Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Great North Georgia Maya Hoax
by James A O'Kon PE

I read the December 21, 2011 article in the examiner.com announcing the “greatest archaeological discovery in recent time” with great expectations. In the article, Richard Thornton, an architect and amateur archaeologist, proclaimed that he had found the ruins of an ancient Maya city in the Appalachian mountains of North Georgia. I scanned this internet article with great interest, important archaeological discoveries are rare and really big news, they are very popular with a broad cross section of the general public. However, actually unearthing ancient Maya cities deep in the Georgia Mountains would really be of great significance to the archaeological record and readers around the world.

First, let me describe the roots of my special interest in Maya archaeology and the importance of Maya ruins in Georgia. I am a registered Professional Engineer, living in Atlanta, and have investigated Maya ruins for over forty years. I am also the author of the book: The Lost Secrets of Maya Technology coming in April of 2012. The book reveals discoveries of lost Maya technological innovations including their methodologies in building construction.

Thornton reports that the site is approximately 1,100 years old and is located on the foothills of Brasstown Bald, Georgia’s tallest mountain. The ruins of the ancient city include a large five sided pyramid constructed of earth fill. Thornton stated that university of Georgia archaeologist, Mark Williams, led an expedition to investigate this pentagon shaped pyramid. In addition, he stated that this five sided earthen pyramid is similar to pyramids built by Maya architecture in Mesoamerica. In addition to the pyramid, archaeologists have unearthed at least 500 or more stone walls that were used for agriculture terraces plus evidence of a sophisticated irrigation system with the possibility of other structures hidden underground.

Thornton, who claims he is an expert in pre-Colombian architecture, theorizes that the Maya who built the city were refugees from the catastrophe that caused the collapse of the Maya civilization. He stated that for many years archaeological speculation has abounded about the fate of the Maya population after a disaster caused the collapse of the Maya civilization around 900 AD. Some historians believe they died out in plagues and food shortages; others have speculated about the possibility of the Maya migrating to other regions. Thornton accepts the premise that the Maya migrated northward away from Mesoamerica to the mountains of North Georgia.

He further relates that South African archaeologist, Johannes Loubser, has excavated the site and dated pottery shards found there. The testing of the pottery indicated that the site had been inhabited for decades before 1100 AD, placing the site in the approximate time period of the Maya diaspora.

My perusal of social media and internet news indicates that the announcement by Mr. Thornton has become an internet sensation. He has dazzled readers with his claim that the “find is the most important archaeological discovery in recent times”. His disclosure of this unique find conjures up fanciful images similar to the discovery of King Tut’s Tomb, and the crystal skull of Indiana Jones. It is apparent that the distinctions between social media, Internet news and professional news reporting have become blurred and has altered the authenticity of news stories read by the public.

I took the opportunity to analyze Thornton’s claim of discovery as well as the photographic evidence offered by Mr. Thornton. My review of the alleged evidence of ancient Maya construction with close examination of the photos of the “ruins” have determined that this “discovery” is a deliberately staged plot to perpetrate a grand hoax that is preying on the gullibility of the public. This type of archaeological hoax is intended to fool the public who want to believe in UFO’s, monster quests and the thrill of the unknown. Richard Thornton’s hoax is similar to famous archaeological fakes like the Piltdown Man and the Cardiff Giant.

I am a native Georgian and am familiar with the Southeast sector of the Brasstown Bald slopes. I have carried out a technical investigation and analysis of Thornton’s physical and archaeological evidence. During the investigation I closely examined photos of the isolated stacks of rocks referenced as “Maya ruins”, assessed the descriptions of typical Maya constructions and reviewed the reports of the professional archaeologists who are alleged to be a part of the discovery of the ancient North Georgia Maya city. 

While assessing the evidence, I closely examined the photos of the “ruins" for indications of Maya building technology, construction practices and archaeological ageing. The “ruins” in the photo are isolated piles of irregular stones laid up without mortar in what is termed “dry stack”. The stones are stacked akimbo without any organization relative to masonry construction. The stones show no evidence of being “worked”, “carved, or “dressed” by the jadeite tools employed by Maya stone workers. The placement of dressed stones in the construction of walls using mortar or concrete is a common trait of Maya buildings.. Maya building stones are shaped to be a regular size and shape in order to be transported to the building site using manpower. Maya masonry stones are sized to be carried by a single worker using a backpack-like device called a “tumpline.” The Maya construction stones, with rare exceptions, did not weigh more than 125 pounds. This is the carrying capacity of one worker. 

Georgia Ruins Photos

Examples of Mayan Structures

Maya Ruins at Chichen Itza under Excavation

Maya Ruins with Mortar and Concrete

The stones on the North Georgia site are not dressed or carved blocks and are not laid up in an organized manner using mortar. Instead, the piles of stone were obviously laid up “dry” with irregular shapes. The joints are open and do not indicate the presence of mortar. This technique is not even remotely typical of Maya construction practices.

The age of the “ruins” is questionable due to several factors. The large gaps and crevices between adjacent stones are clean and clear and do not indicate the presence of debris or growth of vegetation. If the “ruins were stacked as shown for a millennium, windblown compost material would be collected in the crevasses of the stones and would support the growth of vegetation. The exterior of the “ruins” would then be covered with mats of vegetation. In addition, the growth of moss on the exterior faces of the stacked stones in the pile would be obvious. None of the photographs of the “ruins indicate vegetation or the growth of moss on the exterior faces of the stones. This is despite moss growth on bottom level of the stack.

Another characteristic of the piles of stones is their haphazard stacking in loose order. The uncertain stability of a loose pile of stacked stones is an anomaly of physics. Maintaining a balanced stack of stones in place for over a millennium is a conundrum. Earthquakes in recent history would have toppled the stone piles and scattered them across the slopes of Brasstown Bald. The site is relatively close to the epicenters of the two most violent earthquakes in the recorded history of the United States. The New Madrid earthquakes of 1811 and 1812 were the most powerful seismic events in recorded history. The epicenter on the Missouri-Tennessee boarder is 365 miles from Brasstown Bald. During the New Madrid earthquakes serious damage to constructed buildings was recorded over a radius of more than 400 miles. During this seismic event the ground surface was seen rolling like the waves at sea and it changed the course of the Mississippi river. The Charleston, South Carolina, earthquake of 1886, with its epicenter 268 miles to the east of the site, is the second most powerful seismic event in US history. This event toppled chimneys in Atlanta and rang bells in New York City.. Either one of these recorded earthquakes would have toppled the so-called “Maya ruins” and scattered them down the mountainside.

Relative to the similarity between the architecture at the site and architecture of the classic Maya, the five sided pyramid at the site constructed of earth is entirely  atypical of Maya pyramid construction. Maya pyramids did have an earthen core but the soil was confined by closed cells of stone and concrete retaining structures. Often pyramid construction was carried in phases with larger pyramids built over earlier constructions. The exterior of Maya pyramids was concrete and carved stone which developed the rectangular plan and the cosmologically required nine steps of their classic pyramid shape.

However, the existence of Maya in Georgia could have been a reality. Maya technology had the abilities to build large seagoing vessels, with capacities for 50 crew and passengers. They were accomplished seagoing traders, and the 450 mile trip to Florida and northward to Georgia was easily within their range. However, this narrative is not about Maya seamanship, but about  the evidence of a ruined Maya city in North Georgia.

The claim that the ruins are Maya in origin is an apparent hoax as indicated by technological and archaeological evidence. Furthermore, the archaeologist from the University of Georgia who Thornton claims was part of the discovery, Mark Williams, has posted: “I am the archaeologist mentioned in this article. This is total and complete bunk. There is no evidence of Maya in Georgia. Move along now.”

Archaeologist Johannes Loubser, in his site report, did not say who erected the structure but said “I think that Thornton selectively presents the evidence. As the controversy surrounding the claim grew, Thornton was apparently stinging from criticism and posted a message on face book: “I know a hellava lot more than those professors. I doubt if the University of Georgia has anyone who is knowledgeable about Mesoamerican architecture. That being said I made a hellava lot of money off the controversy so I am crying all the way to the bank. LOL.”

With those unprofessional and profound comments Thornton’s goal is apparent: he wants to cry all the way to the bank with his hoax. It is also suspicious that he chose to make the announcement of the discovery on December 21, 2011, exactly one year in advance of the ending of the Maya calendar on December 21, 2012. Doomsday believers are latching onto anything related to that target date.

In summary, Maya technology and Maya architecture, did not support Thornton’s claim and the quoted archaeologists denied being involved with his theory of Maya ruins on Brasstown Bald. His next act is uncertain, but the word in North Georgia is that he has formed a joint venture with Big Foot to excavate the site.

James A. O’Kon, P.E. is a professional engineer with decades of experience designing award-winning projects. He has also spent 40 years investigating Maya engineering feats and lost Maya technology. His investigations have taken him to more than 50 remote Maya sites. He has delivered numerous scientific papers to scientific symposia dealing with Maya technology. He was inducted into the Explorers Club as a National Fellow for his work on Maya technology. A resident of Atlanta, he is currently an expert witness on construction failures and a problem-solving consultant to global corporations when he is not in the rainforest. Learn more by visiting his website.   


  1. Mr. Bigshot

    You should have done your homework before trying to impress people that you are an architect in addition to being an engineer. You are not. Archaeological site 9UN367 in Union County, GA is identical to several hundred Itza Maya terrace farming complexes in Chiapas, Guatemala and Belize - including the stonework. There are over 300 stone structure ruins in this half mile square archaeological zone. Many are the rectangular and cirucular ruins of buildings.

    You should have read my resume' before talking about my qualitfications. I received a fellowship to study Mesoamerican architecture and planning under the auspices of the Museo Nacional de Antropoligia. Dr. Roman Pina-Chan, its director, was my fellowship coorndinator. I then taught Pre-Columbian architecture at Georgia Tech. I am a Creek Indian - like many Creek Indians I carry Maya DNA and speak many Creek words that are either Itza Maya or Totonac in origin.

    Richard Thornton

    1. Mr Thorton everything you have said and discovered has been true so true that it aligns with bibical text Negroes, hispanic and native American Indians are the true Israelites of the bible and during the time of King Soloman the kingdom split and northern kingdom came to America. Tgis is why Columbus used the apocrapha in the 1622 king James bi ke he new what leople was there thry was the decendants of the Mayans which was tribes of Indians. This is the big world secret this is what the government and the world want to hide the identity of the people and who they are today. There is lots more to the story more than I can begin to share

  2. Susan Hangge, P.E.August 6, 2012 at 11:45 PM

    The two sensible professionals have made their point, but... This web site certainly will get viewed but the sensibility of the report is tarnished by the general flakieness of this site. I just finished an old book as scientific books go called "Voodoo Science" by Parks. So much entertainment is passed off as science by the media and especially by the inventors of the silliness.

    1. In retrospect I wanted to clarify some of my statements. This site that publishes books about bigfoot, the paranormal, psychics, and aliens is a strange place to get an audience of real scientists.

      Surely a local professor and their class of archeology students needs to do a season of research at the site to start real talk about the mounds. Have any artifacts been found? What style are they?

      I have heard that DNA from all over the northern hemisphere have been incorporated into the American Indians from one lost seafarer after another. The birthing of a child does not transmit a culture.

      How much of what we see on TV is for entertainment? Every news report is spun to sound more important than it really is. And perhaps to confuse people into believing there is more to a pile of dirt than what is real.

      Besides the earthquake issue in having a stable pile of rock, even I know the freezing and thawing cycle rarely results in a pile of rock being stable. I have practiced structural engineering in South Florida for 40 years.

  3. All of y'all will have to watch the debut of American Unearthed. Scientists retained by the History Channel found 100% proof that the Mayas came to Georgia over a period of centuries.

    A big unanswered question we have now is that Quechua, Maya and Tupi-Guarani DNA showed up in the Native Americans living in the region around the archaeological zonoe.

    1. Yes I watched this episode and it laid out some very convincing evidence to support the theory, the only thing I don't agree upon is using the archaeoastrological alignments as evidence because these alignments are not isolated to Mayan architecture. My biggest question is why is there so much opposition to this theory? Do the naysayers have an alternative?

  4. Mr. Thornton, I just watched the America Unearthed episode you were referring to and I have to say that I am convinced of the connection. I am just a typical American who loved geology in college and have a husband and two sons who are also as interested in history and geology and archeology as I am. We have nothing to gain from agreeing with either of you, so I can say without a doubt that the evidence is there. By the way, they really won't let anyone near the Ga site.

    1. You CAN go there. It is USFS land open to the public. They just do not disclose the location to protect it from vandals... and with good reason. I have been there dozens of times. It is just a bit hard to find.

  5. Dear Anonomous:
    I have not anwsered Mr. Thornton because of is attitude and position on the alleged Maya ruins in North Beorgia. He is totally unprofessional.
    Based on my research the Maya had the seagoing capacity to navigate to Georgia and up the rivers. They were not only intrested in trade but the gold in the mountains of North Georgia. See my bestselleing book for details of the Maya and their seagoing capalities.

  6. I watched this episode of America Unearthed with no previous knowledge of this controversy. When it showed the piles of loose stones and claimed they were the same as Mayan building techniques, I laughed out loud.

  7. Anyone seeing the piles of stones will realize it's a hoax. I can stack better rocks by myself!

  8. Just came across this page while doing a search on another subject - I am not a credentialed expert on the Mayan civilization, but over the past 15 years I have made a number of trips to Belize, Guatemala and Honduras to explore Mayan sites. I own land in Towns County and have explored the subject area and seen many of the stone walls and clusters. I see absolutely no similarity between what is in N. Georgia and the Mayan sites of Central America. Even the crudest, most isolated Mayan structures exhibited a level of structural sophistication far beyond the stone remains in Georgia...

  9. James A O'Kon PE, you're promoting your book by discrediting another fellow Mayan historian? Not too classy. Well first let's address your main problem, that one of the stone piles looks like it has been recently stacked. Yes, those smaller rocks stacked on top of the huge rock at the base look like they haven't been there 1,000 years, but if you look at the bigger picture OR actually go to the site itself you will see those smaller rocks are nothing compared to the rest of the rocks around the site. The other rocks are all about the size of the base rock, covered in moss, and look like they have been there for a VERY long time. So that little stack of rocks you point out makes up about 5-10% of that particular group of rocks. Now with that out of the way, who's to say a group of Itza Mayans didn't migrate to North Georgia in search of better living conditions? And who's to say they didn't merge into the Creek Indian civilization of that area? And maybe these Mayan-Creek Indians didn't specialize in stone and mortar structures but rather they tried their best to replicate what they knew. Whatever the story, there is no evidence against Mr. Thornton's theory. You discrediting and saying his theory is equivalent to "Bigfoot" does not reflect very good on you. Are you a critic or author? If his theory is so bogus then why mention it. With that said, good job Mr. Thornton I believe your theory is very interesting and likely true.

    1. Well said. I have been there dozens of times. That one cairn has been augmented for sure ...but not the other 300 structures. Commissioned by the USFS, Loubner did, in fact, carbon date a square structure on the "acropolis" at around 800 A.D. I have read his technical report. Think of how many trees have grown through the structures, fallen, decomposed, and new trees grown in again in 1200 years. Add in the earthquakes and water erosion . . . Plus 1200 years of leaves. no wonder they look like piles of rock and broken down stone walls. Mayan? Possibly. Creeks and Cherokees did now make stone structures, to the best of my knowledge. Gold? Makes sense. The Chattahoochee River could have been navigated from nearby Helen GA all the way to the Gulf back then. Whatever the origin, it is a magical place and needs to be protected and one day researched thoroughly. Now the USFS just tries to make it hard to get to. Their heart is in the right place, since they do not have the resources to protect it otherwise, and it is sacred to the Native Americans, for good reason.

  10. If this information is some what correct I would think both sides would find some common ground. As it is both sides seem to want to shoot the other sides opinion down,

  11. I saw the episode of America Unearthed and I'm no scientist but they appeared to make a geological connection with the chemical composition of the clay used in Maya blue paint with clay found in Georgia... Isn't that valid evidence?

  12. The loose piles of rocks shown in the photos are obviously not ancient, and they have nothing to do with the hundreds of retaining walls that formed terraces for planting. As Thornton has pointed out, the Maya in the mountains of Meso-america built earth mounds that were not covered with a cut-stone facing, and they built similar terraces and still continue to build similar terraces out of uncut stones. Even now the technique is to put down a single row of stones to obstruct the flow of soil to some extent and later to add another row of stones so that by erosion terraces are gradually formed in layers (rather than hauling in any soil). This has the advantage of building up new layers of earth that replace nutrients just as the flooding of rivers does naturally. As one comment to the article states, why else would anyone built several hundred check dams on a mountainside? No one has provided a better explanation for these rows of stones that do have terraces behind them.

    If there were only loose rows of unworked stones, anyone could have put them there at any time, but charcoal from the fill behind them has been dated, and charcoal was used in slash-and-burn farming as fertilizer. Sherds in the fill are contemporary with the dates for the charcoal.

    No other Southeastern Indians are known to have made such terracing, and the Chattahoochee provides a water route to the Gulf. How else can the evidence of numerous words of Maya and Mayan DNA be explained in the Southeast? Most of the available evidence is ignored by those who choose to ridicule the idea and who go out of their way to libel Thornton personally and even claim he is responsible for an intentional hoax.

    No one doubts that maize came from Mexico, that copper came from the Great Lakes, or that some types of large conchs such as those at Spiro, Oklahoma came from the Gulf Coast, but there is a nearly complete unwillingness to accept any Central American influence on the Southeast. I can see no other way to explain temple mounds in the Southeast (which were, as Thornton pointed out, often coated with colored clay and sometimes covered with uncut stones).

    It is well established that the Uto-Azteckan language of the Southwest is the same linguistic family as the Aztec language (as in Driver and Massey's Comparative Studies of North American Indians, map 1 of "major language families"). Notably, Cabeza de Vaca got back to Mexico City by going down the west coast of Mexico, and to do this he had to go to the Southwest in order to go south (since southern Texas and northeastern Mexico were impassible on foot). I suspect that this was the route that was followed by at least some of the builders of platform mounds, but they could more easily have travelled by ocean-going canoes along the Gulf Coast (as Don Starkell did in the reverse direction in Paddle to the Amazon--just outside the breakers in the ordinarily calm Gulf of Mexico).

    The Central American influence on Mesa Verde and other buildings made of unshaped stones in drywall in the Southwest is manifest. Maize and temple mounds did in fact reach the Southeast from Central America, and it is likely that much else did also.

    Incidentally LOL means "lot of luck." Thornton was being humorous about those who claim he benefitted financially by a so-called hoax.

    Anyone who wants to examine the full evidence in order to make up his own mind can find it presented effectively in the Itsapa: the Itza Mays in North America by Richard L. Thornton. I recommend Thornton's book highly.

    Gene Waddell.

  13. Dear anonymos:
    This discussion has lost ite perspective. It has beenover two years since my post, A review will indicate that I only commented on the alleged Maya structures that senior Thornton presented.
    That said, I believe that the Maya were in North Georgia and there were there to mine the gold in them thar hills. I further that when the cataclismic drought occured that collapsed their civilization around AD900 caused the migrate and that included Georgia.
    Read my book the Maya had extensive trade routes that used 80 feet long sea going vessels. So navigating the chattahooche was a piece of cake, Do you have any more comments

  14. Mr. Jim O'kon. I live in Aztec New Mexico. I know much about structures and survival by native americans and the spanish . If the Maya where there to mine gold, they needed food and they needed shelter. They had both at the Georgia site. The site should be excavated and what is unearthed will tell the true story. Have a good day. Ron

  15. Your argument is very thin and very unscientific. It is obvious you did not look at the evidence. Your insults of the researches, making them sound like they are jokers trying to make UFO believers fall for the hoax, was the biggest clue. When you can't argue facts and science you try to discredit the person - an old tactic. You are probably one of those deniers of true history, one of those people trying to debunk the research to keep us focused on the history book narrative which doesn't seem to want to grow. Shame on you.

  16. Christina: our response is confusing. Are you referring to my argument as being thin and unscientific. My comments were by the history and archaeological book. I think the Maya were in North Georgia to exploit the gold and other resources. I do not think the pile of rocks are Maya structures. Love: Jim O'Kon


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