Petroglyphs: The Sweetwater Creek Stela and Stone Circle
Douglas County, Georgia
On display at the Sweetwater Creek State Park Visitors Center
It is the only known Toa Maybouya in the Continental U.S.
Whereas most of the petroglyphs in the North Georgia Gold Belt are extremely abstract and appear to be either star maps, locations of time portals, or some form of communication, the Sweetwater Creek stela seems to portray a supernatural being known as a Mayabouya. The Toa Arawaks, Caribs and some other branches of the Arawaks believed that they were “demons” who guarded sacred areas and territorial boundaries.
The stela is today located in a state park museum, about a mile from its original location, overlooking the Chattahoochee River in Southwest Metro Atlanta . . . fairly close to Six Flags Over Georgia. It originally stood atop a hill that is on the edge of the state park. Here is the fascinating story about its discovery.
A forgotten legacy of the past
In 1909 a Mr. W. H. Roberts was hunting wild turkeys along Sweetwater Creek in Douglas County, GA. He climbed a steep 100 feet high hill that was known to locals as “the Indian burial ground.” It overlooks both Sweetwater Creek and the Chattahoochee River Valley. Native American artifacts are found in abundance on the hill.
Roberts discovered carved stone steps that led to a oval ring of stones, approximately 100 feet in diameter. In the center of the stone ring was a four feet high stone tablet or stela, laying on the ground. The granite stela weighs over 600 pounds. Roberts had to return to the site with friends and steel tools in order to lift and examine the stone. The tablet is notched at the bottom, which suggests that at one time, it was inserted into a wooden or stone structure.
There is an anthropomorphic figure on the tablet. It appears to have arms and legs. However, the legs seem to turn into vines or roots. The head of the being has three eyes and a mouth. There is asymmetrical line work above the head that may symbolize either hair or vines. Above the shoulders are circles. Underneath one arm pit is another circle. Also, beneath the arms are glyphs. The one on the right appears to be a snake whereas the one on the left is a simple circle.
The presence of the stone tablet on a promontory, reached by carved stone steps, and set in the center of a stone ring, suggests that it was a religious shrine or commemorative marker. However, the being portrayed on the tablet bears no similarity whatsoever to the realism that was typical of art produced in ancestral towns of the Creek Indians. The region around the location of the tablet contains many towns with mounds, including Etowah Mounds National Landmark. However, at the time art experts and academicians had no clue as to what the stone tablet portrayed.
The monument was eventually moved to the Rhodes Mansion on Peachtree Street in Atlanta, where as part of the state archives, it remained exposed to the elements for over 50 years. When the Georgia Department of Archives and History moved to a marble tower near the State Capitol, the Roberts Petroglyph was sent to the Columbus (Georgia) Museum. There is stayed for another couple of decades before being put into storage, and finally being placed on permanent display in a plexiglass case at Sweetwater Creek State Park. The current location is close to where it was originally found. It may be viewed at any time when the park is open to the public.
A large prehistoric Native American town site is underneath the man-made lake at Sweetwater Creek State Park. The site received minimal attention from state archeologists prior to the reservoir being filled. Across the Chattahoochee River from the hilltop sign are two other prehistoric Native American sites . . . Owl Rock and Boat Rock. These are large granite boulders that were minimally carved to resemble objects. Immediately downstream and upstream from the hilltop shrine are large town sites, some with mounds. Several of the towns were first settled around 1000 BC or earlier.
Discovery of the stela’s true meaning
The treatment of this extremely rare and enigmatic example of indigenous American art has been just appalling. In addition to being exposed to the elements for almost a century, it was generally ignored by Georgia archaeologists and academicians. Images of the stela were almost never included in books on Georgia’s or the Southeast’s Native Americans. If examined at all by archaeologists, it was incredulously labeled as “an example of Cherokee art or an early form of Cherokee writing.” The Cherokees are recent arrivals to the Lower Southeast and had no tradition of either stone carving or mound building. Sweetwater Creek was in Creek Indian territory until 1818. After then, until 1832, it was at the southern tip of Cherokee territory, but no Cherokees ever lived there.
During early 2011, I sent photographs to university anthropology departments around the United States, Canada and some Latin American countries asking for their interpretation of the Sweetwater Creek Stela. No professors from universities in the Southeastern United States responded. In fact, I only received three responses . . . from the University of New Mexico, the University of California at Davis and the University of Puerto. The professors at the first two institutions were sincerely curious about the stela, but had no explanation.
We hit paydirt with the response from the University of Puerto Rico. For them, it was a “no-brainer.” There were many similar examples of this type of indigenous art in the Caribbean Basin. In Puerto Rico, they were concentrated around Arecibo near the north-central coast. It was known as the province of the Toa People when the Spanish arrived. The same ehtnic group also lived in the heart of Cuba in the
Toa? That is also the name of a province in central Georgia, which was visited by Hernando de Soto in March of 1540. By that time, they were living in large, planned towns with streets, residential blocks, plazas and garden courtyards. They had also evidently absorbed much of the Proto-Creek culture from Muskogean provinces nearby. They described themselves as worshiping one invisible Creator God. Arawak peoples were typically polytheistic and created statues of their gods.
The Toa (aka Toasi) later moved westward into Central Alabama to get away from the Spanish and English-sponsored Native American slave raiders. By the mid-1700s, when a glossary was created of their language, they spoke a mixture of Arawak and Muskogean words. Nevertheless, anthropologists classified them as Arawak without ever considering the implications of Arawaks living that far north in North America.
The Puertorican professors never did quite believe me, when I said that the stela was created by a tribe living on the Chattahoochee River in Metro Atlanta. They either did not read or didn’t believe the story about W. H. Roberts finding an Arawak shrine, which included an authentic Caribbean Maybouya. They suggested several times that some soldier stationed in Puerto Rico, after it became a territory in 1899, had stolen a Puertorican artifact and dumped on the hill above the Chattahoochee River At least in the Southeast, the Truth is stranger than fiction.