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Were Southeastern towns also sited according to the stars?

Were Southeastern towns also sited according to the stars?

The archaeological news headline this week is that a 15 year old youth correctly predicted the location of an previously unknown Maya city by matching the sites of known Maya cities with a star map.  It has always been a mystery what determined the location of Maya cities.  Those in the mountains, such as Waka, Palenque and Bonampak are associated with shoals on rivers, but elsewhere, they seemed randomly placed. 

You can read the article here:  Maya Star Map

Several POOF members wrote me last night and asked if the same phenomenon occurred in the Southeast,  or at least in Georgia, Southern Florida, Western Mississippi and Southeastern Tennessee, where there were so many towns are in close proximity.  The current answer is that no one has studied that question on a regional scale in the Southeast.

A Yale University astronomer, Dr. Vance Tiede,  did study Ocmulgee National Monument in 2004 and state that he thought that the locations of mounds and satellite villages there seemed to be the map of a constellation.   However, he did not name the constellation.

Ancient town sites

Until this past three years,  when I began intensively studying the  archaeological reports of Archaeologists Robert Wauchope and William Sears, I did not realize how really old the town sites were in North Georgia and extreme Southern Florida.  In both regions, most date back to the Late Archaic or Early Woodland Periods. They were occupied for many, many centuries.  Several in Georgia were occupied most of the time from at least as early as 1000 BC to the late 1700s or even the early 1800s.   As we mentioned in an earlier article, this longevity breaks all the orthodoxies of American anthropology.  This phenomenon is also seen in some Southwestern Florida towns, but exposure to the Spanish ended their occupation in the late 1600s or early 1700s.

The most promising location in the Southeast for being laid out according to the stars in a constellation is the former capital of the Calusa People on Mound Key near Fort Myers, Florida.  The island was initially an oyster bar, utilized by the ancestors of the Calusa as early as 1150 BC.  Around 0 AD, the Calusa began expanding the bar into an island for permanent habitation.  These construction projects seem to mark the arrival of another, extreme tall, ethnic group, who became the permanent elite of the Calusa People.

Over the centuries, the man-made island grew to about 120 acres and contained canals, shell platforms for elite housing and shell mounds for temples and the ruling family’s residences.  The commoners lived in massive communal structures shaped like pup tents.  Early Spanish explorers saw the same type structures in certain provinces along the coast of South Carolina and Georgia.  Thus, some Calusa probably migrated to that region in the past.

The virtual reality image above portrays the capital of Calos at its peak size.  The Calusa Civilization collapsed in the early 1700s due to European diseases and Spanish repression.

Mainstream references reflect the uncertainty by Florida academicians toward the etymology of Calos and Calusa.  They might consider the purchase of Creek-Seminole dictionaries. Calos is the Creek word for star and the Creeks called these people, Calosi, which means, “Children of the Stars.”   If anyone would have laid out their towns according to star maps, it would likely be the Children of the Stars.



Probable appearance of Calos around 1500 AD.

The Ortona town site near Lake Okeechobee is another strong candidate for being laid out according to a star map.  It was first settled during the Early-Middle Woodland Period along a series of shoals on the Calusahatchee River like many Native towns in Georgia, but as seen below, the plan of the town does not seem to relate to geography, but to an abstract concept.

The town plan of Ortona was very complex. It contained dispersed mounds and earthworks.

In the Creek Motherland

All but one of the major town sites in North and Central Georgia have something in common. They are located on the shoals of major rivers.  Robert Wauchope found conurbations of towns and villages that stretched for seven miles long on the headwaters of the Chattahoochee River and 12 miles long on the section of the Chattahoochee River that flows through Metro Atlanta.

When Maya specialist and archaeologist, Garth Norman, visited the stone ruins at Little Mulberry River Park (Gwinnett County, GA) in April 2016, the rangers told him that they have found almost continuous stone ruins along the entire 40 mile length of the Mulberry-Apalachee River System.  It is all white water.  People of One Fire teams have observed a similar phenomenon along other white water tributaries of the Oconee River.

This VR image portrays the visible structures of a three mile wide Apalache-Creek town in NE Georgia. There were probably many small buildings in between the large structures.

Site 9JK54 was rediscovered in 2013, using LIDAR scans.  This 3D computer model was developed form the LIDAR image and portrays the visible structures of a three mile wide Apalache-Creek town along the North Oconee River in NE Georgia. There were probably many small buildings in between the large structures.

The largest towns in the Southern Highlands and Piedmont are found where major trade paths crossed the shoals of rivers.  This is especially obvious at Ocmulgee National Monument, Etowah Mounds,  Carters Bottom (Kusa), Columbus, GA-Phenix City, AL and Augusta, GA.  Clearly, these towns were sited and then prospered for pragmatic reasons, not arbitrary alignment with a star maps.

There is one glaring exception . . . and it was what made me start studying the regional placement of towns.  The town site called Shoulderbone Mounds is located in Hancock County, GA at the southern edge of the Piedmont.  The small stream that served it would have been barely large enough to provide drinking water.  It is currently believed that the town was founded around 1150 AD, right after the acropolis at Ocmulgee was abandoned.


The Shoulderbone Site (Okvte~Ocute) around 1250 AD.

The Shoulderbone Site (Okvte~Ocute) when visited by Hernando de Soto in March 1540.

The Shoulderbone Site (Okvte~Ocute) when visited by Hernando de Soto in March 1540.

Shoulderbone contains the second oldest five sided mound in the Southeast . . . the oldest being the Kenimer Mound in the Nacoochee Valley, which probably dated from around 600 AD to 800 AD.   Why would such an important complex be in the middle of nowhere and not be associated with any major riverine or ground trade routes?

Both principal mounds at Shoulderbone and Etowah Mounds are five sided.  Just on a hunch, I used GIS to extend a True North from the center of Mound A at Shoulderbone.  I then used the same technique to extend the alignment of Mound A at Etowah Mounds northeastward.  Etowah’s alignment approximates the azimuth of the Winter Solstice Sunset.  The two lines intersected somewhere at the state line between Georgia and North Carolina at the headwaters of the Little Tennessee River.

They are never mentioned in nationally published archaeology books, but there are a cluster of Native America town sites with mounds on both sides of North Carolina-Georgia Line along the headwaters of the Little Tennessee River.  The best known is the Koweta (Cherokee) or Coweeta (English) Mound, which was built about a mile north of the state line in the Late Mississippian Period and abandoned in the 1600s.

While the Koweta Creeks have always claimed that region, which is known as Itsate Gap as their homeland, the Coweeta Mound is now officially labeled by North Carolina archaeologists as a Cherokee.  Even though Ani-koweta is the Cherokee word for the Muskogee-Creek People, University of North Carolina academicians have determined that Koweta and Coweeta are ancient Cherokee words, whose meanings have been lost.

I drove up to the Northeast corner of Georgia and asked around the town of Dillard, if they knew of a mound right on the state line.  That’s where my Etowah and Shoulderbone lines intersected.   Most folks knew about the Dillard Mound.  It was a classic oval Lamar Culture mound on the river just east of Dillard.  However, a few folks told me, “Yes, there is a mound right on the state line just past the bridge over the Little Tennessee on the right.  We call it the Otto Mound.”

By golly, there it was, a five sided mound right where those two vectors intersected.  Further study of the side with infrared imagery revealed that it was aligned at the same angle as Etowah’s Mound A and was a scaled down mirror image of Mound A and its plaza.


I uncovered a 1989 archaeological survey from the Western District Office of the North Carolina State Archaeologist Division.  It stated that during the Middle Woodland Period, the village was occupied by people making Hopewell Style pottery.  However, during Late Woodland and Mississippian Periods, the pottery styles were identical to those found in the Etowah River Valley, 103 miles to the Southeast.  The site had been abandoned around 1600 AD then reoccupied for about four decades in the 1700s by Cherokees.

Using GIS again, I marked the center points of all known five sided mounds in Georgia, Southeastern Alabama and Western North Carolina.  They formed a triangular matrix that was about 250 miles across.  Why or how these five-sided mounds were sited so precisely over such a long distance is still in the realm of the unknown.


And now you know!


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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.



    Interesting indeed Richard.
    Watched the Documentary with Walker last light, and listened to an interview in Feb 2016 about the making of it.
    The whole Lidar mapping was revealing information.
    What a strange trip this has been for you.
    But it sure is great to see this come out.
    State of Georgia does not like Indians,
    Never has, never will.
    Not while there are still $$ to be made by trolling and shilling the truth sayers….take care

  2. Georgia is beginning to like Indians and they are in contact with me. European tourists are coming to Georgia to see the sites that I talked about in the History Channel and PBS programs. European tourists spend Euros in Georgia. Euros convert to $$$$ so the politicos suddenly realize how cool we Creeks are. LOL


    For North ga, what is meant by longevity? Are you suggesting you know of a site with continous occupation from 1000 b.c. to 1600 ad? How did you conclude that it was one occupation after another? I can’t think of a single site in the USA that archaeologists have been able to link 2000 continous years by the same population, that must of produced about 450 stratigraphic layers? Usually archaeologist see anywhere from 4-8 layers at the best of sites, with 200-300 hundred year gaps between the laters, thinking Eva or some of the best dated rock shelters they know of…do the reports of these sites really support continous in situ culture layering on one site? Not trying to nitpick, just amazing if true

    • Archaeologist Robert Wauchope became fascinated with the Nacoochee Valley because the occupation density was so high along a seven mile corridor. During the Late Mississippian Period there were villages occupied at the same time that were varied from 100 yards to 1/4 mile apart. At some of the choice locations, he found a continuous evolution of pottery styles from Dunlop to Early Deptford to Late Deptford to Cartersville to Swift Creek to Napier to Woodstock to Etowah I to Etowah II to Early Lamar to Proto-Historic Lamar. What he did not find anywhere was evidence of an 18th century Cherokee occupation. He speculated that this brief era was washed away by the intensive farming techniques of white settlers. In these long occupied villages, there was usually very little stratification. The villages were largest during the Etowah I and Lamar Periods. They suddenly shrank when Etowah Mounds started exploding in population around 1250 AD. Wauchope theorized that many of the people moved to the Etowah Valley during this period. Without looking for them, Wauchope also built up one of the largest Clovis collections in the nation while in the Nacoochee Valley. This was only a few years after the Clovis Culture had been identified. Wauchope found almost identical patterns of occupation near the Booger Hollow Mound next to Buford Dam and along certain sections of the Chattahoochee where it flows through Metro Atlanta. As mentioned in the article, Arthur Kelly theorized that such long term occupation in river bottom lands could only be explained by agriculture arriving much earlier in the Southern Piedmont than the arrival of corn. He told me that the situation was entirely different on the Lower Chattahoochee,where he did much of his work in the 60s. There, he saw little evidence of permanent villages until the Late Woodland Period at the Manville Site . . . and really not many villages and towns until the Mid-or-Late Mississippian.


    I am a graduate student in landscape architecture. This post and your renderings is giving me a great deal of background research into the Calusa people and early civilization in south Florida. I am developing a master’s report in the field of landscape architecture proposing an ecolodge at Flamingo, in the Everglades National Park, Florida. In my design I want the architectural style to have reflections of the true native peoples of Florida. I would like to use your rendering of Calos (the cover image) as supporting research in my report if you would allow permission???


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