The European colonization of the Americas is often depicted as a swift movement that uniformly swept through the continent, sharply quashing the indigenous cultures either through disease or violence. While the brutality of the colonization remains starkly clear, a new archaeological study is starting to rewrite that Euro-centric interpretation of events.
Archeologists at Washington University in St Louis put forward evidence that the Indigenous people in Oconee Valley in present-day central Georgia continued to live and actively resist European influence for well over a century.
“The case study presented in our paper reframes the historical contexts of early colonial encounters in the Oconee Valley by way of highlighting the longevity and endurance of Indigenous Mississippian traditions and rewriting narratives of interactions between Spanish colonizers and Native Americans,” Jacob Lulewicz, lead study author and a lecturer in archaeology, said in a statement.
Reported in the journal American Antiquity, the breakthrough comes from a sacred site known as the Dyar mound in present-day Greene County that was once used by the indigenous people of the Oconee Valley – ancestors of the later Muscogee (Creek) tribes.
Using advanced radiocarbon dating and mathematical modeling, the researchers established the mound appears to have been in use as late as the year 1670 CE. The dating indicates the indigenous culture was still being practiced up to 130 years after the first encounters between indigenous people and the colonizers in 1540 CE.
The site also does not contain any evidence of European culture, suggesting the indigenous people held some resistance to the colonizers. This is far from previous theories that most indigenous sites in the region were abruptly abandoned after their first encounters with Spanish colonizers.
“Not only did the ancestors of Muscogee (Creek) people continue their traditions atop the Dyar mound for nearly 150 years after these encounters, but they also actively rejected European things," added Lulewicz.
Through this study, the team hopes to give a stronger voice to indigenous people when talking about this distinctly grim chapter of history, as well as highlight the incredible endurance and strength of their culture.
“There are no Indigenous tribes in Georgia today as they were all forcibly removed in the 19th century, so to make that explicit link to people whose ancestors once lived all across Georgia for thousands of years is really important. Without this type of work, we are contributing to the disenfranchisement of Indigenous peoples from their history,” he explained.
“Of course, they already knew many of the things we ‘discovered,’ but it was still meaningful to be able to reaffirm their ancestral link to the land.”
The Dyar mound is far from a standalone example. Lulewicz and his team argue that many indigenous sites contain evidence they were being used beyond the 16th century, such as the Fatherland site associated with the Natchez in Louisiana, Cofitachequi in South Carolina, and settlements in Lower Mississippi Valley. However, some of these examples still need scientific confirmation, he added.