Look What They Found In North Carolina!
Archaeologists digging on the grounds of the opulent Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina have found an American Indian mound that offers the most complete picture yet of the culture of a prehistoric people known as the Connestee, reports The Associated Press. The Connestee, who lived there between 200 and 400 A.D., may be the ancestors of the Cherokee tribe.
So far, they've found evidence of five different earthen floors and about three dozen postholes suggesting a series of large structures, about 75 to 80 feet in diameter, as well as fragments of tools, pottery, hunting weapons, and pieces of clay figurines. They've also found artifacts from the Hopewell Indians of southern Ohio, indicating the two tribes had a trade relationship. "This mound has the potential for answering the questions and writing the whole history of the time period," Biltmore landscape curator William Alexander told AP. "The reason we're focusing on this site is that it's so pure."
What really has the archaeologists excited is the dirt. The site, which measures 1,000 square feet, has multiple layers of dirt that are clearly stratified and distinguishable. Each layer--from mossy green to medium brown to orange to tan to dark brown to yellow--offers the trained eye valuable clues as to what happened at different points in the Connestee occupation. The dirt tells the real story. For example, the deepest layer is a yellow subsoil when the site was home to a Connestee village.
The excavation is taking place on what was once a cornfield next to the Swannanoa River. The mound is located near the intersection of two major American Indian trails, what AP describes as the prehistoric equivalent of interstate highways. It has survived this long because it was inside the sprawling and largely undeveloped Biltmore property, which is now a national historic landmark. Its 8,000 acres include agricultural fields, woodlands, and forested mountains, as well as the nation's first professionally managed forest. When George Vanderbilt constructed it as a country retreat, the landscape architect gave strict instructions that no Indian remains were to be disturbed.
Appalachian State University archaeologist Scott Shumate told AP that he thinks the large structure that's been found was a council house. "We can say as a tentative hypothesis that this was a council house," Shumate said. "People came from all surrounding villages for important ceremonies. It was the equivalent of a county seat. Maybe this place represents the social and spiritual center for a number of villages."
Only half the mound will be excavated, a process that will take another 10 years to complete. The other half will be left undisturbed for future archaeologists who may have new technologies and different questions.