Researchers Interpret Cherokee Inscriptions In Alabama Cave

Wednesday, April 10, 2019
Cherokee inscriptions found in Manitou Cave, Al.
Cherokee inscriptions found in Manitou Cave, Al.

For the first time, a team of scholars and archaeologists has recorded and interpreted Cherokee inscriptions in Manitou Cave, Al. These inscriptions reveal evidence of secluded ceremonial activities at a time of crisis for the Cherokee, who were displaced from their ancestral lands and sent westward on the Trail of Tears in the 1830s.

“These are the first Cherokee inscriptions ever found in a cave context, and the first from a cave to be translated,” said Jan Simek, president emeritus of the University of Tennessee System and Distinguished Professor of Science in UT’s Department of Anthropology. Dr.. Simek is a co-author of the study “Talking Stones: Cherokee Syllabary in Manitou Cave, Alabama,” published recently in Antiquity. “They tell us about what the people who wrote on the walls were doing in the cave and provide a direct link to how some Native Americans viewed caves as sacred places.”

The research team that worked to understand the nature and meaning of these historic inscriptions included scholars from the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokees, and the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma as well as Euro-American archaeologists.

The researchers concentrated on two main groups of Cherokee inscriptions found in Manitou Cave, a popular tourist site near Fort Payne, Al. Until now, indigenous uses of the cave had been unrecorded, as typical archaeological evidence like artifacts or deposits have been removed during its time as a tourist attraction.

The first inscription records an important ritual event that took place in 1828, translated as “The leaders of the stickball team on the 30th day in their month April 1828.” A nearby inscription reads “We who are those that have blood come out of their nose and mouth.”

Stickball is a Cherokee sport similar to lacrosse.

“It is far more than a simple game,” Dr. Simek said. “It is a ceremonial event that often continues over days, focusing on competition between two communities who epitomize the spirit and power of the people and their ancestors.” 

A second series of inscriptions is located on the ceiling nearer to the entrance of the cave. 

“The ceiling inscriptions are written backwards, as if addressing readers inside the rock itself,” Dr. Simek said. “This corresponds with part of one inscription which reads ‘I am your grandson.’ This is how the Cherokee might formally address the Old Ones, which can include deceased Cherokee ancestors as well as comprise other supernatural beings who inhabited the world before the Cherokee came into existence.”

The inscriptions analyzed by researchers indicate that caves like Manitou were seen by the Cherokee as spiritually potent places where wall embellishment was appropriate in the context of ceremonial action. 

Since their work in Manitou Cave, the researchers have identified several caves with similar inscriptions. They will continue to collaborate as scholars from the three federally recognized Cherokee tribes and archaeologists. 

“Our research has shown that the Cherokee voice in Alabama did in fact outlast the Trail of Tears,” Dr. Simek said. “We will continue to document and protect these previously unknown records of indigenous American history and culture.” 

Along with Dr. Simek, the study’s authors are Beau Duke Carroll, who took part in the research as a graduate student in UT’s Department of Anthropology; Alan Cressler of the US Geological Survey; Tom Belt, a member of the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokees and coordinator of the Cherokee Language program at Western Carolina University; and Julie Reed, a member of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma and former faculty member in UT’s Department of History, now at Pennsylvania State University.


Picnooga Starts Crowdfunding To Continue Operations

Wayne Shearer’s 36th And Final World War II Memoir Entry: An Epilogue Of Appreciation For Getting To Serve

Georgia Trust Announces 2020 Statewide Preservation Awards


At the onset of the COVID-19 quarantine, Picnooga announced that most activities would cease because of the difficulty in attracting larger local sponsorships. Since then it has been encouraged ... (click for more)

(Editor’s Note: Dr. Wayne Shearer, 95, is a retired optometrist and retired colonel from the U.S. Air Force Reserve now living in Hixson. In his early 90s, he decided to sit down and write from ... (click for more)

The Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation announced on Friday, 24 awards recognizing the best of preservation in Georgia. “This is the Trust’s 43rd annual Preservation Awards,” said Mark ... (click for more)



Memories

Picnooga Starts Crowdfunding To Continue Operations

At the onset of the COVID-19 quarantine, Picnooga announced that most activities would cease because of the difficulty in attracting larger local sponsorships. Since then it has been encouraged to try to resuscitate Picnooga with a resolute crowdfunding effort that will carry it through to 2021. "As a dominant advocate and appreciable source of local history, Picnooga is essential ... (click for more)

Wayne Shearer’s 36th And Final World War II Memoir Entry: An Epilogue Of Appreciation For Getting To Serve

(Editor’s Note: Dr. Wayne Shearer, 95, is a retired optometrist and retired colonel from the U.S. Air Force Reserve now living in Hixson. In his early 90s, he decided to sit down and write from memory and a few records he still possesses his recollections of going through Army Air Corps pilot training at several bases in the United States during World War II. A lifelong writer, ... (click for more)

Breaking News

Health Department Suspends Distribution Of Cloth Face Masks It Got From The Governor

The Hamilton County Health Department is suspending distribution of the cloth face masks that were distributed throughout the state by the Governor’s Unified Command Group. It has been reported that the cloth masks, manufactured by Renfro, are coated with Silvadur. Silvadur is an anti-microbial substance commonly applied to fabrics to reduce odor causing bacterial growth. ... (click for more)

Hamilton County Has One-Day Record 96 Coronavirus Cases; Hospitalizations (29) And Those In Intensive Care (17) Also At Record High

Hamilton County on Friday reported 96 more positive COVID-19 cases - the largest one-day total yet. That brings the total of confirmed cases in the county since the virus broke out in March to 939. There are 29 coronavirus patients in Chattanooga hospitals, which is the largest number yet. There are 17 coronavirus patients in Intensive Care in Chattanooga hospitals - also ... (click for more)

Opinion

A New Low For Bureaucratic Dysfunction - And Response

Forced emissions testing – a new low for bureaucratic dysfunction. In our old way of living, there were two certainties: Death and taxes. In our new world, the government is giving some relief from taxes but has chosen to substitute vehicle emissions testing. Now the two certainties are death and emissions testing. In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, which is sickening ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: The Saturday Funnies

Erma Bombeck, surely one of the greatest newspaper columnists in our lifetime, once decreed, "When humor goes, there goes civilization." With a new spate of disappointing news this week, it is easy to see the sage Erma was right, and thus we welcome this week’s newest edition of The Saturday Funnies. As longtime readers are aware, the Funnies are a collection of the nameless missives ... (click for more)