Select Page

Why would there be Peruvian DNA in Towns County, Georgia?

Why would there be Peruvian DNA in Towns County, Georgia?


A realtor in Hiawassee, GA, who I befriended while living for a year in nearby Union County,  called me last night with that question.  She is partially descended from the Town County Indians, who lived along Hightower Creek in the eastern part of the county.   She was aware that outsiders called her people “Cherokees,” but in their family tradition, knew that their heritage was different and much older . . . but they could not figure out who they really were.  She said that they also could not figure out why they were not forced to go on the Trail of Tears.   Until after World War II there were several families in the county, who were full bloods or at least looked full blooded Native American.  There still might be some full bloods living in remote mountain coves. 

To answer her question without qualifications one would have to own a time machine.  However,  it is possible to interpolate the observations of Georgia archaeologists with what the People of One Fire knows about the ethnological history of the Lower Southeast to come up with some fairly reasonable theories. 

During 2011, before I stumbled upon the Track Rock Terrace Complex,  I talked with some young men and women at the KFC restaurant in Murphy, NC .   They were card-carrying Cherokees, living just across the state line from Georgia, who looked just like Itsate Creeks and in fact, call themselves the Tamatly or Tomatly Cherokees.   They were shocked when I told them that Tama-tli was a Chontal Maya word, which means “Trade – Place of.”    It combines the Totonac word for trade with the Nahuatl (Mexica) word for “place of.”   Most also looked at me like I was some crazy outlander.   However, sure enough,  in late 2012 several Tamatly Cherokees sent me emails that their DNA tests had showed them to be part Maya.  There is a long low mound in the community of Tamatla, NC northeast of Murphy, which apparently marks their mother town.  

Maya DNA does not show up in Qualla Cherokee DNA tests.  Qualla Cherokees typically have more Middle Eastern, North African  and Iberian DNA than Asiatic DNA.

We will answer the second question first.

How did the Towns County Indians avoid the Trail of Tears?

Part of the answer comes from geographical place names in the area.  “Hightower” is the Anglicization of Etalwa, the Muskogee-Creek word for a principal town.   This lady’s ancestors considered themselves to be Creek Indians.  Downstream a bit was a town named Itsa-yi,  which in Cherokee means “Itza Maya – Place of.”   Between Itsayi and Etalwa was an ancient town named Quanasee in Cherokee, which would be Konasi in Creek.  The ruins of a large mound builder town is located south of where the Cherokee village of Quanasee is situated.

Konasi means Konas – descendants of.   Konas was a important city and province in Peru before the rise of the Moche Empire around 100 AD.   The Konibo People were driven eastward from Konas.  Apparently, some also migrated northward until they reached what is now Georgia.

The young people in the Murphy KFC restaurant told me that their ancestors had hid out in the remote parts of the Georgia Mountains to the east of the boundary of the Cherokee Nation.  In fact, several thought that they were actually from Georgia.  Whatever the case, their ancestors had slipped into North Carolina several years after the Trail of Tears because there were very few whites in western North Carolina then and they didn’t bother the Indians.  

Towns County is immediately north of the Nacoochee Valley.   In an earlier POOF article, we discussed how the handful of Native Americans in the Nacoochee Valley sold their land to a real estate speculator from Burke County, NC in 1821 without seeking the approval of the Cherokee Tribal Council then moved to the Creek Nation in Alabama. 

Like the Nacoochee Valley,  Towns County in the 1800s was on the extreme eastern edge of the Cherokee Nation.  As far as ethnic Cherokees from Tennessee, but now living in northwest Georgia, were concerned, these people on the eastern edge of their territory didn’t exist.  They certainly had no role in tribal government.

The Town County Indians considered themselves to be Creeks and therefore felt no cultural obligation to accompany Cherokees on the Trail of Tears.   The Upper Creeks, living in present day Union and Fannin Counties, Georgia had that same attitude.  They hid in the Coosa and Cohutta Mountains until the soldiers were gone.

So, it is likely that being virtually invisible, the Towns County Indians were able to take refuge in the rugged mountains to the east . . . outside the boundaries of the Cherokee Nation . . . and remain hidden from soldiers patrolling within its boundaries.   That strategy didn’t work for some refugees though.  The famous Cherokee hero, Tsali, lived in Rabun County, GA among whites.  Nevertheless, soldiers came to arrest and deport him. Legally, he was a citizen of Georgia and the soldiers were wrong in evicting his family.


The Peruvian Connection

Swift Creek style pottery was being made by the Conibo People of Peru long before it appeared in present day Georgia.  It seems to have originated with the Polynesian-style boards used to apply tattoos being slapped against damp clay pottery.  The earliest known Swift Creek pottery appeared at the southern tip of proto-Creek cultural territory around 100 AD at the Mandeville Site.  One of my mentors, Archaeologist Arthur Kelly, found that at first, it representing a minuscule percentage of the pottery made at Mandeville then the percentages steadily increased to be the predominant style produced.  It also began appearing at other proto-Creek towns in Georgia.  This suggests that the Panoans arrived from Peru in small groups then the immigration swelled as the Moche city states began ruthless military campaigns of conquests against the Panoan peoples of Peru.

Around 539 AD,  a catastrophic tsunami, caused by an asteroid or comet hitting the ocean wiped out the Native American peoples on the Georgia and Florida coasts then spread water far inland.  All of the Swift Creek villages in southeast Georgia below the Fall Line were instantaneously abandoned.   Archaeologists have found that Swift Creek style pottery began appearing at increasingly northern latitudes until some was also being made in present day western North Carolina.  Swift Creek pottery was being made in Towns and Union Counties long after it disappeared from the remainder of Lower Southeast.   Thus, it appears that the hybrid Panoan-Muskogean peoples arrived in Towns County around 540 AD.

A second wave of Peruvian style pottery arrived in Georgia around 600 AD.  It is called Napier Style pottery and is identical to the art of two other Panoan peoples of Peru . . . the Shipibo and Chiska.   Of course, the Chiska were a fierce tribe of northeastern Tennessee when Spanish explorers Hernando de Soto and Juan Pardo explored the Southeast’s interior.   The original name of the Holston River in NE Tennessee was Shipi-sipi, which means “Shipibo River.”   

The original province of the Napier pottery makers was located in a territory that stretched from the edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Georgia down to the Macon Area.   The making of Napier pottery ceased around 800 AD with the arrival of Woodstock Culture peoples. The appearance of the Woodstock Culture coincides exactly with the eruption of a massive volcano,  El Chichon, in Chiapas.  The Itza capital of Palenque was incinerated by the falling ashes from this eruption. 

The Natives of Union and Towns County ceased making Swift Creek pottery around 1000 AD. The date 1000 AD is highly significant.   About that time Mayapan conquered Chichen Itza.  Until that time, the suburbs of Chichen Itza, where the commoners lived, was filled with an unusual style of corner door house.  After 1000 AD,  these corner door houses began appearing in large numbers at such locations as the Ocmulgee River near Macon, GA,  Etowah Mounds near Cartersville, GA, the Nacoochee Valley of Northeast Georgia and slightly later the Upper Hiwassee River in Towns County, GA, Clay County, NC and Cherokee County, NC.   Right now, the earliest radiocarbon date for an agricultural terrace at Track Rock Gap is 1018 AD.

Apparently, the Itza immigrants either became the elite along the Upper Hiwassee River or else they and the Konasi People lived in separate villages.   The latter theory would explain why even in the 1700s, there were villages in Rabun, Towns, Union, and Fannin Counties in Georgia and villages in Clay, Cherokee and Graham Counties, North Carolina representing several ethnic groups . . . most of them being branches of the Creek Indians.  Much archaeological work needs to be done along the Upper Hiwassee River before these theories can become facts.


The following two tabs change content below.
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.



    Hi Richard, although complicated I enjoyed reading this post. Would like to have seen a picture of some of the Swift Creek style pottery. Thanks for sharing your great knowledge of this subject.

    • Hey Rita

      Yes, the ethnic history of the Creek Confederacy is extremely complex.

      Middle and Late style Swift Creek pottery is shown in illustration within the article that has a modern Conibo Indian wearing the same design motif as the two potsherds beside him.


      Thanks Richard, I did find some illustrations of Swift Creek style pottery and I must research more as to the dates. In other words there must have been a transition period where the styles changed slightly. Maybe you could give me a clue.

      • First of all, I should say that although I have been hand-making ceramics since college, I am not an expert on Native American pottery. My understanding from reading reports from archaeologists, who are specialists in such things, is that there were changes in the motifs on the Swift Creek pottery, subtle changes in the shape of Swift Creek pottery and sometimes significant changes in the materials to make the pottery. Thus, you can clearly see in the two examples on my article, the differences regionally between the most common motifs. Intermarriage between towns was the rule among the Creeks, not an exception. This was to prevent inbreeding. It is the reason that we don’t have a problem with diabetes like many Native American tribes. However, it also resulted in pottery styles popular in one province suddenly appearing in another. In general, though, Swift Creek is considered one of the highest quality ceramics in the Americas, even though it was not painted.


    Richard, Thanks for connecting the dots. The “Keyhole” type house of the SW part of Georgia connects with the Itza / Itsa peoples but were they made first in the Yucatan or Georgia? Kolomoki ( 200 BC? ) predates Chichen -Itza by 1000 years…pottery in Georgia 2300 BC…so it looks to me that there was an influx of advances given from the Native people of Georgia to the (I AM ma) people later called the “Maya” by the Spanish? The Omecs (Yama-see) also might have departed from Georgia as it is noted they arrived in boats just like the Itza/Itsa are said to have done by a “Maya codex”.

    • Yes, I think that there was a lot of two way traffic between the Southeast, Caribbean and South America. This is exactly what French ethnologist Charles de Rochefort said in 1658.


    Hey Richard,
    Scientist found in China the remains of a 40,000 year old man so well preserved they were able to sequence his entire DNA. The surprising thing is they found markers for European and South American DNA in the sequence. Here is a link to the scientific paper.

    The mystery deepens again.

    • I saw that article. It was amazing. So in fact, scientists still do not have the complete story of how mankind arrived in the Americas!


Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Subscribe to POOF via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this website and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 704 other subscribers

The Information World is changing!

People of One Fire needs your help to evolve with it.

We are now celebrating the 11th year of the People of One Fire. In that time, we have seen a radical change in the way people receive information. The magazine industry has almost died. Printed newspapers are on life support. Ezines, such as POOF, replaced printed books as the primary means to present new knowledge. Now the media is shifting to videos, animated films of ancient towns, Youtube and three dimensional holograph images.

During the past six years, a privately owned business has generously subsidized my research as I virtually traveled along the coast lines and rivers of the Southeast. That will end in December 2017. I desperately need to find a means to keep our research self-supporting with advertising from a broader range of viewers. Creation of animated architectural history films for POOF and a People of One Fire Youtube Channel appears to be the way. To do this I will need to acquire state-of-art software and video hardware, which I can not afford with my very limited income. Several of you know personally that I live a very modest lifestyle. If you can help with this endeavor, it will be greatly appreciated.

Support Us!

Richard Thornton . . . the truth is out there somewhere!

Pin It on Pinterest