Ancient Artifacts Found on North Carolina Campus

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The fragments were from clay pottery the Native Americans made during their encampments on the site of the present-day UNC campus.

The Indians wrapped cloth around wooden paddles. They used the paddles to press air bubbles out of the clay while it was still damp. The cloth kept the paddles from sticking to the wet clay, and left behind a decorative imprint when the pot was fired.

The projectile points found with the pottery fragments were used with a spear-throwing device known as an atlatl, which preceded the development of the bow and arrow. Before the UNC discovery, archaeologists had thought that Indians' use of pottery came long after their use of the atlatl.

Delores Hall, deputy state archaeologist for North Carolina, said the discovery likely will lead to some revisions of the history of Native Americans in the state.

"This could change our interpretation of all kinds of things," Hall said. "It opens up a big can of worms. We may need to rethink a lot of things, which is not a bad thing to do."

Surprising Excavation

UNC officials ordered the ground excavated as a preliminary phase of work to expand the building that will become the Center for the Study of the American South. That original building, known informally as the Love House, was constructed in 1887 as the home of UNC professor James Love.

Before the Love House was built, the land had been the site of the home of the university's presidents. The presidential house was built around 1810 and burned down in 1886.

The excavation that uncovered the pottery fragments was done in July 2004, and UNC archaeologists have been analyzing their finds and writing a report since then.

Tony Boudreaux is a UNC archaeology graduate student from Biloxi, Mississippi, who worked on the excavation. He said the realization that his research colleagues made an important find came after they'd been digging at the site for several weeks.

"After we got all of the 19th-century artifact deposits, the pieces of pottery shards started getting bigger," Boudreaux said. "That indicated that there would be preserved Indian deposits. That was like a bonus. We had a really cool 19th-century site, then, underneath that, bam, a great little turn-of-the-first-century site."

More Finds

The dig also revealed artifacts from UNC's early days, including wine bottles and a 19th-century ceramic spittoon.

Riggs said the other artifacts represent "the hobnobbing and schmoozing activity that would go on around a university official's home in the 19th century. It's a snapshot of university life at the upper end of the social scale at the president's house from about 1810 through the Civil War."

The archaeologists also found a possible reminder of a romance that raised a few eyebrows in Chapel Hill soon after the Civil War ended in 1865. At the time the town was occupied by federal troops.

During the occupation, the U.S. Army officer in charge of the occupying force became infatuated with the daughter of David L. Swain, who was president of UNC from 1835 to 1868.

The officer became a frequent guest at Swain's home, and many Chapel Hill residents were upset that a member of the recent enemy was courting the president's daughter.

That officer may have left behind a memento of the romance. Among the artifacts recovered during the recent dig was a brass button that came from the coat of a Civil War-era U.S. Army officer.

Willie Drye is the author of Storm of the Century: The Labor Day Hurricane of 1935, published by National Geographic Books.

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