Digging up history


By Troy Brooks - [email protected]



Jacob Daunais and Mattison May work on excavation at the site. They have found post molds and dark sediments filled with organic material, indicating the existence of a dwelling in the area.


Volunteer Lindsay Gilliland screens dirt for archaeological sediments and remains.


Eric Jones uncovers a piece of pottery from a site that was believed to have been a fire pit for a dwelling dating back to the 1300 to 1400s.


JONESVILLE — History is being uncovered along the Yadkin River in Jonesville.

Assistant Professor of Archaeology Eric Jones of Wake Forest University and a few of his volunteers were at an archaeology site along the Yadkin River and Greenway Trail Thursday morning uncovering history and learning about the people who had lived there long ago.

The site was originally found in 1990 through survey work and Jones has been working on the site since 2011. This is now the fourth year of excavation and Jones hopes to continue working at the site again soon. The location has been dubbed the Red-tail site because of all the red-tailed hawks spotted in the area.

“We’re on top of a natural levee here,” said Jones. “This is where people tended to settle. It’s not going to flood as much here and you’ve got good farmland surrounding it.”

The dig has uncovered evidence of a small dwelling along the river that dates back to the 1300 and 1400s. Excavators have found evidence of a small cooking pit, trash pit, and a dwelling. Jones explains that the darker soil indicates the existence of a floor possibly made out of reeds or other organic material.

“In reality, it’s more the sediments that give us clues,” said Jones. “The dirt itself is giving us more information than the objects we dig up as we get a lot of evidence of organic material in the sediments. When you compare the darker areas to the regular soil, their’s a distinct difference that indicates the possible existence of a floor or other human activity. We have trouble finding house floors in the Yadkin River Valley. The sediments are really sandy so you get a lot of water running through which is bad for preservation and, particularly on this end of the valley, we have acidic soils which are also bad for preservation of organic remains.”

The digs have also turned up solid evidence of prior people living here, including broken pieces of pottery, burned corn kernels, and old deer bones. Jones says they are well into the thousands of pieces of pottery, tool-flakes, and bones.

The professor often has students and volunteers working with him on the site.

“This is my first day of volunteering,” said Mattison May. “It’s really fun. I took an intro to archaeology class at Wake Forest and I found it so interesting. I’m now in my third class with Dr. Jones.”

“My volunteers are troopers,” said Jones. “We’ve had some brutal days here at the site due to either the rain or the humidity but they brave through it all.”

Even with everything Jones and his team have found, there are a lot of questions and mysteries left to uncover.

“Archaeology is always a bit of a guessing game,” said Jones. “When we first came out here the area we dug in was a little bit too far west of where the site was. We have to take sediment samples back to the lab to burn off organic matter. With archaeology you have a fine balance of answering your questions and trying not to excavate just to excavate because we want to try to get the bare minimum to answer our questions. Who knows what technology or what great minds will come along after us to better answer these different questions?

“This is the thing with archaeology; we destroy what we study. We have to be very careful that we are taking great notes. One of our cameras on the site is taking a picture every 60 seconds just to get a total record of what we’re doing out here. You kind of have to try to get as much information to set an expectation for future excavators. Some speculations on the people who lived here can take a lot of time.”

Judy Wolfe and Scott Buffkin have discussed with Jones the idea of having school trips to bring students from the Jonesville area to learn about archaeology. Students have also come out from Wake Forest to work on the site and there are hopes even for adult classes on archaeology to be held in Jonesville.

“There are a lot of good archaeology projects and it would be good to have one in this area,” said Wolfe. “I think you would be surprised at how many would come in from outside of North Carolina.”

Both Jones and his volunteers will continue to work on the site as they believe the discovery and preservation of history is important for humanity.

“To me, it’s important because for a lot of white societies, we have historical documents about the past,” said Jacob Daunais. “We have lots of accounts on and from the more civilized groups of people in this world but not as many of the native groups. Many are written from an outsider’s point of view and they’re biased. Having archaeology like this is not as telling as written records would be but it does allow us to have a better understanding from the perspective of the native groups opposed to reading it in old European journals. Archaeology to me is the cousin to history we study in classroom.”

“Particularly now, I don’t think we value the social sciences as much as we have in the past,” said Jones. “Archaeology gives a long view of history such as interactions with the environment. Archaeology provides us with the part of the past that is not always easily accessible. It gives us insight into those big questions of how we are getting along with our interaction with the environment. It’s important to have a broad and long term context of the cultural process. Where history looks at events and people, archaeology focuses on culture, society, and those longer term processes and how they interplay with each other.”

Troy Brooks may be reached at 336-258-4058.

Jacob Daunais and Mattison May work on excavation at the site. They have found post molds and dark sediments filled with organic material, indicating the existence of a dwelling in the area.
http://elkintribune.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/web1_IMG_1243.jpgJacob Daunais and Mattison May work on excavation at the site. They have found post molds and dark sediments filled with organic material, indicating the existence of a dwelling in the area.

Volunteer Lindsay Gilliland screens dirt for archaeological sediments and remains.
http://elkintribune.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/web1_IMG_1240.jpgVolunteer Lindsay Gilliland screens dirt for archaeological sediments and remains.

Eric Jones uncovers a piece of pottery from a site that was believed to have been a fire pit for a dwelling dating back to the 1300 to 1400s.
http://elkintribune.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/web1_IMG_1268.jpgEric Jones uncovers a piece of pottery from a site that was believed to have been a fire pit for a dwelling dating back to the 1300 to 1400s.

By Troy Brooks

[email protected]

Elkin Tribune
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