This massively successful movie streaming service is offering viewers a peak of what was known three years ago. There was much more to the story then and an encyclopedia full of information now. Seeing the Track Rock Terrace Complex requires rigorous climbing, while tourists can now easily visit some other Itza and Apalache terrace complexes elsewhere in Georgia.
The first season of the History Channel’s “America Unearthed” has been added to the lineup offered by Netflix. Since many cable TV viewers do not receive History Channel H2, it will be the first opportunity for millions of viewers to see the program. The program opens when the History Channel finds out that it will not be allowed to film ruins at a little known archaeological site in the Georgia Mountains. A film company, associated with the National Geo Channel, had already been rebuffed.
Tagging along will be a legion of blogs and commentaries by people, who present themselves as experts, but don’t know diddlysquat about the Creek Indians in Georgia or the so-called “Mayas” in Mesoamerica. For starters, the Mayas did not call themselves the Mayas. That is the Anglicization of the ethnic label Maia that the Spaniards gave a group of tribes. As is endemic in American politics today, these acerbic attacks will use sarcasms to conceal a basic lack of knowledge on the subject. Here are some quick facts so readers can “fact check” these blogs and commentaries.
It should be remembered that only somewhere between 2% and 5% of the people living in the “Maya Civilization” were literate. The vast majority of people were peasants and slaves living in villages that were virtually identical to what archaeologists unearth in the Southeast today. However, the major towns in Georgia were even similar to Maya cities. Just recently, remote sensing techniques at Ocmulgee National Monument and Etowah National Historic Landmark in Georgia have revealed courtyards, piazzas, streets and residential blocks that are identical to the suburbs of Chichen Itza.
During the Classic Period, (200 AD-900 AD) the Itza were an illiterate, agrarian people in the highlands of Chiapas, Guatemala and Belize. They built hundreds of stone walled terrace complexes and became the “bread basket” for so-called Maya Civilization. They originally spoke a South American language, but because of domination by Teotihuacan between 100 AD and 600 AD, they absorbed many Totonac words. They also absorbed some “Maya” words from their neighbors, but physically looked like Creek Indians. They did not have the exotic facial features of the “Mayas” of the Yucatan Peninsula.
The Itza called themselves the Itzate (pronounced Ĭt : cjhă : tē) which means “Corn Tamale People.” Most Creek Indians in Georgia called themselves the Itsate, which was pronounced exactly the same. For many centuries, the Itsate were at war with the Mvskoke (Muskogee) who spoke a different language and lived in eastern Alabama. The Itsate Creeks will be discussed below.
Around 800 AD, a massive super-volcano exploded in Chiapas, instantly incinerating the Itza capital of Palenque. Something like a half million Itza farmers disappeared from the region. A string of volcanic eruptions in Mexico and Central America caused a “volcanic winter” followed by a long drought, which caused the Maya Civilization to collapse within a century. Some Itzas reappeared in northern Yucatan and conquered the Maya cities there. Their capital was originally Chichen Itza, but after a slave revolt in Chichen Itza around 990 AD power gradually shifted to Maiapan, which was a hybrid Nahua-Yucatec-Itza city. Its province was known as Maiam and became the source of the name for all Mayas. Mexican anthropologists have not been able to determine where most of the Itza farmers went, but the Southeastern United States is the most likely candidate.
In October of 2012, scientists at the University of Minnesota determined a 100% match between attapulgite mined near the Chattahoochee River in Georgia and the Maya Blue used to color stucco on the temples of Palenque. This is absolute proof that the Itza sent traders and miners to the Gulf Coast and into the interior of Georgia prior to 800 AD.
In 1500, what was to become the State of Georgia was an ethnic patchwork quilt of many provinces, speaking several languages and practicing a wide range of cultural traditions. The Itzate composed one layer of that ethnic cake. It was a highly influential layer, but nevertheless, one of several cultural influences blending in the region. Equally strong were the cultural influences and languages found today in Satipo Province in eastern Peru. They seem to have been the basic layer of the cake. The Sacred Black Drink and the brightly colored clothing of the Creeks and Seminoles in the Southeast can be directly traced to the people of Eastern Peru, not the Itza.
As in the case of Norman England, where the elite spoke French and the commoners spoke Anglo-Saxon, we believe that the elite of many provinces in Georgia originally spoke Itza Maya. Over time the Itza language blended with whatever language was spoken by the commoners to become the languages encountered by early European explorers.
Even today, a hybridized form of Itsate (Hitchiti) spoken by the Miccosukee and several branches of the Seminoles in Florida contains many pure Itza Maya words that are pronounced the same and mean the same in both Florida and Mesoamerica. Both the Seminoles and Miccosukee originated in Georgia. Miccosukee can actually carry on conversations with some branches of the Mayas in Mexico. Almost all Georgia Creek words having to do with writing, architecture, agriculture, trade and political offices are pure Itza Maya words. Several rivers and mountains in Georgia, Tennessee and North Carolina are Itza words.
The Muskogee Creeks of Alabama and Oklahoma also speak some Itza Maya words, but not as many. For example, their word for house, chuko or choko is the Itza word for warm. The Georgia Creek word for house, chiki, means the same in Itza and Totonac in Mexico. The Muskogee titles for both the Principal Chief and the Second Chief of the Muscogee-Creek Nation are derived from Itza Maya words.
Most of the remaining Creek tribal members and descendants in Georgia are descended from Itsate Creek and Yuchi families, who refused to join the Muskogee Creek Confederacy and then somehow avoided being deported to either Alabama or Florida. There were actually more Creeks still living in Georgia than were deported to Alabama and ultimately to Oklahoma. Other Georgia Creeks are descended from Muskogees, who converted to Christianity and then were driven out of their towns in Alabama or Muskogee women who married white men.
With the help of many Georgia history lovers, at least twelve terrace complexes have been identified by the People of One Fire. They are located in a corridor that runs southward from Track Rock Gap to near the Fall Line. Most are in locales never occupied by the Cherokee Indians. All are in locales occupied by the ancestors of the Itsate Creeks up until 1717 or later. The locations roughly parallel the Chattahoochee River, but are also in the Oconee, Ocmulgee, Amicalola, Etowah and Flint River Basins. All of these complexes are within the boundaries of the Old Apalache Kingdom, which suddenly disappeared in the first decade of the 18th century. The Apalache Culture seems to have blended Peruvian, Maya and Muskogean traditions.
The easiest terrace complex to visit is at Sandy Creek Park, jointly owned by Jackson and Clarke Counties in Northeast Georgia. The park is located about six miles north of Athens, GA. Go to the paved parking lot on the northeast side of the lake and take a hike on the trail. Unfortunately, the most spectacular stone ruins in this complex are on adjacent private land, but you will get to see well-preserved terraces on the park land.
Several major archaeological discoveries of international significance have been made in Jackson County, GA over the past year. Many are on county-owned land. County officials are currently working to develop means to both protect these discoveries and make them accessible to the general public. Until that time the details of these discoveries cannot be revealed in the media.
Many years of intense research will be required to fully understand the Pre-Colombian stone architecture complexes in Georgia. They are vestiges of a literate civilization that totally flew under the radar of archaeologists, until it was brought to their attention by Georgia’s Creek Indians and their history-loving friends.