Sunday, June 12, 2011

Field Trip! Kituwah and Oconaluftee

Hello, ᎣᏏᏲ, osiyo.

On Friday we took a field trip to Cherokee, NC, which is about 2 hours from where we are digging in Tennessee. We first visited Kituwah (when pronouced in Cherokee, it sounds more like "Cad-oo'-ah" or "Gah-doo'-ah"). This town was located at the center of the Cherokee homeworld, and their council house (located on top of the badly-eroded mound you can sort of see in the above picture) held THE fire that was central to their world. Two men were responsible for maintaining the Sacred Fire, and if it died out due to their inattention, the penalty would have been death. Representatives from every Cherokee town would come to Kituwah during the Green Corn Festival to take coals from the Sacred Fire back to their towns, where they would extinguish every fire before starting a new fire with coals from Kituwah. You can read more about the town, the Sacred Fire, and lots of other interesting information about the Cherokee here:

After a tour of the town site, and lots of discussion about Cherokee history and Kituwah archaeology, we were brought a FANTASTIC lunch.

We were given fried chicken, fried fat back (those curly things that look like french fries but sort of taste like the oil the fries were cooked in!), potatoes, cabbage, and bean bread. The bean bread is in the lower left corner, and did not have much flavor. However, when we put it together in a bite with the potatoes and cabbage it was delicious! It was also very filling, and after the morning in the sun I think most of us were ready for an afternoon nap. :D

Instead, we were off in the van again to the Museum of the Cherokee Indian. The Museum
tells the story of the Cherokee people through artifacts, video, and interactive displays, beginning with the Paleo-Indian Period and continuing through historic times. Of course, I was very interested in the beautiful examples of surface decoration on many of the ceramics! (Take note of the decorations on the pot in the upper right - you may be tested on this later.)

I found the Museum's displays especially interesting in the way that they incorporated modern terminology for events in Cherokee history. For example, in the exhibit describing the Trail of Tears, they spoke of the Cherokee being interned in concentration camps. The immediate mental connection to the Holocaust was shocking and almost painful, and I'm sure that sort of visceral response was intentional. It was a very effective way of making a connection to an event that is largely glossed over in public-school textbooks, and it was probably the most memorable aspect of my visit.
The Cherokee Museum also honors important women and men in their history. There is a special exhibit about Sequoyah, who created a syllabary for the Cherokee language. He is the only person in history to create a system of language despite being illiterate. He used the Roman alphabet (the one many modern languages use today) and modified many of the letters, using each symbol to represent a syllable in the Cherokee language. As you can see in the book written in Cherokee below, many of their syllable-symbols look like upside-down or backwards letters from the Roman alphabet. This link has more information on the syllabary (, while this one ( has links to several pages about Cherokee history, including pages about Sequoyah and his syllabary.

From the Museum we continued to the Ocanaluftee Indian Village, a self-described replica Cherokee village from around 1760. (Click here - - for more information and a cool video about the Village.) The village includes a dance area, examples of a council house and several different styles of homes, and crafting stations where you can stop and talk to the artists while they are beading, potting, flintknapping, and woodcrafting (to name a few!) When we arrived they had just begun dancing.

This video shows part of the Bear Dance. It was probably my favorite dance to watch because the dancers were obviously having so much fun! (Watch how the one dancer keeps reaching for the singer, who is trying so hard not to laugh, and how the woman in the blue dress accidentally smacks her partner in the face near the end of the clip!)

After the dancing finished, we took a guided tour of the various craft stations and domestic structures. Of course, my favorite was the pottery. Remember the surface treatment on the pot from the photo above? That was likely created with a paddle similar to the one in the photo below.
In this video, our tour guide describes one method of pot-making.

She is speaking pretty quickly because thunder was rumbling, and I think she was trying to get us through the tour before the rain started (although, incidentally, it never did).

Another very interesting area was the flintknapping/weapon making station. When we arrived the gentleman in the above photo was making darts for a blowgun, which the Cherokee would use for small game (when asked he confirmed that he has gotten squirrels and rabbits with his.) He also competes, and after an amazing demonstration where he hit the target 6 out of 6 times, he said that he has taken first place several times in competition (although he then confessed that he has not yet beaten our tour guide's uncle!)

The building in the photo below was of great interest to most of the field school students. This is a reproduction of what Cherokee domestic structures likely looked like in the sixteenth century, which is the time period during which our site would have been occupied.

Also of great interest to us was the interior of the council house, as seen below. By the eighteenth century, when many European observers began to document the Cherokee, a council house like this one would have been build on a four-sided, flat-topped mound. There is archaeological evidence that the mound would have been built up in several layers, while maintaining the central hearth throughout the building process. The hearth would literally grow in a long column from the bottom of the mound to the top while the town's sacred council fire burned continuously.
It was such a fascinating day, especially now that we can come back to our site with some cultural context about Cherokee town planning and cultural practices. I think our trip to Kituwah, the Museum, and Oconaluftee allowed us to make a personal connection with the artifacts we are finding, and served to remind us that archaeology is not all about the artifacts--it should be about the people who created the artifacts and the meanings those artifacts hold.
I'll end now, before I get too theoretical. :D As our Cherokee guides at Oconaluftee told us, the Cherokee language does not have a word for "goodbye". Instead, they say "do na da' go hv i" to one person, and "do' da da go' hv i" to a group of people. (See the video below for pronounciation).
So I will say to you "do' da da go' hv i" -- "until we meet again, in this life or the next."

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