Friday, August 22, 2008

Intrigue of the Past: North Carolina's First Peoples

This is an excellent resource for teachers to use for school curriculum requirements. We will be offering several new programs in the coming months that will complement these lesson plans, and allow for a more hands on interraction with the concepts that are presented. I want to get this resource out to help implement the study of archaeology and Native American cultures in Lincoln County. Please contact me at my e-mail ( if you have any questions. I will be posting the new educational programs very soon!

A Teacher's Activity Guide
for Fourth through Eighth Grades

Compiled and Edited by:

Margo L. Price
Patricia M. Samford
Vincas P. Steponaitis

Research Laboratories of Archaeology
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

With Lesson Plans by:

Kelly A. Letts
Jeanne M. Moe
Danielle M. Paterson
Margo L. Price
Patricia M. Samford
Shelley J. Smith

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Archaeology is Everywhere!

I always love the response I receive from people when I tell them that I am an archaeologist. People usully simply ask "you mean there are sites North Carolina?", which just gets me all excited since I know I have the opportunity to share information. My response is always "of course!" and I don't have to travel abroad to be able to do archaeology. The state of North Carolina is filled with many archaeological sites that most people never see. The reason for this is because of all the types of sites discovered and researched through CRM (Cultural Resource Management) companies. These companies provide a service to complete archaeological surveys for mostly federally funded projects where archaeological sites need to be located before eventually being destroyed.

A large portion of my background is from working on CRM projects. A recent example includes the Charlotte Douglas International Airport runway expansion project, which I worked on last summer. The investigations included the survey of two possible prehistoric Native American sites that were found in a survey I worked on in 1998. The two sites were chosen as possible candidates for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places, and are located in the direct path of the future runway. The survey meant the sites were tested and not recommended for National Register status based on the findings. If you drive by this area along I-485 it is possible to see the massive grading that has completely destroyed the sites. This result is what typically happens to sites, and as an archaeologist I have the chance to record the cultural remains left behind by past cultures before they are lost to "progress".

The best thing about my new job is that I am now in a position where I can spend more time on my research. I will continue to work on sites that fit more into the CRM type of work, but mainly I am now focusing in on locating sites in Lincoln County for research purposes. My main interest includes using the method known as landscape archaeology for interpreting sites. The cool thing is that it is useful on all types of sites so I don't have to limit myself to one specific period of interest. One of my goals currently is to locate the Native American sites in Lincoln County and record as many as possible. I am very interested in what David Moore terms the "Protohistoric Catawba Indians" who were also known as the Mississippian people (800 BC to 1600 AD). They are known as the mound-builders who built large mounds of dirt used for structural platforms, or for burials within the mound itself. So far, the explorations into the nature of their settlements in Lincoln County is very limited. In addition to the Native American cultures, I am very interested in the 18th and 19th century sites that can be found in this region including plantations, urban sites and also the overall study of sites in the "backcountry".

Many have asked me if I have a specialization in the field of archaeology. I am very knowledgeable about prehistoric and historic ceramics, but overall I have to say "no". I love what I do because of all the new things I can learn each day, and truthfully I am quite obsessed with all types of artifacts. I love them all...not because of what they look like, but because of the story they can tell me.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Landscape Archaeology: A Useful Method for Interpretation of Sites

The topic I have chosen for discussion in this article relates to the importance of cultural landscapes. This is a topic that typically goes unnoticed, but major implications are indicated by observing historical sites through a holistic perspective. Take for instance, any of the rural farmsteads or plantations located right here in Lincoln County. The typical perspective of one of these sites is one of minimal visualization and focuses on the “Big House” where the landowners lived during the past. What types of questions can arise from this perspective? Several can be asked in relation to income level, method of economic subsistence, and the stories of the people who lived in the house, and so on. Now step back and observe the entire property from a bird’s eye view. This simple process has a fundamental relationship to observing the property through landscape. This very type of observation is a comparatively new way of looking at cultural landscapes, and is termed a sub-discipline of the field of archaeology known as landscape archaeology.

In using the method of landscape archaeology, it completely widens the scope of observation on a site. The once noticed plantation house can now be seen in conjunction with surrounding outbuildings, fields, plantings and property boundaries. In a concise moment the archaeologist, architectural historian, geographer, or any public viewer can start to see interaction on the landscape. It is then possible to ask more questions in relation to socioeconomic stratification on the landscape between class levels and race, gender differentiation, and the ways that the people manipulated the landscape around them such a long time ago. In addition, it is possible to go a step further and look at the ways that not only the people influenced the landscape, but how the landscape influenced them from the initial time of settlement. The people traveling into the area of Lincoln County in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries were not entering the same context as those in coastal areas. This was a heavily wooded landscape inhabited by the Catawba and Cherokee tribes in the eighteenth century, so conflict and a very rural setting posed there own difficulties. What do you think it would have been like, and how would you have created your own home in such a strange and seemingly uninhabitable place? These are the types of questions that archaeologists try to ask and interpret about the actual people of the past of all time periods.

The use of landscape archaeology in exploring a site is part of my personal research methodology and its use has great potential as a tool for exploring archaeological sites in Lincoln County. Instead of just looking at whether a particular house, structure, or even cemetery is significant, we need to step back and try to take a second look at the place of examination as an “artifact” in itself. This will allow more information to present itself and allow for a more authentic “sense of place” to be illustrated and interpreted.

What is an “Artifact”?

In this particular article, I just want to examine the true definition of the word “artifact”. So I start out by asking, what is an artifact. Most people would say that it is a piece of a pottery or stone tool left behind by the Native Americans. Others may say that it’s a button, piece of glass, clothing, or basically “something really old” that was thrown away at some point a long time ago. Okay, so that makes sense and it is also very true, but how do we decide what is old? These are all very good questions that people can ask when trying to figure out if something is actually an artifact. So, I am going to make it really easy for everyone and let it be known that anything that was made or crafted by a person is an artifact. Not only that, but it doesn’t matter how old the object is either. This is the beginning process of understanding how an archaeologist, like me, thinks and interprets the objects we study.

I have been working as an archaeologist for a while, and I’m not going to say how long. When I first started in this field, I was only 12 years old. I did not have a clue what archaeology was really about, or what was an artifact either. I now realize that artifacts are everywhere! The best way to understand it is to look at your own trash that gets thrown away each day. Everything being put in the trash was made and used by people, right? So everything that we even use today and gets discarded is an artifact. It’s not old, but the importance of an artifact is the story it can tell. What you put in your trash, tells a lot about the people who used it and then threw it away. Not only that, but when objects are found together we can learn by what is called “inference by association”. What this means is that the more pieces of trash found together, associated with each other, can provide even more information about the people that threw it away, than if only one object was found.

Well, I hope that this at least brought some readers to a better point of understanding one part of what my job is all about. The main point I want to get across is that you can make discoveries about people in the past and present everyday, just like an archaeologist. My children pick up trash off of the ground all the time and bring it to me because they have just found an artifact. Granted it’s not going to solve some crucial cultural question that I might have, but they are still correct in saying the objects they find are artifacts. So imagine the possibilities, and you can begin to think just like an archaeologist in examining our own culture through the “artifacts” we use everyday.