Cherokee Students Excavate Ancestral House at Great Smoky Mountains National Park

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A summer archeological field program at Great Smoky Mountains National Park offered more than science for a group of students from the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI)—it also allowed them to connect with their ancestral past.

At first glance, a description of the topics covered in the program is quite impressive: "Students participated in archeological excavations and were provided an opportunity to learn archeological field methods and regional culture history. Afternoon lectures in topics such as tribal, federal, State, and contract archeology, Cherokee archeology, geology, zoo-archeology, and plant ecology provide the students with a holistic view of the science of archeology, as well as job opportunities in archeology."

For this group of high schoolers, however, it wasn't just about science. The students, from the Cherokee and Snowbird communities, had a personal connection with the "dig" because they helped excavate a tenth century ancestral Cherokee house.

According to the archeologists supervising the project, "This site offered an opportunity to learn about a poorly understood period in Cherokee prehistory. Archeologists use the term Mississippian (AD 1000- 1350) to describe this period in prehistory. Populations during the Mississippian period moved to large scale agriculture with crops of corn, beans, and squash supplying a large portion of their diet. Mississippian populations concentrated around large ceremonial mound complexes. Social complexity, trade networks, communal cooperation and warfare all expanded during the Mississippian period."

The site involved in this project is old even by those standards. "Radiocarbon dates indicated that this structure occurs just prior to this period (AD 970 ±70 years). The site occurs on a small landform isolated from any known Mississippian mound center and could be considered to have occurred in a ‘rural’ setting. Therefore, it offered an opportunity to examine what is proto-Mississippian and what was life like somewhat distanced from people’s image of the mound builders in the Midwest and Southern Appalachians."...

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