Summer Field School as part of UNC’s Archeology Program found archaeological evidence of pre-contact native settlements while excavating sites in Duke Forest and Mount Ayr Field .
The team, led by professors Heather Lapham and Steve Davis, excavated hundreds of shards – broken shards of ancient North American pottery – and other historical artifacts.
“Often when you first find a shard it looks like an oddly flat rock and it can be hard to tell if it’s something – but once you realize it’s made of a shard, you’re overjoyed,” Annie Veum, a junior history and archeology major at UNC, said.
She said other things they discovered in the field included lithic shards, which are stones used to scrap tools, the occasional arrowhead, lots of charcoal, an ax head and a piece of a tobacco pipe bowl that can be dated to the early post-contact period.
According to Veum, being in the field is a dirty and tiring experience due to hours of hard physical labor. However, she said the experience was exhilarating and made her realize how much she wanted to pursue archeology for the rest of her life.
“Most of what you hear on the pitch are voices; we talk to discuss what we’re doing, what we find, and just for fun,” Veum said. “But the best sound is the cheers when someone finds something, and then you rush to see and participate. There’s nothing like the euphoria of finding something.”
Elizabeth Maguire, a UNC junior majoring in anthropology and archaeology, said she hopes to become an archaeologist.
“For me, I’m just interested in how humans lived and how they once lived,” Maguire said.
According to Davis, the field school team chose to excavate in Duke Forest and Ayr Mount due to historical evidence of remnants of ancient settlements in the areas.
“The first site where we spent half of the field school was on Duke Forest property, just outside of Chapel Hill,” Davis said. “It’s a lowland that is heavily forested and because of those conditions it had never been examined before by archaeologists.”
Bashi Hariharan, a junior UNC student majoring in anthropology and archaeology, said he chose Mount Ayr because of UNC’s past excavations of Native American settlements along the Eno River, such as the Hogue, Wall, and , Jenrette and Fredricks.
Ayr Mount is a plantation house built in 1815 in Hillsborough.
“I loved being there and working to find cultural relics – that was one of the best feelings,” Hariharan said. “It was hard work, especially with the summer weather, but it was worth ten times over when we found artifacts in the ground.”
Hariharan said his first reaction when their team excavated a shard was pure joy and proof that all of the team’s efforts have materialized into a find.
“Touching something someone else had handled, had done hundreds of years ago, was a feeling I will never forget,” they said. “History is written in archives and books and told in stories, but to have something tangible in the palm of your hand that you know a human being has touched is awe-inspiring.”
Davis, who is the associate director of UNC’s Archeology Research Laboratories, said he has taught at field schools every summer for the past 40 years, except for a few COVID-19 pandemic breaks. .
“Until about 2000, that was our goal,” he said. “For the last 20 years, at least until the last two years, we’ve been working on a somewhat later historic era settlement of the Catawba Indian Nation south of Charlotte, and these sites were from the early 1900s. 1800.”
Davis has seen several technological changes throughout his career. For example, surveying techniques using optical transits for measurement and mapping have moved to digital coding stations.
However, Davis said most of the work is still done by hand, using trowels and shovels to dig.
“Students in the field learn things that can be taught to them in class, but until you’re in the field and experience it day in and day out, you don’t really appreciate what it’s like. really, really, archaeological field work,” he said.
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