The Apalachicola Ecosystems Project

Ancient Transportation Routes

In order to measure the cost of social and economic interaction of the southeastern Native Peoples, AEP researchers are reconstructing transportation routes and landscapes.  By digitizing the ancient trade networks, trails, and roads, we can better calculate least costs and travel distance between towns. 

Reconstruction of transportation networks combines the most modern and state of the art in cartography with the most ancient in cartography.  We are using historic journals, notes, and maps from the seventeenth through the nineteenth centuries.  The historic sources frequently have information about ancient topography, physical geography, and the natural environment.  Many of the sources are very detailed and allow for accurate reconstructions of the past environment at a scale that is impossible, if not impractical, any other way.  AEP researchers are using geographic information systems (GIS) to analyze ancient environments.

AEP researchers are using the historic journals of the United States Indian Agent Benjamin Hawkins (1796-1816), the travels of English Agent, David Taitt (1770s), and various historic maps.  Some of the most useful and detailed maps are land survey maps.

Land survey maps are maps made by state and United States land surveyors and were used to mark the boundaries for land distributions to United States citizens.  These maps and boundaries were usually made immediately after the Native Populations were removed from the land and therefore represent an accurate model of the landscape when the Natives were inhabiting the land. 

This is a Georgia Land Survey map that shows the physical and cultural geography of the land of the southeastern Indians in 1827.  This map displays the location of streams, rivers, houses, towns, and trails.  Each square is about one-half mile (Photo by Thomas Foster, courtesy of the Georgia Archives of History).

We can use the historic land survey maps and georeference them to modern maps in order to reconstruct and analyze the historic geography.  This map above is an Alabama Public Land Survey map that has been georeferenced to modern aerial photographs and the historic trails and roads (brown) digitized into a GIS.

This map shows the same historic trails on top of the modern aerial photos.  AEP researchers are using these georeferenced maps to reconstruct the transportation network and geography of the Native Peoples of the southeastern United States.


Foster, Thomas.  2004.  Benjamin Hawkins and the Creek Indians.  Alabama Frontier: Cultural Crossroads.  January 19, 2004.  Montgomery

Foster, Thomas, editor.  2003. The Collected Works of Benjamin Hawkins, 1796-1810.  Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press





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