Archaeological Research in the Southern Highlands

Between about 1585 and 1600 AD, something catastrophic happened in the Southern Highlands.  The effects are most notable in northwest Georgia, southeast Tennessee and the northwestern North Carolina Mountains.  A native population remained in the heartland of the Apalache “kingdom” in the north-central and northeast mountains of Georgia. In fact the large town of Ustanoli on an island in the Tugaloo River was not sacked and burned until after 1700.  It was eventually replaced by a Cherokee hamlet.

All mound building stopped.  Some of the largest indigenous towns north of Mexico were suddenly abandoned.  Archeologists working in northwestern Georgia found a village in which skeletons were scattered haphazardly across the landscape, as if all died with no one left to bury the dead. In another nearby village they found a cache of adolescent bones, chopped into meal-size chunks by sharp steel weapons.  Throughout the 1800s and early 1900s farmers in northern Georgia plowed up the remains of rusting European weapons and armor from the late 1500s or early 1600s.  The vestiges of the past sparked dozens of folklore tales that “De Soto Slept Here.”

Archaeologists have speculated that a massive plague caused by a European pathogen killed most of the indigenous population in a few days or weeks.  The long concealed evidence says something else.  There was an invasion of Europeans into the mountains at the end of the 16th century. Perhaps these newcomers carried with them the pathogens which killed so many indigenous peoples, but there is a lingering suspicion that they also used their superior weapons to conquer.

In 1976 the State of North Carolina adopted as an official state policy that the Cherokee Tribe had occupied all of western North Carolina, lived in North Carolina for at least 1,000 years and possibly had lived there for 10,000 years. Southeastern anthropological texts written after 1976 typically omitted the many historical archives that describe peoples other than the Cherokees living in the Southern Appalachians.  Frequently these same authors labeled standard, contemporary Creek words found in the De Soto and Pardo chronicles as “ancient Cherokee words whose meanings have been lost.” 1

Also, since 1976, many prehistoric archaeological sites in North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and northern Georgia have been labeled “Cherokee” even though the archaeologists did not carry out DNA forensics to determine ethnic identity. Archaeological sites in northern Georgia and eastern Tennessee that contained European artifacts were automatically assumed to be Cherokee, even though Cherokees occupied a minute section of Georgia until after the American Revolution.  The sites could have been occupied by Europeans. Otherwise, they could have been occupied by other Native American ethnic groups.  Although there are currently no generally accepted DNA markers for the federally recognized Southeastern tribes, Muskogean DNA will usually include Maya, Totonac and/or Tupi-Guarani DNA markers, for which there are accepted standards. 2

When researching the early history of the Southern Highlands, one must always use the original text. During the last quarter of the 20th century, historians from North Carolina arbitrarily changed the ethnic names of indigenous peoples when editing 17th and 18th century documents into modern English.  Almost always the change was from a Muskogean, Yuchi, Shawnee or Algonquin ethnic group name to Cherokee. Any time an online encyclopedia mentions the word “Cherokee” before 1700, it is fabricated history.  The first use of the word “Cherokee” in an official document is in a South Carolina act, dated 1717.   The act was associated with efforts to provide permanent defenses along the trade route labeled the “Cherokee Path.”

Another change that late 20th century North Carolina and Cherokee historians made, when “modernizing” the texts of colonial archives, involved the Shawnee.  These scholars inserted statements that Shawnee temporarily lived on the Savannah River in Georgia and in a few villages in the Blue Ridge Foothills as guests of the Cherokees, but were driven out when they misbehaved.

In actuality, the Shawnee were shown by European mapmakers and archives to live in western North Carolina and Savannah River Basin for over century before the word, Cherokee, appeared. 3 The name of the Swannanoa River in Asheville, NC is derived from the Creek Indian words, Suwani Owa, which mean “Shawnee River.” During the 1700s a large Shawnee town was located in present day Asheville, where Biltmore Village is now located.  Creek Indians lived in the vicinity of present day Hendersonville and Brevard, NC during that era.  The name of Etowah, North Carolina is a vestige of their presence.Citations:

  1. One of the best examples of the “Ancient Cherokee word thing” is Chiaha.  It was a large capital town on an island in a mountain river, that was visited by both Hernando de Soto and Juan Pardo.  Many references call it “the Cherokee town of Chiaha” merely because the town was in the North Carolina Mountains. Chiaha is an Itza Maya word, meaning “Salvia River.”  The people of Chiaha were driven out of the North Carolina Mountains by Cherokee raiders.  They resettled in SW Georgia and joined the Creek Confederacy.[]
  2. Marks, Jonathon & Shelton, Brent Lee,  “Genetic “Markers”- Not a Valid Test of Native Identity,” Indigenous People’s Council on Biocolonialism.[]
  3. Guilluame DeLisle’s maps of North America and the Province of Louisiana always showed Shawnees, Muskogeans and Yuchi’s living in Tennessee and along the Savannah River. Until 1718, DeLisle also showed the same three ethnic groups living in western North Carolina.[]


Thornton, Richard. The Appalachian Colonists from the Mediterranean Basin. Digital Rights Copyright 2013 by

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2 thoughts on “Archaeological Research in the Southern Highlands”

  1. In 2016 I have read the same sentence quoted and repeated word for word about Cherokee slavers in 10 different internet articles from 2010 on.
    I believe that that sentence and its source deserve more scrutiny
    I am no Cherokee expert, but when I grew up in the pre-internet 50s and 60s in western NC the stories I heard from friends of my Grandmother were that the Cherokee fought the childstealers, not WERE the childstealers. The story goes that my ancestors were gladly accepted into the social landscape of Western NC when they arrived in 1632 because of their socialist community organization, fair dealing, and skill with forging weapons to combat the child stealers, who were mound builders.
    Last year before I was aware of any of this, I attended a lecture of the American Archeological Society about the pre-Columbian trade between the South East and the Astech dominated area of Mexico. The trade involved over a million deer hides a year and slaves. The trading entities were the mound building tribes.
    Long ago I read articles on slavery in America . Evidently there are records from Charleston and Savanna of the sale of more than a million indians to the planters in the West Indies in the 16-1700s. The sellers are identifies as Creek speakers, not Cherokee.
    Therefore I believe that the subject of who the slave traders were, pre and post Columbus, merits a great deal more investigation.

    As I mentioned there are reportedly bills of sale and transport records at the South Eastern Atlantic ports of the sale of a million indians to the planters in the West Indies. One would wonder about the utility to the planters of importing a million children and pubescent females, so the demographics of the oft repeated sentence are in doubt.
    The stories are of a very long standing conflict between those indian tribes that sold slaves down the river to the Astech and those who did not.
    It seems that Cherokee was a term the British used for their South Eastern Native American allies and was a term of political affiliation rather than a racial term exclusive to one set of hundreds or thousands of family lineages.

    1. If Cherokee was the term the British used for loosely for South Eastern American Indian Ally, It could therefore be possible for indian tribes to be Creek and Cherokee, Apalach and Cherokee, and Shawnee and Cherokee before 1776. and tribes who were slavers and anti slavers could have both been called or claimed to be Cherokee, in fact this is the observed case.
      By the way, there is a special connection between the American Chestnut and the Cherokee in the Appalachians. It appears that the Appalachian forest was likely managed for food production with the chestnut tree growing on rocky slopes and produced as much high quality protein per acre as the best wheat, feeding deer, bear, wild turkeys and passenger pigeons in perfusion. In addition someone built south facing terraces and burned off the tops of the mountains to allow flowering shrubs for bees and meadow for deer. While squash and gourds are found in both zones and corn came from Mexico, the American Chestnut is not and would have been a crop planted by one generation to be harvested by the next 3 or 4 or 7, considering that many of the American Chestnut stumps that I saw in my childhood were 8 feet in diameter.

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