Who built the mysterious stone slab sarcophagi south of Kusa?
This is one of the many mysteries we can’t yet solve about the ancient history of the Southern Highlands. When white settlers occupied their designated lots in the former section of the Cherokee Nation, south of the ruins of Kusa, they began finding ancient stone slab sarcophagi on the mountaintops. They were in isolated locations, not cemeteries. At most, two or three might be in eyesight of each other, but single burials predominate.
It is not known if there were skeletons and artifacts in these sarcophagi then. Today all are empty and most have partially collapsed. A few near Ranger, Georgia were constructed from slabs that had been dressed a bit to be almost rectangular, but most look identical to the hundreds of stone box sarcophagi that have been found under the ground of the Nacoochee Valley, 60 miles to the east. Who built these burials and when? It will be a tough question to answer.
Apparently, no engravings have been identified on the stones of these burials other than 20th century graffiti. Therefore, the property owners of tracts , containing stone slab sarcophagi, are very reluctant to let outsiders know their whereabouts. All are on privately owned land.
These sarcophagi seem to have no cultural relationship to the lines of super-sized cairns that radiate northward, eastward and southward from the stone ruins at Fort Mountain. The Fort Mountain Stone Enclosure is 12.4 miles north of the capital of Kusa. These supersized cairns appear to be signal pyres and directly related to Kusa. They will be discussed in a separate article within the current series on Kusa in the People of One Fire.
It should be emphasized that these stone sarcophagi could have been constructed by different ethnic groups in different time periods. That possibility is especially true for the handful on the western edge of Pickens County near Ranger, which are constructed out of dressed stone. On the other hand, the greater labor that went into these burials may only reflect the importance of the person buried.
Local indigenous traditions
Most Archaic Period peoples in this section of Georgia buried their dead in either small earthen mounds or in shell middens near a base village. If they were on the move or in seasonal camps the loved one was probably just buried in shallow grave.
There is a strong possibility that the stone cairns found in many parts of North Georgia and Northeastern Alabama had the same function as those in Guerrero State, Mexico and northwestern South America. Bodies were placed on top of the cairns, where their flesh would be eaten by vultures. The cleaned bones were then stored in wooden chests or alternatively cremated or buried in mounds.
The Southeastern indigenous peoples considered vultures to be a sacred bird. It is known that even in the 1700s, Creek and Seminole chiefs and priests kept Painted Vultures as pets.
Beginning about the same time that the Kenimer Mound was constructed in the Nacoochee Valley, new arrivals began burying their dead in stone slab sarcophagi. All of these “stone box graves” were underground when they jammed the plows of new white settlers. It is possible that some were above ground originally. However, to this day several branches of the Mayas bury their dead in stone slab sarcophagi underground near their homes . . . never above ground. It is not known how common this tradition was in Northwestern Georgia or specifically at the site of Kusa in Carters Bottoms. Limited archaeological work in Carters Bottoms in the past has focused on mounds. Now most of Carters Bottoms is under water.
Like their predecessors in the Swift Creek Culture, the elite of the Highland Apalache were mummified, coated in clay and then painted. When the mummies deteriorated in the humid climate of Georgia, they were buried in man-made caves and the openings were sealed. Is it possible that the mummies of Apalache elite in Northwest Georgia were buried in above ground stone sarcophagi? Yes, it is possible, but there are no eyewitness accounts to verify this speculation.
During the Colonial Period, Northwest Georgia was occupied by Chickasaw, Kusate-Creek and Apalachicola-Creek villages. By that time period, they had ceased to utilize burial mounds and instead maintained cemeteries on the western peripheries of villages. Some Cherokees began entering the region during the American Revolution. The Cherokees were formally given Northwest Georgia in 1785 as their hunting grounds. However, these stone slab sarcophagi looked quite old when the white settlers arrived in 1838.
HOWEVER, it should be mentioned that in the 1980s an ancient silver mine with sawn timbers was discovered at the base of Fort Mountain. I was obviously excavated by Europeans and radio- carbon dated to around 1600 AD. The section of Cohutta Mountains where the stone slab sarcophagi are found abounds in semi-precious stones that were pushed up through the Cartersville Fault in ancient times. These mysterious structures, in particular, the handful of dressed stone ones, could have been constructed by Sephardic Jewish miners. Some Jewish people of Medieval Iberia did have a tradition of burying their dead in above ground stone sarcophagi, although most Sephardic Jews were buried in cemeteries.
Elsewhere in North America
Some above ground, stone slab sarcophagi have been found in other parts of the United States, particularly in the Southwest. However, it is probably safe to say that there are more in Northwest Georgia near Kusa than in the remainder of the United States. Virtually none of these other sarcophagi contain skeletal remains or identifying artifacts.
These other sarcophagi are frequently the subject of bitter debates on blog sites between competing factions of Eurocentrics. An initial presumption is made that American Indians lacked the intellect to stack stones. Then the competing factions assign the burial to Egyptians, Phoenicians, the Lost Ten Tribes of Israel, one of Prince Madoc’s Welshmen, Anglo-Saxon explorers, Vikings, great African kings or extraterrestrials. The most likely explanation is that they were built either by indigenous peoples, who liked to build such things or by Spanish Conquistadors.
The truth is out there somewhere.
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