Monday, June 7, 2010

Day 5 - Cherokee, North Carolina

By Project Director, Dr. Kathryn Sampeck

We ended our week of learning about the landscape by traveling to Cherokee, North Carolina to meet with the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians (ECBI) Tribal Historic Preservation officers and to explore different museums in Cherokee. Our project has strong ties with the ECBI and benefits from active collaboration and participation of members of the ECBI.

The route from Greeneville, Tennessee to Cherokee features has stunning scenery in the Appalachian Mountains, passing through the Cherokee National Forest and the Pisgah National Forest. Even today’s highways have to negotiate steep twists and bends before descending into the Asheville Basin. Nevertheless, the early historic material culture from Washington and Greene Counties show strong similarities to these parts of today’s North Carolina, so these mountains were not an impassable barrier in the past.

We started our visit with a tour of the sacred site of Kituwah. ECBI archaeologist Russ Townsend explained that all Cherokee regard Kituwah as the mother place, where the first Cherokee council fire burned and that Kituwah has always been important in Cherokee life. ECBI historian Tyler Howe and archaeologist Yolanda Saunooke showed field school students different parts of the site, including the medicine place near the Tuckasegee River.

We next visited the living history museum of the Oconaluftee village. There we saw craftworkers producing traditional Cherokee material culture, including projectile points, wood carvings, baskets, and belts. Guides explained Cherokee political and social organization in detail as part of their tour. In the mid-afternoon, we attended a demonstration of several social dances in the village dance grounds. Ocunaluftee has model homes typical of different time periods, allowing us to see changes in architecture from the 1540s to the nineteenth century. Being able to step inside a sweat lodge or an 1830s house gives us a better sense of archaeological traces of the past.

Potter's tools from Oconauftee include a paddle for decorative marking and shells for incising and scraping.

After the village, we ended our visiting day in the Museum of the Cherokee Indian. Exhibits cover each major period of Cherokee history, from the earliest Paleoindians and their stone tools to Cherokee soldiers in World War II. The museum is notable for its detailed presentation of the historic period, especially the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. This week the students have been studying Mooney’s Myths of the Cherokee, and a number of narratives collected in that work were vividly depicted and recounted at the museum. Regarding material culture, whole ceramic vessels. much like the small fragments we are studying in the project lab, were on display, as well as more recent pieces. The whole day gave us many perspectives on the place, history, and peoples we are studying.

Early spear points

Printed in the Cherokee script

We returned to Tennessee on a different route, this time through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Rain soon drenched the roads and forests, but after a short while the sky brightened and a shimmering rainbow shone before us, the perfect end to our day.

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