03 May 2011

Pre-Colonial Caribbean Indigenous Presence in North America: Evidence from Georgia, added to Alabama and Florida

Amazing new evidence of the travel, communication, and settlement of Caribbean indigenous people in North America--this time with evidence coming from an area near Atlanta, Georgia. In an article recently published in The Examiner, "Experts solve mystery of ancient stone monument near Atlanta" (11 April 2011), we read that glyphs on a granite slab found near the remains of New Manchester in Georgia have been determined to be evidence of settlement by indigenous people from Cuba or Puerto Rico who once lived in the interior of eastern North America.
"One day, long before Christopher Columbus claimed to have landed on the eastern edge of Asia, a forgotten people cut steps in the rocks leading up a steep bluff near the Chattahoochee River in the northwest section of the State of Georgia. They carved a supernatural figure on a four feet by one foot granite slab and erected it on the top of the knoll. The strange, primitive art was very different than the highly realistic stone sculptures found in the region that are known to have been created by the ancestors of Georgia’s Creek Indians.

"...In 1909 a man named W. H. Roberts was hunting wild turkeys in a hilly area next to the ruins of Manchester. After climbing the bluff over Sweetwater Creek that was known as “an Indian cemetery” because of the stone artifacts scattered on its slopes, Roberts happened to notice a granite slab laying flat on the ground. Apparently, rains had washed away the thin top soil that had concealed it for centuries.

"Most scholars, who viewed the images incised on the slab in the early 1900s, assumed it was created by Native Americans, but had no further explanation. Primitive rock art such as on the slab found by Roberts is now known as petroglyphs. There are now professionals and organizations that have developed the study of petroglyphs into a science, but a century ago such artifacts were viewed as curiosities

"Throughout the mid-20th century, the Roberts (or Sweetwater Creek) petroglyph was on display at the Rhodes Mansion on Peachtree Street in Atlanta. This landmark house was the original office of the Georgia Division of Archives and History. After the state agency moved to a large marble structure near the Capitol, the petroglyphs were put in storage. The granite slab stayed there until Sweetwater Creek State Park was created around the ruins of Manchester in the 1970s. The slab is now on display at the park and protected by a Plexiglas screen."
The inquiry as to the possibility that the rock art may have been produced by Caribbean indigenous settlers began when the The Examiner launched its national architecture and design column series on the petroglyphs of the Southern Highlands. One of the articles featured the Sweetwater Creek petroglyph and an cluster of petroglyphs on nearby Nickajack Creek. This intrigued "filmmaker and amateur archaeologist Jon Haskell of Carmel, Indiana," who was struck by the unusual appearance of the Sweetwater Creek petroglyph--"he had filmed documentaries in many parts of the Americas, but had never seen any petroglyph like the Sweetwater Creek Petroglyph in the United States."
"During the first week of April 2011, Haskell sent emails throughout North America to friends who were either archaeologists, petroglyph specialists or experts on Native American art. Most of the responses also expressed bafflement that such a strange petroglyph design would be found near Atlanta. Some respondents commented that it was similar to Ice Age cave art found in Spain and North Africa. However, because of its placement on a hilltop shrine associated with Native American artifacts, the Sweetwater Petroglyph appears to date from a much more recent epoch. 
"Stephen C. Jett is a geography professor at the University of California at Davis and a recognized scholar of the petroglyphs and pictographs of the American Southwest. His brief comment emailed back to Jon Haskell was the first interpretation in a century that assigned an ethnic identity to the Sweetwater Petroglyph. He wrote, 'It looks vaguely Caribbean to me, but that's just an impression, I am not conversant with the rock art of that region.'
"Images and descriptions of the Sweetwater Petroglyph were immediately emailed to several specialists on Caribbean rock art. The respondents sent back photographs of rock art in Cuba, Puerto Rico and Hispaniola that were the same style as the one in Georgia. One petroglyph from Puerto Rico seems to portray the very same supernatural figure. It is a “guardian spirit” whose presence warned travelers that they were entering a province or sacred area. This style of art was typically placed on stone slabs 3-5 tall, which were located on hilltops or beside major trails."
The Sweetwater Petroglyph is a stone slab 4 feet tall that was originally on a hilltop. It is now found to be "very significant evidence that Native Americans originally from Puerto Rico, Cuba or Hispaniola paddled to the Florida Peninsula; followed the Gulf Coast up to the mouth of the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee River; then ulitimately settled in the vicinity of what is now Atlanta." It seems that the most likely time period for this migration dates from 1,000 to 2,000 years ago, "but the date of the carvings on the granite slab are currently unknown."

Tobacco, Corn, and the Bow and Arrow: Also from the Caribbean?

The same article also discusses the likelihood that corn and tobacco were introduced to North American Indians by Caribbean migrants:
"Archaeologists currently believe that the Caribbean Basin was settled by waves of peoples moving northward out of South America. The presence of the oldest known pottery of the Western Hemisphere in Georgia suggests that there may have also been movements of population and cultural innovations in the other direction. It is documented, though, that the agricultural villagers began island-hopping northward out of Venezuela around 500 BC and by 500 AD had occupied most islands in the Caribbean Basin. These early people grew tobacco and sweet potatoes, but not many other cultivated plants. Their presence in the Caribbean Basin coincides with the appearance of tobacco in the Southeastern United States.

"In the late 1960s archaeologists working in advance of an industrial park on the Chattahoochee River near Sweetwater Creek's outlet found three varieties of indigenous sweet potatoes growing wild. They looked like 'bushy' morning glories, but had large, edible tubers growing underground. Intensive land development since then has eliminated the wild sweet potato patches. 
"A second wave of Caribbean immigration by Natives speaking dialects of the Arawak language began around 600 AD. These immigrants are associated with the Taino People of the Caribbean Basin and the Timucua of Florida. They introduced the bow and arrow, plus advanced varieties of Indian corn to the Caribbean Basin. They were much sophisticated artisans and farmers than the first wave of immigrants. The period also marks the introduction of the bow and arrow, plus advanced varieties of corn into the Southeastern United States. By 1150 AD the second wave of Arawak immigrants had reached the Florida peninsula. About that same time, numerous towns with mounds were abandoned in northeastern Florida as was the large megapolis on the Ocmulgee River near Macon, GA, which is now known as Ocmulgee National Monument."
The Indigenous Caribbean within North America

The article concludes with a section dealing with Caribbean indigenous peoples in North America:
"It is commonly known that the Arawak-speaking Timucua occupied northeastern Florida and the southeastern tip of Georgia in the 1500s when Spain colonized the region. The public is not generally aware that there was also a small cluster of Arawak-speaking villages in the vicinity of Birmingham, AL until the mid-1700s, when they were absorbed by the Creek Indian Confederacy. The presence of what appears to be an Caribbean rock art in northern Georgia suggests that the first wave of Caribbean immigrants were pushed northward into the mainland of North America by the second wave, who were better armed with bows and arrows, and better fed by a wide range of cultivated crops. 
"In 1541 the Hernando de Soto Expedition observed an ethnic group in what is now South Carolina that had a culture very similar to the first wave of Arawak immigrants into the Caribbean. They were described as primitive hunters who went naked, did not know how to grow corn and beans, and relied on roots that they dug from the ground for nutrition. The Creek Indian guides of the expedition called this primitive people the Chalo-ke, which means bass (fish) people. They were not the same people as the Cherokees, and are last seen on a map by French cartographer Delisle, living in southeast Georgia in the early 1700s. 
"The earlier occupants of the Caribbean depended on hunting, gathering, and the digging up of wild yucca roots (cassava) or sweet potatoes for nutrition. They went almost naked. The Guanajatabeyes and Ciboney people were pushed into the western sections of Cuba and Hispaniola by the more sophisticated Taino. The Ciboney often lived in caves. They both soon became extinct after the Spanish arrived.

"The Sweetwater Petroglyph has never been scientifically dated by geologists. In order to interpret the stone more precisely, the general range of its age must be determined. There may be other stones like it hidden under the soil or forgotten in the basements of museums."
For more articles of relevance, previously published in our journal KACIKE, please see:

Figueredo, Alfred E. (2006). The Virgin Islands as an Historical Frontier between the Taínos and the Caribs. KACIKE: The Journal of Caribbean Amerindian History and Anthropology.

Seidemann, Ryan. (2006). The Bahamian Problem in Florida Archaeology: Oceanographic Perspectives on the Issue of Pre-Columbian Contact. KACIKE: The Journal of Caribbean Amerindian History and Anthropology.

Calvache, Divaldo Gutiérrez. (2006). Estilo Patana: Propuesta Para un Nuevo Estilo Ideografico en el Extrmemo Mas Oriental de Cuba. By Divaldo Gutiérrez Calvache, Rasco Fernández Ortega and Jose González Tendero. KACIKE: The Journal of Caribbean Amerindian History and Anthropology.

Files for this report have also been stored in our document collection:

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