Searching for Endangered Sites of North Carolina

2080
The famous petroglyph rock known as Judaculla Rock.
The famous petroglyph rock known as Judaculla Rock.

In Search of Archaeological Sites of North Carolina: Part 2 of 2, East Coast Journeys

After passing the Contentnea Creek Preserve near Wilson, the Conservancy’s Eastern Office set its sights westward toward the Great Smokey Mountains of North Carolina.  We wanted to visit with site owners and archaeologists for recommendations on endangered sites that were in the greatest need of preservation and protection.

The owner of one of these sites was kind enough to show us the way to the famous Judaculla Rock, an amazing soapstone rock carved with numerous petroglyphs. This rock holds special significance for the Cherokee Native Americans who lived in numerous villages in the surrounding areas. The stone is currently only 30 miles from the Qualla Boundary which marks the territory currently owned by the Eastern Band of Cherokee.

A sketch depicting some of the petroglyphs carved on the Jucaculla Rock surface.
A sketch depicting some of the petroglyphs carved on the Jucaculla Rock surface.

The rock is covered with approximately 1,548 carvings, more than any other known petroglyph boulder in the eastern United States. It is made of soapstone, a soft metamorphic rock. At one point the site was quarried and it is still possible to see where the area’s early inhabitants were carving bowls from the rock.

The Cherokee describe Judaculla as a giant who lives in the mountains. One of the petroglyphs on the rock is thought to be his handprint.
The Cherokee describe Judaculla as a giant who lives in the mountains. One of the petroglyphs on the rock is thought to be his handprint.

For nearly 100 years the rock was owned and cared for by a family who farmed the surrounding land. In 1959, the rock and a small tract of land was donated to Jackson County guaranteeing that this significant site will remain protected.

From Cullowhee, we traveled northeast to Asheville to the North Carolina Office of State Archaeology’s western office. Here we met with Linda Hall, Assistant State Archaeologist. Linda was very helpful in identifying areas in the western part of the state where there are important archaeological sites endangered and in need of protection.

Most of the known sites are located in valleys along major rivers, as this land was ideal for settlement in this very mountainous region. The rivers served as transportation corridors and the land was fertile for agriculture. Unfortunately these characteristics also make these areas ideal for modern habitation as well, and development projects have threatened and destroyed some of the sites in the region.

The Spikebuck Town Preserve.
The Spikebuck Town Preserve.

Currently the Conservancy owns a single archaeological preserve in the western part of the state. Spikebuck Town is a Cherokee village site that dates to 17th through 19th centuries. For more information on the preserve check out this previous Conservancy post.

Our final stop on the trip was Appalachian State University in Boone. Here we met with Dr. Thomas Whyte, a professor and researcher in the Anthropology Department. Dr. Whyte graciously showed us the wonderful lab space available for students as well as some artifacts from sites we looked at in the area. Dr. Whyte is very familiar with many of the historic and prehistoric sites in the area and is also known for his work in zooarchaeology. For more information about his research take a look at his faculty page.

Dr. Thomas Whyte with materials for faunal research.
Dr. Thomas Whyte with materials for faunal research at Appalachian State University .

From Boone we began the 6 hour drive back to the Eastern Office in Frederick, Maryland. We are very grateful to all the folks we met with in North Carolina! We are hopeful  that some of the sites we saw and discussed will be good candidates for future acquisition and protection by the Conservancy.

-Kelly Berliner, Eastern Regional Field Representative

Read Part 1: 4 Intriguing Archaeological Preserves of North Carolina

Look at Making The Cut: What Sites Are Worthy Conservancy Preserves?

Check out our saved Featured Sites of the Conservancy

 

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