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Who built the mounds in Savannah?

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! 

Section of 1735 map of Savannah

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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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.

10 Comments

  1. groyal00@aol.com'

    Richard and “Liz”,

    I live in the Savannah area (Richmond Hill–Bryan County…..just south of Savannah). I also “stumbled” across your articles and website in Oct 2017 when I was doing some generic searches on early Indigenous populations on the Georgia Coast. I am originally from this area and I was FLOORED when I read the articles and information. I had NEVER heard of any of this before in my life! I also saw the same YouTube videos and found other articles about the subject.
    I agree, there is a very important story about the Savannah area before Oglethorpe showed up that needs to be told before it is too late.

    “Liz” if you read this, drop an comment and let me know if you would be interested in meeting to discuss more on this subject. It’s just SO COOL!!!

    Thanks!!
    Gaye

    Reply
    • It is not a good idea to provide personal contact information on a public message board like this one. Anyone in the Savannah Area, who wishes to team up with their neighbors to help promote and preserve these amazing archaeological sites, please email me at PeopleOfOneFire@aol.com. I will get y’all together . . . privately.

      Reply
  2. Reillyranch@aol.com'

    A great place to do some research is the The Georgia Historical Society. It is located in Savannah is one of the oldest historical societies in the US, it was founded in 1836. It has tons of original documents, maps, letters etc that can help in your reasesrch.

    Reply
    • That is very good information Ed. Appreciate you telling everyone.

      Reply
  3. iwg42@hotmail.com'

    Hey Richard,
    I ran across this article about glacial archaeology going on in Norway. When the glaciers are melting they are leaving a lot of bronze age organic stuff frozen in the ice.
    http://rsos.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/5/1/171738
    Not knowing the geography of Norway, Im not sure if this area is near where you lived or near any of the places you have written about in Sweden but the ancient people are possibly related to each other.
    Also to “Liz”, be the boots on the ground! Get some friends and go study the mounds! Someone in collage now can make a career, and a name, studying the history of the SE and helping to correct the lies told for the last however many years. It will not be easy, but it needs to happen through academia.
    Thanks

    Reply
    • Hey Wayne, the location is a long distance from where I lived in Sweden, but I did visit that region while living in Scandinavia. Even in the summer, it is quite chilly there.

      Reply
  4. tidewriter@aol.com'

    So nice to know that some are finally getting the message, Richard! Today’s informed students are tomorrow’s movers and shakers! Keep up the good work, and the good fight!

    Reply
    • Thank you m’am. I wish I could help them directly . . . but not during the summer, when the water moccasins are roaming. LOL It’s just too far to make frequent trips.

      Reply
  5. dcarpenter@cityoftybee.org'

    have friend whos` family collected (took) hundreds of artifacts from the depford site. Being My Father was Full Blood Onondaga, He had vast knowledge of most of the mounds in the sav area, being everyone wanted to take thier “Findings ” to My father for ID. He was involved many years in sav with educating the public on Native culture.

    Reply

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