Archeology Ain’t All About Artifacts

The responsibilities of a professional archaeologist (and really anyone who finds and investigates an archeological site!) extend well beyond finding cool things that haven’t been seen or handled for hundreds or thousands of years.

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Can you spot SEAC Archeologist Robert Hellmann writing notes about this historic house site in Doughton Park Recreation Area?

Documentation is key. In fact, a variety of documents are usually produced before a survey or excavation takes place, for example, research proposals, management plans, and of course, budgets. Documentation of archeological surveys and excavations results in a variety of hard copy and digital documents including a plethora of forms, maps, and photographs, to name a few.  Government agencies, universities, cultural resource management firms and other organizations that conduct archeological field investigations often maintain copies of all of these documents in house.

Section 101 of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) led to the establishment of State Historic Preservation Offices (SHPO). SHPOs review plans for archeological fieldwork that falls under NHPA Section 106, and require that archeologists provide a report of their investigations as well as state-specific site forms for archeological sites they discover. These documents are often curated in State Archives in what is called the archeological site file.

There are even site forms specifically for amateur archeologists who discover sites.

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The North  Carolina State Archives Building in downtown Raleigh.

Not just anyone can enter and explore the site file. The locations of some sites and what’s been found are restricted to professionals and organizational affiliates with specific reasons for accessing the site file mainly because some unscrupulous people may take it upon themselves to loot or otherwise damage cultural resources.

Check out North Carolina’s State Archives available to the public!

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Getting ready to dive into the North Carolina archaeological site file.

Archeologists from SEAC’s Regionwide Archeological Survey Program (RASP) visited the North Carolina Office of State Archaeology earlier this week as part of investigations supporting the development of a comprehensive document called an Archeological Overview and Assessment for the Blue Ridge Parkway.

RASP Supervising Archeologist Guy Prentice was reviewing the National Park Service’s Archeological Sites Management and Information System (ASMIS), a database of all known sites in National Parks, when he noticed a number of BLRI site numbers with no associated site forms; nor had information from any reports for the projects that identified the sites been entered into the database or curated in SEAC’s library.

We knew that the sites had been recorded but we had no idea what had been found. So, Robert Hellmann and I traveled to Raleigh.

The North Carolina State Office of Archaeology and of course, the archeological site file is located in downtown Raleigh in the basement of the State Archives building – so we were underground though not in a unit we excavated. With the help of Staff Archaeologist and Site Registrar Susan G. Myers, we were able to track down paper or digital copies of all but a couple of site forms and project reports.

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The humble photocopier is sometimes mightier than the trowel.

The background researcher’s tools of the trade may not be as iconic as the trowel, the shovel, and the screen, but I found myself geeking out while making scans on the photo copier of Burt Purrington’s 1970s project reports of his Watauga County surveys after reading reference after reference to this groundbreaking work…pun intended.

 

My coworker and I weren’t alone. A DOT archaeologist came in to review maps with sites and survey areas and a young CRM archaeologist who looked like she had just come in from the field – dirty hands, cargo pants and a day glow t-shirt, and boots, to boot – checked her project area for known sites and surveys on the site file GIS database.

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A partial view of the North Carolina Government and Heritage Library.

 

From down in the earth to up in the clouds – or more aptly the fog – we climbed to the second story of the State Archives  building on our second research day  to explore county records, specifically Wilkes and Alleghany Counties, and then to the mezzanine to explore records in the Government and Heritage Library that are possibly related to the cemeteries in Doughton Park and the families who used them.

During the latter part of our research, it became apparent that a second look at the cemetery and genealogy records at the archives might be in order after we document the current state of the historic cemeteries in Doughton Park – we are anticipating having a more complete list of the names of individuals buried in the cemeteries. Perhaps on another trip.

Still, through our review we were able to track down records for the Shumate and Caudill families, members of which are buried in cemeteries in Doughton Park.

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Note the GPS on top of Alice Caudill’s headstone recording location information while Robert Hellmann writes down the inscription.

For now, it’s off to complete the fieldwork

…and all of the appropriate documentation!

Stay tuned for our results!

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