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The Mayan common class migrated to the southeast United States?
December 22, 2011 7:02 AM   Subscribe

Massive 1,100+ year old Maya site discovered in Georgia's mountains The archaeological site would have been particularly attractive to Mayas because it contains an apparently dormant volcano fumarole that reaches down into the bowels of the earth. People of One Fire researchers have been aware since 2010 that when the English arrived in the Southeast, there were numerous Native American towns named Itsate in Tennessee, Georgia, South Carolina and western North Carolina. They were also aware that both the Itza Mayas of Central America and the Hitchiti Creeks of the Southeast actually called themselves Itsate . . . and pronounced the word the same way. The Itsate Creeks used many Maya and Totonac words. Their architecture was identical to that of Maya commoners. The pottery at Ocmulgee National Monument (c 900 AD) in central Georgia is virtually identical to the Maya Plain Red pottery made by Maya Commoners.
posted by ewagoner (111 comments total) 31 users marked this as a favorite

 
Wake up white people.
posted by punkfloyd at 7:04 AM on December 22, 2011 [7 favorites]


Intriguing, but is there another source other than Examiner?
posted by Vhanudux at 7:09 AM on December 22, 2011 [10 favorites]


Take back America! Kick the white people out?
posted by DoctorFedora at 7:12 AM on December 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


I don't think there is another source yet, Vhanudux, since this article was written for the Examiner by the author of the upcoming book on the site and the research there that is apparently in the very early stages. It's something to keep an eye on, for sure, and it sounds like an amazing site even if the Maya connection doesn't pan out.
posted by ewagoner at 7:15 AM on December 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


People of One Fire newsletters.

People of One Fire mission statement thingy.


Sorry, hope this isn't to on topic for the thread.
posted by absalom at 7:16 AM on December 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


Weak evidence for the Maya connection, though it would be awesome if true. Likely an interesting site anyway.
posted by Jehan at 7:17 AM on December 22, 2011


Intriguing, but is there another source other than Examiner?

On Google News, no. But I did find this:
Blairsville Man Charged with Injuring Moon Officer

Which has to be the best headline of the day.
posted by Threeway Handshake at 7:17 AM on December 22, 2011


Wow it's a good thing I bought punkfloyd's race specific alarm clock or I would have been late to work!!
posted by PostIronyIsNotaMyth at 7:19 AM on December 22, 2011 [18 favorites]


Sounds amazing, but it seems weird to me that this is no where else on the web, and that the first mention would be a story on examiner.com. Like you said, something to keep my eyes peeled for.

While we're waiting this post reminds me that I wanted to read up on Cahokia. Anybody got any comments on this book?
posted by benito.strauss at 7:20 AM on December 22, 2011


AN ARCHAEOLOGICAL AND ETHNOHISTORICAL APPRAISAL OF A PILED STONE FEATURE COMPLEX IN THE MOUNTAINS OF NORTH GEORGIA (pdf)
Paper by Johannes Loubser referenced in the FPP article.
posted by Floydd at 7:20 AM on December 22, 2011 [7 favorites]


They were also aware that both the Itza Mayas of Central America and the Hitchiti Creeks of the Southeast actually called themselves Itsate . . . and pronounced the word the same way. The Itsate Creeks used many Maya and Totonac words. Their architecture was identical to that of Maya commoners. The pottery at Ocmulgee National Monument (c 900 AD) in central Georgia is virtually identical to the Maya Plain Red pottery made by Maya Commoners.

Even assuming that these links are what they say they are, these are all things that travel between cultures. Hell physical pottery travels, so it could be there is genuine Mayan pottery in Georgia, even without Mayans ever having been there.

In any event, popular reporting of archeological finds is worse than pretty much any reporting that doesn't involve CERN, so I'm waiting for more information.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 7:21 AM on December 22, 2011 [1 favorite]




Is Examiner.com an untrustworthy source? Or is it just that it's not a scholarly journal?
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 7:23 AM on December 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


So aliens didn't build the pyramids?
posted by Ad hominem at 7:24 AM on December 22, 2011


I don't think there is another source yet, Vhanudux, since this article was written for the Examiner by the author of the upcoming book on the site and the research there that is apparently in the very early stages.

That....kind of sounds like this is dubious. Just checked the PDF that was mentioned in the article, and nowhere in that PDF does it mention a Mayan origin for the "piled stone feature".

Is Examiner.com an untrustworthy source? Or is it just that it's not a scholarly journal?

I've always had the impression that Examiner.com is barely one step above "content mills" like ehow.com.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:25 AM on December 22, 2011


I don't buy it.
posted by empath at 7:26 AM on December 22, 2011


I can find no other source saying that there is a dormant, or even an extinct volcano or fumarole in Georgia.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 7:29 AM on December 22, 2011


Somehow the caps-lock declaration "PEER-REVIEWED ARTICLE" at the top of the paper did not inspire confidence.
posted by compartment at 7:29 AM on December 22, 2011 [7 favorites]


It would be fun if this was true, but so far I'm suspicious.
posted by Forktine at 7:32 AM on December 22, 2011


...but the Cherokees, who briefly lived in the region in the late 1700s and early 1800s, at that time denied being their builders.

Nice how they just gloss over a bit of unpleasantness, there.
posted by Capt. Renault at 7:34 AM on December 22, 2011 [20 favorites]


Kirth Gerson, there are many extinct volcanos in Georgia. The USGS mentions some, there are still hot springs here, and even the occasional (non-volcano) eruption.
posted by ewagoner at 7:34 AM on December 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


I can find no other source saying that there is a dormant, or even an extinct volcano or fumarole in Georgia.

Did you try Google? Because I found references to volcanoes and hot springs.
posted by DU at 7:35 AM on December 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


I can find no other source saying that there is a dormant, or even an extinct volcano or fumarole in Georgia.

Well, actually I just did -- here. Granted, it says that volcanic activity ended several million years ago. Although, some newspaper clippings from the 1800's suggest something was going on, and I'm now seeing that DU just scooped me so I'll wave and say hi.

Although I also found this which seems to imply that there was some kind of geothermal activity in Georgia as well.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:37 AM on December 22, 2011


There's an old joke among linguists of which this reminds me, or perhaps it is a folktale:

So this major league comparative linguist is giving a talk at a conference and pronounces that "there are many languages where a double negative expression can express a positive argument, or an emphatic negative argument ("ain't no way"), but there are no languages where two positive terms are used to express the negative concept."

To which a young grad student is heard to respond, sotto voce but just loud enough for everyone to hear, "Yeah, right."
posted by spitbull at 7:38 AM on December 22, 2011 [37 favorites]


This is sounding like a bust, but it does point out that my image of pre-Columbian Americans didn't include any cities to speak of. And it seems like that was wrong.

Here is a radio interview with a guy who is studying Cahokia that I remember enjoying listening to (and not finding too over-hyped). If you have an interest in pre-Columbian American you might enjoy it.
posted by benito.strauss at 7:38 AM on December 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


Did you try Google? Because I found references to volcanoes and hot springs.

Yes, thanks, I did. The only results I got for Georgia volcano were in Europe. ewagoner supplied the best response to my comment.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 7:41 AM on December 22, 2011


This is fascinating if true, but yeah, I want to see more evidence. I've seen enough discoveries that were going to upend history that proved out to be absolute busts when read with an even vaguely critical approach that I'm suspicious.
posted by immlass at 7:44 AM on December 22, 2011


Field Trip!
posted by jeffburdges at 7:50 AM on December 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


This is sounding like a bust, but it does point out that my image of pre-Columbian Americans didn't include any cities to speak of. And it seems like that was wrong.

Seriously? The Aztec and the Maya aren't exactly obscure, and plenty of other cultures built urban settlements.
posted by Jehan at 7:50 AM on December 22, 2011


This is sounding like a bust, but it does point out that my image of pre-Columbian Americans didn't include any cities to speak of. And it seems like that was wrong.

It has been recommended to death, but you may enjoy Mann's 1491. Its central argument is that the population and level of advancement of the pre-Columbian Americas has been exponentially underestimated.
posted by Think_Long at 7:58 AM on December 22, 2011 [9 favorites]


They were probably referring to North American Indians.

What I wouldn't give to visit North America prior to 1492. It was a pretty happening place.

I love the idea of a Mayan Aeneid, but instead of a great war that dispersed the people it was famine and ecological disaster. Here's hoping that the story turns out to be verifiable.

Cahokia is worth the visit, as it physically reaches into your brain and rips out all the preconceived ideas that North American Indians lived solely in wigwams and small settlements. The people and cultures that inhabited North America made up a fascinating and incredible mosaic of life.
posted by Atreides at 7:59 AM on December 22, 2011 [5 favorites]


I like how the Maya have become the de facto explanation for any unexplained event. Terraces in Georgia? Mayans! End of the world in 2012? Mayans! Lost city of Atlantis? Aqua-Mayans! Canals on Mars? Space-Mayans! A caged bird singing? Mayans!

my image of pre-Columbian Americans didn't include any cities to speak of

Then I'm also guessing your image didn't include some of the largest pre-modern cities that ever existed.
posted by Panjandrum at 8:05 AM on December 22, 2011 [5 favorites]


Historians, architects and archaeologists have speculated for 170 years what happened to the Maya people.

For pity's sake, they're still there.
posted by gimonca at 8:06 AM on December 22, 2011 [22 favorites]


I like how the Maya have become the de facto explanation for any unexplained event. Terraces in Georgia? Mayans! End of the world in 2012? Mayans! Lost city of Atlantis? Aqua-Mayans!

Can't find your keys? Mayans! Tiny holes gnawed into your furniture and you know you don't have pests? Tiny Mayans! You take the laundry out and one sock is missing? Fabric Mayans!

....This is weirdly fun.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:09 AM on December 22, 2011 [12 favorites]


This kind of reads to me like all the people who want to believe the Mayan and Aztec pyramids were built by the Chinese or the Jews or Europeans or Space Aliens.

Why couldn't the locals have built it? It seems like that's the best theory to go on without some really hard evidence that the Maya were there, and toponyms that kinda sorta sound like some other word don't strike me as particularly compelling.
posted by empath at 8:20 AM on December 22, 2011


Seconding the recommendation for the book 1491. It's really great; accessible and fun to read, but also grounded in actual scholarship. It's definitely revisionist but in a good way. I'm about halfway through his sequel 1493, about all the anthropological changes the unification of Europe, the New World, and China wrought. It's not quite as compelling as 1491 but it's still got a lot of interesting stuff I knew nothing about.

This Examiner article is garbage, as all Examiner.com stuff is. It's a pretty extraordinary claim to say that a site in Georgia is Mayan. As near as I can tell, no meaningful evidence is presented in the article. (The paper about the site linked above doesn't mention a Maya connection). One of the central points of the book 1491 is the Americas had vast trade networks; it should be expected that some ideas and artifacts from Mayan cultures ended up in Georgia. But that's a much milder claim.
posted by Nelson at 8:21 AM on December 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Stubbed your toe? Mayans! Dog ate your homework? Canine-Mayans! Forgot that guy's name? Mental-Mayans! Jews? Mayans!
posted by Panjandrum at 8:28 AM on December 22, 2011 [4 favorites]


Your chewing gum lost its flavor on the bedpost overnight? Mayans! Ten thousand spoons and all you need is a knife? Alanis Mayan-sette!
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:36 AM on December 22, 2011 [8 favorites]


Chinese visiting the new world in 1491? Nope. Mayans in disguise.
posted by cccorlew at 8:37 AM on December 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Onion rings come out burnt? Fryin' Mayans!
posted by TheRedArmy at 8:39 AM on December 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


This sounds perfectly reasonable. The distance is not that far, and it better explains the Maya collapse - they didn't die they just left. Similar movements of people in Europe, from the Netherlands/German to England (Anglo/Saxon/Jutes), and that was a much more difficult trip.
posted by stbalbach at 8:44 AM on December 22, 2011


BTW: This was already covered in National Treasure 2. The MesoAmericans made it all the way to South Dakota!
posted by Think_Long at 8:45 AM on December 22, 2011


This sounds perfectly reasonable. The distance is not that far, and it better explains the Maya collapse - they didn't die they just left.

They didn't even leave! They're still there! Millions of Mayan people, all over Central America, right now as we speak!
posted by nebulawindphone at 8:48 AM on December 22, 2011 [8 favorites]


Weak and embarrassing comic relief character in the movie you're watching? Mayan Wayans!
posted by AugieAugustus at 8:50 AM on December 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


Poems don't rhyme? Angelou Mayans!
posted by Herodios at 8:54 AM on December 22, 2011 [9 favorites]


Yeah, don't confuse Maya with Aztec. There are thousands of actual Mayans in New York City in fact. The food service industry would collapse without their intrepid work.
posted by spitbull at 8:55 AM on December 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


Well, there are a bunch of factual errors about the Maya in the article. The article says that the Itza Maya commonly built five-sided mounds. I know of no case where the Maya built five-sided mounds.

You can look for yourself. The Itza Maya's largest and most well-known city was Chichen Itza in Northern Yucatan (an easy day trip from Cancun). Take a look at Google Maps. Move around the site and you won't find five-sided anything.

There is a very interesting round building (on a square platform) called the Caracol. It is one of only a handful of round buildings that I'm aware of among the Maya. Most are square or rectangular. The Maya building round forts would be abnormal. They normally didn't build walled defenses at all, although the Maya site of Aguateca shows some signs of a wooden wall built hastily to defend against an imminent threat.

That said, I knew a Cherokee woman who said that Cherokee tribal traditions were that their ancestors came from the Maya. The anthropologist who heard her scoffed, but she sure of it.
posted by Xoc at 8:55 AM on December 22, 2011 [4 favorites]


What I wouldn't give to visit North America prior to 1492. It was a pretty happening place.

I dunno, I saw Valhalla Rising and it didn't look very welcoming.


This kind of reads to me like all the people who want to believe the Mayan and Aztec pyramids were built by the Chinese or the Jews or Europeans or Space Aliens
posted by Hoopo at 8:58 AM on December 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


Well, there are a bunch of factual errors about the Maya in the article.

I think we've pretty well established that the article was written by Mayan agents trying to distract us from the fact they faked everything between AD 600 and 900.
posted by Panjandrum at 8:59 AM on December 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


Shouldn't DNA analysis be able to solve this question pretty definitively?
posted by Meatbomb at 9:05 AM on December 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Meatbomb, I actually tried, and bless you if you can figure it out...
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:15 AM on December 22, 2011


Your grocer sells mayonnaise? Mayan-aise-ists!
posted by exphysicist345 at 9:16 AM on December 22, 2011


Field Trip!

Meetup!
posted by exphysicist345 at 9:17 AM on December 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


This sounds perfectly reasonable.

I think what frustrates me about this kind of article is random people read them and say "huh, that sounds reasonable. must be true!". There's a whole community of experts who have dedicated their entire lives to studying the pre-Columbian civilizations in North America. They know things and their knowledge is based on a lot more than "sounds reasonable." They communicate in conferences and peer reviewed journals, not via junk articles on Internet content farms. If there's evidence of a Mayan outpost in Georgia, they'd be all over it.

Also, as stated by several folks in this thread.. With the Maya there's no mystery of "where did they go", there's no disappearance. They're right there, where they've been for hundreds of years. A significantly changed society, but with continuous history and population and culture. Some crackpot saying "oh they all went to Georgia and built this site" is offensively ignoring an entire civilization.

I don't mean to pick on the poster of the comment I quoted; "sounds reasonable" was my first reaction, too. But it's amateurism of the worst kind.
posted by Nelson at 9:23 AM on December 22, 2011 [4 favorites]


Nelson, it's not that any is saying all the Maya went to Georgia, or that there are no Maya in the Yucatan. Everyone agrees that the region suffered severe depopulation over a short period of time, and that the current population is still a small fraction of the population that existed there 1100 years ago. We've seen many instances throughout history of localized societies collapsing and a chunk of the population (often commoners) picking up and going somewhere else. Whether or not any ended up in southern Appalachia, why assume that most of the Maya just laid down and died during their upheaval? How is that not more offensive to the culture than saying that some of them managed to pick up, go elsewhere, and carry on?
posted by ewagoner at 9:31 AM on December 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


Sudden appearance of a small pink and green hairy dude singing a song from an Italian softcore film? Mahna-mayans!
posted by gusandrews at 9:32 AM on December 22, 2011 [6 favorites]


Look, up in the sky! It's a bird! It's a plane!
No, it's flyin' Mayans!
posted by Floydd at 9:33 AM on December 22, 2011


Chuck Testa? Nope, Mayans!
posted by codswallop at 9:34 AM on December 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


They didn't even leave! They're still there! Millions of Mayan people, all over Central America, right now as we speak!

Our tour guide at Chichen Itza(who was, unsurprisingly, both Mayan and incredibly proud of it), explained to us that the Mayans thrived in Central America because God specially made them bow-legged for running over hills carrying heavy objects on their backs. There was something else that God made straight legged white people to do, but I can't remember what it was.

He was also the second person to find out about my engagement because I decided that while having a conversation about Mayan concubines at Chichen Itza was a good place to propose.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 9:37 AM on December 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Your chewing gum lost its flavor on the bedpost overnight? Mayans!

At least that one makes sense.

On a marginally related note, something that struck me while reading 1491: what might have happened if there had been animal domestication in the Americas on the scale that there was in Europe? What would have happened if Eurasians & Africans had been hit by American diseases of zoonotic origin as hard as Indians were hit by Old World ones? Would that have precipitated a massive population die-off and a collapse of civilisation world-wide?
posted by atrazine at 9:38 AM on December 22, 2011


The site plan illustrated in the linked PDF certainly is on a larger scale than most Native American sites in North America, and it does seem to show evidence of terraced farming, which I think is pretty unusual.

The conservatism of professional archaeologists is not enough to shut down my enthusiasm, given the apparent similarities in artifacts, the obvious linguistic connections, and the fact that the time period is right. I know it would be irresponsible--at this point--for any respected archaeologist to come right out and say "These people were either Mayan or closely connected to them." But the facts on the ground are really interesting.

I put together an image overlay in Google Earth mapping the Track Rock Gap site plan. Also, if you are trying to do a web search yourself, some sources use "Track Rock Gap" and others use "Trackrock Gap."
posted by General Tonic at 9:46 AM on December 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


Whether or not any ended up in southern Appalachia, why assume that most of the Maya just laid down and died during their upheaval? How is that not more offensive to the culture than saying that some of them managed to pick up, go elsewhere, and carry on?

Why are you worried about whether or not a theory is "offensive to the culture"? Whatever happened, happened, and I doubt the Mayans are broken up about whatever the truth is.

And besides, Nelson wasn't apologizing for offending the Mayans, he was apologizing if he offended YOU for being critical of your post.

I'm more wondering why you're so convinced by something that has little factual evidence to support it right now, when various other more plausible theories are already being discussed. If you examine that article from a more critical context, it offers little in the way of evidence (the PDF mentioned in that article not only doesn't mention the Mayans at all, it admits that investigations into the stone structures it discusses "cannot rule out subesquent tampering"), and was written by the guy who's trying to publish a book on this same theory. Can you be certain that he didn't write this article simply to try to lay the groundwork FOR that book?....

It's an interesting idea, yes, but there's practically no evidence to suggest that it's got sufficient scientific merit to warrant further study.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:47 AM on December 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


On a marginally related note, something that struck me while reading 1491: what might have happened if there had been animal domestication in the Americas on the scale that there was in Europe? What would have happened if Eurasians & Africans had been hit by American diseases of zoonotic origin as hard as Indians were hit by Old World ones? Would that have precipitated a massive population die-off and a collapse of civilisation world-wide?

Isn't there a pretty popular - yet unconfirmed - hypothesis that syphilis was a New World disease that thrashed certain societies in Europe?
posted by Think_Long at 9:49 AM on December 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


This sounds perfectly reasonable.

It sounds possible, but no, not reasonable. It is possible that a group of Mayans traveled from central america to the southeast. After all the distances between Copenhagen and London are roughly equivalent to the distance between Tuxtla Gutierrez and Atlanta, as the crow flies. The difference is that those migrating Norsemen would have had the luxury of an overland route, while the Mayan route would have been almost pure Gulf of Mexico. Of course, maybe our intrepid Mayans either took the (considerably longer) overland route around the basin of the gulf of Mexico, or hopped to Cuba and then up Florida. That's possible, but given that they would have had to do this without leaving a single trace of their passage? Not really reasonable.

As far as genetic testing goes, the lack of genetic diversity and general similarity of Native American groups, it'd probably be hard to get a definitive answer. Also, I've heard DNA is just a plot the Mayans used to to try and convict OJ. I read that in The Protocols of the Elders of Mayan.
posted by Panjandrum at 9:54 AM on December 22, 2011




Why are you worried about whether or not a theory is "offensive to the culture"? Whatever happened, happened, and I doubt the Mayans are broken up about whatever the truth is.


They might be. We kind of pulled the Vanishing Indian act with them. With the Mayans safely relegated to the domain of history, we don't have to worry too much about all of those poor brown people down south.

Anyway I'm not sure why we'd be quibbling over whether it's acceptable to speculate that something might have happened. If there's evidence to suggest it did, then there's a plausible theory. If there isn't, then there isn't. We're not supposed to be writing historic fiction here, we're supposed to be examining evidence.
posted by Stagger Lee at 9:54 AM on December 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


hypothesis that syphilis was a New World disease

Indeed, and part of that theory is that the severity of the outbreak of syphilis in Europe in the early 1500s is attributable to the Europeans lacking natural immunity to the disease.
posted by Panjandrum at 9:58 AM on December 22, 2011


I see one of those piled stone features (the 800+ foot long wall near the peak of Fort Mountain) pretty often because it's in a nice state park and it's pleasant to sit on the wall and eat sammiches. It's a very interesting looking site, being above ground and all, and has attracted lots of attention from real genuine archaeologists from real genuine universities. These folks have searched and searched the site over the decades without finding the smallest clue about who built the wall or when or for what purpose, so the field is clear for wild guesses by wild-eyed guessers. As wild guesses go, wandering Mayas seems at least a bit more plausible than a competing theory that attributes the wall to the Welsh (that is, the soldiers of Prince Madog ab Owain Gwynedd , a hypothetical Welsh explorer of the New World, who were supposed to have landed in North America in 1170, made their way to the top of a mountain in north Georgia, and built their last redout in a place that had no water. (There are a few blueberries there, in season, in case you're expecting a seige.)
posted by jfuller at 10:02 AM on December 22, 2011


The Mayans went down to Georgia, they were lookin' for a soul to steal...
posted by Edison Carter at 10:02 AM on December 22, 2011 [6 favorites]


I'm not sure why we'd be quibbling over whether it's acceptable to speculate that something might have happened. If there's evidence to suggest it did, then there's a plausible theory. If there isn't, then there isn't.

I'm not sure that we ARE quibbling over whether it's acceptable. ewagoner seems to think we are, but I think the rest of us are saying "it's not that it's unacceptable, it's that there doesn't seem to be any credible evidence to WARRANT it."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:07 AM on December 22, 2011


I'm guessing that it would take at least several years for an entire group of travelers to walk from Northern Yucatan (the northern reach of the Maya so far) to Georgia. Probably longer if they didn't have any particular destination in mind. So let's say they booked it, and it only took about 3 years. Why no pottery or signs of settlements anywhere in central to northern Mexico? I would also expect the gulf coast to be littered with pottery. People gotta cook, after all.
posted by Gilbert at 10:08 AM on December 22, 2011


This reminds me of these folks who seem convinced that every rock formation in the middle of the woods in New England is incontrovertible evidence of pre-Columbian civilization, and not, you know, a pile of rocks that a farmer made while clearing his pasture 200 years ago. Not that there aren't some curious things in the woods around here, but just because it would be cool if the Vikings/Mayans/Martians left something behind in North America doesn't make it so.
posted by usonian at 10:15 AM on December 22, 2011


Well, there are a bunch of factual errors about the Maya in the article. The article says that the Itza Maya commonly built five-sided mounds. I know of no case where the Maya built five-sided mounds.

You can look for yourself. The Itza Maya's largest and most well-known city was Chichen Itza in Northern Yucatan (an easy day trip from Cancun). Take a look at Google Maps. Move around the site and you won't find five-sided anything.


Um, maybe the top counts as a side. A pointy pyramid with a square base has four sides. A cube has six sides. And a pyramid with a flat top has five sides. So, looking at the Google satellite view you linked, I'm counting one, two, three, four, and five sides on the Pyramid of Kukulan. But maybe that's not what the article was referring to. I don't know. I'm just guessing.
posted by The World Famous at 10:17 AM on December 22, 2011


Also, it looks like if the Mayans went overland, they'd have had to walk straight through Aztec territory, and I don't think THAT would have ended happily.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:17 AM on December 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


EmpressCallipygos, you seem to have misinterpreted something somewhere. My comment was to Nelson, specifically his sentence "Some crackpot saying 'oh they all went to Georgia and built this site' is offensively ignoring an entire civilization". I agree that there is not enough evidence to say this is a Mayan site. The place has never been excavated by anyone, and is atypical for the region. You say "there's practically no evidence to suggest that it's got sufficient scientific merit to warrant further study". I say that its mere existence as an unstudied major settlement warrants further study, regardless of who built it.
posted by ewagoner at 10:20 AM on December 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm the one who threw the word "offensive" out there. Because I think articles like this Examiner.com article are offensive. They ignore the value of actual scholarship. And the amateurish belief in these just-so stories ignores the real history of real cultures in the New World. It's a milder version of saying "the pyramids in Mexico and in Egypt are basically the same thing and were clearly designed by extraterrestrials". No, those two types of pyramids are not the same thing and yes, people built them.

There's a huge amount we don't know about the civilizations that were living in North America in pre-Columbian times. Of course this site needs and deserves study so do many other sites. Some random content farm article is not study; it's ad views. That offends me.

(And to turn bad to good here.. Other than 1491, can someone recommend accessible-yet-grounded books to learn more about pre-Columbian North America? For instance, is this book on Cahokia benito.strauss linked worth reading?)
posted by Nelson at 10:26 AM on December 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


I say that its mere existence as an unstudied major settlement warrants further study, regardless of who built it.

I agree that an unstudied settlement warrants more study.

Where I disagree with the post you made, though, is in calling it "Mayan!" when there's no evidence to support that this unstudied major settlement IS Mayan -- except in the mind of a guy who's coincidentally trying to sell a book. If the post had been about "hey there's this unstudied weird site in Georgia" or "this guy thinks it's Mayan, but here's another guy who thinks it's Cherokee, we'll see who's right," this discussion may have gone very differently.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:27 AM on December 22, 2011


As a general rule, I think that we should assume that the people who lived there built it, because the assumptions contrariwise are tinged with racism.

The only exception is our new understanding of how Asgardian space gods shaped European culture (cf. Lee, Kirby).
posted by mobunited at 10:31 AM on December 22, 2011


The book about Cahokia benito.strauss linked IS worth reading. However, it's a sort of "intelligent layman" summary of the findings so far. What some people don't like about it is it is neither a fast-reading "pop sci" book that draws sweeping conclusions, NOR is it an academic book that lays out all citations and arguments and so on -- it's basically the first book on the modern excavations for laymen. *I* liked it quite a bit. Not everyone agrees with all of his interpretations of the findings, some of the findings are so strange he doesn't yet interpret them, and some people really want him to announce an entirely new history of the Mississippian peoples that concords with their vision of pre-Columbian history (whatever that vision may be).

I believe the author is the lead investigator at Cahokia.

My husband recently started working for the state agency that manages the Cahokia mounds site. Coincidentally, he just met the author of this book a few weeks ago when visiting Cahokia for work, though we had both read the book when it first came out.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:36 AM on December 22, 2011 [4 favorites]


AN ARCHAEOLOGICAL AND ETHNOHISTORICAL APPRAISAL OF A PILED STONE FEATURE COMPLEX IN THE MOUNTAINS OF NORTH GEORGIA (pdf)
Paper by Johannes Loubser referenced in the FPP article.


I'm skimming through this paper now. The word 'Maya' doesn't appear to occur anywhere in the text. I'm seeing lots of interesting references to North American cultures and peoples, I'm not finding anything that refers to anywhere or anyone associated with what is today Mexico or Central America. Maybe there's something implicit in there that I'm missing on a quick skim, but I'm not finding anything that resembles what's described in the Examiner article.
posted by gimonca at 10:40 AM on December 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Oops! Yeah, I meant to specifically refer to the areas currently occupied by the United States. I love the archeology of Aztecs, Mayans, Incas, Olmecs, etc., and am a bit red-faced right now.
posted by benito.strauss at 10:51 AM on December 22, 2011


From the comments thread of the article:
"Mark Williams · Florida State university
I am the archaeologist Mark Williams mentioned in this article. This is total and complete bunk. There is no evidence of Maya in Georgia. Move along now."
posted by entropos at 10:56 AM on December 22, 2011 [7 favorites]


Also, it looks like if the Mayans went overland, they'd have had to walk straight through Aztec territory, and I don't think THAT would have ended happily.

The Aztec empire didn't form until much later. There likely would have been some civilized nation(s) in the way, though.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:07 AM on December 22, 2011


The book about Cahokia ... IS worth reading. However, it's a sort of "intelligent layman" summary of the findings so far.

Sweet. That's the level I like to read at. Just requested it from the library. Thanks for the critique.
posted by benito.strauss at 11:11 AM on December 22, 2011


I just found author Richard Thornton's publisher.

It's himself.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:13 AM on December 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


Some other jaw-dropping precolumbian knowledge I didn't have until just yesterday, the Old Copper Complex, centered around copper deposits unearthed by glacial retreat in the Great Lakes region. They were making metal spearpoints, knives and tools by 5000bc until 1000bc.

The Native Americans developed advanced metalworking (mining, smelting, forging, annealing) about the same time the Eurasians did, but for whatever reason, let it die out... they stopped making tools altogether near the end, and concentrated on trade goods and status symbols like jewelry, and never experimented with alloys like bronze.
posted by Slap*Happy at 11:14 AM on December 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


You can't rule him out just because he's an amateur, but the author's credentials don't look too promising.

Richard Thornton is an architect and city planner, with a very broad range of professional experiences. His practice is concentrated in the Southern Highlands of the United States, but also has included projects in other parts of the nation and in Sweden. He has been the architect for a broad range of institutional, commercial and residential projects. Richard is particular noted for his work in downtown revitalization, historic preservation and architectural history. and won several historic preservation and urban design awards. He was the first recipent of the Barrett Fellowship, which enabled him to spend several months in Mesoamerica studing its pre-European civilizations under the auspices of the Museo Nacional de Antropologia in Mexico City. In 2004 he was approached by some members of the Muscogee (Creek) National Council about carrying out research into Native American architectural history and writing books for Native American students from these studies. He is a Creek Indian himself. Since that time he has written seven books on Native American history, and also built 16 large models of Native American towns for archaeological museums around the United States. The focus of Richard's career since 2004 has increasing been focused toward research, education, public speaking and professional writing. He has been a guest lecturer at several universities and colleges in the Southeast. In 2009, he was the architect for the construction of Oklahoma's first state-funded memorial for the Trail of Tears, at Council Oak Park in Tulsa.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 11:15 AM on December 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Just for the record: I'm not ruling him out because of his amateur status, but rather because of his approach to publication and because of the difference between his field of expertise and his current claims.

What I mean is: if I were someone with a background in city planning and Creek tribal history, and if my only experience with Meso-American culture was spending about a year in Mexico, I'd try to run my "so, maybe the Mayans were in Georgia?" theory past a few experts first, or write an article for peer review, rather than writing a book about it and publishing it in a vanity press.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:20 AM on December 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


Oops! Yeah, I meant to specifically refer to the areas currently occupied by the United States.

The New Mexican and Arizonan Pueblos could be considered cities, as well as the Anasazi cliff dwellings.

I'm going to email this link to a good friend who did archeology in the caves of Belize for 20 years, and see what he thinks about it. It's not impossible that Mayan influence spread that far north, even if it was diluted. The other thing that intrigues me is that the Maya had a strong spiritual connection to the underworld, as evidenced by the massive quantities of offerings, shrines, burial sites, etc. in the caves of the Yucatan. The area of Georgia where this site seems to be is in an area known to the caving community as TAG for Tennessee Alabama & Georgia, and is home to some of the deepest, most developed karst in the US. I've not heard anything about Mayan-style pottery or burial sites in any TAG caves, which would surely be a BIG DEAL in the caving community, if any were found, and it seems like if an intact Mayan culture had been in the area, some would surely be known. I'm not totally read-up on the archeology of TAG caves, but I keep up enough with caving journals in general to think that I would have run across something like this if it existed. Caves would also likely offer the least-despoiled archeological sites from a preservation standpoint.
posted by Devils Rancher at 11:20 AM on December 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


the author's credentials don't look too promising

An accomplished architect, noted for his architectural scholarship, history preservation efforts and expertise in urban planning, who's also was sponsored by Mexico's National Museum of Anthropology to study ancient cities in Mexico? That's a pretty good resume for a cross-disciplinary expert.
posted by Slap*Happy at 11:23 AM on December 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


I missed the part where he published a vanity press book on the topic - yeah, that's a clear indicator of a bozo.
posted by Slap*Happy at 11:26 AM on December 22, 2011


Well, to be fair, Lulu.com is better than a vanity press. Although, not by much...
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:28 AM on December 22, 2011


People On Fire researchers need to make their observations very quickly.
posted by idiopath at 11:49 AM on December 22, 2011


My first AskMe was about trying to locate a documentary about the demise of the Maya. I still haven't found it but have learned a lot on my quest. The premise behind this FPP sounds incredibly fishy. Where are the peer reviews? And the fact that it is only on examiner.com doesn't help. Thanks for recommending 1491. Reading the reviews of it makes me wonder if the documentary that I am looking for was based on this book.
posted by futz at 12:50 PM on December 22, 2011


A caged bird singing? Mayans!

Mayan acoustics.
posted by homunculus at 1:45 PM on December 22, 2011




When Europeans first settled the Georgia Mountains in the early 1800s, they observed hundreds of fieldstone ruins...

Wouldn't be at all surprising that such a thing has been overlooked for so long. 'Past-blindness' was common until the technology of recent times. The Earth was littered with mysteries. Who had time for it, or a magic decoder ring?

A little over a century ago, Stonehenge was just a careless, jumbled pile of rocks that meant little to anyone, except people looking for building stone. Around 1915 the site was sold at auction for a few thousand pounds. What we see today is the result of a by-guess and by-golly P. T. Barnum-style reconstruction effort that began a century ago.
posted by Twang at 5:29 PM on December 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


Link to Williams' Report

Williams explicitly identified the site and the structures as being from the Late Woodland period, primarily based on the pottery finds that came out of the test excavations. Thus, Thornton's claim that, "Williams was unable to determine who built the mound," does not hold water.
posted by ursus_comiter at 6:14 PM on December 22, 2011


Ooooooooh. I keep being annoyed at people recommending 1491 until I realized that they meant THIS book, not this dubious nonsense. Stupid brain.
posted by Wretch729 at 6:20 PM on December 22, 2011


Raw Story picked this up, and someone claiming to be Thornton is over there making an ass of himself in the comments.
posted by Devils Rancher at 7:09 PM on December 22, 2011


I really enjoyed reading Loubster and Frink's appraisal of the site (9UN367) linked upthread. The area is mapped in detail, including cross sections and diagrams of the exploratory digs. Their excavation makes good reading if you have a taste for science being done. It's too bad they had to stop immediately when they found evidence of a possible grave under Stone Pile 1. They also give some background on how the area appeared and was interpreted by the Cherokee back in the early 1800s.

They tentatively associate 9UN367 with known Mississippian culture; a wall/terrace seems to date from about 800 AD. They, of course, make no reference whatsoever to any Mesoamerican influence. The eyeball-catching MAYA tag does seem a bit fantastical.

On the other hand, the Maya were an advanced, urban culture whose influence and trade stretched at least into central Mexico and the Caribbean. The Mayan people themselves numbered in the millions when their whole system basically fell apart--at about the same time the Mississippian economy was growing in the future US.

To me, the far-fetched proposition would be that the Maya somehow did not significantly influence the people of the American southeast as they began settling down in villages, towns, and a few very big cities.
posted by General Tonic at 9:33 PM on December 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


News flash from the Nevada desert!
posted by Splunge at 11:38 PM on December 22, 2011


A little over a century ago, Stonehenge was just a careless, jumbled pile of rocks that meant little to anyone, except people looking for building stone. Around 1915 the site was sold at auction for a few thousand pounds. What we see today is the result of a by-guess and by-golly P. T. Barnum-style reconstruction effort that began a century ago.

Can you cite your source for that?...because there's a couple pieces of historic evidence that seem to contradict you -- this photo from 1885 shows the monument in about the same configuration it is now, and this woodcut from a twelfth-century history of Britain seems to also depict its structure (as well as a fanciful construction method -- "a giant built it").
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:17 AM on December 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


Boingboing's science editor calls the claims baloney. Examiner is an unreliable source...
posted by Bwithh at 9:06 PM on December 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


Bwithh: "Boingboing's science editor calls the claims baloney. Examiner is an unreliable source..."

I think you buried the lede, Bwithh. It's more like: Mark Williams, the archeologist who conducted the research on which Richard Thornton's article is based, says the Examiner is full of it. In the links is a quote at Artinfo where Williams says, “The Maya connection to legitimate Georgia archaeology is a wild and unsubstantiated guess on the part of the Thornton fellow. No archaeologists will defend this flight of fancy.”
posted by ob1quixote at 6:55 AM on December 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


@EmpressCallipygos Can you cite your source for that?
Well you could actually start with Wikipedia then follow their reference to Roger Tavener (#43), followed by Googling to several sites that cite and claim to paraphrase Tavener.

Neither of your illustrations show enough of the structure to contradict my claim... which is based in considerably more than WP. Have you seen my monograph?
posted by Twang at 10:08 PM on December 25, 2011


The Examiner has returned to the ring with a followup article which amplifies the strong qualifications of the author (several here sniffed at without bothering to look up) who is part of a project to correct
a series of popular books ... during the previous 20 years that mistranslated Native American words and misrepresented the known indigenous history of the Southeast.
This should be good.
posted by Twang at 11:10 PM on December 25, 2011


Examiner.com is offering you the reader, the opportunity to take the role of a juror on this controversy. You will be allowed to review the scientific evidence presented by both sides, then state your opinion as a comment at the end of the article.
ARGH! At least they reprinted some of the debunking. The new "evidence" firmly cements this guy as a crank. I particularly like the part with the ley lines.
posted by Nelson at 8:24 AM on December 26, 2011


Twang, I was referring more to your assertions that the current structure was "P.T. Barnum by guess and by golly". That choice of phrasing implies that the structure was nothing but a random pile of rocks and people just piled things up on top of each other willy-nilly all, "eh, that looks funky, it probably looked like that."

However -- as the link YOU provided for me states -- people have been describing the structure "since recorded history". The pictures I linked to were serving to illustrate only that the structure wasn't just a big pile of nothing, as I thought you were implying.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:48 PM on December 26, 2011


Finally heard back from my friend who was a field archeologist in Belize...
I figured the topic might show up on the TXARCH chatroom of the Texas Archeological Society, which it did, briefly. See the posts below.* I just read the short report on the site by Mark Williams, and there is absolutely nothing found or implied to connect it to the Maya. There are certainly some interesting similarities between the southeastern US cultures and those in Mesoamerica, and I think it's generally accepted that there could have been coastal trade between the two areas. A long distance exchange of ideas and goods on a relatively small scale is entirely feasible. Explaining it as a short-term mass migration of people is an entirely different matter. Richard Thornton's arguments are typical, taking a few tidbits here and there (e.g., this artifact looks like that one) to create a grand theory based on speculation. His article is bull caca. Especially given the fact that everyone knows the aliens built all the pyramids. =-O


*
----------------

Amazing that anyone could read this report and then try to link this hilltop in Georgia to the Maya ... tres bizarro!

----------------

A few clarifications might be in order, let we think that archaeologists cited in the story believe any of the claptrap. The article was written by one Richard Thornton, an architect and urban planner, who is the one classifying Pina Chan as an exemplary archaeologist. I guess he's sorta the "PI" for the article.

Mark Williams, University of Georgia, and Jannie (not "Joannes") Loubser, the South African archaeologist cited in the article, have, in the "Comments" section to the article, disavowed the crackpots using their work to claim Maya ties to Georgia.

Naturally, some of the commenters support the Maya-in-Georgia lunacy, decrying those evil, racist archaeologists. One says he's relaying Williams' comments to his state legislator to shut off funding to Williams' office until Williams gets his facts right.

To quote Herr Schiller, "Against stupidity the gods themselves contend in vain."

-------------------

Calling Charlie Daniels' Band....we need a new version of /*the Devil Went Down to Georgia*/ "The Maya Went Up to Georgia....
" "Fire on the mountain. Run,boys, run!" I expect this is where the Planetary Collapse (or recycling) will occur in 2012, based on Maya prophecies. This is all supported by folks with Maya in their DNA, and Georgia "native americans" whose oral "histories" sort of, kind of, point to the meddling of the Maya.

And the PI thinks the late Roman Pina-Chan of Mexican archaeology's past, was "a great archaeologist." We'll need to question this....was it before or after Roman Pina Chan took bulldozers to the Olmec site of La Venta?

(Dispatched from the raised fields of the Maya along upper Seco Creek....)
So, general derision.
posted by Devils Rancher at 6:13 AM on January 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm about 85% of the way through reading Pauketat's book on Cahokia, thanks to this thread. It's a pretty good book, lots of interesting history I knew nothing about. His central argument is that Cahokia represented a unique event in North American history, a large city built around 1050 that had a wide cultural influence. The author occasionally is given to speculation in service of telling a good story, which makes for an entertaining read if possibly shaky science. But it's a well grounded book.

There's a whole chapter (chapter 10) on possible links between Mesoamerican culture and Cahokian culture. The biggest issue for a potential connection is there are no artifacts from one culture found at the sites of the other. No physical evidence of trade, or immigration, or even contact. There are lots of hints of shared ideas that suggest some possible cultural exchange: similar technology, artistic forms, architectural design.
posted by Nelson at 7:21 AM on January 4, 2012


Well, there was definitely a chain of local trade connections running all the way up and down Mesoamerica and North America. The Classic or Postclassic Maya may not have traded directly with the residents of Cahokia, but they traded with people who traded with people who... who traded with them. So it makes sense that technologies and ideas would diffuse from one group to the other, even without direct contact.
posted by nebulawindphone at 8:08 AM on January 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


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