Who built the mounds in Savannah?
Dear Mr. Thornton,
Last year, I stumbled upon your article about the Bilbo Mound and the other mounds in Savannah on Facebook, found a video about the Bilbo Mound on Youtube then went to this website and was fascinated. No one in the Savannah tourism industry or the local chapter of the American Institute of Architects knows anything about them. There are no historic markers, showing their locations. However, I was able to find the book by archaeologist Antonio Waring in a local library. We had never heard of him, but it was obvious that his historic preservation work helped make Savannah what it is today.
I am a student at the Savannah College of Arts and Design. As a student project, some of us would like to create a map for tourists of the Native American sites in Savannah and design public parks around them. At least now we have Waring’s book, so we know where these places are. A couple of my friends are interested in creating a video on them as their thesis projects. We have a couple of questions that Waring’s book didn’t answer.
Do you know who built these mounds? Why are so few people today aware that they exist? I did some research at the Savannah Morning News archives and was surprised to learn that Antonio Waring’s and Josesph Caldwell’s archaeological work got a lot of publicity in the Savannah newspapers back in the 1930’s and 1940’s.
There is no mention of the Bilbo Mound anywhere in the SMN archives. However, I looked up your name in their archives. There is a huge two page article from the late 1980s, with lots of color photos about you making goat cheese in the mountains. It said that you doubled being a goat herder with being a famous architect, working on downtown revitalization projects. There is no mention about working with archaeological sites. Strange – the Bilbo Mound is the oldest mound in North America – older than anything in Mexico – yet it is not even mentioned in any reference like Wikipedia.
One other thing . . . I am very proud to be going into a profession that has people like you in it. Architects are still people, who give back to the community, rather that take, take, take. Since your bio still says that you are a historic preservation architect, I am curious why you didn’t ever do any work in Savannah?
“Liz” at SCAD
Thank you Liz at SCAD!
Go back and read Antonio Waring’s book again. Notice that most of the mounds around Savannah had distinct layers of usage with very different artifacts. The archaeologists found very little pottery in the levels dating before 1800 BC. The Indian King Mound apparently was not even used for about a 1000 years or longer. The first burials in Savannah were of people, who lived by fishing and hunting, plus, who didn’t know how to make pottery. Its youngest burials contain artifacts from the Creek Indians’ immediate ancestors. So several ethnic groups were involved in the construction of Savannah’s mounds over a long, long period of time.
Of course, I don’t have a time machine, but it is fairly safe to assume that the ancestors of the Uchee and Apalache-Creeks built the earthen mounds in Savannah that date between around 1200 BC to around 800 AD. The Uchee and Apalache then spread inland along the Savannah, Ogeechee and Altamaha Rivers until they eventually occupied most of the region from the Tennessee River southward.
Tamachichi (Tomochichi in English) told Governor Oglerthorpe that his Itza ancestors first sailed northward across the ocean from an ancient civilization to the tip of Florida, where they lived next to Lake Okeechobee. They moved northward to a land of marshes. They then migrated northward to Savannah. He said that his ancestors were buried in three mounds that once stood near the river banks, east of the Savannah Convention Center. You can see those mounds on the 1735 map of Savannah. You can also see the location of the Indian King’s tomb (lower right hand corner of the map insert above). I am sending you a high resolution copy of that map.
Both the Uchee and the Apalache (Palachicola) told officials in Colonial Savannah that they first arrived in North America in the region around Savannah. They found many ancient mounds, shell rings and shell middens, built by an earlier people, who had moved southward. So the builders of the Bilbo Mound and that huge 750 feet long shell mound near the Bilbo Mound remain a mystery.
I must say though that the Bilbo Mound was a man-made island in a circular port, connected by a man-made canal to the Savannah River. This is EXACTLY how the Bronze Age peoples of southern Iberia and the Iron Age Carthaginians built their ports. Archaeologists on a recent National Geo program stated that this type of port was the key signature of the “Lost Civilization of Atlantis.” We think that because of their name, which means “From Ocean – Descendants of” the Georgia Apalache were descendants of Atlantis . . . whatever Atlantis was. So, the ancestors of the Apalache, or at least their relatives, may have actually built the original parts of those mounds in Savannah, which date from 3545 BC to 2500 BC. Did you see Waring’s comment that he was puzzled by the lack of artifacts in the base levels of several mounds? Perhaps these mounds were originally the bases of buildings, built by seafarers or newcomers.
As for Savannah’s cultural amnesia. Think about it. Very few people, who were living in Savannah in the 1930s and 1940s are still alive. Most of Savannah’s population today is composed of first or second generation newcomers. Both the nation and Savannah have gone through several radical social and political changes . . . mostly for the worse. We tolerate intrusions into our personal lives and political attitudes that 30 years ago would have been considered abominations or at least . . . ignorant, provincial values.
Actually, when I came back from Virginia, I was one of the few architects in Georgia, who had any significant experience with Early Colonial buildings. Would you believe that until November 2001, most of my projects were on Factor’s Row and River Street in Downtown Savannah? I designed some of your city’s best known restaurants. I probably would have moved there, except I couldn’t stand the summer heat after living so many years on Appalachian farms. LOL
YET . . . In November 2014, I went back to Savannah to get an award from the National Trust for Historic Preservation national conference. (for Native American historic preservation projects). Would you believe that NOT ONE of my former clients still lived in Savannah? All had sold off all their real estate investments and moved to smaller cities along the coast like Midway, Darien, St. Simon’s Island and Brunswick. Downtown Savannah just does not have the quality of life for residential living that it had 20 years ago. Back then, it was fun and safe for us to ride our bikes anywhere downtown, except on Saturdays. Downtown Savannah is now an exciting place to attend college, when you are young and looking for action. All the contractors that I had worked with 20 years ago, went bankrupt in the 2008-2013 Mega-recession. Well, I couldn’t find anybody I knew in Savannah from back then. All the city building officials even had retired or moved away.
SO . . . it is up to your generation and in particular, the many bright students at SCAD, to do something about that cultural amnesia. Go get ’em tigers!
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