Support your Scientific and Cultural Institutions

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The logbook for the CSS Shenandoah and a photo description of how it was conserved.

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A wide variety of projectile points from a well documented private collection that was donated to the OSARC that includes the iconic 13,000 year old Clovis points at the top.

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Our guide showing us some artifacts from a historical tavern site. And I was “that question guy” that messes up time schedules.

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A scene that could be from the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark.

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An example of how not to conserve a pot, ca.1970s. All you need is the rim to tell what it is.

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A table of forgotten taxidermy at the NC Museum of Natural Sciences.

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Chipmunks in a drawer. A comparative anatomy research collection.

Last Friday I had the opportunity to attend the North Carolina Literary and Historical Association 116th meeting and the Federation of North Carolina Historical Societies 41st meeting that was held- well, all over Raleigh with the the deputy secretary of the N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources and director of the Office of Archives, History and Parks, Dr. Kevin Cherry.   First we toured behind the scenes at the NC Archives and viewed singular artifacts such as Colonel Isaac Avery’s note to his father that he wrote as he lay dying on the Gettysburg battlefield after being shot from his horse.  We also gazed upon the log book for the CSS Shenandoah,  the ship that fired the last shot of the American Civil War.  We also saw John Adam’s ‘Thoughts on Government’,  a letter he wrote in 1776 in his efficient handwriting to the delegates of North Carolina.

From there we walked several blocks to the spacious and advanced  Office of State Archaeology Research Center (OSARC). There, I really geeked out because archaeology was what I was doing before I went into librarianship.  I am sure that  Emily McDowell, the OSARC lab assistant who gave us the tour, was annoyed at my many questions.  In the storage facility we learned that the artifacts in the banana boxes were not yet curated and I glimpsed an enigmatic box with ‘Mystery’ written in marker on it.  We also learned how not to conserve Native American pottery when were shown a pot covered in masking tape.

Our next stop was the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences and a tour behind the scenes with the chief of research and collections, Dr. Jason Cryon. There, we delved into the paleontology storage area where I saw giant femurs of sauropods still in their plaster from the field. We also got to see countless specimens of birds and mammals that are a part of their research collection.  It brought back fond memories of when I was a biology major, before I switched to anthropology.

Afterwards, we retired to the Doubletree Inn on Hillsborough Street to watch various awards being presented and then heard speakers on Sir Walter Raleigh (it was actually about the pageant in Raleigh in 1920 to celebrate the 300th anniversary of his death) and another on George Washington’s Southern tour in 1920.

A repeated theme of the gathering was to support your scientific and cultural institutions through visits and donations.  Many are afraid that money, especially federal money, may dry up in the near future. So support them with your feet and your dollars to keep them doing great things!

New Book about the Great Dismal Swamp

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There is a  new book called A Desolate Place for a Defiant People: The Archaeology of Maroons, Indigenous Americans, and Enslaved Laborers in the Great Dismal Swamp  and it is about the archaeology and history of the Great Dismal Swamp.  For some reason it came in under my radar but it was featured on NPR today and I have now ordered it.  Any of you who follow my blog know that the Great Dismal Swamp with its foreboding blackberry hells, alligators, cottonmouths and tannin-infused black-water was a vital cradle for the formation of North Carolina as it provided a refuge for Virginia runaway slaves, indentured servants, Native Americans and those fleeing the fallout of the failure of Bacon’s Rebellion.

The author, archaeologist Daniel Sayers, states that he has found the remains of a dozen log cabins, clay pipes,  gun-flints and many other items that would have been a part of the material culture of ten generations of African Americans and others that called this life-giving labyrinth home.

I cannot wait to read it!

For more about the Great Dismal Swamp and it’s place in NC history please refer to my earlier post on the singularly important book, A Very Mutinous People: The Struggle for North Carolina, 1660-1713  by Noeleen McIlvenna.

16th Century Spanish Fort found near Morganton, NC

ImageFrom its founding 1566 to its destruction by Native Americans 18 months later, Fort San Juan was the  innermost European penetration into the American interior in the 16th century.  Its hard to believe that there was a Spanish Fort right at the foot of the North Carolina Appalachians in the mid 1500’s but it is true.  Last June while excavating the proto-historic Cherokee town of Joara, archaeologists from Tulane, Warren Wilson College and the University of South Carolina discovered a European style moat, Spanish huts and military artifacts.  Fort San Juan was built by the Juan Pardo expedition, an expedition that  was instructed to follow in Hernando DeSoto’s earlier (and incredibly destructive) path in order to create a link to the Mexican silver mines.  Unfortunately for them they were way off geographically and managed to anger the local Native Americans who well remembered DeSoto’s disastrous visit with his armored knights and 300 pigs 20 years before.  The archaeologist from USC, Chester DePratter, is one of the foremost experts on the Spanish in the Southeast and he also worked on the coastal fort of Santa Elena on present day Parris Island, South Carolina (where the Pardo expedition set off from) with legendary archaeologist Stanley South.

For further reading on the Pardo and DeSoto expeditions I strongly recommend one of my Imagefavorite books of all time, Knights of Spain, Warriors of the Sun and another great book, The Juan Pardo Expeditions both by the late preeminent Southeastern anthropologist, Charles Hudson.

Unsolved Murder in Jamestown

pistolWhen the remains of the individual known to archaeologists as JR102C was found in 1996, it was clear from the lead ball and shot fragments in his crushed leg that the young man had been murdered, probably in a duel.  Investigators may have uncovered the identity of the victim and the murderer from newly uncovered accounts of a duel in 1624 where a man named George Harrison (not the one in the Beatles) died after being shot in the leg.  The perpetrator of Mr. Harrison’s death was a Jamestown merchant named Richard Stevens.  Stevens should have stopped there but he later got in a fistfight with the Virginia Gov. John Hardy in 1635 and had his teeth knocked out.

Source The Archaeology News Network

Two Cannons retrieved from the Wreck of Blackbeard’s Flagship

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Blackbeard, a pirate

After a 300 year sabbatical two of the Queen Anne’s Revenge cannons have been retrieved from the bottom of Beaufort Inlet in  Cateret County NC by researchers from the state’s Underwater Archaeology.

Researchers have identified 27 known cannons at the site, with 26 made of cast iron and one of bronze. Counting the two raised Thursday, 15 cannon have been recovered.

The two 6-pounders that are the latest recovered are about 8-feet long and with the concretions covering them after hundreds of years under water, they weigh about 2,500 pounds each.

They will now be transported to the QAR conservation lab in Greenville.

Conservator Sarah Watkins-Kenney said each cannon is a new piece of the story that is the Queen Anne’s Revenge.

“Each one is unique,” she said.

Of the ones that have already been recovered, markings have shown that some were English made and others were Swedish made. There have also been some that were loaded when the ship sank.

Knowing which ones were loaded and how they were positioned on the ship can give information about what Blackbeard and his crew were doing when the ship ran aground, she said.

“If all the guns were loaded and ready to go, that’s different than if they weren’t,” she said.

That’s awesome!

Source Jacksonville Daily News

Revolutionary War fort discovered in Georgia

ImageOn February 10,1779, 200 Patriot forces led by Colonel Andrew Pickens laid siege to a group of 80 loyalists that were occupying Patriot Captain Robert Carr’s house, called Carr’s Fort.   The siege lasted several hours leaving about 12 dead or wounded.  The Patriots only retreated when they found out that 750 Loyalists were en route to lift the siege.

Archaeologists used metal detectors and GPS to find the fort, which may be one of over 30 forts that may still exist in Wilkes County Georgia.

Source Archaeology News Network

A Review of 1491: New Revelations of the Americas before Columbus

          1491: New Revelations of the Americas before Columbus by Charles C. Mann is a singular accomplishment.  Yes that’s what I said and it is not hyperbole.  In my former life I dabbled in anthropology, well I got a BA in physical anthropology and was going to Nepal at one point with my mentor to study high altitude adaptations, but life intervened. Later I became more interested in archaeology and Southeastern Native Americans.  This led me to  work with an archaeologist doing phase I surveys and more recently I took graduate classes in archaeology and did lab work and field work so I logically went into library science.  Those are my less than stellar anthro credentials but its concepts are always at work in my mind and they have a great influence on my view of the world.  Given that, the book 1491 was on my radar screen when it came out, why it took six years for me to read it was due to my wariness about reading a book written by a non-anthropologist that attempts to tackle the most fought over and controversial concepts ofthe prehistoric and protohistoric eras of two continents.

            It turns out that Mann was the perfect person to tackle these concepts.  The reason is that besides being an erudite and extraordinarily well read science writer, he doesn’t have a dog in the hunt so to speak.  Anthropologists are some of the most savage infighters of any discipline.  Researchers cling to their pet theories to their last death rattle and many times in the face of overwhelming contrary evidence.  It is not rare in the history of anthropological research to have to wait for some god of the discipline to be called home before the science can advance.  Mann begins with the relatively new revelation that the Amazon isn’t as wild as everyone believed and it was once home to many populous civilizations who cultivated the jungle like a garden.  This reality hits home when the author examines a mound in the middle of the jungle that erosion is revealing it to be made entirely of pottery sherds.  Mann asks the researcher how many sherds he thinks is in there and the researcher does a quick calculation before stating “Forty-one million.” This has been a controversy for some time whether the jungle could sustain a large civilization and scientists aligned themselves with one side or another, but the prevailing opinion until lately was that it could not. This is only one of the many changing notions of the pre-Columbus Americas.

            A pristine wilderness lightly dusted with aboriginal peoples, vacuum sealed from time is what most people imagine the Americas as being before the arrival of Europeans.  This view is now being challenged from new insights into the anthropology and archaeology of the Americas as well as reexaminations of the writings of the first Europeans in the “New World.”  Mann deftly combines history with science in his approach to the material.  The writings from the DeSoto mission, the first European expedition into the Southeast and one of the greatest horror stories of all time “he managed to rape, torture, enslave, and kill countless Indians,”  reveal that the Mississippi was “thickly set with great towns”.  But the next visitor to the same area over a century later saw the same land teeming with buffalo and no people. The DeSoto account doesn’t even mention buffalo the entire four years of the expedition.  Also, everyone has heard of the passenger pigeon, mostly because it is extinct.  There were accounts from the nineteenth century of a flock of passenger pigeons taking three days to pass overhead, yet archaeologists find almost no bones of the birds from Native American middens (trash).  Both of these animals would have been competitors with Native Americans for food and farming land.  Once the people disappeared their populations exploded.  What happened to the Indians?  It looks more and more like Indians were much more susceptible to European diseases than it had once been thought.  They had no acquired immunity (being exposed to a disease and surviving) and because of their genetic homogeneity they had less of a spectrum of responses to the European diseases. (Their genetic homogeneity also gave them an advantage over genetic diseases.  There was no cystic fibrosis, Huntington’s chorea, newborn anemia, schizophrenia, asthma, nor juvenile diabetes.) This combination left them with almost no defense in the face of small pox, measles, and influenza, which virtually wiped out a whole world of cultures that had been flowering independently from the Old World for over ten thousand years.

            I’m not even touching the surface of all the topics that Mann examines, but here is a list of some more of them: the Clovis first controversy, Mayan philosophy, Incan khipu writing (knots on a string), the fact that the Meso-Americans were the first society in the world to use the zero as well as the first to genetically manipulate an organism as they did in their creation of maize, and Peru was the second place in the world to form a government (after the Fertile Crescent, but they may, in the end, turn out to be the first).  To sum up, Mann is a maestro in his deep understanding of the pre-Columbian Americas and lucky for us he is able to share his knowledge with masterful prose.  I can’t wait to read his new book 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created.  Both books are available at the Wilson County Library for checkout.