The design on the left of this composite image is found throughout northern Georgia. It is sometimes seen in art at other Native American town sites. Although not mentioned in the premier of America Unearthed, it has proven to be the most powerful evidence of all that Mesoamerican refugees settled in the Georgia Mountains. A personalized glimpse goes behind the scenes to describe the process in which this discovery was made.
For decades archaeologists and Native American scholars have been puzzled by a particularly theme of Native American art that is mostly found in northern Georgia. An abstract version is also seen on the famous Judaculla petroglyphs in the North Carolina Mountains, which is apparently a map of towns in the Southern Highlands. Various versions of the scene usually portray a man, two men or a group of men in costume stirring a pot over a fire with vapor rising from the pot. Some, such as at Judaculla Rock, merely show a pot over a fire with vapor rising.
Superficially, the design can be easily interpreted as a pot of Brunswick stew or Yaupon Holly tea (Sacred Black Drink) cooking over a fire. Traditionally, only Creek Indian women prepared food, except in the case of three menu items that were assigned to males. They were barbecued meats, Brunswick stew and the Sacred Black Drink.
Even in the late 20th century barbecue and Brunswick stew were in an all male domain. My grandfather passed his recipes for both down to me. The Brunswick stew was slowly cooked for 24 hours over a wood fire in a massive cast iron kettle. It was the featured dish that was served at the annual family reunion, which was held at the time of the Green Corn Festival.
However, the more elaborate versions of this design obviously assign religious importance to the vapors rising from the pot. After slowing cooking for a day, Brunswick stew does emit a mouth watering hickory smoked, sweet-sour aroma, but there is nothing about the dish that might be considered religious in nature. This is why Creek Indian scholars could not interpret the design’s meaning.
While excavating Etowah Mounds in the mid-1950s, archaeologists Arthur Kelly, Lew Larsen and Joseph Caldwell found several examples of this design on shell gorgets and copper plates. At the time, Kelly noted that the design seemed very similar to a common theme in Mesoamerican art. However, the Mesoamerican art portrayed the burning of aromatic copal resin, so that could not possibly be the explanation of the Georgia version of the design. He and Larsen concluded that the symbol had something to do with the Green Corn Festival, when a new fire was lit in the temples.
A few years later, “The Mississippian Culture” by Overstreet and Bentley, pretty much replicated Kelly and Larsen’s interpretation of the design. It described the gorget in the composite photo above as a portrayal of the New Fire Ceremony at Etowah Mounds.
In the research work that I did in 2011 after stumbling upon the stone ruins at Track Rock Gap, I became aware that there was a strong similarity between the Georgia Mountain and Mesoamerican designs. Based on the assessments of the three highly respected archaeologists at Etowah Mounds, I assumed that the version in Georgia somehow adopted the Mesoamerican symbol of copal burning to the symbol of the Sacred Fire in proto-Creek temples. This is what was stated in my book, “Itsapa, the Itza Mayas in North America.” Many surprises were to come in 2012 and 2013.
Why American Unearthed’s premier did not mention this design
The similarity of the elements in these Creek and Mesoamerican designs is even more compelling than the similarity of the Etowah Mounds Eagle Man to a priest portrayed in Chichen Itza’s art that was presented in America Unearthed. Readers may wonder why it was not mentioned in the program.
The dialogue between America Unearthed’s host, Scott Wolter, and I was filmed at my cabin for over eight hours in early July of 2012. Perhaps seven minutes of that film footage made it into the one hour program. Much was left out; in particular, my description of how waves of immigrants came to the Southeast from several parts of Mexico, the Caribbean Basin and South America. I showed the New Fire design to Scott, but really had no explanation for its meaning at that time.
The film crew was from Minnesota and had never been in the Georgia Mountains. They had no clue to the economic deprivations that have struck Southeastern architects and engineers during this horrific recession. What they saw was a mountain cabin in wretched condition that I had just moved into. They assumed that I was some sort of Snuffy Smith nutcase, whose statements would be worked into a “Space Aliens Built the Maya Pyramids” type TV program. It was only later when History Channel executives saw footage of the famous Mexican archaeologist, Alfonso Morales, confirming what I had said; the Lidar scan matching my computer model and the 100% match of Maya Blue at Palenque just as my book theorized, that they realized that history was about to be turned upside down.
Dirty Little Secret: What nobody at the History Channel or in Georgia’s archeological clique knew, was that in the late 20th century, both Mexican archaeologist Alfonso Morales and I were mentored by the same brilliant man, Dr. Roman Piña-Chan, Director of the Museo Nacional de Antropologia and later, Director of the Institutio de Antropologia and Historia (INAH).
By the time America Unearthed premiered on December 21, 2012, I knew that the name of the Track Rock Terrace Complex was Copal. In late 2012, I had found two 425 year old sworn depositions that described Spaniards from Santa Elena, (SC) going to a great town on the side of a mountain in Georgia, named Copal, to trade European goods for gold, silver and diamonds. I had no clue why they called the town, Great Copal, but their description of the Apalache capital exactly matched Track Rock Gap.
Copal is a resin made from the sap of trees and shrubs in the bursera botanical family. All but one species (frankincense) grows in the Western Hemisphere. Mesoamericans and Caribbean Basin peoples used the numerous species of bursera for incense, medicine, psychotropic drugs and ornate wood carvings.
The shared symbolism of a boiling pot for the New Fire Ceremony raised the possibility that in the past a species of bursera was cultivated in sections of Southeast. Even today a variety of busera (perhaps feral) grows along streams in certain Georgia mountain valleys. It was used by Native Americans and mountaineers as a medicine and pain-killer. Alternatively, Southeastern Native Americans may have traded such commodities as gold, mica, greenstone or attapulgite (used to make Maya Blue) for Mesoamerican copal.
The final answer to the riddle would not come until the summer of 2013. Marilyn Rae, a brilliant linguist and specialist in Spanish Colonial History, and I began collaborating long distance our research into Southeastern Colonial History. Rae is also a direct descendant of the last hereditary Cherokee Principal Chief, Pathkiller. We are interested in the true history, whatever it was, not the propaganda of any particularly tribe.
Rae found long-forgotten 325 year old books in the “Fantasy and Utopia” bin of the Brown University Library and other locations. They were written in French, Dutch, Spanish and Jacobean English. Their authors described European colonization of the Southern Appalachians in the late 1500s and throughout the 1600s. This is a time left blank in contemporary American History books. The books were long ago labeled “fantasies” because they described sophisticated Native Americans living in towns constructed of field stone on the sides and tops of mountains. The excerpts and analysis of these books are contained in a newly published book, The Apalache Chronicles.
One chapter in an ancient book was particularly intriguing. A gentleman from Barbados toured the Georgia Mountains in 1651. He stated that the priests in the mountain top temples of Apalache did not make blood sacrifices, but burned an aromatic resin 24 hours a day, whose smoke was considered prayers to the sun god. The sweet smell of this resin drifted down into the valleys and permeated the villages.
The Mayas also considered the aromatic smoke of copal to be prayers to their gods. Of course, the Mayas were polytheistic and did make blood sacrifices. However, there is a lot of evidence that the refugees who came to the Southeast from Mesoamerica did away with the aspects of their original culture that were oppressive. The town at Track Rock was called Copal because its priests constantly burned copal in its temple, 600 feet up the mountainside.
Strange political bedfellows
The behind the scenes drama associated with the publicity about Track Rock Gap and the Maya refugees, suggests that much of what one reads today in mainstream media about history or current events is not necessarily the whole story. This problem is exactly why web-based, independent news sources are so important to American democracy today.
For unknown reasons, some right wing extremists in Georgia formed an alliance with the occult to bitterly assault the publicity about the Track Rock archaeological site and then attack the evidence that Maya Commoner immigrants came to Georgia. The supposedly budget-strapped U. S. Forest Service spent far more taxpayer money to sabotage the Track Rock site and attack the History Channel than I have earned in the past decade. The reason that the “anti-Maya alliance” is silent now is that its protagonists are trying to figure out some way for “someone on their side” to get credit in for discovering that the Mayas came to Georgia.
The right wing extremists’ bitter politicization of a remarkable archaeological site and demonization of me personally is especially odd, since as a practicing architect, like most architects and engineers, I consciously stayed away from partisan politics. I had clients in local governments, who were Republican, Democratic, Libertarian and Independent elected officials. I could not afford to alienate any of them.
My only experience in national politics occurred on a sunny Saturday afternoon in February 1973. Jimmy Carter invited me over to the governor’s mansion for a private family gathering where he, his kids, my date and I played Allman Brothers, ARS and Lynyrd Skynyrd records. Roslynn threw us out of the governor’s mansion because she did not like rock music and had lady friends coming over. We went over to the garage apartment, behind the mansion. While we were having fun, a young senator from Delaware, named Joe Biden, stopped by unexpectedly with his much younger nephew. He came to ask Jimmy to run for president. For those few hours I was in the same room socializing with a future president and vice president of the United States. As we say these days, “OMG!”
Yet, throughout 2012, the main strategy of some right wing extremists in federal law enforcement was to spread rumors in the community that I was insane and anti-government terrorist. That fell flat since I was a student intern of a former president of the United States and did paid research for a former director of the National Park Service.
Most of 2013 was involved in trying to get me involved with a group of very attractive young women in East Atlanta, who were both enthusiastic Democrats and recreational drug users. Being an architect in the Recession-from-Hell, I didn’t have the money for the gasoline to get involved with them – however much that I lusted in my heart (Jimmy Carter joke). One of the ladies later confided with me that after the one visit to their domain, a state law enforcement officer told her that I was “known to be a hard drug addict and big-time pot dealer in the mountains.” Huh-h-h? I never touched any of that stuff.
A consistent trait that we find among political extremists is that they suffer the delusion that anyone who does not agree with them is a Marxist, druggie, sexual pervert or at least a “wus librul.” I am constantly bombarded here in Georgia while shopping or exercising by Republican strangers, making snide comments that infer that I am somehow weird, stupid or a social outcast because I have not joined "their" side. The word, Obama, is used as a cuss word or a substitute for both Satan and the "N" word. Just this past Saturday, while I was hiking in Noontootla Gorge with my dogs, a car load of rednecks pulled aside me, rolled down their windows, and yelled, "Who allowed this weirdo Obama-lover out here today!"
Despite the insanity and racial bigotry of those charged with maintaining the public safety and the health of our national forests, research goes on. We are increasingly finding evidence that the Itza Maya immigration kicked off the “Mississippian” Culture in Georgia around 800-900 AD, but it was just one layer of multicultural influence, which became the Native peoples encountered by Hernando de Soto in the 1500s.
By the way, that weird sound at the beginning of the America Unearthed broadcast, are seven inch black lizards that live in tunnels under my garden and house. They are supposed to only live in the Maya lands of Central America, but can be found in the Georgia Mountains near Native American town sites. OMG!
And now you know! . . . as Tulsa’s beloved son, Paul Harvey would say.