‘The stuff that we’re finding is important’

Photo courtesy North Carolina Historic Site staff at Town Creek Indian Mound. The footprint of the East Carolina University student field site at Town Creek Indian Mound, Mt. Gilead.

Photo courtesy North Carolina Historic Site staff at Town Creek Indian Mound.
The footprint of the East Carolina University student field site at Town Creek Indian Mound, Mt. Gilead.

East Carolina University student crew conducts field work at Town Creek Indian Mound

By Kevin Spradlin
PeeDeePost.com

MT. GILEAD — Dr. Tony Boudreaux and his group of East Carolina University archaeology students spent the past five weeks unearthing a bit of history at Town Creek Indian Mound.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com Dr. Tony Boudreaux, of East Carolina University, led a student group excavation for the past five weeks at Town Creek Indian Mount in Mt. Gilead.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com
Dr. Tony Boudreaux, of East Carolina University, led a student group excavation for the past five weeks at Town Creek Indian Mount in Mt. Gilead.

Despite being unearthed in 1937 and excavated and mapped from 1937 to 1941, again from 1950 to 1983, new discoveries are being made since an apparent boom of interest at the Montgomery County historic site, located a mere 1.5 miles from the Richmond County line. The property sits on 56 acres about 12 miles northwest of Ellerbe.

Boudreaux addressed nearly 30 interested individuals, including his ECU students and North Carolina Historic Site staff, during a two-hour dinner and presentation and guided tour Saturday evening at Town Creek Indian Mound. Boudreaux summarized to the group that Town Creek was likely a bustling metropolis and center of activity for the region for quite a while, and much of the 200-year period from 1200 to 1400 AD that has captured his interest.

Boudreaux acknowledged the work done by the University of North Carolina archaeologist Joffre Coe, whose work to excavate and preserve the site started a few years before World War II. His team this summer, he said, wanted to capitalize on already known information to address some unanswered questions, including:

Photo courtesy North Carolina Historic Site staff at Town Creek Indian Mound. A corn cob, c. 800 years old.

Photo courtesy North Carolina Historic Site staff at Town Creek Indian Mound.
A corn cob, c. 800 years old.

* Is the theory of a square building real?
* How old is the building?
* What was the building used for?

Boudreaux said thanks to the work of Coe and others, he knew where to begin.

“We know where stuff is,” Boudreaux said. “Let’s go dig there.”

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com Dr. Tony Beaudreaux has the attention of Cheryl Hall, left, of Mt. Gilead.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com
Dr. Tony Beaudreaux has the attention of Cheryl Hall, left, of Mt. Gilead.

During the five-week field site visit, Boudreaux said students moved somem 90,000 square feet of earth — equivalent to two American football fields. Both graduate and undergraduate students alike received firsthand experiencing in site mapping, excavation and photography — important, the instructor said, to determine if any spatial patterns exist in a given area.

The group used a couple of more modern methods of discovery not immediately available to their colleagues 80 years ago. An elaborate water screening system was built; even the finest particles of important somethings could be caught, noted and preserved. Another method used a jug of water with women’s knee stockings as a screen to capture relevant debris.

“If anyone shops at Food King and they’re out of white women’s knee-high stock ins, my apologies,” Boudreaux quipped.

Through the effort they found, among other things, an 800-year-old corn cob. They also found pieces of Native American game equipment called a chunky stone. In those days, the result often meant far more than any set of numbers on a scoreboard.

The chunky stone was discovered by the students at a moment when Boudreaux had stepped away from the site. The students sent him a text to tell him the news. He expressed disbelief. They sent him a picture. His reply was perfect, if not also self-serving.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com Inside the reconstructed palisades at Town Creek Indian Mound.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com
Inside the reconstructed palisades at Town Creek Indian Mound.

“I told them, ‘if you all keep finding cool stuff, I won’t come back.'”

Of course, Boudreaux returned. Together, the group found hundreds of items to be logged.

As for answers to the three main questions, Boudreaux admitted he had none — not yet, at least. The students will take the samples “back to the lab,” he said, and analyze everything. It could be a year or more before anything — if anything — can be concluded.

“Stay tuned,” Boudreaux said.

Boudreaux needn’t worry about keeping the crowd’s attention. Cecil and Cheryl Hall, of Mt. Gilead, are avid amateur archaeologist who know exactly what they have — in so far as experts have been able to reveal — right in their back yard. It’s a shame so many others don’t know it, they said.

“The disappointing thing is the local people don’t come here,” said Cheryl Hall, a retired schoolteacher and one half of a husband and wife team who love archaeology. People don’t realize what we have here. People tend to take it for granted.”

Hall said she was encouraged that, over her 31 years in education, she was able to spread the enjoyment and sense of discovery through archaeology to her students. And sometimes it worked the other way around.

“The more interested they were, the more interested I became,” said Hall, now a member of the board of directors for Friends of Town Creek Indian Mound.

Her message to those who haven’t visited Town Creek Indian Mound is quite simple: “You need to go.”

Rich Thompson, historical site manager, said there could be much more to discover. Recently, a researcher brought in an earth-penetrating radar machine that indicates there might be much more to Town Creek Indian Mound site that currently known.

“There’s a lot of work that can still be done,” Thompson said.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com An ECU student discusses the past five weeks of work to a member of the group Saturday night during an "evening with an archaeologist."

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com
An ECU student, right, discusses the past five weeks of work to a member of the group Saturday night during an “evening with an archaeologist.”

According to the Friends of Town Creek Indian Mound, the site is the oldest State Historic Site operated by the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources and the only one that concentrates on interpreting American Indian history. The site today consist of a visitor center with a museum, gift shop, restrooms and auditorium, picnic area and the reconstructed village site. The reconstructions are based on more than 50 years of careful excavation, preservation and interpretation.

Guided tours are available. Groups should book their visits in advance. Admission is free. Donations are welcome.

Filed in: Education, Featured News, Latest Headlines, News

You might like:

GAP program fills a hole for ‘hands-on’ experience GAP program fills a hole for ‘hands-on’ experience
Sit back for an ‘interesting story’ Sit back for an ‘interesting story’
Cash available for crime-solving tips Cash available for crime-solving tips
Rotruck sues Town of Summerfield Rotruck sues Town of Summerfield
  • Cheryl Hall

    Kevin, we certainly did enjoyed meeting you at Town Creek last night. Thank you so much for the excellent article you’ve written about the event and the site! Hopefully, it will create enough interest to motivate others to visit!

© 2020 The Pee Dee Post. All rights reserved. XHTML / CSS Valid.