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Will the real potsherd please stand up

Will the real potsherd please stand up

During the first few years after returning to Georgia from Virginia, I lived a 10 minutes walk from Etowah Mounds National Historic Landmark. None of the archaeologists knew (or hated) me then.   The Etowah Museum sponsored a show and tell day in which the public could bring artifacts and a team of professional archaeologists would show off their knowledge by labeling them with the correct location, date and style.

As a practical joke, I brought some shell tempered, Maya Commoner Redware from the suburbs of Palenque in Chiapas State, Mexico.  I told the archaeologists that I found them in a box, when I moved into the townhouse.  Well, I did!  The box was with the other boxes the movers left and was labeled “Palenque.”   Little did I know what significance, the word, Palenque, would have in 2012.

To be fair,  Maya Commoner pottery was virtually identical to that found around the Ocmulgee Acropolis and proto-Creek redware found almost everywhere, but local yokel archaeologists don’t seem to know that.  Palenque was abandoned around 800 AD due to a massive volcanic eruption.

Well, this is how the archaeologists labeled the potsherds:

  1.  Ocmulgee, shell-tempered  Plain Redware (about 900 AD to 1150 AD).
  2.   Etowah, shell-tempered Plain Redware (about 1250 AD to 1375 AD)

A third, older archaeologist was watching from the sidelines, but not involved with identifying the artifacts.  He said that it was Cherokee Redware from the Coosawattee River and dated from about 1600 AD to 1700 AD.  Cherokee????

A feller jest can’t get no respect!   🙄

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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.



    Ur comments are misleading. Red slipped pottery has great time depth between cherokee, creek, and about a hundred other groups. So if there is no obvious context from where the pot sherds came from then any answer could suffice as possibly correct answer.

    • You are wrong. Archaeologists have specifically dated the appearance of shell-tempered redware. It coincides with the settlement of the Macon Plateau at Ocmulgee National Monument. Ain’t no such thing as Cherokee Redware. That’s Muskogean redware in western North Carolina that predates the arrival of the Cherokees by 700 years.


    The Townsend site has red slipped pottery, Cahokia had red slipped pottery, Coweeta crk contained red slipped pottery, the Aztec used red slipped pottery. Red slipped pottery has massive geographic spread. Any number of sites in the Southeast contains red slipped pottery dating from the early mississippian to the if you have a preordained answer that all pottery in the southern Apps is Creek then you leave little room for opposing arguments, but only because you’ve established you’re own boundaries…not a very scientific way of doing things


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