Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Some History of Rock Pile studies at Track Rock Gap and other sites in the Southeastern US

I asked Norman Muller to fill in some of the history of rock pile studies in the southeast. He writes:

In the late 1990s, probably when I contacted the University of Georgia Anthropology Department about Philip Smith’s 1962 article on prehistoric Georgia walls, someone in the department told me about Carey Waldrip’s research at Track Rock Gap. At that point, he and I maintained correspondence about his research of the terrace wall site at the Gap. This area is east of the petroglyphs at the Gap, for which the gap is named. In the 1990s, Carey, a native of Blairsville, GA, discovered the extensive stonework at the Gap. And then, in the late 1990s, he contacted Tommy Hudson, a developer, who then contracted Jannie Loubser to survey the site. Loubser at the time worked for New South Associates, an archaeological firm in Georgia. He was trained in South Africa, and is an international rock art specialist. Around 2000 Loubser surveyed the site and prepared a report, which is now available online.

In November 2002, while in Georgia attending a symposium at the University of Georgia, I drove to Blairsville to meet with Waldrip, who guided me through the wall site at the Gap, and then to another cairn and wall site a mile or so south of it. The majority of walls he showed me were low and generally parallel to the contour of the slope. The slope at the gap is rocky, the soil thin, and hardly desirable for agriculture. Plus, there were few streams or springs present to suggest that the walls served to dam or control water for an agricultural purpose. To my way of thinking, they were constructed for an entirely different function – perhaps ceremonial.

Since meeting Waldrip, I have corresponded intermittently with Loubser, and he has sent me pdf reports on the sites he has researched. Also, about four years ago I met Tommy Hudson at a meeting of the ESRARA (Eastern States Rock Art Research Association) in northwest Georgia. He funded the initial research of the Track Rock Gap site. Also, I have met and been in contact with Harry Holstein, an archaeologist in Alabama, who has researched wall sites similar to the one at Track Rock Gap.

Thornton’s recent hypothesis that the walls at Track Rock Gap are Mayan lacks credibility, judging from what I know about the site and the individuals who have studied it. If one reads what Thornton has written and compares it with reports by Loubser and Mark Williams (on Kenimer Mound), then it becomes clear that Thornton’s research is sloppy and that he modifies what others have written to support his own beliefs. Loubser’s research, however, is first class. He not only is a fine archaeologist, but he also has a deep understanding of Indian cosmology and mythology, which he incorporates in his reports. His article on Judaculla Rock in the journal Time & Mind (“From Boulder to Mountain and Back Again: Self-Similarity between Landscape and Mindscape in Cherokee Thought, Speech and Action as expressed by the Judaculla Rock Petroglyphs. Time & Mind 2 (3), 2009, 287-312) is exceptional not only for its sensitive perception and interpretation of Indian rock art, but also how knowledge of Cherokee history and beliefs amplify its interpretation.

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