People of One Fire
A national alliance of Muskogean scholars and their longtime friends
Creek - Seminole - Choctaw - Chickasaw - Alabama - Koasati - Apalachee -
Yuchi - Houma - Natchez - Shawnee
Archaeological site 9UN367 - Union County, Georgia
Dozens of readers have sent emails in recent
months, asking "What is going on at Track Rock Gap?" During the year
since this enormous archaeological zone was first publicized, POOF has
added hundreds of new subscribers. We will give all of you an overview
about what is now known about the site and what isn't known. Genetic and
linguistic studies carried out in 2012 suggest that there are at least
some Creek, Cherokee, Seminole, Miccosukee and Koasati Indians today,
who are the descendants of the builders of the Track Rock Terraces or
its satellite towns in the Georgia, North Carolina and Tennessee
Politics became entangled with the search for new knowledge. Strange,
behind- the-scenes machinations by USFS bureaucrats in Georgia,
ultra-right extremists in Union County and a cult based in Florida have
obstructed further study of the Track Rock by professional
archaeologists, botanists and geologists, but then caused the site to
become the focus of the international media. A fascinating
program on Track Rock Gap is currently scheduled to be broadcast in
North America and Europe by the History Channel during the evening of
December 21, 2012.
Archaeological Zone 9UN367 (Track Rock) is a half
square mile complex of stone ruins, petroglyphs and earthen terraces in
the Chattahoochee National Forest of the North Georgia Mountains.
Visible on the surface are at least 150 stone retaining walls, the ruins
of rectangular and round buildings, several stone cairns, a +/-150 feet
long fieldstone effigy of a serpent, a +/- 40 feet long effigy of a
crescent moon, and carved stone steps into what appears to be an altar
overlooking the valley. There is also a circular hydrological structure
identical to what is found at several Pre-Columbian terrace sites in
western Belize, northwestern Guatemala and Chiapas State. Drainage
channels and large terraces cut into the side of the mountain with no
visible retaining walls
The plaza within the acropolis, 700 feet above the archaeological zone's
base, is oriented to the sunset of the Winter Solstice. There is a line
of mountain top stone structures along this azimuth, which terminates at
Mound A at Etowah Mounds National Landmark. Mound A is also oriented to
the Winter Solstice. Etowah's massive plaza is supported by a six feet
high stone masonry retaining wall. There is another mountain with
extensive stone ruins which is visible from Track Rock Gap. Known as
Fort Mountain, it appears to have been a fortress for guarding the
intersection of several important trade routes that intersect in the
Nottely River Valley. It is not the same archaeological zone as the much
better known Fort Mountain State Park in Murray County, GA - but
interestingly, is on the same latitude line. Also, about a dozen small
stone-walled terrace sites have identified elsewhere in Georgia
Track Rock Gap is in Union County, GA and is located about five miles
south of the North Carolina state line. It is immediately west of
Georgia's tallest mountain, Brasstown Bald. The gap is within a cluster
of ancient volcanoes that left rich gold deposits as a vestige.
Commercial gold mining continued in the Coosa Creek area of Union County
until the 1950s, when $3 an ounce gold made mining non-profitable. There
is also a dormant volcano fumarole within the archaeological zone.
All of the zone is within the boundaries of the Chattahoochee National
Forest, and therefore is owned by the citizens of the United States.
Since the administration of President Jimmy Carter, the U.S. Forest
Service has maintained signs in the area, directing tourists to the
Track Rock Gap Archaeological Zone, but visitors to the petroglyphs on
Track Rock Gap Road were not made aware of the massive zone of stone
ruins nearby. Nevertheless, the USFS maintained the Vent Trail for
hikers to walk through the ruins up to the dormant fumarole. No
information signs were erected on vicinity of the ruins.
At the time of the founding of the Colony of Georgia in 1732 until 1783,
Track Rock Gap was shown on official British maps as being within the
territory of the Upper Creek Indians. In 1785 the United States
government "gave" north central and northwestern Georgia to the Cherokee
Nation, while allotting much of the future state of Alabama to the Creek
Nation as compensation for lost lands in Georgia.
From 1785 until 1838, the location was within the boundaries of the
Cherokee Nation. However, Upper Creek Indians continued to live in the
region immediately west of Track Rock Gap in an area now known as Coosa
Bald Mountain and Coosa Creek. The source of the Coosa River of Georgia
and Alabama is on the west flank of Coosa Bald. Upper Creek descendants
still live in Union and Fannin Counties, GA.
Georgia Creeks and Florida Seminoles are known to carry some Maya DNA
and have spoken many Maya and Totonac words. However, in 2012 it was
determined that some Cherokees who trace their heritage to immediately
north or east of Brasstown Bald Mountain also carry Maya DNA. Some "BIA
card-carrying" Cherokee families in Towns County, GA - east of Brasstown
Bald - carry Quechua (South American) and Maya DNA with no evidence of
having any Algonquian-Iroquoian Cherokee ancestry. Therefore, tribal
consultation concerning future archaeological work at Track Rock Gap
should involve all of the federally-recognized tribes, who trace their
heritage to the Southern Highlands.
The Track Rock Terraces in Literature
As Hernando de Soto and his conquistadors were
leaving the Florida Panhandle in the late winter of 1540, local natives
told them that the Apalache people in the mountains far to the north,
had much gold. The capital of the mountainous gold mining region, named
Yupaha, was a large wealthy city. De Soto headed north to find Yupaha,
but his chroniclers never mentioned the name again. Unknowingly, they
did mention town names probably associated with Yupaha.
After leaving the capital of Kvse (Coça ~ Coosa) the conquistadors
stayed in a town that the chroniclers wrote down as Itaba. Twentieth
century anthropologists in the Southeast have uniformly assumed that
Itaba was Etowah, because none of them knew the Creek languages. The
Creek name for Etowah is Etalwa, which is pronounced, E-dawl-waw. There
is no "b" in the Creek languages, but Spanish speakers often wrote a "b"
for a Creek "p" sound. In actual pronunciation, Itaba would have been
awfully close in pronunciation to Itsapa - the place of the Itza Mayas.
After leaving Itaba, de Soto next stayed in the town written down by the
Castilians as Ubahale. That name was actually Yupaha-le . . . Yupaha
People in Lowland Itsate-Creek.
The memoir of Captain René de Laundonniére frequently mentions the
Apalache of the Georgia Mountains and the valuable commodities that they
exported. Between 1562 and 1565 French explorers based at Charlesfort
(Parris Island, SC) and later, Fort Caroline (location has never been
found) dispatched several small exploration parties to the Georgia
Mountains. As a result French maps from 1684 onward contained rather
accurate descriptions of the Savannah and Altamaha River Basins. The
French planned to establish the capital of New France on the Oconee
River near the present day campus of the University of Georgia in order
to exploit the minerals and other resources of the Georgia Mountains.
However, Fort Caroline was massacred by the Spanish before this capital
could be founded.
In the last paragraphs of A Migration Legend of the Creek People (Albert
Samuel Gatschet) the Kashita Creeks traveled southward from the Little
Tennessee River until they came upon a recently abandoned town on the
Hiwassee River (probably the Peachtree Mound Site.) They then followed
an important trade route called the Great White Path to a great city on
the side of the largest mountain in the region. The citizens of that
city refused to give them food, so the Kashita claimed to have sacked
the city, leaving only two men and a white dog alive. The Kashita then
traveled a little farther south in the Georgia Mountains until they were
shown hospitality by the Apalache.
Former residents of the Spanish colony of Santa Elena in South Carolina,
Pedro Moreles and Nicholas Burgiognon, gave depositions to Queen
Elizabeth's officials which describe both the Apalache and a capital
city deep within the Georgia Mountains that the Spanish called Great
Copal. Traders from Santa Elena made several journeys to the Apalache to
trade for gold, rubies and sapphires. However, the Apalache refused to
tell them where Great Copal was hidden in the mountains. The Apalache
were apparently vassals and middlemen traders for the advanced people,
who lived in and around Great Copal.
The Cherokees also had a tradition that an advanced people once lived in
large towns on the mountaintops. The Cherokees called them the Nunne'hi.
In this legend, the Ancient Ones still existed when the Cherokee hunters
first entered the Southern Highlands. They were friendly to the
Cherokees. The legend may have grown out of discovery of many
mountaintop stone ruins, or may have been based on contacts with a real
In the early 1800s, some Georgia Cherokees told whites that the stone
ruins at Track Rock Gap were the burials of thousands of Creek warriors
who died when Cherokees conquered northern Georgia. This myth is
probably associated with efforts to counter the State of Georgia's legal
argument that the Cherokees were not indigenous to the state. A 20th
century version of the story is that the fieldstone cairns are the
burials of great Cherokee warriors, who died while the Cherokees
conquered northern Georgia.
Neither legend about buried Creek or Cherokee warriors has any basis in
fact. Such cairns elsewhere in Georgia, the Shenandoah Valley of
Virginia and the Ohio Valley of West Virginia have been radiocarbon
dated to the Woodland or Late Woodland Periods. In 1780 British Army
officials stated that the Cherokees had three small villages and
approximately 25 men of military age in the entire Province of Georgia.
At that time, Track Rock Gap belonged to the Upper Creeks and the Upper
Creeks were on friendly terms with the Cherokees. In fact, at the end of
the Revolution, the Upper Creeks invited Cherokees fleeing the wrath of
North Carolina and Tennessee whites to take refuge into their mountains.
Previous Archaeological Study of Track Rock Gap
In 2000 the USFS retain the archaeological firm of
Stratum Unlimited, LLC to study and document the Track Rock petroglyphs.
The lead archaeologist for the project was Johannes Loubser from South
Africa. The USFS also retained Loubser to give a cursory study of the
stone ruins immediately east of the petroglyphs. A local group in Union
County paid Loubser and an associate to carry out a more detailed survey
of the site that included digging two test pits and radiocarbon dating.
Analysis of the single agricultural terrace tested revealed that the
original fill soil had been applied around 1018 AD and that two other
layers had been applied during the Etowah I Period (Early Mississippian
Cultural Period.) The fill soil contained potsherds associated with Late
Woodland and Early Mississippian occupation of the Georgia Mountains. It
also contained substantial charcoal. Loubser did not realize that the
potsherds and charcoal were the signature ingredients of tierra prieta
or biochar - a technique of soil improvement that apparently originated
in the Upper Amazon Basin.
In his final report, Loubser did not state who he thought built the
stone structures at Track Rock Gap. His interpretation of the site
focused on dissimilar sites 45 to 85 miles away in North Carolina, plus
some stories told to ethnologist James Mooney in the late 1800s by an
elderly North Carolina Cherokee living on at the reservation in North
Carolina, 65 miles from Track Rock.
Loubser's report did not mention the extensive stone ruins on nearby
Fort Mountain in Union County, GA. The report also did not refer to the
numerous Native American town sites near Track Rock Gap that were
identified by USFS archaeologist Jack T. Wynn in his book, Mississippi
Period Archaeology of the Georgia Blue Ridge Mountains (1990.) These
towns were associated with the Swift Creek, Napier, Etowah I, Etowah II,
Etowah III and Lamar Cultures - which were built by the Creek Indians'
direct ancestors. Many town sites had mounds and/or stone box graves.
Starting at least with the Etowah I sites, these towns were occupied at
the same time that Track Rock Gap was occupied. In fact, there is a
contemporary Etowah I town site which is visible from the plaza of the
acropolis at Track Rock Gap.
Despite the omission of information about nearby Muskogean town sites,
the Stratum Unlimited, LLC report was technically competent in is
analysis of the only terrace that the firm could afford to study within
the allowed budge. Without this information, any significant
architectural analysis of the site would have been highly speculative.
Stumbling into the Past
I first became aware that there was "something"
across the road from the famous Track Rock petroglyphs in mid-June of
2010. I had been homeless for many months and was looking for a place to
camp. I parked at the USFS parking lot at the petroglyphs and walked my
three herd dogs across the road so they could get water in Track Rock
Branch. I noticed the foundations of two long fieldstone walls in the
electric line right-of-way. Building stone walls was just not a
tradition of the pioneers, who settled the Georgia Mountains. Their
livestock were generally not enclosed.
In April of 2010, while camped out in the Smoky Mountains, I found a
stone inscription at 5,400 feet elevation, written in the Ladino dialect
of Medieval Castilian, which memorialized a Sephardic wedding on
September 15, 1516. Later in the spring, I found what appeared to be the
stone ruins of a Sephardic silver mining village on the Tuckasegee River
near Sylvia, NC. In June I was looking for evidence of the Sephardic
gold mining villages in Georgia.
Shortly, after stopping at the Track Rock Gap, I found extensive
evidence of early gold mining activities about six miles to the
southwest in the Wolf Creek Gorge. I focused my attention there
throughout the remainder of 2010.
In June of 2011, I found the drawings of the six main petroglyphic
boulders at Track Rock Gap posted online by the US Forest Service. One
of the boulders had "Liube 1715" inscribed on it. Liube is a Jewish
first name. In 1715 the area was supposedly occupied by Native
Americans, but that was also the year that both the Yamasee War and the
Creek-Cherokee War began. I drove the short distance from the former
chicken hatchery I lived in to Track Rock Gap. After looking again at
the petroglyphs, I walked across the road to the power right-of-way and
again found the old wall foundations. A walk down to the stream revealed
more walls and evidence of a pond and very old dam. I thought this might
be a Sephardic gold-mining village.
After I contacted several local historical societies for information
about Track Rock Gap, a gentleman emailed me a copy of the Stratum
Unlimited, LLC report. I was astounded by the scale and arrangement of
the terraces and radiocarbon dates of the terrace fill soil. The use of
biochar agricultural techniques strongly suggested a cultural connection
to the south. Interestingly, none of the stone walls that first drew my
attention to the site were shown on the Stratum Unlimited site plan.
In September, Jon Haskell drove down from Indiana to film the Track Rock
gap terraces. We found more stone walls on the lower areas of the site,
I don't think that the archaeologists realized in 2000 and 2001 that the
mountainside town extended all the way to Track Rock Gap Road.
Throughout the fall of 2011, I continued to study Track Rock Gap and
compare it to Itza Maya agricultural terrace sites in Mesoamerica. I
created a three dimensional computer model of the archaeological zone so
I could understand it better. I also found many more walls on the
northern and northwest side of the zone, which were not on the Stratum
Unlimited site plan. I prepared a 28 page booklet that physically
described the archaeological zone and its similarities to Itza Maya
On December 21, 2011 I wrote an article about my study of Track Rock Gap
for the national Examiner. What I assumed that several competent
archaeologists would read the article and become interested in Track
Rock Gap. They then would prepare grant applications to study it
further. My primary goal at this point was public understanding of the
rich cultural heritage of Southeastern Native Americans and economic
development of Union County. The county has suffered terribly from the
high cost of gasoline combined with the collapse of the real estate.
Public awareness of such a massive archaeological zone was bound to draw
in the tourists. I presumed that local economic and political leaders
would "jump up and down" with joy. They would take the ball and run with
it; obtaining the grant money that would pay for a comprehensive study
of the half square mile archaeological zone.
The Politicization of an Archaeological Site
They say that the best plans of mice and men
sometimes come to no avail. The article had one of the largest
readerships ever on the National Examiner. That gave me the money to buy
a powerful new computer and make some critical repairs to my car (i.e.
no steering wheel.) The article soon spread to news agencies around the
world. However, it was almost immediately lambasted by professional
archaeologists who obviously knew nothing about the ruins, the
documented Mesoamerican heritage of the Creek Indians or the Itza Mayas.
Simultaneously, I was flooded with hate mail from right-wingers around
the country, who somehow equated the discussion of a remarkable
archaeological zone to me being a communist and anti-American.
Apparently, none of the most vociferous professional critics had never
even seen the Track Rock site or knew anything about the hundreds of
Itza Maya terrace complexes in Central America. Some archaeologists in
Florida even set up a website to personally attack me. None knew that
many years ago I had received a fellowship to study Mesoamerican culture
and architecture in Mexico, and had taught the subject a Georgia Tech.
Well, they also didn't know how little they themselves knew about the
Creek Indians or the Itza Mayas.
In retrospect, I realize that part of the problem is the different
worlds that architects and archaeologists live in today. Architects
provide services for the use of other people. To me Track Rock Gap was
just another "project," not an extension of my ego. I am accustomed to
being part of a professional team also involving engineers, surveyors,
landscape architects and contractors. Track Rock to me was merely
something that I started which I was turning over to specialists to
If a potential client comes to me to design a hospital, I tell them to
go to an architecture firm with the technical competence to design a
hospital. If they ask me to restore a colonial building, or study the
site plan of a Native American or Mesoamerican town, I tell them, "Well
sit right down and have a cup of tea!"
There was many things going on, however, that far exceeded a few
anthropology professors feeling that their authority had been
challenged. Almost immediately the rightwing power structure in Union
County became rabid. While the majority of Union County locally born
residents were excited that such an important archaeological zone was in
their midst and those involved with tourism were salivating, the Florida
retirees who now control the county, while they spend their days playing
golf, quickly turned Track Rock Gap into partisan political non-issue.
Saying that Track Rock Gap was built by the Cherokees was proof that you
were a good, god-fearing, heterosexual Republican. Saying that illegal
Mexican immigrants built Track Rock Gap meant that you were a Marxist,
atheist, sexual pervert, gay-and-or Jewish, anti-military, heathen
revolutionary. I am not exaggerating. The situation has become so
ridiculous in Union County that the local newspaper has never run an
article on the Track Rock ruins, even when national television channels
broadcast programs about their county.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution ran the first article about the site
after the Examiner article spread around the world and was covered by
CBS. The writer lined up Johannes Loubser, Charles Hudson, Mark Williams
and a retired electrical engineer living in Union County as the experts
on Itza Maya and Creek Indian architecture. Loubser had never had
visited Mexico. The other three made no references to Mexico and
certainly had never visited an Itza Maya terrace complex. Apparently,
Loubser was the only one of the archaeologists who had visited the whole
Of course, all four knew for a fact that no Mayas ever came to the
Southeast. The Maya DNA carried by Creek, Seminole, Miccosukee and
Cherokee Indians must have arrived via Immaculate Conception. The Maya
and Totonac words in the Creek languages were discovered on golden
tablets found underneath Stone Mountain.
The national news media immediately recognized that the AJC article was
a "set up." They read the Examiner article and then what the AJC said
and correctly suspected local political influence. That immediately
resulted in inquiries from the Travel Channel, History Channel and
National Geographic Channel to produce shows about the site.
The Travel Channel program aired in April. Soon thereafter, the USFS
sawed well over a hundred down trees over the Vent Trail to prevent
hikers from using it. When hikers complained about that outrage, the
Southeastern Public Relations Officer for the USFS issued a public
statement belittling those who complained and stated that a few trees
had been blown down by the wind.
The official response of that program by the US Forest Service in
Gainesville, GA was to refuse commercial filming permits to the other
two television channels. Alan Polk, Staff Officer for Recreation and
Engineering in the Gainesville office issued a letter to the History
Channel, stating that their film crews were denied access to the site
because the stone terraces composed a North Carolina Cherokee sacred
site and the Cherokees did not want the graves of their great warriors
The History Channel then requested permission for professional
archaeologists and geologists to visit the Track Rock archaeological
zone, but not take photos. This was also denied by the USFS office in
Gainesville, on the grounds that Track Rock was a Cherokee Sacred Site.
The person making this request was wearing a mini-camera. He is a member
of the Cherokee Nation and a personal friend of its principal chief.
Cherokee elected leaders have no clue what the USFS is talking about. In
fact, those in Oklahoma didn't even know where Track Rock Gap is
To cover up this total screw-up by USFS personnel in the Gainesville, GA
office, USFS officials then turned the matter over to federal law
enforcement on the grounds that I was a known anarchist and
anti-government terrorist. Guess they forgot to mention that I have had
many friends in the National Park Service. The hope was that by
contriving a false description of my background, the History Channel
would pull the plugs on the TV program that made some USFS employees
look so incompetent. However, the History Channel's own historians,
geologists and archaeologists did a thorough investigation before
authorizing the expenditure for a major prime time program and the pilot
for a new series. "Unearthing America."
Your tax money then paid for those folks to go down the list of my
former clients listed on the History Revealed Media website below. I
have no clue what was said, but none of the clients are communicating
with me now. About two weeks ago, a Georgia college associated with the
United Methodist Church put a block on the POOF email address so that
the 16 professors there, who subscribe to our newsletters, can't receive
them any longer.
There is a reason that I passed along all these nitty gritty details at
the end of this report. Most conventional people would be afraid to
divulge them. However, evil only thrives in the absence of light. It
makes you wonder, "What else do Americans think are historical facts,
which are actually the behind the scenes contrivances of bureaucrats and
academicians?" Are Native American tribes still being used and
manipulated to further the ambitions of others?
Our national park system, our national forests, our nation's heritage .
. . they are not Democratic issues or Republican issues. They are not
OWNED by the federal employees who administer them. They are the
precious inheritance of every person, who is fortunate enough to be a
citizen of the United States of America.
You can download my book on the Track Rock Gap site for $15. It contains
over 180 pages and 350 original color photographs and drawings, so the
printed book is pricey.
Itsapa: the Itza Mayas in North America
Richard Thornton, Editor