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June 21, 2001 -- No. 305
Archaeologists complete field school at Hillsborough’s old Wall Indian site
By DAVID WILLIAMSON
UNC News Services
CHAPEL HILL -- University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill archaeologists and 17 of their students today (June 21) completed excavations along the banks of the Eno River in Hillsborough at an ancient Indian site discovered in the 1930s, according to Dr. R.P. Stephen Davis Jr., of the Research Laboratories of Archaeology.
Unlike some past years, they made no surprising discoveries, Davis said, but the work was valuable nonetheless. It will add to the growing body of knowledge of Indians who inhabited the region for thousands of years before whites settled North Carolina.
For students, it also was a hands-on introduction into the painstaking process of creating history from small clues buried for centuries or millennia, he said.
"As with all field schools, this is a very unusual type of class experience," Davis said. "Students do physically demanding work for eight hours straight -- sometimes for the first time in their lives -- under fairly extreme conditions of heat and humidity. Besides learning about archaeology by actually doing it, they also are learning a lot about themselves and what they are capable of."
During excavation of the Wall site, which the Reverend Douglas Rights discovered and which UNC archaeologist Dr. Joffre Coe partially excavated in 1938, the students dug up more than 3,000 cubic feet of dirt. They moved all the dirt with shovels and wheelbarrows, sifted all of it through half-inch screens to capture artifacts and put it all back in place.
"For many years, this site was believed to be Occaneechi Town, which explorer John Lawson visited in 1701 and described in print," Davis said. "In 1940, UNC initiated a much larger excavation through Works Progress Administration money and continued it up until the attack on Pearl Harbor, when most federally-sponsored archaeology came to a rapid halt."
Before stopping, workers exposed about a fourth of the site and found evidence of houses and stockade lines -- protective enclosures surrounding the village, he said. Interestingly, then laboratory director Dr. Robert Wauchope and Coe found no European trade goods but still believed the site to be Occaneechi.
"Then in 1983, we began what we call our Siouan Project under director Roy Dickens and renewed digging," Davis said. "Very quickly we became suspicious that the village predated Europeans. After obtaining charcoal samples for radiocarbon dating, we found the village dated to the late 1400s and early 1500s, some 200 years before Lawson came through. Then we began looking elsewhere near the Wall site and discovered the adjoining Jenrette and the Fredricks sites, which contained many late 17th and early 18th century artifacts.
The UNC scientists believe people living at the Jenrette site in 1670 were Shakori Indians, who German traveler John Lederer described in 1670 and who were different from the Ocanneechi tribe. Later, Lawson learned that three distinct Indian groups -- the Shakori, the Eno and the Adshusheer lived together in a village some 14 miles East near Durham. Possibly near New Hope or Ellerbee creeks or the Eno River, that site has never been found and might no longer exist because of modern construction.
"We went back to the Wall site because when we started excavating the Jenrette site in the 1990s we began to see a lot of similarities and thought the Shakori at Jenrette were likely descendants of people who lived at the Wall site," Davis said.
Excavations of the village trash dump this summer yielded animal bones -- mostly whitetail
deer -- food scraps, small arrow points, plant remains, broken pots and various discarded tools. Two houses and segments of six separate palisades also were uncovered, he said. Other finds have included far older spear points that may date back 10,000 to 11,000 years. Previous excavations at other adjoining sites along the river have yielded glass trade beads, copper bells, scissors, rum bottles and a rusty musket, all dating to the 17th century.
As many as 200 Indian people may have lived near downtown Hillsborough in the late 1400s and for many decades afterwards, Davis said.
"The archaeological research in Hillsborough over the past two decades has contributed to a new understanding of the late precontact and historic Indian peoples who lived in the North Carolina Piedmont," he said.
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Davis can be reached at (919) 962-3845 (w) or 942-0467 (h).
Contact: David Williamson