Alternative explanations of Native American archaeological sites continue to be favorite topics of TV networks, the internet and printed media.
During the late1700s and early 1800s a popular belief in the fledgling United States was that American Indians were intellectually incapable of constructing the massive earthworks and stone structures that were being encountered within the interior. At that time, government officials were treating the indigenous peoples like heads of bison, driving them west until they could be made extinct. Legends sprouted that these edifices were constructed by the Welsh, Egyptians, Aztecs, Vikings, Babylonians or the Lost Ten Tribes of Israel.
Botanist William Bartram returned to Philadelphia in 1776 from his grand tour of the southern colonies with verbal descriptions, measured site plans and three dimensional sketches of Creek towns. They were precisely surveyed into housing blocks, streets, plazas and public districts. They occupied large earthworks like those that colonists assumed were built by peoples from the Old World. His book on that journey started the process of people believing that the large earthworks were built by indigenous peoples.
Thomas Jefferson agreed with Bartram. To prove that point, Jefferson directed a team of laborers to systemically excavate a burial mound near Monticello. What they found were Native American skeletons and artifacts. As far as Jefferson was concerned, the case was closed. However, he did believe that Welshmen may have built the stone structures along the Ohio River. On their way out west to explore the Missouri River, Jefferson instructed fellow Virginians, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark to examine the stone ruins on the Devils Backbone, near Charlestown, Indiana. They were to look for artifacts that might prove that the structures were built either by Europeans or American Indians.
By the mid-1800s most Americans believed that the mounds were built by “lost race” of civilized Indians or by a tribe that was politically in favor. New orthodoxies were created. Southern planters really despised the Creek Indians because they were not properly submissive to the superior white race and also, because they had the nasty habit of helping runaway African slaves to escape to freedom. The Cherokees were treated almost as bad as the Creeks, but they were simultaneously respected by the planters, because the Cherokee leaders, who signed the Treaty of New Echota, all lived on plantations and owned African slaves. At least the Cherokee elite had tried to become properly civilized and supported slavery. This attitude was especially farcical because Georgia’s primary legal grounds for evicting the Cherokees was that they were squatters, recently arrived in the state.
Dr. William Stephens moved to Savannah, GA from Maine in 1837, the year before the Cherokee Trail of Tears. Almost immediately, he began writing the first history of the State of Georgia. Without any real knowledge of the region’s Native American history, he ascribed the construction of all the state’s mounds to the Cherokees, even though most of the mounds were in areas where the Cherokees never lived. Shortly after completing his book, he moved back north again, permanently.
Charles C. Jones, Jr., a coastal planter and Mayor of Savannah during the early 1860s, was also an accomplished historian and amateur archaeologist. Like many Georgia scholars, he was upset by many of the false “historical facts” that had become fossilized by William Stephens’ book. In particular, he challenged the book’s assumption that the Cherokees had once occupied all of the state.
Jones systematically compared the construction and contents from mounds from all parts of Georgia to mounds that were occupied by the Creeks in the early 1700s. He proved that the artifacts were made by the same people and that the Cherokees were newcomers to the mountains, when forced out. His primary evidence was the Nacoochee Mound, immediately north of Yonah Mountain. Nevertheless, to this day, an official Georgia state historic marker in front of this mound says that it was built by the Cherokees. That mound is pictured in the drawing above. The historical marker is a farce.
In his landmark book on the Southeastern Native Americans, Jones mentioned that when British colonists first arrived in the South, there were stone structures and stone walls scattered about much of the landscape, north of the Fall Line in Georgia. He speculated that immigrants from an advanced civilization, perhaps from Mexico, had in the past settled in the region. Perhaps, they had merged with indigenous peoples to become the Creek Indians, or perhaps had died off. Later generations of professional archaeologists considered his comments to be farcical. They were ignored.
Is it science, Native American tradition or speculation?
Obscured historical facts illustrate the real problem in discerning reevaluations of history. Far too often the Native American history read by students in their text books is false or an inaccurate version of history. For example, the Lakota People of the Great Plains were a matriarchal society in which the tribe could not go to war or sell land without the approval of the clan mothers. So-called “chiefs” could not make any important decision without the consensus of a council of elders, clan mothers and warriors. However, both American textbooks and Hollywood present a different perspective. A few male leaders are remembered as great chiefs, who independently made all the decisions of their nation. The names of female leaders have been forgotten.
Like several indigenous peoples in North America, the Lakota have a tradition of past contacts with humanoids, who came down from the sky in metallic vehicles . . . not “chariots of the gods,” but real beings with human-like features.
The Creeks go a step even further. Their traditions place star gates on top of the Great Spiral Mounds near Elberton, GA and Macon, GA, plus the Yamacutah Shriine near Commerce, GA and the Kenimer Mound in the Nacoochee Valley, near Helen, GA. Supposedly, the humanoids were able to travel from another galaxy with these star gates, but sometimes, priests of the Creek Wind Clan, visited this galaxy via the star gates. The journey was quite dangerous for humans, however. Sometimes the priests did not return. On other occasions, they came back dead or mangled.
If geologist Scott Wolter of the History Channel’s “America Unearthed” chose to film a program on Native American contacts with extraterrestrial humanoids, he would be tarred and feathered by some blog sites that exist only to attack his program. And yet . . . the symbol of the Creek Wind Clan is that galaxy where their extraterrestrial friends originated. How could an indigenous artist know what a spiral galaxy looked like unless someone had viewed galaxies from outer space? Are these traditions possible? The answer is “yes,” but not proven by science.
Most of the complaints that Native American scholars have about certain orthodox beliefs, held by Caucasian anthropologists, can be associated with academic isolation from the people that they pretend to be experts on. Far too much emphasis is put on classifying pottery styles with English names, while virtually none is placed on etymology (study of word origins), DNA and cultural traditions. Particularly, east of the Mississippi River, the profession, in reality, views the indigenous peoples of America to be either extinct, or else incapable of knowing their own history.
As an example, several Southeastern tribes have always maintained the tradition that “Sun Lords” came from the south over1000 years ago and introduced Mesoamerican crops and the planning of large towns. Not only do Creek Indians carry some Maya DNA, but also most of the Itstate (Hitchiti) Creek words associated with agriculture, politics, trade, writing, architecture and trade are of Mesoamerican origin. The Second Chief of the Muscogee-Creek Nation has a Maya title, which means “Sun Lord.”
Nevertheless, the anthropology profession still maintains an unchallengeable orthodoxy that there were no “close encounters of a third kind” between Mesoamerica and the Southeastern United States. The farce is obviously this orthodoxy, not serious research into alternative explanations.
In the specific situation of the “Mayas In Georgia” controversy, in 2014 it is now known that the Track Rock Terrace Complex is merely one of at least a dozen, large stone architecture complexes in northern Georgia. Most have never been studied by professional archaeologists. Charles Jones' discussions of the stone ruins were not considered credible.
When hired by the WPA in 1939 to survey all the Native American archaeological sites of northern Georgia, archaeologist Robert Wauchope studied some of these stone architecture complexes, but could not interpret them. Inexplicably, Wauchope skipped over the two counties with the most stone architecture, Jackson and Gwinnett. Gwinnett County now has a population about 870,000 residents.
The generations of archaeologists that followed Wauchope even ignored the stone architecture sites that he identified. They were not given official archaeological site numbers. When Scott Hudgens and Ben Carter built the Mall of Georgia in Gwinnett County, the famous developers encountered a mile long complex of stone-walled terraces and building ruins. The complex didn’t have an archaeological site number and so had no special historical status in the Gwinnett County Comprehensive Plan. Hudgens and Carter didn't know what do with them so the ruins were eventually covered with dirt.
Twenty years ago, a 50 day sit-in by Creek and Cherokee Indians made national headlines and stopped demolition of another stone architecture complex in Gwinnett County. The stones were quarried, not field stones. It was to become a golf course. Ironically, it was the Gwinnett County Chapter of the Society of Georgia Archaeology that was the most ascorbic in its media attacks against the premier of America Unearthed, “The Mayan-Georgia Connection.” That situation could certainly be labeled a farce.
There is a litmus test that will discern serious scientific enquiry from malarkey. Beginning with German author, Erich von Däniken in the late1960s, some "alternative history theorists" used a process that was based on a false presumptions and “proven” by a chain of qualified questions. One presumption is always that “Indigenous Americans could not have constructed this town or this building.” At the end of a train of “what if” questions, the audience will be coaxed into believing anything . . . including that bananas grow in Antarctica.
Another sign that a historical or archaeological farce is lurking in the woods is when proponents or opponents present their case based on “faith based scholarship.” Their position is anchored on the belief system of their particular group or their professional status, not on scientific analysis. For example, if a Black Hills Chickasaw Mounds Association formed on the assumption that the Chickasaws built the Black Hills in South Dakota as ceremonial mounds, they will only see evidence that supports their belief. If four archaeologists inform you that they know for a fact that the Alamo was built by Swedish immigrants, based on their status as professional archaeologists, you know that they don’t have scientific proof to back up the statement.
Much of what one learns about North America’s Pre-European past is often more theory than fact, which can change or be modified tomorrow by new information. The truth is out there somewhere.