Sampling of North Carolina's Archaeological Sites
In September, 1992,
a project sponsored by the National Geographic Society under the
direction of Claude E. Petrone, the National Geographic Magazine's
manager of photographic special projects, and Donald G. Shomette,
director of Nautical Archaeological Associates, examined prehistoric
dugout canoes in Phelps Lake with a Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR)
unit. Underwater Archaeology Unit (UAU) staff members Richard Lawrence,
Dr. Mark Wilde-Ramsing, Leslie Bright, and Julep Gillman-Bryan assisted
the project by relocating known canoes and helping to determine
the cause of significant anomalies recorded during the radar survey.
Located in northeastern
North Carolina, Phelps Lake is a shallow, 16,000-acre lake, the
second largest in the state. It is characteristic of a group of
oval-shaped lakes and pocosins known as "Carolina Bays"
distributed along the Middle Atlantic and Southeastern coastal plain.
The presence of log canoes in Phelps Lake has been acknowledged
by New World prehistorians as singularly important to the study
and understanding of occupation and subsistence patterns of prehistoric
man in the southeastern United States. To date thirty canoes have
been located along the northern and western shores of the lake adjacent
to the archaeological sites where they were made, used, and eventually
abandoned. Some of the canoes are nothing more than fragments while
others are essentially intact, preserved by the acidic water and
long burial in the lake bottom sediments. There appear to be a number
of end (bow and stern) shape variations and the length of the longest
canoe found so far is 37 feet. Nineteen of the canoes have been
radiocarbon-dated ranging in age from 2430 B.C. to A.D. 1400, correlating
closely with the known age of the other artifacts from the lake.
During the GPR survey
two 10,000 square-foot survey areas were marked off adjacent to
the lake's shoreline using stakes and string lines. This permitted
the survey craft to follow lanes with a precise ten-foot spacing.
As anomalies were recorded, string lines were marked and a team
examined the bottom sediments with metal probes and, in some cases,
an inducation dredge to determine the cause of the disturbance on
The GPR survey met
with mixed results. On the one hand, the radar did clearly identify
known canoe targets. Unfortunately, the complexity of the sediments
of the lake bottom--with several layers of very hard-packed sand
alternating with soft pockets of organic muds--provided many false
readings. However, the potential of GPR for finding dugout canoes
is demonstrated by the fact that it picked up a section of log buried
three feet in the sediment below a thick layer of dense sand.
After an analysis of
the strip charts from this survey, a better understanding of the
readings will emerge. National Geographic personnel and UAU staff
members are already planning a follow-up project at Phelps Lake
to employ techniques refined from this survey. The aim will be to
examine other portions of Phelps Lake, particularly unsurveyed areas
along the lake's western shoreline in hopes of locating additional
canoes to add to the archaeological record.
by: Dr. Mark
Wilde-Ramsing, Underwater Unit, NC Office of State Archaeology
by permission from the NEWSLETTER of the North Carolina
Archaeological Society, Winter 1992, Volume 2, Number 4. ©
North Carolina Archaeological Society 1992
to ARCHAEOLOGICAL SITES