Archaeology field school looks below surface of campus, into history of region

On the campus of Western Carolina University is a small grassy expanse between the Natural Sciences Building and Hunter Library, one of many in this verdant mountain setting. Here, beneath the surface and through layers of earth is where a football field once sat, where farm fields lay and centuries prior, a Cherokee settlement stood.

Ben Steere, director of Cherokee Studies Programs and an assistant professor of anthropology, is leading an archaeology methods field school that is conducting an excavation of a rectangular spot, temporarily sheltered under a canopy. As of mid-June, the excavation was some three feet deep.

“This is physically and mentally demanding,” Steere said, as the participants, all WCU students, used trowels to scrap handfuls of dirt carefully away into waiting buckets. “It also is an excellent learning opportunity and completely hands-on. This is a great team here, working together and sharing excitement of discoveries. They are taking full advantage of the field school experience.”

Steere is the author of “The Archaeology of Houses and Households in the Native Southeast,” a book that explores the evolution of Native American houses and households in the Southeast from the Woodland to the Historic Indian period (200 B.C. to 1800 A.D.) with data compiled from 65 archaeological sites. He pointed out features, such as a discoloration of clay, and explained its possible origin. A small clump was revealed as a ceramic fragment, part of a vessel used for cooking and storing maize and other foods.

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Originally written by Geoff Cantrell. Posted June 

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