The Mysterious Nodoroc Site in Winder, Georgia

The geological origin of a mud volcano located in Winder, Georgia is a mystery waiting to be solved.  As far as I know, geologists haven’t ever studied this unexplained watery bog that last erupted circa 1800.  It’s probably similar to mud volcanoes found in Africa and southeast Asia.  About 10 years ago, a mud volcano in Cameroon exploded and killed a whole village by carbon dioxide asphyxiation. The carbon dioxide displaced the oxygen in the atmosphere.  An atmosphere of just 10% carbon dioxide causes people to become comatose; an atmosphere of 30 % CO2 causes people to drop dead immediately.

Winder, Georgia is in Barrow County which is between Athens and Atlanta.  My grandparents used to live there.

Nodoroc is a Creek Indian word meaning gateway to hell.  It’s an odd natural boggy pond that used to release a constant bluish smoke while bubbling.  The Creek Indians built an altar of heavy stones on the edge of the volcano where they executed criminals and then threw the corpses in the bog.  It was their way of sending deserving souls to hell.  They believed the volcano was protected by the wog–a devil dog with red eyes and the head of a bear.  Despite the cultural importance of the site, the Creek Indians sold the pond and the land around it to the English for 14 pounds of beads.  Some early colonist made off with the altar and now it’s lost to archaeologists.

I couldn’t find a photo of Nodoroc on google images that I could confirm was the actual site, but the below link is an aerial photograph.  The brown muddy expanse is labeled and obvious to see.  The link below that is of video of a mud volcano in Yellowstone National Park.  Unlike Nodoroc, it is still active and it probably has a different kind of origin.  The Yellowstone mud volcano is caused by heating and cooling subterranean rock on a fault line, while the Nodoroc mud volcano resulted from decaying organic matter.

http://www.wikimapia.org/#lat=33.973821&lon=-83.6727574&z=19&l=0&m=b

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iJ8qfpMkDs0

The first European explorers to visit Nodoroc say that it burned and dissolved everything they threw in it.  Even rainwater evaporated when striking the bog.  They reported that the area attracted lots of animals, but I think the abundance of wildlife resulted from Indians avoiding the place which they only used for executions.

Circa 1800 John Gosset built a cabin nearby and cleared a field around Nodoroc.  One day, Gosset and his wife witnessed the last eruption of the mud volcano.  His wife noticed an unusual amount of fog over the bog that morning.  She called her husband who was busy ploughing to come see it.  A loud explosion was followed by a shower of hot mud particles.  After the eruption the volcano settled several feet and cooled.  Decaying matter likely caused a fermentation reaction, releasing carbon dioxide and methane that had been trapped under the mud.

In the days of free range livestock Nodoroc was known as a cattle mire because cows constantly were  getting stuck in the quicksand-like mud.  Farmers eventually erected a fence to prevent any more losses.  Nodoroc was formerly about 5 acres in extent but circa 1900 John Harris drained part of it and grew several successful crops of corn.  While ploughing, he often came across bones and horns.  They were mostly the bones of recent cattle, but I suspect they may have been mixed in with Pleistocene fossils–a point I will discuss later.

Gary Bolton, a layman, visited the site in 1987 out of curiousity.  He noted that tulip tree saplings had colonized part of the pond, but many fell over, as if the shaky marsh ground couldn’t support deep roots.  Most of Nodoroc was covered with “thousands” of crayfish chimneys.  He mentioned sticking a shovel in the pond and finding that the level of muck was deeper than the shovel itself.

Acidic peat bogs are rare in the piedmont region of southeastern North America.  Peat bogs often contain and preserve pollen, plant macrofossils, animal fossils, and human artifacts.  So far, Nodoroc has only attacted 2 paleobotanists.  Dr. Stephen Jackson and Dr. Donald Whitehead investigated the site in 1981 and published their findings 10 years later.  They took 2 deep piston cores of sediment that they analyzed.  They did find 2 statigraphically datable segments in the core: 1 dated from 26,000 BP-22,00 BP, and the other from 3600 BP to the present.  This study was done before radiocarbon dates were recalibrated.  These dates roughly translate to between 30,000 calender years BP-26,000 calender years BP, and from 4,000 calender years to the present.  The lack of continuous stratigraphy is explained by long periods of time when water level was low and deposition didn’t occur.  The oldest segment dates to the weak interstadial immediately prior to the cold phase that led to the Last Glacial Maximum.

The site itself was probably an open marshy environment during the interstadial.  Plant macrofossils and pollen indicate an abundance of sphagnum peat moss, arrowhead (Sagitteria sp.), sedges, and carnivorous pitcher plants growing directly on the site.  Shrubs such as alder, myrtle, and mountain laurel and/or blueberry (Ericereae genus) grew on the marsh edge.  Pines and oaks dominated the forest surrounding the site.  With the exception of white pine (Pinus strobus) scientists can’t distinguish between species of pine by looking at pollen grains. After looking at the pine pollen and pine needle fossils under a microscope Drs. Jackson and Whitehead were only able to eliminate 3 species–longleaf, slash, and table mountain, none of which would have been expected to be here anyway.  However, the size of the pollen grains suggests both northern and southern species of pines were present.  Northern species of pine tend to have smaller pollen grains, while southern species of pine tend to have larger grains.  Both large and small grains were present.  My educated guess is that jack pine (Pinus banksiana) and shortleaf pine (Pinus echinata) were the dominant pinus species, while white pine was also present.  Macrofossils of jack pine, a species that now no longer occurs farther south than Michigan, have been found in Missouri and north Georgia sites dating to the mid-Wisconsinian interstadial.  Apparently, it was a more widespread species then than it is today.  Shortleaf pine, a southern species, occurs as far north as southern Ohio, and its short needles can endure snowy and icy conditions without much damage.  There’s no way of determining which species of oaks predominated here–all oak pollen looks too similar.

Other important trees growing in this interstadial forest were Critchfield’s spruce (my species assumption), fir, and hickory.  Chestnut, beech, sugar maple, and birch were present but at low levels.  (After the Ice Age chestnut became much more abundant in the region until its unfortunate extirpation 100 years ago.)  Hazelnut was a common bush growing in the understory.  During the Wisconsinian Ice Age hazelnut ranged throughout the south but is practically absent here today.  Noticeably absent or rare then were sweetgum, tupelo, and red maple all of which are common today in this area.

Fir trees thrive in regions with snowy winters.  As I mentioned in last week’s blog entry, the piedmont region of southeastern North America during the Ice Age was an abrupt transition zone between subtropical Gulf Coast Corridor grasslands and boreal forests of the Southern Appalachians.  Humid tropical fronts often hit cold air causing lots of snowfall.  Critchfield’s spruce, firs, and short-needled pines were and are well adapted to the snowy conditions that may have once blanketed the south.  It would have been interesting to see this environment where warm climate fauna frequently wandered to mix with creatures from the cold north.

I’m surprised no Pleistocene fossils habe been discovered or noticed from Nodoroc.  If cows often perished in the mire, I’m sure some of the Pleistocene megafauna did as well.  Perhaps the Indian legend of the wog is based on skeletel material of extinct beasts they discovered.  If I owned the pond I’d have it dragged for fossils and artifacts.

Artist’s rendition of the wog, a creature of Creek Indian legend that supposedly guarded Nodoroc.  Was the legend based on Pleistocene-aged fossils Indians found in the bog?  Cows used to get stuck in the mire and perish.  Pleistocene megafauna must have also.  This site should be prospected for Pleistocene vertebrate fossils which are probably mixed with modern livestock bones.

References:

Bartow County Historical Society

The History of Nodoroc and Tales of the Wog

Jackson, Stephen; and Donald Whitehead

“Pollen and Macrofossils from Wisconsinian Interstadial Sediments in Northeastern Georgia”

Quaternary Research 39 1993

Wilson, Gustavius

The early history of Jackson County, Georgia

W.E. White 1914

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30 Responses to “The Mysterious Nodoroc Site in Winder, Georgia”

  1. Richard Thornton Says:

    Nodoroc is not a Creek Indian word meaning “Gateway to Hell.” I am Creek. Those words would be “vhvoke este-nekricv-hute.” Nodoroc is a 17th century Dutch word, meaning, “swamp smoke.” There are many, many more surprises coming from our intensive study of “The Early History of Jackson County, GA.”

    • markgelbart Says:

      Thanks.

      My source was a pamphlet published by a museum in Winder, Georgia and I think some other sources on the web.

      I’m guilty of repeating their error.

      Let me know when your book is published.

  2. Scott Harris Says:

    The family who have been caretakers of the Nodoroc site for the last couple of centuries includes a number of geologists, including myself (state geologist for the DOT and past president of the Georgia Geological Society). This site is in no way related to “mud volcanoes.” It is indeed one of only a few peat bogs preserved in the Southeastern Piedmont from the end of the last Ice Age and as such is a geologic treasure. The stones often cited as being a part of the site (whether or not they were actually part of a Native altar is somewhat more problematic) were removed and transported to Lexington, Georgia by former Governor Gilmer. A portion of the stones remain there while others were returned to Barrow and Jackson Counties (and I do know the locations of most of them).

    • markgelbart Says:

      Thanks for the information.

      Anyone ever dig around for Pleistocene vertebrate fossils there?

      • Richard Thornton Says:

        Also, I am certain that readers would want to know what you found when you drilled a test core in the center. How deep did the bit go before hitting rock? Did you encounter evidence of stratification caused by different environmental conditions as suggested by the botanists from UGA? Did you encounter any fossils or petrified wood? Did you encounter stones that might have been thrown into the Nodoroc? These would make fascinating exhibits at the Barrow County Museum.

    • Richard Thornton Says:

      May we quote you in the book? It is obviously some form of peat bog now, but how would the peat be so hot as to kill human victims? Why would Dutch Sephardic Jewish settlers call it “Swamp Smoke?” The mud last burned and bubbled around 1800. Can you tell us where there is a geological report on the site. I made that statement because neither the Georgia State Archives or UGA library had no record of a geological study.

      • markgelbart Says:

        I didn’t drill a test core. Stephen Jackson and D.R. Whitehead did.

        The paper was published by Quaternary Research in 1993. The title as I noted in my article is “Pollen and Macrofossils from Wisconsinian Interstadial Sediments in Northeast Georgia.”

        You can purchase back issues of this journal. I don’t think this article is available online. I once had an electronic version of this article, but it has vanished into cyberspace. Otherwise, I’d email it to you.

      • Richard Thornton Says:

        Thank you!

        Marilyn Rae from Boston College found the article from an academic source. So from what I understand that you are saying, the methane that ignited above the bubbling Nodoroc was produced by a rather deep surface deposit of organic materials, not from heated water and gas in lower rock strata?

        Therefore, the lethal heat at Nodoroc was produced by the methane combustion, and was not originating from lower rock strata?

        Thus, when all materials capable of producing methane were consumed, the flames stopped and the site became a conventional peat bog?

      • Scott Harris Says:

        If you found the Quaternary Research article, you’ll see reference to the UGA M. S. Thesis by Humphrey in the 1950s. Those two studies are the only formal geologic investigations. The goal obviously was to study the floral transitions and climate data. Larger excavations have not been done, save my great-great uncle digging the drainage ditches that led to the forest ultimately taking over the site. Cousins have found numerous arrowheads and stone tools over the years. I’m pretty sure some of these (along with one of the “altar” rocks brought back from Lexington) are in the museum.

        And yes, this being a real peat bog, methane will build up in the mud. I suspect, much like occurs in other swamps, lightning strikes would ignite the biomass, probably set off some methane explosions, and smolder for potential years. There are still hydrocarbons that seep up in the mud producing an iridescent film that can be ignited for a brief moment with a match.

        I have laid the groundwork for reassembling the stones and potentially moving them back to the site or perhaps to Fort Yargo, if an appropriate interpretive display and security could be arranged. The reason I have not followed this to conclusion yet is that there are elements of the effort that would require some documentation that the “altar” claim is historically accurate. When I have talked to archaeologists at UGA about this, they have offered the opinion that the “altar” is a fiction developed by settlers as the Native Americans of the area would have neither had an altar nor participated in the activities the that have been claimed to have centered around the smoldering swamp and altar.

      • Richard Thornton Says:

        Thank you very much Scott. We are giving a presentation on the Native American history of the region to the Barrow Historical Society on October 22. Your info fills in a big gap!

        The original “gap” at Nodoroc may have been one of those Carolina Bays created a Pleistocene meteor strike.

      • Scott Harris Says:

        Now without knowing it you’ve enter into my area of expertise. I’m an impact geologist by training. And please accept with high degree of certainty that the Carolina Bays (as a group anyway) were not produced by meteors (I’ve done quite a bit of work on them, even some done with the people who want to wish them into being impact craters). Also, the Nodoroc site requires no other explanation than as a peat bog stranded from the last glaciation. Now, as a natural closed depression that accumulated material over the last 20 thousand years or so, I have wanted to examine cores from the swamp for any meteoric debris that could tell us about the recent impact record.

  3. markgelbart Says:

    The Nodoroc peat bog could not have been stranded from any glaciation. No glacier has ever advanced farther south than extreme northern Kentucky. The most recent glacier advanced no farther south than Ohio.

    • Scott Harris Says:

      The bogs are not formed underneath the continental ice sheets. The climate conditions associated with maximum glaciation would have created generally cold, wet conditions (including alpine glaciers in the Southern Appalachians) at latitudes south of maximum ice sheet advance. It is in those areas that bogs develop.

      • Richard Thornton Says:

        Large glaciers probably did not develop in the Southern Appalachians but the higher elevations were locked in permafrost. When the climate warmed, the tundra soil melted and sloughed down the slopes in the valleys. There were probably many bogs created by the melting process.

        This has been an interesting experience. Glad to see everybody chipping in information. The fascinating geological and archaeological sites of northeast Georgia have for too long been ignored . . . even though they are at the “door step” of the University of Georgia. Wait till you learn about Yamacutah. It will blow your mind.

      • Scott Harris Says:

        According to the literature, there is evidence of alpine glaciers at least into North Carolina. But yes, actual ice is not required to form a bog land, only the cold climate and high precipitation that existed south of the continental ice sheets.

      • markgelbart Says:

        The evidence suggests the Winder bog probably dried up during the Last Glacial Maximum. There was no deposition of pollen between ~28,000 BP and ~5,000 BP. In Georgia the Last Glacial Maximum was a time of very dry conditions because most of earth’s atmosphere was locked into glacial ice. The environment around the Winder bog during the this time was desert-like with sparse vegetation.

        Whatever the geological origin of the bog, the retreat of glaciation had nothing to do with it.

      • Scott Harris Says:

        No offense intended, but you’re making some erred assumptions that are a little too complex to sort through at the moment on here. Mr. Thornton’s description of the process in his last post though is very concise and accurate.

      • markgelbart Says:

        It sounds like you are trying to defend your hero.

        I’m pretty sure I’m not in error. You might want to visit the Ohoopee Sand Dunes by the Ocmulgee River. They were formed during the Last Glacial Maximum when the climate was so dry eolian sand dunes rolled across Georgia’s landscape.

        He’s free to respond to my point. I’m certain his explanation wouldn’t be too “complex.”

      • Richard Thornton Says:

        There are several other regions of sand dunes in Georgia and South Carolina Coastal Plain. I think what is the most fascinating geology created by past dry periods is the Saluda Desert. It was in southern South Carolina until the mid-1700s. Something changed about the climate, and trees and underbrush started growing.

  4. Jimmy Terrell Says:

    Scott:
    can you get in touch with me?
    Jimmy Terrell
    jterrell@barrowga.org

  5. walter coin Says:

    The Ducktown Basin, or Copper Basin in TN I think those veins of copper that run though the basin were made by hot springs.
    Could that hot springs water, all that sulfuric acid water went into Georgia Nodoroc Site in Winder, Georgia site ?
    Copper mining section between Ducktown and Copperhill], Tennessee. Fumes from smelting copper for sulfuric acid have destroyed all vegetation and eroded the land  (LOC)

    • markgelbart Says:

      No way.

      It’s too far away.

      Winder, Georgia is located between Athens and Atlanta…no where close to Tennessee.

      • Richard Thornton Says:

        Mark,

        I am beginning to wonder if Nodoroc began life as a Carolina Bay. It is oval shaped and the right age. In our historical research we are finding accounts of many Carolina Bays in east and northern southeast Georgia that had water in them when first visited by Europeans, but are now peat bogs. By the way, Nodoroc is a Dutch word meaning “Swamp Smoke.” There was a colony of Dutch- speaking Sephardic Jews in the Jackson-Barrow-Gwinnett County area during the 1600s and early 1700s. People are going to be shocked when we release the full account of the early colonial history of Georgia.

        Richard Thornton

  6. walter coin Says:

    Cumberland Plateau chain of Mountains are very old, the Great Smoky Mountains are a very young chain of Mountains
    Rivers that Rival the Amazon
    Ocoee River Gorge.
    Those Ancient rivers beds went into Georgia and Florida
    Gold in Georgia, Tennessee, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, and Maryland.

    North American Georgia and Florida mud volcano
    U.S. Volcanic Eruptions: “Non-Volcano Eruptions”
    Newspaper Clippings
    http://vulcan.wr.usgs.gov/LivingWith/Historical/historical_newspaper_clippings_non-eruptions.html

  7. sandybradum123 Says:

    This question is for Mr. Scott Harris. There was supposedly a stone removed by Gov. Gilmer, from the Nodoroc site, that had some unusual carvings on it. It was said to be on his property but no one seems to know what happened to it. Do you know what I am talking about and if you do, do you know where it is now? Please email me back at sandybradum@hotmail.com. Thank you.

  8. Dana Beckmann Says:

    The photo they show is not where Nodoroc is located. What they show is Johnny Edgar’s farm and pond. Nodoroc was farther east and a little south.

  9. Uncanny Georgia: The Wog | Into the Wonder Says:

    […] also known in nearby Barrow County, where it is sometimes said to protect a mud volcano called the Nodoroc Site: an odd, boggy, bubbling pond near the town of Winder. Local legends say the place was used by the […]

  10. David Says:

    I’m not sure if what I have to say is relevant to the “Wog” in Winder, GA. But I want to say that I found a medium number of Table Mountain Pine while logging near Richard Russel Scenic Hwy outside of White County. There is a deserted recreational area in Irwin County, GA that originated from a few underground caves and some ancient bogs are on this 100000 acre piece of land. It is a very cool eco system with Mississippian mounds at anonymous sites. There are some bogs with Native American burials /sacrificed graves adorned with some type of unidentified tools and Mayan Indian Glyphs. I have no pics. This was 20 years ago. But the history of this area is unique. I can be reached at rchalfan@friendlycity.net Address to David Chalfant. Sincerely, DC

  11. My 500th Post | GeorgiaBeforePeople Says:

    […] https://markgelbart.wordpress.com/2013/01/09/the-mysterious-nodoroc-site-in-winder-georgia/ […]

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