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Who built the mysterious stone slab sarcophagi south of Kusa?

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. 

Most of the stone sarcophagi in the Cohutta Mts. are identical to these in the Nacoochee Valley, which were buried.

Most of the above-ground stone sarcophagi in the Cohutta Mountains are identical to these in the Nacoochee Valley, which were buried.

Kusa-FortMountain-PineLogThese 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


The Painted Vulture is now extinct.

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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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.



    I never knew this and if I’d seen it, would have thought it was some sort of altar. Thanks for the great info, as always!


    I have seen these in old settler cemeteries. Many white settler families buried their family members near their homes. You may be werong that these a re Native American. They could be white graves from the 1800’s to the 1870’s.

    • These structures were old when the first white settlers arrived in 1838.


    Richard, The native American people were the most advanced people in the ancient days and as stated by the elders many arrived by boats. You have noted they domesticated over 70% of the produce eaten all over the world. “Land of enchantment” as stated by one Spaniard until the truth was covered by lies..Beautiful colorful cities with cannels, ships transporting hundreds of people and cargo, a trade network that spanned from the Great lakes to South America are all verified.
    The first pyramids, first embalmment’s, an advanced writing system (Kipu), advanced farming, advanced mathematical knowledge of Peru, Itza, Maya, Toltec’s, an advanced calendar, libraries with hundreds of books mostly all gone now for greed….
    Moving massive stones in Georgia was no big deal for them.


    Mr. Mark. You are exactly right.!!!


    Richard, There is something that appears like the one in the top photo near LaGrange, GA. It can be seen from a road. I have passed it many, many times and have always been curious but never stopped because it is on private property. If you would like details on the location, e-mail me. Thank you for this article and all the work you do. I found you while trying to determine the origins of an ancestor whose middle name was Ochichi/Ocheesi.

    • Ochesi is the Anglicization of the Muskogee-Creek word Awchese (written Vcesi) which means “Descendants of corn.”


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