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South American and Mayan DNA discovered in Southern Appalachians

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Southeastern Indians were irate after several non-Native Americans mocked their traditions while commenting on an archaeological discovery of Maya place names and apparent Itza Maya ruins in the Georgia Mountains. The Creek Indians of Georgia went on the warpath after an Atlanta Journal-Constitution article about the discovery only interviewed four non-Native Americans, who had no professional backgrounds in Mesoamerican archaeology and architecture. The Native Americans’ weapon of choice in the 21st century is the DNA test. The initial results of this technological offensive have not been quite what was expected.

HIAWASSEE, GA – January 10, 2012 -- A picturesque mountain resort town, surrounded by indigo blue Lake Chatuge has become the next scene of a unanticipated revolution in the understanding of North America’s past. Hiawassee is the county seat of Towns County, the home of the Georgia Mountain Fair. The fair began in the 1960s as an amateurish event held in an old school house that was hosted by mountain belles in bonnets and dresses made from flour sacks. Now it is a sophisticated entertainment complex.

The people of Towns County have always been aware that they had a sizable percentage of their population, who looked “Indian.” Even if these old mountain families did not look like the Cherokees in North Carolina, the county’s residents assumed they were Cherokees, since the Cherokees controlled the area in the 1700s and early 1800s. The handsome Towns County Indians really didn’t look like the Upper Creek Indians either, whose descendants live in Union and Fannin Counties to the west. Upper Creeks are extremely tall and slim. It is not uncommon for their women to be 5”- 10” to six feet tall (1.78-1.83 m.)

Towns County is immediately east of Brasstown Bald Mountain and the Track Rock Gap Archaeological Zone, where a 200+ acre complex of stone retaining walls, hydraulic structures and buildings have been identified. However, United States Forest Service archaeologist Jack T. Wynn identified dozens of important Native American town and settlement sites in Towns County. At approximately the same time that the Track Rock terraces were probably built, the 10th and 11th centuries, agricultural peoples established towns and villages in the fertile Hiawassee River, Brasstown Creek and Hightower Creek bottomlands of Towns County.

Wynn assumed that these newcomers were ancestors of the Creeks Indians because surviving artifacts and architectural footprints were similar to those of the great town of Etalwa (Etowah Mounds) about 80 miles (128 km) to the southwest. These sophisticated farmers probably were ancestors of the Creek Indians, but the Creek’s family tree just became much more complex.

Widespread presence of Maya DNA among Creek Indians

Three archaeologists from Florida, Georgia and South Africa stated emphatically to the Examiner, ABC News and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that no Mexican Indians had ever migrated to the Southeastern United States. If this is the case, then apparently the indigenous peoples of the Americas had very advanced technology for artificial insemination and the transportation of human ova (eggs) and semen across the Gulf of Mexico.

Many readers of the archaeologist’s comments sent emails to the Examiner stating that Maya DNA markers had showed up in their DNA tests. Maya DNA markers are common among Creek Indians, but also can be found in Cherokee families, whose ancestors lived on the Hiwassee River, Valley River or Brasstown Creek valleys in North Carolina. The Cherokees call this region Itsayi, which means “Place of the Itza Maya.” Protestant missionaries mistranslated Itsayi to mean “brass” and gave Brasstown Bald Mountain its modern name.

Paul Williams of Atlanta wrote the Examiner that he had grown up in the county where the Track Rock Terrace Complex is located. He stated that he had forwarded a copy of the Examiner article on Track Rock to his father, who confirmed that he and a Dr. Little of Blairsville had explored caves in the vicinity of the site that contained Maya writing on the cave walls.

Ric Edwards’ letters to the Examiner were typical of readers, but since he uses genetics in his forensic work for law enforcement agencies, his comments carry a degree of professional authority. Edwards is a member of the Star Clan of Creek Indians, based in southeastern Alabama, but he traces his Native ancestry to central Georgia. He currently lives in Texas. Edwards furnished the Examiner with a copy of his DNA test to prove that his genetic makeup contained DNA markers from two Mexican ethnic groups.

Edwards stated that he was mildly surprised to find Maya DNA markers in his DNA test, but was not expecting at all to find Pima Indian DNA markers. At first he thought the lab had made a mistake. The Pima Indians live in the Desert Plateau region of northwestern Mexico, over 1700 miles from the former homeland of the Creek Indians in the Southeastern United States. The presence of a Mexican desert DNA in someone whose Native ancestors lived in Georgia can not be explained, but further retesting has confirmed the original test’s accuracy.

Edwards wrote the Examiner on January 9, 2012 that a neighbor had just received similar DNA results to his test. She read the Examiner series and suspected that she might have had some Creek Indian ancestors who immigrated to Texas. Her DNA test showed the expected types of DNA markers, plus Maya and Pima Indians. Currently, there is no explanation for the Pima-Creek Indian connection.

First warning came from Virginia

Several persons who read the articles in the Examiner about the archeological discoveries in the Georgia Mountains, placed comments on articles or sent emails to the Examiner stating that they were from locations in the Southern Highlands and that their DNA tests had showed them to be part South American Indian. None of these messages included copies of the tests. The statements seemed so improbable that they were not investigated.

Eventually an email was sent to the Examiner from a reader in southern Virginia. She was a member of the Saponi tribe, a Siouan ethnic group also known as the Eastern Blackfoot. People with Native American decent from an area of southwestern Virginia, once occupied by the mound-building Tamahiti (Tomahitans) were receiving DNA test results that stated that their Native ancestry was from a South American tribe known as the Purepecha, not the Saponi. The reader forwarded a video on YouTube that provided visual proof of this claim. The video is attached to this article.

The Tamahiti were a division of the Creek Indian Confederacy that moved back to Georgia in the mid-1700s. Most Virginia scholars describe them as an extinct Algonquian tribe. In the Itsate-Creek language, their name means "Merchant People."

The Purepecha are believed to have been part of the Moche Civilization that preceded the Incas in Peru. At least some of the Purepecha migrated up the Pacific Coast to the Mexican state of Michoacan, where they still live today. Technologically, they were the most advanced people in the Americas. They had just entered the Bronze Age about 20 years before Columbus “discovered” America.

Dr. James Q. Jacobs is a professional anthropologist and expert on genetic analysis of populations. He was asked to give his thoughts on the South American DNA being found in the Virginia Mountains. He responded:

We must recall when analyzing DNA today, anywhere the Spaniards ventured, slaves were either captured or put to work. In the course of a lifetime, any one slave could be traded all about. The displaced have families too, and the cycle continues until very recent time, post Spanish colonialism inside the USA and even post War on Mexico in the SW.

To make secure inferences of pre-Hispanic migrations from DNA sampling, the sample needs to be pre-Hispanic. One very important thing to keep in mind is the numbers involved as temporal depth increases. As you can see, the probabilities become dizzyingly immense quite quickly that we are all related.”

On January 9, 2012 the Examiner received the following email message:

“We were very excited to learn of your recent Mayan findings in the North Georgia Mountains! My paternal grandparents and their ancestors are from Hiawassee, Towns County, in the Georgia Mountains. Last year, my wife and I decided to have DNA testing done, and my results show that I am at least 1/4 Purepeche and Mayan Native American Indian. My family always believed that we were Cherokee, but my DNA results only showed South American and Mexican Native American. Since my family was from the Georgia Mountains, the Mayan ruins found on Brasstown Bald would certainly fit in with my DNA results. I would be willing to share my DNA results if you are interested in seeing them.”

Sincerely, Patrick Welch

Other readers from the Towns County, GA area have claimed Maya, Purepecha or "South American" DNA markers. Small percentages of an unusual ancestry may reflect inaccuracies of the testing procedure, and thus these claims were not initially taken seriously. Many of those making such claims also did not provide the Examiner with collaborating evidence. However, with Welch’s willingness to provide information on his heritage, the public now has genetic proof that in the year 2012, there are people whose family roots were located near a probable Itza Maya terrace complex, who are at least 1/4th Maya and South American Indian.

Sonya Hendrickson is on the staff of the Towns County Herald newspaper in Hiawassee, GA. She is also of Creek Indian heritage. She grew up near Horseshoe Bend National Military Park in eastern Alabama. Hendrickson stated that she did not know of any immigration of Indians from Mexico or South America into the county during the 1800s when farmsteads were being established.

The presence of Mexican and South American DNA markers in long time residents of a region suggests that the history of North America is far more complex than currently presented in the text books. DNA analysis is one of many techniques that archaeologists, historians, historic preservation architects and archivists utilize to understand the past. Maya and Purepecha DNA in a modern population, does not prove that Maya or Purepecha Indians built the terrace complex near Brasstown Bald, Georgia. It does prove that at sometime in the past, these ethnic groups, whom some archaeologists assume to have never migrated to North America, were indeed living in the Southern Highlands of what is now the United States.

Personal note from columnist: Normally, I do not respond directly to Facebook comments, but thought it was important to correct an authoritatively worded statement made about the Creek Indians, by a person who is not a member of our tribe. The Tamahiti were a member of the Creek Confederacy and had a Creek-Totonac name that can be fully translated in the Itsate-Creek language. They were not Siouan. They were not Algonquian. They are not extinct. Virginia academicians might assume otherwise till the end of time, but it does not change the facts. When the Tamahiti ceased to appear on Virginia maps, there name suddenly appeared on Georgia maps. They last lived on the Chattahoochee River before being forcibly marched to Oklahoma on the Trail of Tears.

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