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Who built this altar to the goddess of a spring?

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.

The quarried stone blocks varied from tan to dark gray.

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.

The Track Rock Terrace Complex is also built on the back side of a collapsed caldera. There are tombs carved into the rim of that ancient volcano. This is a telephoto shot taken of a section of the cliff from about a mile away.  The cliff with tombs is actually about a quarter mile (402m) wide.

Although we found clear evidence that the homestead was occupied after 1500 AD, the stones may have been taken from an older structure.

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.

A spear-shaped petroglyphic boulder, found near where I live now (far left) is similar to the earliest stelas erected in Mexico & Bronze Age Sweden.

Petroglyphs

This engraved rock contained several abstract symbols also seen in the Squirrel Mountain Tablet.

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.

The Squirrel Mountain Tablet was found in 1939 by archaeologist Robert Wauchope, about 30 feet from the tomb of Eleanor Dare.

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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.

4 Comments

  1. Reillyranch@ail.com'

    Incredible

    Thanks for posting

    Ed

    Reply
    • I wish I could have gotten better photos, but it was extremely difficult getting in there and it was cold-d-d!

      Reply
  2. jesstowns@gmail.com'

    Richard– Yeah, the 26th was cold, I slept in my car in Macon after going to the Etowah Mounds in the afternoon. Sorry to have missed the Soque River Basin Ancient Architecture Survey events. Very interesting, especially those tombs carved into the rim of the ancient volcano. But Etowah and Ocmulgee were amazing, I got to see the mounds and museums at both sites, fortunately the government shutdown ended just in time.

    I also spent an afternoon exploring some of those Savannah mound sites you posted a while back. I definitely found Brewton Hill Mound, the manager of the pro shop at the Golf Club confirmed that it’s the mound at the front of the club. I’m pretty convinced that you’re right that a number of those mounds on the golf course grounds were originally Native. Officially they’re considered to be remnants of defensive earthworks that surrounded Savannah and I found a map from the Civil War that showed them running near the Golf Club. But those mounds seem to be going all sorts of directions, not in a contiguous line. And they just look like Native mounds. Maybe some of the mounds were used by both groups of people.

    I couldn’t find Bilbo Mound, but I did have some interesting conversations with a couple of homeless guys camped down there in the old rice field section. And I think I found Deptford Mound over in the industrial section, there’s a hill there that looks like its growth had some help from humans.

    Today I visited the shell circle mound on Hilton Head. It’s been great fun, headed back to NY Wednesday.

    Reply
    • The official history of golf in the United States says that the first golf played in the United States were by Scotsmen in the British garrison, who used Indian mounds for obstacles and difficult holes. Later the first country club in the United States was built around those mounds.

      Reply

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