Digging for Answers

By Jesse Campbell (jesse.campbell@mountaintimes.com)

Article Published: Aug. 8, 2013 | Modified: Aug. 24, 2013
Digging for Answers

Archaeologists attempt to uncover artifacts from the floor of a local cave during a recent dig. The prevalence of caves in the Southern Appalachians and how they were once used by Native Americans as sacred offering places will the be subject of a special presentation at New River State Park in Ashe County.

Photo submitted

Do you think you have Cherokee in your bloodline or believe your great-grandma was half Cherokee?
Think again.

While many residents of the High Country believe the Cherokee tribe originally inhabited northwest North Carolina and they, too, are descendants of this Native American family, most modern scholars would offer a different view.

This is one common misconception Dr. Thomas Whyte will debunk during an archaeology overview of the Southern Appalachian Mountains at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 23, at New River State Park in Ashe County.

“I think that a lot of people in any region of the world have preconceived notions about the past,” said Whyte, an archaeology professor at Appalachian State University. “Sometimes, they have no idea how incredibly deep the past is or how far back humans have been in the Southern Appalachians. Everyone around seems to think this is where the Cherokee lived, but I discovered there is virtually no evidence of the Cherokee ever permanently residing in northwest North Carolina.

“The Cherokee were concentrated in southwest North Carolina. Most of the evidence I found up here suggests those ancestors are of Catawba descent.”

Whyte said the presentation would also focus on ancient religious offering places used by Native Americans prior to European settlement.

Whyte’s interest in local sacred places began upon learning of the late 1960s discovery of an ancient offering vessel used by Native Americans at a crevice near a rock face at Wiseman’s View Overlook in the Linville Gorge.

“The belief (by Native Americans) is that the spirit world can be accessed through caves and waterfall is almost universal,” Whyte said. “Places like these are considered portals to the spirit world.”

Whyte believes the piece of pottery was likely placed in the crevice around 300 A.D.

Through his own research, he discovered the summer solstice sunrise would have risen out of nearby ridgeline, providing an optimal view of the event at the location where the vessel was discovered. He also theorizes the winter solstice sunrise rises out of nearby Table Rock Mountain.

“Humans have been in these mountains at least 12,000 years,” Whyte said.

While Whyte is prepared to share a wealth of knowledge about the ancient Appalachian Mountains, he, too, is hoping to glean knowledge from the archaeological discussion.

“We had a great crowd last year,” he said. “They asked fantastic questions, and they even helped me, too. For example, when I presented, I told the audience if they ever saw any rocks like the one I was holding to please let me know. After the talk, one guy came up to me and said, ‘I know where exactly you can find rocks just like that,’ and he sent me an email.”

For more information about the presentation, call (336) 246-9653.

New River State Park is located at 358 New River State Park Road in Laurel Springs, Ashe County.

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