On December 21, 2011 architect and researcher Richard Thornton announced that an archaeological site near Brasstown Bald, Georgia's highest peak, could be a Mayan outpost. The archaeological community came out in force and dismissed his claim and stated there was "no evidence" of the Maya in Georgia. The fact is, there is plenty of evidence of a Mayan presence in Georgia and Florida and I will briefly present some of it here. (Read "Were the Maya Mining Gold in Georgia?" for a more in-depth version of this article including pictures of artifacts which support this argument.)
I stumbled upon this connection by asking a simple question: how did corn arrive in Florida before arriving anywhere else in the southeastern U.S. We know corn is a crop developed in Mexico. If it had come by land one would expect to find evidence of its cultivation in Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama long before it arrived in south central Florida. Yet a site in Florida, called Fort Center near Lake Okeechobee, offers the earliest evidence of corn agriculture in the eastern United States. The archaeologist who excavated the site, William Sears, asserted in his book/archaeological report on Fort Center that it must have come from Central America. To me this was a logical conclusion and so I treated this archaeological site as the "scene of the crime," so-to-speak, and started my investigation as to who brought corn to Florida.
Interestingly, while researching the Lake Okeechobee area I noticed that Lake Okeechobee was originally named Lake Mayaimi. It took its name from a tribe of Indians named the Mayaimi who lived around the lake. (This is where the city of Miami gets its name.) The Spanish who first visited this area also noted two other tribes named Mayayuaka and Mayaka in the same area. So in the same place where the first evidence of corn agriculture was discovered we find tribes with "Maya" in their names. Interesting.
I had previously studied Creek Indian migration legends to try and determine where they had originated. Most of their legends suggest an origin in the west, and my research traced them back possibly to west Mexico. Yet one Creek Indian tribe had a completely different migration legend. The Hitchiti-Creek migration legend placed them in the Lake Okeechobee area after having arrived on the Florida coast from a "place of reeds." In the Mayan language, "place of reeds" is a metaphor for a large city. Thus we have a legend that places a southeastern tribe at the scene of the crime arriving by boat from a "place of reeds," a known Mayan euphemism for a city. Once again the evidence suggests a Mayan origin.
If the Hitchiti were, in fact, related to the Maya then there should be some linguistic evidence. I found one such connection on my first try. I only knew one Mayan phrase off the top of my head: Chichen Itza, the great Mayan city in the Yucatan. I knew that chichen meant "mouth of the well" in Mayan with chi meaning "mouth" and chen meaning "well." I consulted a Hitchiti-English dictionary and to my amazement discovered that chi also meant "mouth" in Hitchiti and chahni meant "well" thus chichahni meant "mouth of the well" in Hitchiti. I would later go on to find many more linguistic similarities. (Read: "Were the Maya mining gold in Georgia?")
I next studied artifacts from the area in Georgia where the Hitchiti lived. One pottery tradition, called Swift Creek by archaeologists, was known for being decorated in elaborate symbols. I reasoned that if Mayan words were in the Hitchiti language then perhaps Mayan glyphs were on Hitchiti pottery? I found a collection of these Swift Creek symbols in a book entitled A World Engraved and compared them to glyphs in a Mayan glyph dictionary. I found many Swift Creek designs that were identical to Mayan glyphs. Coincidentally, the Swift Creek pottery tradition began at the same time that corn first showed up around Lake Okeechobee. So once again, the evidence suggested that the Hitchiti were associated with the Maya at some point in their history.
I next decided I needed to learn more about the Maya and who would be capable of an ocean voyage to reach Florida. I quickly found the research of Douglas Peck on the Chontal Maya and their seafaring accomplishments.The Chontal Maya were great seafarers and navigators who controlled all the coastal trade routes from Mexico down to Central America. They also made voyages into the Caribbean. Thus they were the most likely candidates to have traveled to Florida bringing corn along with them.
I also read J. Eric Thompson's book Maya History and Religion and discovered the Chontal Maya called themselves the Putun or Poton and called their province Acala. Interestingly, there is a city called Ocala in Florida. It is named after a Native American province recorded in the journals of the first Spanish conquistadors to pass through the area in the early 1500s. While reading the Spanish journals I was astonished to read the name of the first Native American tribe they met in the vicinity of Ocala: the Potani. Thus we have a province called Ocala and a people called Potani in Florida and a Poton people living in a province called Acala in Mexico. Combined with the earlier evidence of tribes named Mayaimi, Mayayuaki, and Mayaka and again, it all points to a Mayan presence in Florida.
By this point I was convinced that the Poton Maya (Chontal Maya) had definitely reached Florida but what about Georgia? While researching the first French colony in the New World at Fort Caroline in modern-day Jacksonville, Florida I read in the French journals that they travelled to the Apalachian Mountains and encountered a tribe mining gold. (America's first gold rush took place in these same mountains thus we know there was once significant gold in the area.) This was odd since archaeologists have never found many gold artifacts in Native American graves in the region. So who was this tribe and what were they doing with the gold?
Once again I was surpised to learn that the name of this tribe as recorded by the French explorers was Potanou. Were the Poton Maya mining gold in the Apalachian mountains and shipping it back to Mexico? Was this the reason so few gold artifacts were discovered in eastern North America?
We know the Maya were doing something similar in the American southwest at Chaco Canyon. Archaeologists have found southwestern turquois in mosaics at Chichen Itza and Mayan chocolate residue in drinking cups at Chaco Canyon. This is an overland distance of over 2,000 miles. By comparison, Florida is an overwater distance of only 450 miles. In addition, archaeologists have found Mayan jade at sites in the eastern Caribbean on the island of Antigua which is an overwater distance of 1700 miles. (See Map) Clearly, reaching Florida would have been quite easy for the Putun Maya. In fact, the Gulf Loop Current flows north past the Yucatan and goes directly to Florida thus even without sailing technology one could simply float on the currents and arrive in Florida.
In fact, researcher Douglas Peck has noted that when Spanish explorer Ponce de Leon encountered the indigenous people of south Florida they were not only aware of the Yucatan peninsula and the civilizations that existed there but were able to give him exact navigational headings by which to reach it. This would only be possible if there had been contact between the Yucatan and Florida.
Thus when academics assert there is "no evidence" of a Maya presence in Florida and Georgia this is simply not the case. There are multiple lines of evidence which support this argument and, more importantly, they seem to all center around one tribe: the Hitchiti.
Interestingly, researcher Richard Thornton noted in his article that ignited this controversy that he discovered several placenames called Itsate in the north Georgia mountains. Itsate translates as "Itsa people" in the Hitchiti language spoken in the area. This reminded me of the great Mayan scholar J. Eric Thompson's belief that the Putun Maya (Chontal Maya) and Itza Maya were either related or the same people. Could the Hitchiti be one-and-the-same as the Itsati, the Itsa People, i.e., the Itza Maya of Mexico?
Which brings about the question: did the site in the Georgia mountains which Thornton asserts is a Mayan site and likely the lost city of Yupaha, serve a similar function as Chaco Canyon which appears to be a place where high value trade items were collected and shipped to Chichen Itza for use by the city's elites?