 BC and by 500 BC, building circular earthworks, plus conical mounds surrounded by circular earthworks. Primitive maize (corn) pollen as old as 600 BC was found in the Fort Center Archaeological Zone in northern Glades County. A large U-shaped Chontal Maya-style ball court was built east of a pond that is the shape of a Maya Sun Lord scepter. To the south is a crescent shaped temple mound that is identical to the temple mounds built by Chontal Mayas to the goddess, Ixchel.

The Ortona Archaeological Zone also contains a Great Serpent Mound with an earthen egg in its mouth. Robert Carr estimated that it was built around 300 AD, but that was a speculation. Carr never had sufficient time and funds to search for charcoal in the mound from which could be obtained a radiocarbon date for the Florida Serpent Mound. The twisting Florida Serpent Mound is equally as large as its Ohio cousin. However, it was built out of a sandy soil that has been eroded by centuries of hurricanes and tropical storms.

Since the Lake Okeechobee People were building very sophisticated earthworks as early as 500 BC, they were quite capable or erecting such a structure two more centuries before the time span now associated with the Ohio Serpent Mound.

I have been unable to find any archaeological report, which discusses forensic or DNA analysis of the skeletal remains around Lake Okeechobee. Numerous Native American skeletons have been found in Lake Okeechobee, but they have received very little professional analysis. The anthropology departments at FSU and the University of Florida seem to be generally disinterested in the advanced culture that once existed in the southern part of their peninsula. Nevertheless, a comparative study of Adena skeletons and Okeechobee skeletons could potentially provide some fascinating information.

The traditions of the Shawnee and Creek Peoples are that in the “old days” they regularly traveled to each other’s territory to worship at religious shrines, trade exotic goods, find mates and party. It is no inconceivable that a band of people from the Lake Okeechobee region could have migrated northward along this existing trade network until they settled in southern Ohio.

Have a great week and enjoy to crisp autumn air.


  1. See: Archeologist William Romain proposes new interpretation of the Great Serpent Mound 

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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.

3 Comments

  1. bobolyte@gmail.com'

    Mr Thornton,

    Hello Sir, my name is Jason. I found your compelling article when searching for more information about the possibility of the Adena people having any kind of writing. I believe in cultural diffusionism. My family is from Ohio and I have become intensely interested in the Adena/Hopewell/ Mississippian cultures here within the last few years
    I also am very interested in getting to know about the many
    different cultures and peoples and tribes of Native Americans.

    I am currently attending University of Mary Washington and am enrolled in the Historic Preservation undergrad program.
    I wanted to let you know I have found your article about Ortona provocative, informative and eye-opening. I knew something about the man-made canals and a few other choice
    tidbits but nothing to the extent of what you have so brilliantly described in this article.

    Reply
  2. bobolyte@gmail.com'

    Apparently there is a word limit for comments. So in continuing with my commentary from the previous one. I did not know about the vast extent and similarities and also differences between the Ortona people and the Adena people. Especially the correlation to the other Serpent Mound in both Ohio and South Florida. I have read a book by Fritz Zimmerman called Nephillim in the Ohio Valley. It is not just about the Adena and Hopewell peoples, but so much more.

    He lives in Indiana and apparently the town he lives in has the second largest archive of old newspaper articles in the country. He includes and brings to light dozens of newspaper articles about the various giant skeletons, out of place artifacts, very large skulls with some evidence of double rows of teeth. He also includes a few articles which were from 100 years ago plus with some instances of these remains were found with swords and even iron armor!

    I do not wish to detract from the wonderful and unique histories of the various Native tribes, peoples and occupants which were here before Europeans. My intent is to learn, bring to light and share not only America’s hidden or forgotten history, but also be able to share the amazing facts and stories with the youth of today. I believe every person in the world has a unique story to tell and all deserve to be treated equally with dignity, decency and respect.

    In closing, there is another great book I have come across by University of Illinois archaeologist, Professor Timothy Pauketat called Cahokia. He has done work there for various years and has written other books about Cahokia also. This is the only one I have read by him so far. In this book he asserts that there was possibly some connection between Cahokia and the Mississippians there, and one of the cultures from Mesoamerica, most likely the Maya. So I am in complete agreement with your assertion of the Mesoamerican connection with the Ortanian culture and other Native cultures contemporary with them.

    I hope you respond back to me sometime in the future. With respect,

    Jason

    Reply
    • Hey Jason
      Thank you for your detailed and intelligent letter. What we are finding so far is an extensive South American influence on the Mississippi River towns, while the Itza Maya influence seems to be concentrated around Lake Okeechobee, Florida, northern Georgia, western North Carolina, eastern Tennessee and north-central Tennessee. I should qualify my statement, however, by adding that we are still doing a lot of research and new findings might change that assessment.

      One thing that stands out . . . the Cahokians practiced the Polynesian and Moche Culture tradition of burying sacrificial victims under the foundations of new temple mounds. One does not see any evidence of human sacrifice in the proto-Creek towns such as Etowah.

      Best of success in your career!

      Richard Thornton

      Reply

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