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Native American Heritage

By Blondell Peterson
December 2005

Steve Davis describes some of the artifacts he discovered during an archaeological  dig at two Catawba Indian sites in South Carolina.
Steve Davis describes some of the artifacts he discovered during an archaeological dig at two Catawba Indian sites in South Carolina. (Photo by Steve McCaw, Image Associates.)

The NIEHS Diversity Council and the Office of Equal Opportunity and Diversity Management sponsored an event titled, "Celebrating Native American Heritage," on Nov. 18 in the Rall Building. Steve Davis, a research archaeologist and Associate Director for the Research Laboratories of Archaeology at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill was the guest speaker. His topic was titled, "Archaeology in the Old Catawba Nation."

In 2003, Davis led an archaeological dig at the historic Catawba Indian sites of Old Town (c. 1770-1780) and New Town (c.1800-1818) in northern Lancaster County, South Carolina. Students from the UNC Archaeological Field School participated.

Davis said dig operations at Old Town and New Town recovered a substantial number of material samples that show how the Catawbas adapted to the rapidly changing social, political and economic environments in the 17th and 18th centuries. The Catawbas are known to have changed with the times. There is archaeological evidence and written documentation that they were deer skin traders, professional soldiers, slave traders, landlords and potters.

Artifacts that were excavated included large fragments of at least four Catawba burnished vessels, including three flat-bottomed pans, glass beads, wrought nails and a snaffle bit.

According to Davis the most interesting aspect of the artifacts is the vessels represented by the Catawba-made potsherds-shards of broken pottery. They were exceptionally well-made, often with smudged and highly burnished or polished surfaces. The forms are reminiscent of English pottery with bowls having footrings and rimsherds from a plate with an octagon edge. Some sherds even had hand-painted designs. This was impressive because the Catawbas made pottery by hand, and without the equipment that English potters had.

The project began in 2001 with three long term goals, according to Davis.

  1. Document Catawba ethnogenesis, by looking at how the group came into the area, merged and reformulated into the modern Catawba nation. This goal will take several years to complete, and will require archaeological data spanning nearly 100 years.
  2. Identify and document material evidence of adaptations and accommodations to economic changes.
  3. Compare and contrast the Catawba to other Indian tribes, and look at how other tribes responded to very similar situations.

NIEHS employees prepared Native American foods for a sampling after the speaking presentation. Navajo tacos, Cherokee Indian cobbler, Zuni bread and Cherokee pumpkin soup were some of the dishes s erved while Native American music played throughout the cafeteria.

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