Richard Thornton | Apr 13, 2017 | 0
Winter is when Native Americans grow their garden soil
Native American Heritage Month
A very important difference between Muskogean-Mayan-Amazonian farming techniques and European agricultural traditions is that we view the soil as a living organism that should be replenished in the winter time. Northern European peasants did intentionally put livestock on their fields in the winter, if they were available, but they really did very little to help the soil make itself more productive. After a few years, European fields became sterile and therefore were allowed to “go fallow” for a decades, until decomposed leaves and animal droppings made the soil alive again
My grandparents burned the dead weeds in the garden in late fall to kill the insect eggs and “sweeten” the soil. They spread their wood ashes and organic kitchen waste across the garden throughout the winter. They thinly spread dried/cured manure across the garden in the late winter. Also, the “gray water” from the kitchen sink, tub and bathroom lavatory was channeled into the garden year round. They were feeding Mother Earth.
These farming techniques had been developed over thousands of years of experience in the Americas. My grandparents didn’t know it, but what they were actually doing is creating an environment in the soil, which enabled beneficial bacteria and fungi to grow. The fungi break down organic matter and turn it into top soil. The carbon-loving bacteria digest the minerals in the soil and convert them into nitrate-and phosphate-containing minerals that could be absorbed readily by the plant roots. This is called biochar agriculture.
One of the most fascinating discoveries I made while reading Robert Wauchope’s Archaeological Survey of Northern Georgia is that the biochar agriculture was practiced on a grand scale in Rucker’s Bottom, where my grandmother’s family lived. Rucker’s Bottom was a particularly fertile expanse of flood plain on the Savannah River in Northeast Georgia. It is now covered by Lake Richard B. Russell.
While land clearing had begun for Lake Russell, a team under the leadership of archaeologist Joseph Caldwell was hired by the US Army Corps of Engineers to study the Rembert Site, because of its glowing description by Smithsonian Institute archaeologist Cornelius Thomas in the 1880s. Unfortunately, Wauchope’s book on North Georgia had been published, but apparently Caldwell did not read it or he was “geographically challenged.” He went to the Elbert Mounds Site, which is downstream from the dam, not Rembert Mounds, which were upstream from the dam. The academicians saw very little at the Elbert Site and did even less. So to this day, most academicians know very little about Rembert.
Archaeologists will perhaps recognize the names Rembert Mounds, Beaverdam Mounds and Elbert Mounds, which were in Rucker’s Bottom. The biggest surprise was Wauchope’s description of Rembert Mounds. The largest mound at Rucker’s Bottom was a terraced, round mound with a ramp, which was almost identical in size and shape to the terraced, round pyramid with a ramp at Cuicuilco in the Valley of Mexico. Recently, the foundation another circular, terraced, earthen pyramid has been discovered near Jaen, Peru. It has been radio-carbon dated to about 3,500 BC.
Practically forgotten today in anthropology classrooms are the other mounds at the Rembert sites. There was a smaller round, spiraled mound that was identical to the Great Spiral Mound at Ocmulgee National Monument and the Great Spiral Mound at the Guachimotones Archaeological Zone near Teuchitlan, Jalisco in Mexico.
Little remained of the other, much larger rectangular platform mounds at the Rembert Site. What Wauchope found out about them in the early history books of Georgia was absolutely astonishing. There were at least four of these platforms. They were eight to twelve feet tall and varied in size to that of two football fields to about about half the size of a football field. They were composed of dark black earth . . . the Indians in Peru call this soil, terra preta. Terra preta is the product of biochar agriculture.
Immediately after the American Revolution several thousand Patriot veterans moved to Georgia with their families. Georgia was offering free land to veterans as a means of cancelling the money owned them from the Continental Army. Many of those Virginia families initially settled in Elbert County, where Ruckers Bottom was located. Accustomed to the worn-out tobacco lands of Eastern Virginia, the settlers were astounded by the magic soil in the Rembert Platforms. They drove their wagons to the mounds and filled them with the magic black soil. It was then used as fertilizer in their vegetable gardens. Within a couple of decades, nothing remained of these massive mounds, but their footprints. The round mounds lasted longer. Their forms were still distinct in the mid-1880s, but were soon eroded away by a catastrophic flood.
However, even the footprints of these platforms were extremely fertile. Robert Wauchope was able to determine the massive sizes of these mounds by the color of the vegetation, where they had once stood. When I was a kid, Uncle Hal took us to the Rembert Mounds a couple of times. The large round mound by then was a massive, hemispherical mound about three feet tall in the center. The smaller round mound was a barely perceptible rise in the terrain. The areas around both mounds were greener, however.
The Rembert Archaeological Zone is covered in water today. Very few people living in the region even know the town site once existed. It is impossible to study it any further or even obtain radiocarbon dates. Who built it? We can only speculate. It seems to have been built by people from Peru or perhaps Jalisco State in Mexico.
All of you who studied about this incredible town site on the Savannah River in your American or state history books, raise your hand!
Why we formed the People of One Fire
Rembert Mounds is but one of dozens of astonishing Native American archaeological zones in the Lower Southeast that have been forgotten or concealed. Like the stone architecture sites in the region, these ruins are proof that Native Americans here had a very advanced culture, which was far more sophisticated than portrayed in the textbooks, students are provided. During the past 25 years, most archaeologists have lost interest in Southeastern archaeology, foolishly believing that they knew everything there was to know, when in fact their profession had created a simplistic caricature of the past.
Ten years ago, it was obvious that because of politics and greed, the heritage of the Muskogean peoples in the Southeast was quickly headed into the realm of children’s fairy tales. Eighteen Native American professors and professionals came together to share research. The group’s private emails have evolved into this very popular educational website, but that is just the beginning.
Protection and study of the vast Native American heritage of the Southeast will require a team effort. The People of One Fire website can be a stimulus for investigative activities, but it will not do the work. We invite all of you to become involved in the study and conservation of your local community’s ancient heritage. During the coming months, we will become a non-profit, incorporated organization and hopefully I will be in a better position to provide more technical support for local efforts.
There is one other thing that some of you may be able to do. I have always been embarrassed to mention this subject, but someone who has recently helped me financially urged me to go public.
I live a very modest lifestyle in a cabin that does not even have a working furnace or stove. I grow most of my vegetables in the terrace complex that I built myself (photo above). Since December 24, 2009 most of my personal belongings, furniture, shop equipment and office equipment have been in a rental storage bin. I can’t even bid on building town models for museums, because I have no place to build them. I can’t do conventional architecture work because my office furniture, references and equipment are in storage.
Essentially, I have been homeless or the the next thing to homeless for seven years. I was living in an abandoned chicken house when I stumbled upon the Track Rock Terrace Complex. In our materialistic times, clients do not give architecture projects to people with such living standards, so it’s a Catch 22 situation, despite my long resume’. Even as early as 2000, I started hearing comments from jackass developers . . . “If you are so smart, how come you are not rich like me?”
The People of One Fire newsletter started out as a way to keep my brain alive, but has evolved into something much more. However, I do not receive income for the many hours a week, I spend on it. Right now, I cannot leave the cabin for more than a few hours in the winter or the pipes will freeze. Someone has to feed logs into the wood stove! I have no credibility in the Atlanta Metro Area as far as giving paid lectures go, because of living in a hovel.
To be very honest with you, I would have been “long dead in the water” without past financial assistance from several Native American descendants. My car was a catastrophic accident waiting to happen until recently when an Alabama Creek helped me get it repaired. If I can get some modest contributions from other folks to help reimburse the time spent on this website, I will be able to rent a larger cabin with a working furnace and stove – plus hopefully a workshop for building museum models. The problem is the huge rent deposits they are now requiring.
I have been paid as much as $7,000 just for one architectural model. It is actually a more rewarding activity these days than conventional architecture! Contributions would also help me purchase the software, necessary to produce animated films of Native American town sites. With the ability to build models and produce films, I would quickly be back up to a decent lifestyle and be donating to others, rather than receiving donations.
If you would be able to help from time to time with the costs of producing People of One Fire articles, it would be greatly appreciated. Please contact me at PeopleOfOneFire@aol.com, if such is your inclination. I promise you that I will never mention this subject again! I had to drink several cups of Constant Comment tea to get courage to mention it this time. LOL
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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.
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