A Sampling of North Carolina's
Archaeology at the Cullowhee Valley School
Cullowhee, Jackson County
Construction of the
new K-8 Cullowhee Valley School was complicated earlier this year
by the discovery of significant archaeological resources (including
human burials) on the planned school site. David Moore, archaeologist
at the Western Office of the North Carolina Division of Archives
and History in Asheville, directed the salvage excavations at the
site which is located in Cullowhee, Jackson County, less than one
mile from the campus of Western Carolina University.
The project began with
the discovery of a feature by Joel Hardison, an anthropology student
at Western Carolina University. Joel, who had often collected artifacts
from the site, was examining an area of the construction site when
he observed a dark pit partially exposed by the bulldozer. The disturbed
soil contained pottery, charcoal, and bone, and Joel reported the
discovery of a possible human burial to Anne Rogers, anthropologist
at WCU, who reported it to David Moore.
of the feature revealed it to be a trash pit but he alerted the
Jackson County School Superintendent, Dr. Charles McConnell, that
additional features and human burials were likely to be present.
Under North Carolina General Statute 70-3, it is illegal to disturb
unmarked human remains. Therefore, with the cooperation of the Jackson
county school officials and the grading contractor, David began
a rushed investigation to identify and remove any burials present
on the site.
Ultimately, the salvage
project revealed that portions of three separate sites remained
partially (see figure) intact despite the initial grading that had
taken place. The first is a Woodland period village that probably
dates to ca. A.D. 700-900. It is a palisaded village and is especially
significant for what is believed to be the foundation of an earthlodge.
Three burial were located within the village, including one in the
middle of the earthlodge. Interestingly, the pottery found here
is most similar to Napier pottery found in North Georgia. Sites
of this time period are poorly known in the southern mountains and
information gathered here will greatly expand our understanding
of the cultures that preceded the Cherokee culture in western North
The second site, located
just south of the Woodland village, dates to the Pisgah (Cherokee
ancestors) phase ca. A.D. 1500-1650.
Although most of this
site was already graded away, portions of four palisades were discovered
along with numerous features. The ceramic information gathered here
along with the potential for radiocarbon dates makes it likely that
this site will enhance our ability to date late Pisgah pottery and
to discriminate it from early Qualla (Historic period Cherokee)
ceramics. Also, an abundance of charred plant remains from features
at both sites will enable researchers to compare diets from the
different time periods.
The third site was
represented by two features and dates to the early nineteenth century.
Feature contents included Qualla pottery, glass beads, animal bone,
a variety of buttons, bottle glass, and gun parts. This is likely
to represent a Removal Era Cherokee homestead. Future research may
reveal the names of the occupants of this home site just before
they were removed on the Trail of Tears.
This project represented
an enormous undertaking; an area of more than 7,900 square meters
(71,100 square feet) was examined and mapped. One hundred, thirty-two
(132) features and over 1,020 postholes were identified and more
than 90 of the features were excavated. Of course, none of this
would have been possible without the help of volunteers. David was
assisted by more than 125 individuals who contributed more than
2,000 hours to the project. Volunteers came from WCU, the Cullowhee
community and Jackson County, Asheville, Franklin, Charlotte, Marion,
Chapel Hill, even from as far as Atlanta, Georgia. A special thanks
goes to the archaeologists from the National Forest Service in North
Carolina and Tennessee and to archaeology faculty and students at
Appalachian State University in Boone.
The Office of State
Archaeology is not funded to carry out such extended projects and
therefore, without the help of these volunteers it is likely that
more of the salvaged sites would have been lost.
David Moore hopes to
raise funds for continuing work on the excavated materials. Funds
will be necessary for radiocarbon dates, analysis of the floral
and faunal remains, and analysis of the human skeletal remains before
a final report can be written. Volunteers will continue their valuable
contribution as they wash and catalogue the excavated materials
and help to analyze pottery, stone tools, and other artifacts.
Finally, it should
be pointed out that according to the provisions of G.S. 70-3, the
human remains will be studied under agreement with the Eastern Band
of the Cherokee Indians. Upon completion of the study they will
be returned to the Eastern Band.
of the Cullowhee Valley School has obliterated any trace of these
archaeological sites. Despite the loss of two sites eligible for
listing on the National Register of Historic Places, we have gathered
important information that should help us understand more of the
past Cherokee culture in western North Carolina.
by: David G. Moore, Western Office, NC Office
of State Archaeology
Reprinted by permission from the NEWSLETTER of
the North Carolina Archaeological Society, Summer 1992, Volume 2,
Number 2. © North Carolina Archaeological Society 1992
to ARCHAEOLOGICAL SITES