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Fw: News Update: Understanding Ocmulgee, Cahokia and Ortona

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  • Vincent Barrows
    The following is a forwarded People of One Fire news letter from Richard Thornton. Richard shares his opinion on Ocmulgee Mound in Georgia, Cahokia Mound in
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 24, 2009
    The following is a forwarded People of One Fire news letter from Richard Thornton. Richard shares his opinion on Ocmulgee Mound in Georgia, Cahokia Mound in illinois, and Ortona Mound in central Florida.

    --- On Fri, 10/23/09, PeopleOfOneFire@... <PeopleOfOneFire@...> wrote:

    From: PeopleOfOneFire@... <PeopleOfOneFire@...>
    Subject: News Update: Understanding Ocmulgee, Cahokia and Ortona
    To: v_barrows@...
    Date: Friday, October 23, 2009, 8:31 AM

    People of One Fire
    News Update
    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 National Park.
    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 Kolomoki?
    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 town! <chuckle>
    Well,  that's my opinion . . .
    Richard Thornton

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