Massive 1,100+ year old Maya site discovered in Georgia’s mountains

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Archaeological zone 9UN367 at Track Rock Gap, near Georgia’s highest mountain, Brasstown Bald, is a half mile (800 m) square and rises 700 feet (213 m) in elevation up a steep mountainside.  Visible are at least 154 stone masonry walls for agricultural terraces, plus evidence of a sophisticated irrigation system and ruins of several other stone structures. Much more may be hidden underground.  It is possibly the site of the fabled city of Yupaha, which Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto failed to find in 1540, and certainly one of the most important archaeological discoveries in recent times. 

Around the year 800 AD the flourishing Maya civilization of Central America suddenly began a rapid collapse. A series of catastrophic volcanic eruptions were followed by two long periods of extreme drought conditions and unending wars between city states.

Cities and agricultural villages in the fertile, abundantly watered, Maya Highlands were the first to be abandoned.  Here, for 16 centuries, Itza Maya farmers produced an abundance of food on mountainside terraces.  Their agricultural surpluses made possible the rise of great cities in the Maya Lowlands and Yucatan Peninsula. When the combination of volcanic eruptions, wars and drought erased the abundance of food, famines struck the densely populated Maya Lowlands. Within a century, most of the cities were abandoned.   However, some of the cities in the far north were taken over by the Itza Maya and thrived for two more centuries.

In 1839, English architect, Frederick Catherwood, and writer, John Stephens “rediscovered’ the Maya civilization on a two year long journey through southern Mexico.  When their book on the journey was published in 1841, readers in Europe and North America were astounded that the indigenous peoples of the Americas could produce such an advanced culture.  Architects in both continents immediately recognized the strong similarity in the architectural forms and town plans between southern Mexico and the Southeastern United States. Most agronomists were convinced that corn, beans and tobacco came to the natives of the United States and Canada from Mexico.

In the decades since Catherwood’s and Stephens’ book, archaeologists have not identified any ruins in the United States which they considered to be built by a people, who had originated in Mexico.  This was primarily due to their unfamiliarity with the descendants of the Southeastern mound-builders . . . tribes such as the Creeks, Alabamas, Natchez, Chitimachas and Choctaws.  In particular, the languages of the Creek Indians contain many Mesoamerican words.

Historians, architects and archaeologists have speculated for 170 years what happened to the Maya people.  Within a few decades, the population of the region declined by about 15 million. Archaeologists could not find any region of Mexico or Central America that evidenced a significant immigration of Mayas during this period, except in Tamaulipas, which is a Mexican state that borders Texas on the Gulf of Mexico. However, Maya influence there, seemed to be limited to a few coastal trading centers.  Where did the Maya refugees go?  By the early 21st century, archaeologists had concluded that they didn’t go anywhere.  They had died en masse.

The evidence was always there

In 1715 a Jewish lass named Liube, inscribed her name and the date on a boulder in Track Rock Gap. When Europeans first settled the Georgia Mountains in the early 1800s, they observed hundreds of fieldstone ruins, generally located either on mountaintops or the sides of mountains.  These ruins consisted of fort-like circular structures, walls, Indian mounds veneered in stone, walls, terrace retaining walls or just piles of stones.   Frontiersmen generally attributed these structures to the Indians, but the Cherokees, who briefly lived in the region in the late 1700s and early 1800s, at that time denied being their builders.

By the mid-20th century many Georgians held little reverence for Native American structures. Dozens of Indian mounds and stone masonry structures were scooped up by highway contractors to use in the construction of highways being funded by the Roosevelt Administration.  Providing jobs and cheap construction materials seemed more important in the Depression than preserving the past.

During the late 20th century, the Georgia state government took an active role in preserving some of the stone ruins.  Archaeologists surveyed a few sites.  One of the better known ruins became Fort Mountain State Park. For the most part, however, the stone ruins remained outside the public consciousness.

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2 Responses

  1. m.noel says:

    I,ve always wondered could the world so grandiosly blind our eyes theres so much left to capture it is of course if we are awaken; many mysteries, seemingly one must search at all craters to find even a glimpse of truth … thank you I,ve greatly enjoyed it is indeed beautiful

  2. m.noel says:

    That was fantastic always something that need to be discovered much more left to find out…

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