Sustainable America Series Part 3: Discovery of Pre-Columbian Maya Mountain Village in North America

By Richard Thornton – Architect, Planner and noted Historian

The controversial recent discovery of the Track Rock Terrace complex on the tallest mountain in Georgia came as a surprise ending to seven years of research by Richard Thornton, a Creek Indian architect and city planner who had devoted much of his 40-year career to research into the pre-European past of North America and preservation of early American architecture. The Creek Indians have long known that they had some Mayan ancestors. Most Creeks carry some Maya DNA and there are numerous Maya and Totonac words in the Itsate-Creek language that was spoken in the southeastern United States. The Track Rock Terrace Complex involves sophisticated drainage and agricultural infrastructure and is roughly a half mile square in area, including at least 154 stone masonry retaining walls, plus the stone ruins of buildings, animal effigies and altars.

Ancient trails that have seldom felt human feet for over 600 years suddenly have paths worn down their middle. Since the announcement of the Track Rock Terrace complex last December, the world is beginning to learn about this enigmatic archaeological zone high in the mountains of northern Georgia. In its current state, the enormous scale of the original town is difficult to appreciate, unless the visitor spends hours of vigorous hiking up and down the steep slopes.

When the foliage is dormant, the dense stands of a seemingly infinite variety of trees still block most long distance views. Even in late winter or early spring, there are only a few vantage points where a visitor can see more than a dozen stone walls at any time. Typically, those views are along the wide trail that leads from a cluster of ancient petroglyphs at Track Rock Gap to a dormant volcanic fumarole about 900 feet (274 m) above. Some ruins can only be accessed by narrow paths, created through the centuries by deer and bears. Many ruins, even those of special significance, have no access trail at all. Reaching them requires navigation through a cellulose web of tree trunks, saplings and vines.

About an hour’s hike will be required to reach the acropolis, where the most interesting ruins are located. Along the way, you will see many agricultural walls, burial cairns and large made-made terraces, where the commoners probably erected their houses. The vigorous hiking required to see these ancient ruins has its rewards. It is a raw archaeological site, of international importance, that strongly resembles the ruins in southern Mexico before they were developed for tourists. You will see how nature took back a place, lived in by mankind for hundreds of years.

Persons with life-threatening health conditions should not climb the mountain up to the ruins. Many visitors, who thought they were in good physical condition, have found themselves stopping to catch their breath. It is also not safe to hike the site alone. Several areas are extremely steep and rock strewn. There are also some coyotes, bears and poisonous snakes living in that section of the Chattahoochee National Forest.

More archaeological study is needed

In 2000 the U.S. Forest Service retained South African archaeologist, Johannes Loubser, to study the famous cluster of petroglyphs at Track Rock Gap. Retired electrical engineer, Cary Waldrup, persuaded the USFS to also map the complex of stone ruins across Track Rock Gap Road. The following year, a consortium of citizens and two non-profit organizations retained Loubser’s firm to carry out a survey of the site, which included excavation of two small test pits. The three layers of fill soil from an agricultural terrace contained pottery shards possibly dating back to the 700s AD. They were radiocarbon dated to have been first applied around 1000 AD. There are approximately 250 visible terrraces with stone retaining walls. Some may be much older that 1000 AD.

The chemical analysis of the fill soil revealed that it contained chunks of charcoal and broken pottery. The analysts did not realize the significance of this trait at that time. The charcoal and potshards are the telltale sign of tierra preta, a biologically active soil whose invention probably first occurred in South America. Bacteria grows in the presence of charcoal and ceramics, which makes soil more fertile.

None of the archaeologists or local residents involved in this initial study had a background in Mesoamerican architecture or had even visited Mexico. The archaeologists did not offer a specific interpretation of the site, but did do solid professional groundwork for certifying the Track Rock Terrace Complex as an enormous archaeological zone containing artifacts associated with pre-European occupants of the region.

The Track Rock Terrace Complex is identical to hundreds of terrace complexes built by illiterate Itza Maya farmers in Central America, during the period between 600 AD and 1,200 AD. Many are still in use today. It even has two small streams that define the sides of the site, just like most Itza Maya terrace complexes.

Itsate, the name that these Itza farmers called themselves, is also the name of a major branch of the Creek Indian Confederacy. The Itsate (Hitchiti Creeks) were associated with the construction of the largest pyramidal mounds in the Southeastern United States. Still today, the Creek Indians use many Maya and Totonac words that were borrowed from Mexico. Early English maps show several Indian towns named Itsate or Itsaye ringing the Track Rock Gap – Brasstown Bald Area. The Creek Indians have always insisted that they received immigrants from Mexico over 1,200 years ago, who became their elite. Most anthropologists, however, have not been listening, at least until now.

Because of the enormous scale, uniqueness and complexity of the Track Rock Terrace Complex, many years of archaeological investigation will be required before it is fully understood. Peoples from several ethnic backgrounds may have lived on or near the site during its 500+ years of occupation. There is linguistic and genetic evidence that an indigenous people from the Andes in South America were living east of Track Rock Gap during the 1500s.

Traveling to Track Rock Gap

The U.S. Forest Service parking lot for the Track Rock Gap Archaeological Zone is directly adjacent to Track Rock Gap Road, a paved, county-maintained thoroughfare, and only a few minutes from many motels, restaurants and shopping facilities. This future, national tourist destination is about 100 miles (160 km) north of Downtown Atlanta and seven miles south of the Georgia-North Carolina State Line. It is 79 miles (128 km) due east of Chattanooga, TN and 87 miles (140 km) southwest of Asheville, NC.

Track Rock Gap is only minutes away from the Chattahoochee National Forest Museum and Visitors Center atop Brasstown Bald Mountain, Georgia’s highest peak. Other nearby attractions include the Appalachian Trail, which passes about two miles from Track Rock; John C. Campbell Folk School & Museum in Brasstown, NC; historic Downtown Murphy, NC; Vogel State Park (lots of things for families to do there,) Blood Mountain & the Walasiyi Hikers Inn; beautiful Lakes Chattuge & Nottely; the Georgia Mountain Fairgrounds and entertainment complex in Hiawassee, GA; and the Gold Mining Museum in Dahlonega.

The quickest way to reach the Track Rock Gap from Atlanta is via I-575, which branches off from I-75 near Marietta, GA. Near Ball Ground, GA, I-575 becomes GA 515. It is still a four lane expressway and continues all the way to Blairsville, GA. Past Blairsville, GA 515 becomes a two lane highway, but you will soon need to turn right on Track Rock Gap Rd.

Printed or downloadable copies of a recently published book on the Track Rock Gap Archeological Zone, Itsapa: the Itza Maya in North America, may be obtained from Lulu Publishing Inc. at

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18 responses

  1. UPDATE:

    U. S. Forest Service employees vandalize Native American town site
    July 9, 2012
    By: Richard Thornton

    Employees of the United States Forest Service recently cut down over a hundred trees within a large archaeological zone to block a trail, long utilized by hikers to view an ancient volcanic vent hole and the massive Native American town site. This was apparently the agency’s “knee jerk” response to a nationally televised program on the Travel Channel, which praised the beauty and cultural significance of Track Rock Gap in Georgia…

  2.  Dear Friends at People of One Fire,

    You may see photos of Track Rock Gap taken last winter and on 7/7/2012 at the
    following URL:


    Richard Thornton


  3. UPDATE:

    1000 year old Georgia mountain town contains sophisticated irrigation system
    November 23, 2012
    By: Richard Thornton

    Scientific study of the Track Rock Terrace Complex near Brasstown Bald Mountain, GA has continued in 2012, with some amazing discoveries. The massive archaeological zone contains hundreds of stone retaining walls, stone altars, cairns and ruins of stone buildings. A sophisticated rainwater storage and distribution system has also recently been identified.

    Meanwhile, in a return to its original tradition of academic excellence, the History Channel has poured extensive investments into its own “top secret” research, investigating the “Mayas in America” controversy. On the evening of December 21, 2012 the H2 Channel will debut the new series, “Unearthing America.”

  4. Sneak preview of the new TV series, “America Unearthed”

    The History Channel investigated numerous archaeological zones in Georgia and Mexico. They found absolute proof that Mayas had visited the Chattahoochee River Valley many times over a period of centuries. The Chattahoochee River begins on the slopes of Brasstown Bald Mountain, just east of the Track Rock ruins.

    Well, here we go into a brave new world . . .

    Life is, indeed, a box of chocolates!

    Richard Thornton, Editor
    Architect & City Planner

  5. History Channel proves that Mayas came to North America
    December 22, 2012
    By: Richard Thornton

    …The film company traveled southward through Georgia, filming Creek Indian town sites and interviewing experts. Wolter became increasingly convinced that Thornton was on to something. The production crew then flew to Mexico for a week where they interviewed archaeologists and filmed terrace complexes very similar to the one in Georgia. Wolter still did not have absolute proof that the Mayas ever traveled to Georgia, however.

    During September of 2012, in a last attempt to find definitive proof, Wolter requested building material sample of several Maya buildings from the Institutio Nacional de Antropologia Y Historia in Mexico. He planned to use state of the art technology to determine the origin of these minerals. Most minerals were obtained from locations in southern Mexico or Guatemala.

    The dramatic climax of the TV program occurs when a chemist completes his analysis of the last batch of materials; this time from the city of Palenque, which was the capital of the Itza Mayas. Thornton believed the Georgia terrace complex was built by Itza Mayas. Losing hope of finding definitive proof, Wolter expected the final sample also to be mined in Mexico. The chemist nonchalantly tells Wolter that this sample came from a mine in the former Creek town of Attapulgus, Georgia. He is 100% certain.

    Wolter is visibly stunned at this moment. It suddenly dawns on him that he has, indeed, changed the history books. Long before Maya refugees came to Georgia to escape the horrific collapse of their civilization, they were mining the state’s minerals to construct
    buildings and create art at home.

    *** History Channel H2 has announced that the premier of Unearthing America will be broadcast several more times, due to the importance of its discoveries.

  6. America Unearthed, behind the scenes
    December 24, 2012
    By: Richard Thornton

    Hundreds of hours of filming go into the production of a prime-time, one hour television documentary. By necessity, most of the scenes filmed for “America Unearthed” were never viewed by the public. The premier turned out well, but that one show could have been stretched to out to a mini-series . . . with a plentiful portion of drama that the public never suspected…

  7. Biochar crops thrive in experimental terrace structure
    January 14, 2013

    By: Richard Thornton

    A technique for dramatically increasing the fertility of soil that was developed by the indigenous peoples of the Upper Amazon Basin and the Itza Mayas of southern Mexico enables members of the cabbage family to thrive in frigid wintertime conditions. Plants in the cabbage family were probably not grown by Native American farmers until after the arrival of Europeans. Substantial evidence of biochar agriculture in the terraces at Track Rock Gap, Georgia was one of the strongest links to the former presence of Itza Maya farmers and possibly, also South Americans.

    The opening scenes of the premier of the History Channel’s America Unearthed” provided viewers glimpses of an agricultural experiment that is mimicking the growing conditions of the Track Rock Gap terraces. Both the Track Rock Terraces and the experimental garden face the southwest, which exposes them to the hottest growing conditions in the afternoon….

    The terrace garden experiment strongly suggests that biochar agriculture could have a major impact on the profitability of Sunbelt farming operations. Locations in full sun could produce second crops of cool weather vegetables without the need for expensive chemical applications or constant weeding. Twice as much income from the same tract of land is a “good thing.”

    Note: In addition to being an architect, the author was a professional farmer for 17 years. During that period he was named U.S. Conservation Service Farmer of the Year.

    1. The magic biochar garden terraces, one year later – Mixing of charcoal, diluted urine, alluvial sediments, lime and organic refuse into virgin mountainside soil has resulted in an unimaginably productive terrace garden without use of commercial chemicals.

      On May 1, 2012 a steep, densely vegetated hillside in the gold-bearing region of the Georgia Mountains was cleared to build agricultural terraces that mimicked the Track Rock Terrace Complex. Two months later, the new garden became the opening scene of the premier of the History Channel’s “America Unearthed.” Since that time, the productivity of this garden, based on Creek and Itza Maya farming techniques, has been phenomenal. While nearby chemical-based gardens, planted “by the signs” according to ancient European traditions, were barely out of the ground by early June of 2013, the magic biochar garden has produced food every month since June of 2012….

  8. Hello My name is Eugene Bridges. I have a mystery buster for you concerning Trackrock. My great grandfather Alph Bridges owned approximately 100 acres on Trackrock Gap in the mid 1800’s. This land included the petroglyphs that you have made reference to. The property ran from the top of the gap, across to the base of the buzzard roost, down to the terrace walls, which he and his family built. They called the terraces the buzzard roost fields. They grew corn and produce there for many years. The Ensleys were the neighbors on the southside. My great grandfather also logged all the walnut trees for cross ties. He hauled them to Gainesville, Georgia along with the produce. In 1903, Alph had a son, my grandfather, named Esker Bridges. When he grew up he was given the property and he logged all the acid wood off of it, which they used to make dye. He also hauled this wood to Gainesville, GA by horse and wagon. When my dad, Robert Bridges, was born, his dad Esker turned the property over to his first cousin “Redeye” Barnes, an old moonshiner and logger. Upon payment for the land, once he logged the locust off of it, he sold it to forest service and died owing my grandfather for the property. This is how the forest service owns the property today, even though my grandfather was never paid for the property. I hope this helps you better understand the mystery of the terraces on Trackrock. I am still researching and finding out new things the deeper I search. By the way…I love the show!!! If you would like to contact me further about this, you may send me an email at

  9. Mr.& Mrs. Bridges letter below is being mass-distributed by USFS employees to
    sites related to the Track Rock site. Ironically, the statement is in direct contradiction to USFS’s own archaeological report and all statements made by their representatives before a couple weeks.

    The Track Rock Archaeological Zone is roughly four times bigger than the portion ever owned by the Bridges family. Also we are now studying 14 terrace sites in Georgia alone. They are all coming back with similar radiocarbon dates. Most of
    these sites are in areas that were never occupied by the Cherokees. The Cherokees did not have ownership of Track Rock Gap until 1785. Prior to that all maps show it within Upper Creek territory.

    my book I showed photographs of a few relatively new check dams composed of crudely stacked
    rocks at the bottom of the Track Rock terrace site that appeared to be
    20th century. However, the skillfully laid stone walls higher on the
    slope contained tiera preta – charcoal mixed with Indian pottery shards
    dating back to the 700s AD. The charcoal was dated to around 1000 AD –
    1250 AD -1500 AD (soil applied in three layers)

    We have also found
    eyewitness accounts of the site in historical Creek Indian archives and
    the Archives of the West Indies in Sevelle, Spain. A Spaniard, Pedro
    Moreles and a Frenchman, Nicholas Burgiognon, wrote affidavits in the
    1580s that they among several traders in Santa Elena, visited a “great
    stone capital” on the side of Georgia’s highest mountain, which the
    Spanish called Grande Copal. The Kashita Creeks, who at that time
    were living in the Murphy-Hayesville, NC area, claim to have destroyed
    this city on the side of a mountain, when there was a drought and famine.

    What actually happened behind the scenes is that the USFS neglected the stone ruins for decades. When it received worldwide attention, they sought the help of ultra-rightwing elements in the agency, who came in during the Bush years. These people repeatedly attempted Bush Era type political dirty tricks which repeatedly blew up in their faces. Those USFS bureacrats involved with this grotesque waste of taxpayers’ money should be fired. I am working on that now.

    1. Please refrain from introducing your own politically motivated opinions unless you are prepared to completely disclose your evidence and sources for public scrutiny and obfuscate your stated desire of scientific discovery. You may well be onto something regarding the significance of these discoveries, but by introducing a political opinion you have no less than proclaimed that you too, have an ideological axe to grind. Leave it alone and get on with the science.

  10. Design links Track Rock Gap and Etowah Mounds to Mayas
    Richard Thornton
    October 7, 2013

    This design image is found throughout northern Georgia. It is sometimes seen in art at other Native American town sites. Although not mentioned in the premier of America Unearthed, it has proven to be the most powerful evidence of all that Mesoamerican refugees settled in the Georgia Mountains….

  11. Apalache, the lost kingdom in Northeast Georgia
    Richard Thornton
    March 15, 2014

    Native American researchers, working with local historic preservationists, the GIS Department of Jackson County, Georgia’s government and a student at the Institute for Environmental and Spatial Analysis at the University of North Georgia, have identified several complexes of pre-European stone structures along the headwaters of the Oconee River, Apalachee River and their tributaries….

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