Update E: Important Cherokee Valley Town Site, 5th Anniversary of Preservation

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The Spikebuck Town Preserve.
The Spikebuck Town Preserve.

TAC East Field Update

The Eastern Region of the Archaeological Conservancy may be the smallest of the Conservancy’s five regions, but that does not mean the region is lacking in site variety or expansive territory. For example, the westernmost preserve in the Eastern Region, Spikebuck Town, is located in North Carolina just a short distance from the Tennessee border. This preserve contains the remains of a Cherokee town that was occupied during the 17th through 19th centuries. We are approaching the 5th year anniversary of acquiring this amazing site.

Spikebuck Town is a Cherokee “Valley Town,” one of many that were established along the Hiwassee River in western North Carolina. Historically the community was known as Quanassee.

A map dating to 1725 that shows the location of “Qunesse,” or Quanassee, as well as other valley towns.
A map dating to 1725 that shows the location of “Qunesse,” or Quanassee (Bottom Center) , as well as other valley towns.

The site consists of a large Cherokee settlement that was surrounded by small farmsteads. An important component associated with the town is the Spikebuck Mound, which is a large earthen mound that would have been the site of a large townhouse that was used for ceremonial and civic purposes. The mound is not part of the Conservancy Preserve, but was acquired by Clay County in 2000. Clay County continues to protect the mound.

Spikebuck Mound. Photo credit Clay County.
Spikebuck Mound. Photo Credit: Clay County.

Excavations at the town site took place in the 1960s and 1970s. During these investigations archaeologists uncovered house patterns, fire pits, European trade goods, storage pits, burned timbers, and a variety of pottery, pipes, and beads. The presence of European trade goods is a testament to the occupation of this site during the contact period, as well as the extensive Native American trade networks that existed at this time. In addition to information gleaned from the archaeology of the site, historical documents suggest that Spikebuck Town was targeted during a military campaign in the Revolutionary War, and then served as a gathering place for Cherokee following the passage of the Indian Removal Act of 1830, which forced the Cherokee to leave their land and head west.

A glass bead and French gunflint recovered from the site help date deposits to European contact. Photo credit Jane Eastman.
A glass bead and French gunflint recovered from the site help date deposits to European contact. Photo credit Jane Eastman.

flintThe site holds tremendous potential for ongoing and future research. Jane Eastman, an archaeologist at Western Carolina University, has directed a field school at the site in recent years. Students from the university helped to conduct remote sensing of the site to understand the layout of the town, and attempt to locate excavation units from the 1970s. Subsequent excavations identified a large feature that was likely a house.

Jane Eastman and students conducting a ground-penetrating radar survey.
Jane Eastman and students conducting a ground-penetrating radar survey.

In nearby Hayesville, the Cherokee Homestead Exhibit offers visitors to the area an opportunity to better visualize what Cherokee Valley Towns would have looked like. The Clay County Community Revitalization Association, with help from numerous sponsors and volunteers, undertook efforts to reconstruct examples of Cherokee winter and summer houses as well as corn cribs that would have been present in a town like Spikebuck.

The Cherokee Homestead Exhibit in Hayesville, North Carolina
The Cherokee Homestead Exhibit in Hayesville, North Carolina

This outdoor exhibit is open year-round and is also the location of an annual Cherokee Heritage Festival in September that features craft demonstrations, dance, music, and food in celebration of Cherokee culture.

–Kelley Berliner, Eastern Regional Field Representative

Learn More about another Cherokee Site Preserve: Candies Creek Village Archaeological Preserve in Tennessee

Read about WHERE THE TRAIL OF TEARS BEGAN in our downloadable Back Issue Summer 2006: In the 1830s the Cherokee were forced to leave their homelands and travel on the Trail of Tears. An archaeologist is documenting the trail’s origins in southwest North Carolina. BY MIKE TONER

Read more about Eastern Cherokee Archaeology in our downloadable Back Issue Fall 2009: EMBRACING ARCHAEOLOGY – Though they once had little use for archaeology, the Eastern Band of the Cherokee is now employing it to reveal their history. BY ANDREA COOPER

Explore the Archaeology and History of  Native Peoples in Tennessee at the McClung Museum Of Natural History and Culture

Visit the Museum of The Cherokee Indian in North Carolina

The Trail of Tears National Historic Trail landmarks and educational information

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