No Evidence of Maya in Prehistoric Georgia

In December of 2011, Richard Thornton claimed that an archaeological site with stone terraces and piles located in northern Georgia represents a ceremonial center built by Mayan immigrants. In one of his numerous follow-up articles, Thornton claims that this site contains the remains of a stacked stone serpent effigy; a vast rainwater collection and distribution system involving dams and a cistern; a soapstone altar with cut steps; and the remains of numerous stone structures, both above-ground and buried. Thornton has since argued that the remains of Mayan houses and settlements are present throughout the Southern Highlands.An associate of Thornton’s has also claimed that the Woodland mound center Kolomoki may have been a Mayan center located to take advantage of the local white clay deposits for the production of the Maya blue pigment, and thatSwift Creek Complicated Stamped pottery represents the pottery of Mesoamerican/Mayan immigrants.

Based on work conducted at the north Georgia site by professional archaeologist Jannie Loubser (2010), there is no evidence that this site represents the remains of Mayan immigrants. The following is Jannie’s response to Thornton’s claims:
Between the eighteenth century and twentieth centuries different American Indians from different locations in the southeastern US have told different Euro-Americans that stone piles are commemorative markers honoring departed Indians. The few artifacts that came from the two test excavations at the site are all local. The only dark deposits identified at the site was from a small two by one meter stone-line cyst-like feature below a big stone pile. The ostensible absence of artifacts and midden-like deposits from the rest of the site is significant; nothing showed-up in tree tip-ups or in the erosional gullies. Contrary to my original expectation that the stone feature complex could be a massive Native American Indian town or perhaps extensive historic period Euro-American agricultural features, the place really does not appear to be a fully-fledged habitation or an agricultural site. When I visited village sites inhabited or even terraced fields worked by intensive agriculturalists, such as the Quecha-speaking people at Inkamachay in the Bolivian Andes, there were literally thousands of sherds and other remains lying around. If the site was inhabited by intensive agriculturalists, such as the Mayans or Mississippian period Indians, it would have brimmed with artifacts and house remains. The known facts and proposed hypotheses concerning the stone-walled complex within Track Rock Gap, quite likely a kind of necropolis honoring departed Indians (with likely historic period additions and alterations), should be sufficiently amazing to capture the attention and stimulate the imagination of academics and public alike. Ultimately, the “out of thin air” speculations of naysayers disregard the descendants of indigenous people who built the stone features and I can fully empathize with the frustration of indigenous peoples who are continuing to be denied a voice in how their heritage is being interpreted.

Further, according to the knowledge of professional archaeologists who work within Georgia, as well as the state archaeological database, no evidence of prehistoric Mayan or other Mesoamerican immigrants has been found to date anywhere within the state.
Speculative claims such as Thornton’s that are not backed up by archaeological data can be detrimental to the public understanding regarding the archaeology of Georgia. In this instance, since his original article, the United States Forest Service (USFS) found that numerous people have visited this site and that some of the rocks had been moved and/or rearranged and that trails were forming. In order to protect and preserve this important site from damage, vandalism, and alteration, the USFS cut selected trees and brush to inhibit access to the site and recently released a statement and a video debunking Thornton’s claim. The Muscogee Creek Nation, the Eastern Band of Cherokee, and theUnited Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians have also countered Thornton’s claim and are working closely with the USFS in this matter