Wednesday, June 22, 2011

June 21: Joara Chronicles

One of the best ways to understand a site is to put it in context.  Our trip to the Berry site, near Morganton, North Carolina showed us the broader picture of Native American-Spanish colonist interactions in the region.  Project directors Chris Rodning (Tulane University) and David Moore (Warren Wilson College) explained the archaeological methodology they have used over the last decade or so to determine that the Berry Site was almost certainly Fort San Juan, built by Juan Pardo in the 1560s. The Spanish fort was built at the prosperous Native American (possibly Catawba) town of Joara.  Joara is mentioned in both the de Soto and Pardo chronicles, and the archaeological evidence supports the existence of a town here from the 1540s through the end of the sixteenth century.
Laura Volz holds a steatite tempered sherd

 We got to see the typical ceramics of the area, which are tempered with soapstone (steatite).  Even though the ceramics had a different temper from the ceramics used in our study region, many of the decorative treatments looked familiar.

David Moore shows us a ceramic bead

A great find excavators recovered while we were there was a ceramic bead.  We have found several shell and bone beads, but we have not yet found a ceramic bead of this type.

David Moore points out a feature

Both Moore and Rodning showed us the details of their excavation procedures and the architectural and other features they have discovered this season. They have found evidence of several large and small pit features that may relate to early colonial constructions at the site, including borrow pits for recovering clay for making structure walls.  These shallow, wide pits were later filled in with garbage.

a small pit filled with burnt corncobs
Intriguing features at the site are small pits filled with burnt corncobs. Later historic accounts indicate that ceramic makers used corncobs to make a smoky fire to "smudge" or darken vessel surfaces.  The majority of the ceramics in our study area are smudged.
Chris Rodning has a few parting words for the students
The timing of this trip was perfect--we got to see beautifully excavated features and examples of artifacts that make us think about ours in a broader way.  The rest of the week will be devoted to excavating final levels and understanding the features we encounter. We will also devote increasing amounts of energy to interpreting and presenting our research so that we will be ready for Archaeology Day at Cherokee next week. Thanks to all of the team at Joara for sharing their time with us!

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