People of One Fire
UNDERSTANDING OCMULGEE, CAHOKIA AND
The good news is that the $600,000 renovation to the interior of the
Ocmulgee National Monument Museum opened to the public on August 22, 2009.
The fresh new look to the museum is well worth a trip to Macon, GA to see.
Although the exhibits are geared to the general public, which typically only has
a piecemeal understanding of the Southeast's early history, they still are
imaginative and stimulating. Oh, and yes, the people of the Macon
Area are still very supportive of their beloved archaeological jewel. The
land for this National Monument was originally purchased by the school children
and working people of Macon in the 1930s. Macon's leaders are currently
pressuring Congress to expand the boundaries of Ocmulgee and designate it a
The bad news is that most of the archaeological profession seems to be
growing increasingly ignorant of the importance of Ocmulgee to the cultural
development of Southeast's indigenous peoples. Most of my recently
purchased books on American Indian culture, barely mention Ocmulgee, or don't
mention it all. Myths that originated in the 1930s, still pervade
the profession's understanding of the site, unless the archaeologists
happen to live in Georgia. What is incredible is the fact that most of the
hundreds of boxes of artifacts unearthed at Ocmulgee during the 1930s have never
been opened to be analyzed. Who knows what amazing discoveries have lain
in that basement storage room for seventy years?
Similar comments could be equally applied to the more recently investigated
sites around Lake Okeechobee, FL. What University of South Florida
archaeologists discovered there radically changes our understanding of the
chronology and origin of cultural changes in the Southeast. YET,
even archaeologists living in northern Florida seem to be only vaguely aware of
these sites. When I was trying to find out more about Ortona I contacted
the Southeastern Archaeological Center in Tallahassee (which formerly was at
Ocmulgee!) The archaeologist I talked to, had never heard of the Ortona
site, and knew very little about the Fort Center site.
Dr. Timothy Pauketat, and his colleagues, such as Dr. Mark Mehrer, have
done a magnificent job of expanding our knowledge of Cahokia, IL and its
environs. Pauketat's book, Ancient Cahokia and the
Mississippians, and Mehrer's book, Cahokia's
Countryside, are must reading for anybody seriously interested in
Native American culture. Unfortunately, in several analyses of
artifacts and architecture at Cahokia, the archaeological teams showed
regional-centric bias. On page 10 of his book, Pauketat describes advanced
indigenous culture extending "down to the oddly out of place Ocmulgee region
of central Georgia." He also states the old myth that Ocmulgee
was an isolated town which followed Cahokia a couple of centuries later, and had
no impact on surrounding areas. Actually, construction all of the
major mounds and plazas at Ocmulgee, began a hundred years before the
construction of Monks Mound and the Great Plaza at Cahokia.
Ocmulgee is currently believed to have been founded around 900 AD, about 20
years after the Maya town of Waka was abandoned. The two town sites
are at identical geological situations and the same distance from the
ocean. Large ceramic brine-drying trays have been found at both town
sites. Ocmulgee was founded at exactly the same time that Wakata became
the capital of a new Native American state that covered all of southern
Florida. Wakata and the acropolis of Ocmulgee were abandoned at the same
time - about 1150 AD.
The village of Ochese, 2 miles south of the acropolis, continued to
grow after the Ocmulgee acropolis was abandoned. It eventually became the
first capital of the Creek people.
The Cahokia team also is unaware that their cherished "keyhole houses" -
the primary evidence of an advanced people arriving in Arkansas, Missouri &
Illinois, were being built at Kolomoki, GA 500 years earlier, and ceased
being built, about 50 years before they showed up in the Central Mississippi
Basin. Did the original settlers of Cahokia have their roots at
This team is apparently also unaware that major towns, initially associated
with Ocmulgee, were founded almost simultaneously on Hiwassee Island, TN and the
lower Chattahoochee River. Ocmulgee was laid out like a Maya city.
It had at least a dozen suburban villages, some with mounds. Its
Maya Commoner-like Redware pottery was inferior to the indigenous styles,
but its copper art styles and pre-fabricated post ditch houses spread all over
the Southeast. Ocmulgee's citizens constructed rectangular post-ditch
houses for a hundred years before they appeared in the Cahokia Region.
The discoveries around Lake Okeechobee refute the long held theory that
"Mississippian" Culture began with the founding of Cahokia. Most of the
cultural traits, symbols and architecture associated with the "Mississippian"
Culture were at Ortona, FL 500-300 years before they appeared at Cahokia.
Furthermore, Ortona also contains architectural features that seem to be
lifted straight from the Chontal Maya homeland in the Mexican State of
Tabasco. The Chontal Maya primarily built earthen mounds, very
similar to those in the Southeastern United States. I have attached a
three dimensional site plan that I created of Ortona, that was developed
directly from the scaled site plan given me by its archaeologists.
Ocmulgee Bottoms desperately needs the type of comprehensive archaeological
survey and analysis, that the State of Illinois funded for the Cahokia
area. Under current economic conditions, such funding is not likely to
come from the State of Georgia. However, there are many other
private and public funding sources that might be tapped. In the
meantime, Ocmulgee deserves the support of Native Americans and scholars
everywhere . . . whatever you can do. After all, from the
perspective of someone living in Ortona, Florida in 700 AD, Illinois
would have seemed to have been an oddly out-of-place location to start a new
Well, that's my opinion . . .