Who built this altar to the goddess of a spring?
We have identified several ancient structures, built out of quarried stones in the Northeast Georgia Mountains.
Late in the afternoon of January 25, 2019, we received an invitation from a property owner to examine numerous probable ancient structures as part of our on-going Soque River Basin Ancient Architecture Survey. Braving a 21 degree chill, six stalwart volunteers and some exuberant herd dogs hiked onto the site. It is an ancient volcanic caldera that collapsed on one side eons ago. On the outer side of the rim are steep cliffs, pot-marked with hand-dug tombs for Soque, Itsate and Apalache elite families. You can see where grave robbers jerry-rigged plank scaffolding to reach the mouths of tombs, in search of that mythical “Charakey Gold!” . . . or perhaps they were looking for fine pottery to sell at flea markets.
What was the bottom of the collapsed crater, millions of years ago, is now many small streams flowing together amidst dense trees, mountain laurel, rhododendron, wild holly trees and wild azaleas. Here and there are the signs of mankind. Some land disturbances date back to the 1930s, when there was a CCC camp nearby or in the 1890s, when the the virgin timber of the mountain was logged. Other man-made structures look hundreds to thousands of years old. The early colonial and ancient structures are easily discernible, because they are constructed with quarried rocks . . . dense fine-grained, basalt worked into rectangular blocks. However, the source of these building stones is not visible. All of the rock outcrops on the caldera are coarse-textured pegmatitic or portphyritic rhyolite. In POOF’s next article, we will explain the volcanic rocks in that region.
A forgotten homestead
On the top of a natural terrace in the southwestern corner of the crater’s rim, we came upon both stacks of quarried stone and scattered stones. We glanced around and saw pieces of an old iron cauldron. This was probably a remote farmstead that dated after the arrival of Spanish and French explorers. It is quite likely that a Native American family lived here long after the Trail of Tears. About 15 years ago, I stumbled upon a complex of very old, hewn-log farm buildings in a similarly remote location in southern Towns County, which is north of Helen, GA. It was occupied by rather hostile, full-blood Native Americans. The man of the house, carrying a shotgun, became even more hostile, when I asked him if he was Cherokee. He said NO! However, he would not tell me, which tribe that he did belong to. I did not want to press the issue. LOL
Note: Apalache Foundation survey teams do not divulge the location of heritage sites on private property, unless this is requested to do so by the owners. Also, we do not disturb these sites in any way, including removal of vegetation or earth that conceal them.
An ancient shrine next to an enchanted spring
We went farther northeast along the bottom of the crater rim until we came upon an ancient rock shelter with a spring coming out of it. Either a landslide or hundreds of years of soil movement had partially filled the ravine in front of the rock shelter. However, clearly visible was a stone altar, constructed with quarried stones, chinked with smaller rocks of the same stone. The natural field stone on this mountain does not look like these stones at all. They are “roundish” and composed of a volcanic stone with many bubble holes in them. This was obviously an altar. It was approximately three feet (2m) square and 2 1/2 feet (.76m) tall. There were other quarried stones of the same material protruding from the soil filling the ravine. These stones were not thin rectangular slabs, but rather asymmetrical chunks that architects label “rubble.”
It was extremely difficult to take a clear photographs. Fallen trees made it difficult to walk into the site with a back on one’s back, plus projected sharp shadows into the ravine. The bank, where I was standing, was almost vertical. In order to get photos, which clearly documented the site, I will have to come back with a chain saw (and with the owner’s permission) to clear away the labyrinth of fallen trees.
Who built this structure long ago? I don’t know. It does not really have a “American Indian” feel to it. Such structures are associated with the Bronze Age and Druids in northwestern Europe. We could be wrong, though. The Nacoochee Valley was a crossroads location, where trade routes extending to most of North American converged. So much was lost during the Native American Holocaust. Perhaps there was an indigenous religion, whose practices involved sacrificial rituals at the mouths of springs.
The petroglyphs in the Soque and Nacoochee Valleys are generally different most of the petroglyphs seen in the Etowah River Valley section of the Georgia Gold Belt. Most of those in the Etowah River Valley seem to be portrayals of the sky . . . containing many concentric circle, stars and comets. Those in the Soque and Nacoochee Valleys contain many complex, even abstract symbols, which seem to be a previously unknown writing system. It is going to take a significant level of analysis to make sense of them.
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