On the northeastern edge of Metropolitan Atlanta, Georgia is an enigmatic geological and archaeological zone that is known by few people outside its immediate county. Known to the Creek Indians of the region as the Nodoroc, it was considered by them to either be the portal to hell, or literally hell itself. Within the environs of the treacherous marshes and lethal mud volcano that composed Nodoroc, lived a strange creature called the Wog that is apparently extinct today.
As Barrow County’s population exploded in the late 20th century, the Nodoroc was almost forgotten. Newcomers had no clue about the rich Native American, frontier and geological history of the county. Civic leaders developed a local history museum. Publicity about the Nodoroc attracted the attention of two botany professors from the nearby University of Georgia. They carried out some soil test bores of the original mud pool and wrote a report on its botanical history.
In contrast, the site continues to be ignored by archaeologists and geologists at the University of Georgia. The terrain of the Nodoroc site obviously contains many fossils and Native American artifacts, but the faculty seems to be unaware of the potential discoveries awaiting them, only minutes from their offices. The same situation applies to several complexes of stone structures in Jackson County, GA which is immediately north of the University of Georgia campus. The University’s historic preservation program has never tried to tract down and study the surviving stones and altar, which could be of international significance. Georgia Tech’s College of Architecture, 40 miles (64 km) away in Atlanta, has also never showed interest in the stone ruins in Barrow and Jackson Counties. As a result, what few facts that are known about Nodoroc, are botanical in nature.
In 1981, paleobotanists, Dr. Stephen Jackson and Dr. Donald Whitehead explored the Nodoroc. They published the report on Nodaroc in 1991. Two deep piston cores were analyzed.
The scientists identified two distinct in the soil sample cores. The first dated from 30,000 – 26,000 years ago. The other later dated from 4,000 years ago. There were long periods when sediment did not accumulate. The scientists interpreted this finding to mean that the mud volcano has gone through several cycles of violent activity, followed by dormancy. During the long dormant periods, the Nodaroc and surrounding terrain was a marsh, or a cluster of marshes. It is quite possible that it could erupt again in the future.
A mixture of northern and southern tree species occupied the Nodoroc site for much of the past. During the four Ice Ages, the Southern Piedmont was a boundary area between a boreal climate to the north and a sub-tropical climate along the Gulf of Mexico. Like the current boundary area in southern Canada and upstate New York, present day Northeast Georgia was prone to extremely heavy snows when glacially chilled air collided with subtropical air. These swings in climate and weather enabled both hardy species of the northern and southern part of the continent to cohabitate the region.
In 1987, a nature lover named Gary Bolton visited the Nodoroc site. He wrote that tulip tree saplings were struggling to colonize the old pond area. There were “thousands” of crawfish chimneys in the black muck. The substance on the surface was essentially peat, which is a rare phenomenon in the Southeastern Piedmont.
An ancient history of volcanism
The report produced by the two botanists suggests that they were not aware of northern Georgia’s volcanic past. Roughly 250 – 300 million years ago, northern Georgia was one of the most active volcanic regions in the world. This was caused by the collision and ultimate separation of the North American and African plates. When the two continents separated, a portion of Africa broke off. It became the Coastal Plain and portions of the Piedmont in the Southeast. In process, mountains were created that were as least as high as the Himalayas, perhaps reached 30,000 feet (9,144 m.)
There has never been a comprehensive survey of extinct volcanic mountains in northern Georgia, but the cone shaped structures are concentrated in a line running southwest to northeast. Some of the larger cone shaped peaks are immediately south of the Blue Ridge Mountains in the vicinity of Helen, GA and 42 miles (68 m) due north of Nodoroc. There is also an extinct cluster of volcanic mountains immediately west of Dalton, GA in the northwestern mountains. Apparently, some volcanic activity in northern Georgia is far more recent than is generally assumed.
In “The Migration Legend of the Creek Indians,” the Kashita branch of the Creeks were migrating southward from the Little Tennessee River Valley in present day North Carolina. As they neared a great town built on the side of Brasstown Bald Mountain, GA (presumably the Track Rock terrace complex,) they heard a constant rumbling sound from this mountain. They named the mountain, “the mountain that beats the drums.” At times, workers at a camping supply store on the Appalachian Trail near Blood Mountain, south of Brasstown Bald, have also occasionally heard drum-like rumbling sounds from nearby mountains. There is a massive collapsed caldera crater immediately adjacent to the Track Rock ruins. See accompanying slide show. These phenomena have not been comprehensively studied by geologists.
The June 20, 1857 edition of the New York Times reported a volcano in Georgia. The article stated that on May 24, 1857 a large hill, 10 miles west of Augusta, GA (known locally as Pigeon Mountain) erupted as a small volcano. For a period of five days, it was the center of numerous earthquakes in the region. It also emitted hot, sulfurous fumes and caused loud explosions. The ground on the large hill became so hot that most of the vegetation and wildlife died.
A possible extinct volcano and adjacent collapsed caldera (also named Pigeon Mountain) is immediately west of Lafayette, GA. It has been the source of minor earthquakes up to 4.5 on the Richter scale, several times in recent years. Pigeon Mountain sits atop an old fault, defined by adjacent Lookout Mountain.
The temple or shrine at Nodoroc was the only known example of a triangular, stone structure in the Western Hemisphere. Its architectural form does not appear in either traditional Creek or Maya architecture. In fact, triangular temples are rare throughout the world. The only location where there are a significant number of examples is on the Island of Cyprus in the eastern Mediterranean Sea. Several small, stone, triangular shrines found there have been dated to the Copper Age or Early Bronze Age, roughly 2000 -1600 BC.
Most of the stone structure of the Nodoroc temple has apparently been moved. It did have a quarried stone floor and foundation. Perhaps some of these remain. Even if they are no longer present, it may be possible to locate the temple site with ground radar or kindred non-obtrusive forensic technology. Ini the past, some amateur archaeologists claimed the temple that the temple was 6,000 years old. This may be true, but a younger age is likely. However, with no studies by archaeologists or geologists available, it is impossible even to speculate on the temple’s age and builders. For now, the Nodoroc must continue to be a mysterious place with many possible interpretations.
Special thanks goes to Bettie Godfrey of the Barrow County Historical Society, who made this in-depth discussion of the Nodoroc Archaeological Zone possible. Bettie worked for several days in an attempt to find the lost stones of the temple. She then toured the site with her grandson for the first time and photographed it. Her photos are in the accompanying slide show. Part One describes the architecture, past appearance and Native American history of the Nodoroc. Part Two on Nodoroc discusses the bizarre experiences of early settlers living near the mud volcano in the 1800s and the fate of the enigmatic stone temple.
Barrow County History Museum
94 E Athens Street
PO Box 277
Winder, GA 30680
Those readers who wish to ask Richard Thornton questions about architecture, urban planning or Native American history may email him at Native Question@aol.com .