The discoveries of several remarkable “stone architecture” complexes in the Georgia Mountains and Piedmont, during the last three years, are going to radically change the understanding of the Southeastern North America, prior to 1700 AD. They are massive in scale. Several are a half mile to a mile in diameter. One in Metropolitan Atlanta, which was destroyed by construction of a regional shopping mall and office park, was two miles long.
Although known to 16 and 17 century French and Spanish traders, the provinces of the Itsate in the higher mountains and the Apalache in the lower mountains and Piedmont, “flew over the radar” of most 20 century anthropologists. Archaeologist Robert Wauchope pondered over a few of the stone ruins in 1939. In 1951, Peabody Museum archaeologist, Phillip White, re-visited these sites and was likewise puzzled. Both Wauchope and White inspected a 300 feet long, U-shaped, triple-terraced ball court in the Georgia Mountains and couldn’t explain it. Their observations were subsequently forgotten by future generations of archaeologists.
While the national media provided brief, superficial coverage of the Track Rock Terrace Complex in 2012, there was a news blackout in Georgia. Discussion in Georgia of the spectacular Track Rock site, which covers a half square mile, had been squashed by invisible people with apparently infinite political influence. No journalist in the national media explained that there were several terrace sites in Georgia. To the media, Track Rock was just a “controversy” to attract readers and viewers for a day or two.
The first anthropologist to reinforce Creek cultural traditions about Maya immigration was Dr. Arthur Kelly. While a rising junior at Georgia Tech, I was in contact with Dr. Kelly one summer, while preparing an inked site plan of a Native American village for him. He mentioned to me that he had found ceramic artifacts along the Chattahoochee River, which appeared to be of Mesoamerican origin or at least copies of Mesoamerican artifacts. Some of them were found in the vicinity of the attapulgite mines at Attapulgus, GA. That fact would have great significance in 2012.
Why did they make marble statues of slaves?
Dr. Kelly’s belief in direct contacts with Mesoamerica so angered his peers, that he was soon canned by a clique within his department. Fortunately, just before that travesty, he, along with Ike Saporta were instrumental in a fellowship being awarded me to study Mesoamerican architecture and urban planning in Mexico. Both encouraged me to go after a PhD in Anthropology after I finished my obligation to the United States Navy. However, unexpected opportunities resulted in an Urban Planning degree instead.
The Mexican Consul in Atlanta was a graduate of Georgia Tech’s architecture school. He arranged for me to get VIP treatment in Mexico. The supervisors of my fellowship were to be none other than Roman Piña-Chan, Director of the Museo Nacional de Anthropoliga, and Ignacio Bernal, Director of the Institutio Nacional de Antropologia . . . two of the greatest archaeologists in the world.
Unfortunately, there was no space in Georgia Tech’s rigorous architectural curriculum to take Spanish classes between the time of being awarded the fellowship and flying off to Mexico. It was hard enough to work in the fellowship-mandated classes in Pre-Columbian architecture, commercial photography, ceramic arts, ceramic arts history and ceramic engineering.
On the kick-off day of the fellowship, Piña-Chan and Bernal were to give an orientation tour of the entire six floors of the museum. Bernal apparently assumed that I was from a wealthy Gringo family that was going to donate money to an archaeological dig. When he realized that I was a young mestizo student from a family of modest means, who was just beginning to speak Spanish, he glanced at his watch, threw up his hands, uttered “idiotas,” and walked away. I never saw or heard from him again.
In contrast, Dr. Piña-Chan was quite empathetic. He was also a Mestizo. His mother was Maya. During the remainder of the tour, he and his beautiful graduate assistant, Alejandra, went to the trouble to teach me more Spanish words that were associated with architecture and archaeology.
The Mexican Consul had advised me that it was customary for upper level students to give their professors a gift at the beginning of a special academic activity. Since Dr. Bernal had departed, I gave both books to Dr. Piña-Chan at the end of the tour. One book was on the Native American archaeological sites in Georgia. The other was on the Native peoples of the Southeastern United States.
As I was waiting outside the museum for a newly befriended coed and aspiring actress at the Universidad de Anahuac to pick me up, Alejandra appeared and asked me to come inside again to chat with Dr. Piña-Chan. He has seen some photos and drawings in the books, which intrigued him. What particularly caught his interest were the marble, limestone, sandstone and ceramic statues found in Georgia’s Etowah River Valley. He asked me,
“Ricardo, why did your Indios make marble statues of slaves?”
That is when the journey began. During the remainder of the semester, Dr. Piña-Chan would assign me field trips to cultural regions throughout the southern 2/3 of Mexico, plus Guatemala and Belize. Periodically, I would return back to the museum for brown bag lunch sessions with him and favorite graduate students, where we would discuss what I had seen and photographed. I did visit several Itza Maya terrace complexes in Chiapas and Guatemala. One was almost identical to the Track Rock Gap Complex. However, I was a young, wet-behind-the-ears architecture student and was mainly interested in the Classic Period architecture of the big Mesoamerican cities. I did not dream that the terraces would have any relevance to my career as an architect.
One day in June 2011, I was at the Track Rock petroglyphs (which were near my funky chicken house) to write an Examiner article. The three herd dogs indicated that they were thirsty. We went across Track Rock Gap Road to look for a stream. While crossing a power right of way, I noticed the footprints of fieldstone walls. Unlike the farmers in New England, Anglo-American Appalachian pioneers did not build stone fences. I immediately suspected that I had found a Sephardic gold mining village.
This mountainside town was visited by Spanish traders in the late 1500s and called “Great Copal” because its priests burned copal incense 24/7 from the temple on top. A branch of the Creeks, called the Kashita, claimed to have sacked this town in their “Migration Legend of the Kashita (Creek) People.” So whoever built this complex were not Muskogees, but perhaps another ancestral branch of the Creeks.
The fill soil of the single terrace excavated, yielded Napier Style pottery that was typical of northern Georgia between around 750 AD and 1000 AD. There were also numerous Plain Redware pottery shards that were typical of Ocmulgee National Monument between 900 AD and 1150 AD. There is very little difference between Ocmulgee Plain Redware and Maya Commoner Redware, which is endemic in the suburbs of Maya cities. There were also some Late Swift Creek Style potsherds, which normally dated from around 600 AD to 900 AD in northern Georgia. Later earth fill levels contained Etowah Complicated Stamp and Lamar Complicated Stamp shards.
These are all pottery styles considered ancestral to the Creek Indians. Several miles to the southeast of Track Rock terraces was the Nacoochee Valley. The Kenimer Mound is located there. Around 800 AD newcomers sculpted a massive five sided mound overlooking the headwaters of the Chattahoochee. The mound is so large that most newcomers think that it is merely a large hill. The Kenimer Mound was part of the Proto-Creek town of Itsate, which means “Itza People” in Itza Maya. Also, located in and around the town were hundreds of stone box graves and the 300 feet by 240 feet U-shaped ball court. Each of the three terraces for spectators rises about eight feet. In 1773 and 1776, William Bartram observed some of these U-shaped ball courts still in use, while exploring the Piedmont and Coastal Plain of Georgia.
The Track Rock terraces were clearly not a Sephardic Jewish settlement from the 1600s. A hybrid indigenous people, with a substantial Itza Maya component, had founded the town at Track Rock Gap.
The 2000-2001 Track Rock Gap Study, funded by the USFS, Eastern Band of Cherokees and some local philanthropists, was highly flawed, contained sections that were extremely provincial and lacked the funding to carry out a comprehensive archaeological investigation. However, I did not publicly criticize it in order to avoid making enemies. Once the report was treated by some Georgia archaeologists and the media as an authoritative document, it was too late, because to criticize after the fact would have seemed petty.
Neither the official author, Dr. Johannes Loubser, nor the Cherokee bureaucrats, seemed to know that Track Rock had been within the boundaries of the Creek Confederacy until 1785. At that time the United States government “gave” most of Alabama to the Creeks and a substantial portion of the Creeks former lands in northwest and north-central Georgia to the Cherokees. Track Rock had absolutely nothing to do with Cherokee history. The Cherokees were not even in the Southeast when it was built.
Unfortunately, from reading this report, one would have thought that the site was 75 miles away on the Cherokee Reservation. Several portions seemed to have been written in draft form by the EBC Tribal Cultural Preservation Office. It was filled with descriptions of Woodland Period sites 65 to 110 miles away in North Carolina, which do not contain any stone ruins. Several irrelevant Cherokee myths were recounted, while the report did not mention the detailed descriptions of the town from English, Spanish, French and Creek sources. Apparently, the authors did not know that these references existed.
In May of 2012, the Gainesville office of the USFS ordered trees to sawn and chpped down over the access trail to the Track Rock ruins. We counted over a hundred trees killed in this way. When I publicized the travesty with photos in the Examiner, the Public Relations Director in the USFS Regional Office in Atlanta responded by saying that “a few small trees had been blown down in a storm.” Ugh! Pale face woman speak with forked tongue.
On the day before filming began here at my cabin, Scott Wolter, the host of the History Channel’s America Unearthed, made one more attempt to get permission to at least personally visit the Track Rock Site. He was rejected and told that with or without a film crew, he would be arrested if he stepped on the property. The arrogant USFS bureaucrat signed the denial with an oversized signature that stretched across the form. It was on a clipboard beside my computer as I was being filmed with Scott. They filmed here for over eight hours, but only about seven minutes made it to through the final cutting. After the History Channel completed filming in Georgia and Mexico, the US Forest Service launched a multi-media propaganda effort that it called “Maya Myth-Busting in the Mountains.” Vastly more taxpayer’s money was expended in this silly program than I have earned in the past ten years.