Imagine a scene from a science fiction movie that takes you to the ruins of an ancient civilization on a distant planet. This was the appearance of Nodoroc two centuries ago. A column of black smoke rose from its bowel night and day. A board thrown onto the superheated blue-gray mud would instantly burst into flames. Humans thrown into the inferno would be completely dissolved in a matter of hours by the extreme acidity of the mud. Then one day, Nodoroc exploded and soon afterward became dormant.
The Nodorac geological zone is located on the northeastern edge of the Atlanta Metropolitan Area in Barrow County. Winder is the nearest city. Barrow County is in the Upper Piedmont, which has been generally stable for 250 million years. However, Pigeon Mountain in northern Georgia briefly became a small volcano in 1857. Nodoroc is 2/10ths of a degree west of the Track Rock terrace complex’s longitude. The Track Rock ruins are on the side of an ancient volcanic crater that exploded and collapsed eons ago. A dormant volcanic fumarole still exists on the site. It ceases to emit fumes about the same time that Nodoroc became dormant.
Today, the Nodoroc site provides little evidence of its violent past. The black top soil around the site has been scooped off and the water table has dropped. It remains one of the most extraordinary geological and architectural mysteries in North America, yet is little known outside Barrow County Based on historical descriptions, geologists have speculatively classify it an extinct “mud” volcano, but the presence of extreme heat, flames and smoke suggest that something else was going on before it became dormant.
Without being studied by architects, and long before the existence of the archaeology profession, Nodoroc’s sacrificial altar and triangular stone temple were dismantled and reconstructed at the plantation of a Governor George Gilmer, mainly remembered for ordering the arrests of missionaries working among the Cherokees and Creek, and his key role in the Trail of Tears. The stones had been originally quarried and dressed at some time in the ancient past. In the twentieth century, many of the stones were returned to the general vicinity of Nodoroc, but have never been reassembled. One stone is on display at the Barrow County Historical Museum.
Even the name, Nodoroc, is a mystery. Articles on the history of the site replicate each other by stating that it was “the Creek Indian word for the gateway to hell.” Like so many other aspects of Georgia’s Native American history, travel writers, historians and archaeologists never discuss this interpretation with Georgia’s Creek Indians. There is no letter “D” and no “R” sound in any of the three surviving Creek languages. None of the word’s syllables bear any resemblance to the Creek words for gate, door or hell. Yet, it is well documented that the Creeks told early settlers in English that the Master of Life was absent from the area around Nodoroc and that they believed the place to be literally, hell.
The first printed mention of Nodorac occurred in the period immediately after the American Revolution, when several branches of the Creek Indians were living amiably alongside recently arrived European settlers. They included the Apalache, Talasee and Keolikee. The Talasee Creeks were themselves fairly recent immigrants from the Smoky Mountains in North Carolina. Their mikko (top leader) offered to show his white neighbors the Nodoroc. Their eyewitness accounts were recorded 25 years later in “The Early History of Jackson County, GA” by E. H. White. Barrow County was later cut off from Jackson County.
Visitors to Nodorac could smell its acrid fumes a mile away. As they approached the site, vegetation became stunted. A roughly thirty acre area around the volcano was marshy. There were places in the marsh where one could sink out of site in quick sand or “quick mud.” Closer to the volcano, the trees were often charred or at least covered by soot from past explosions. The largest “mud volcano” was an elongated ellipse about 150 feet (50 m) long. It was in a basin about three feet (1 m) below the surrounding terrain.
Steam and a flammable gas bubbled up through the viscous mud at several locations in Nodoroc. Intermittently, large pockets of gas burst to the surface in larger cones and then exploded. Eerie blue light shot outward from the explosions that were followed by reddish flames and black smoke rising upward. The smoke, acrid fumes and steam combined into a column that climbed hundreds of feet into the air, if the wind was not blowing.
About 150 feet from the edge of the west side of the mud volcano were the ruins of a triangular stone temple or shrine, built of dressed stones. Most of the stones were roughly rectangular and about 12-16 inches (30.5 – 40.6 cm) long. A large dressed stone formed a lintel over a portal that was roughly three feet (92 cm) wide and five feet (152.4 cm) high. Each side of the shrine was approximately 12 feet (3.67 m) in length. Inside the western apex of the structure was a stone altar with three steps carved into it. The stone structure was situated so that sunlight would illuminate the altar on the sunrise of the Summer Solstice. When viewed by the visiting settlers, there was no roof remaining on the ancient shrine.
Also near the central mud volcano was a conical shaped mound, build of earth. The Creek Indians living in the vicinity of Nodoroc did not know what was in the mound. They said that it had been built by earlier inhabitants of the region. The Talasee mikko stated that these aboriginals were pagans, who performed human sacrifices at the Nogoroc by throwing victims into the mucky inferno.
Although monotheists, who abhorred human sacrifices to pagan deities, the Creeks did execute particularly heinous criminals and some war captives by throwing them head first into the searing mud. While white settlers and Creek Indians cohabitated the region a woman was executed by such gruesome means. She had killed one of her children and eaten it. Also, during that period a rogue band of Cherokees attacked some outlying Creek-American and Anglo-American farmsteads then committed abominations against some of the women and children. Those invaders, who were not killed outright, were tossed into the inferno.
One of the strangest aspects of the Nodoroc is the legend of Wog. According to the surviving accounts by white settlers, the wogs were large animals that primarily ate carrion, but sometimes preyed on rodents, dogs, cats and small livestock when no dead wildlife was available. Wild animals thronged to the marshes around the Nodoroc, but frequently became trapped in their quick sand and quick mud. The wogs feasted on their carcasses, when the flesh had “properly ripened.”
The description of the wog sounds by white settlers sounds implausible, but was probably based on a real animal that is now extinct. The wog was said to be the size of a horse, with a head like a lion and stocky rear legs that were longer than the front ones. It had a long forked tongue that was used to probe hiding places of potential meals. Its long black tail constantly wagged horizontally. Possible interpretations of the Wog legend will be discussed in Part Three.
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. Part Three describes the studies of the site by geologists, its alternative interpretations and appearance today.