Jackson County Artifact Adds Mystery to History of the Region: What are the Symbols and Who Made Them?
History is sometimes slow to share its secrets, but it did recently for a rural Jackson County man while he was clearing an area of his property. As a longtime resident and avid artifact collector, he quickly realized he had found another unique piece to add to his collection of atypical North Georgia artifacts .
Jackson County and the surrounding area is rich with archaeological sites located along ancient pathways and waterways flowing to the Chattahoochee River, which traverses the length of the State on its way to the Gulf of Mexico. One nearby unique site that illustrates the ancient history of the area, is a rare structure composed of four earthen concentric circles, the largest being nearly 100 yards (91.4 meters) in diameter.
The equally unique seven-inch (17.8 cm) piece weighs only 23 ounces (652 grams) - a result of being composed of basalt, a soft volcanic rock that is easily shaped. Perhaps this is the reason the piece has seven facets, each presenting a different appearance depending on how it is viewed. Is it a bird, the profile of a face, something else, or all of these? Adding to the visual complexity are the incised geometric shapes and possible symbols on each surface. This leads to the questions of which orientation they should be viewed from and what they represent.
Big Serpent Mound, Ohio, McClen 1885 sketch. Credit: Indigenous Peoples Research Foundation. The diagram is an example of geometric shapes that may have different interpretations.
Trying to correctly answer such questions illustrates the difficulties associated with interpretative attempts. The brain is remarkable in its relentless effort to interpret what something is by sorting through vast amounts of accumulated information to resolve the problem. Its decision however is based only on information it has stored. While this is a simplistic explanation of a more complex psychological phenomenon known as pereidolia, it does explain why different people see different things.
To illustrate, if ten people were asked what the curved feature on the rock’s lower-left side represented, you could get ten different answers. If the participants visualized the profile of a human head, responses like mustache, mouth, or part of the nose could be expected; but if they were not aware that a volute fang shape is a diagnostic of a Mesoamerican deity, it would not be one of their answers.
Other orientations showing symbols. Credit: Indigenous Peoples Research Foundation.
While being a plausible explanation, the fang interpretation by itself is not conclusive. However, when combined with the elongated forehead and spiral earring, the rock decidedly takes on a Mesoamerican appearance. This is a view also shared by two Mesoamerican scholars after reviewing photographs of the basalt rock.
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Other telling indicators are revealed when compared to a Mayan artifact which recently made headlines. It, along with seven others (some of which were fashioned from basalt), were recently returned to Guatemala after being illegally imported to the U.S. Both examples show incised features that may represent the “V” and oval symbols which are found in North American symbolism and which are routinely interpreted as a “serpent swallowing an egg”.
Mayan artifact, Guatemala. Credit: Indigenous Peoples Research Foundation
Perhaps the most compelling evidence linking the ancient peoples of Jackson County to Mexican cultural groups, comes from Charles de Rochefort , a European who wrote of his experiences while touring the American Southeast in the 17th century.
Referring to his conversations with the area’s Indigenous people, he writes...
“These Apalachites boast, that they had propagated certain Colonies a great way into Mexico: And they show to this day a great Road by land, by which they affirm that their Forces march'd into those parts”. “The Inhabitants of the Country, upon their arrival gave them the name of Tlatuici, which signifies Mountaineers or High-Landers...”.
Rochefort also writes, “This people [Apalachites] have a communication with the Sea of the Great Gulf of Mexico or New Spain, by means of a River […] the Spaniards have called this River Rio del Spirito Santo” [Mississippi River].
Left: French Map demonstrating the Apalachites (Apalachee) locations in the South. Right: Spanish Map demonstrating the Apalachites (Apalachee) locations in the South. Source: The History of the Caribby-Islands by Charles de Rochefort, 1658.