Posts Tagged With: archaeology

Imaginative Camping, Indian Trails, and British Traders

Early 21st Century Primitive Campsite

Early 21st Century Primitive Campsite

I definitely have greater respect for British classically-trained actors who cut their teeth on Shakespeare and Sophocles, whilst breaking a leg on stage, than I do for Hollywood method actors who feel the need to “live the role” for their latest blockbuster movie. This is precisely the difference between the performances of Laurence Olivier and Dustin Hoffman in the thriller “Marathon Man.” However, there is still something to be said for attempting to get into the mindset of the characters we wish to understand by comprehensively researching them, immersing ourselves into similar conditions, and then using our imaginations. This can even be a useful tool for archaeologists attempting to comprehend the lives of the peoples they study. For instance, I study the Creek Indians and the British traders with whom they interacted. And though I can never truly understand all the myriad “primitive” experiences of the Creek or the Scottish, Irish, Welsh, and English traders who traveled the Southeast 300 years ago, sometimes camping out in the woods for a few days helps spark the imagination in ways that can lead to tiny epiphanies.

For example, knowing what camping gear I usually take into the woods does help clarify the kinds of things these traders might have packed on their horses for survival in the deep woods as they crisscrossed the South on ancient Indian trails, and forded or traveled up and down our beautiful rivers. On these sylvan peregrinations, whether by land via foot or pack horse, or by water via pole boat, they visited the towns of the Yamasee, Shawnee, Apalachicola, Cherokee, the Creek Confederation (including towns belonging to the Hitchiti, Muscogee, Yuchi, Chehaw, Westo, etc), and others. But this also means that they spent a great deal of time in between Indian towns, camping in the woods or along rivers or creeks near the preexisting Indian trails connecting them to humanity. Some of these trails still exist today, if you know both the history and where to look for them. There are numerous examples around Middle Georgia, for instance, including those with the poetic-sounding names of Okfuskenene – the “Path to Okfuskee” – and Chelucconeneauhassee – literally the “Old Horse Path.” The former became known to the traders as the Upper Trading Path, while the latter they called the Lower Creek Trading Path.

Major Indian Trails in Georgia, Marion R. Hemperley, 1979

Major Indian Trails in Georgia, Marion R. Hemperley, 1979

Since these traders adopted many of the ways and material culture of the Indians amongst whom they lived, I would not be surprised if they learned how to construct and organize their camping spots from the same source. Perhaps they constructed their camps similar to the Indian camp depicted by the Salzburger emigrant Philip Georg Friedrich von Reck, who arrived in Georgia from England in 1734, kept an important journal, and used his considerable artistic talents to document the Indians and natural history of his new home.

An Indian Camp, Georgia, Von Reck, ca. 1734

An Indian Camp, Georgia, Von Reck, ca. 1734

Sitting in my own camp before a fire in the woods one morning after eating some fried bacon and scrambled eggs for breakfast, I listened to the sounds of the waking woods, drank some strong black coffee, and seemed to be able to imagine human beings not so different from myself camping under similar conditions while listening to the same sounds I could still hear hundreds of years later. What did they think about though, these traders who had left “civilization” behind and come to the forests of Southeastern North America to begin again? Upon arriving in Charleston or Savannah, what made them choose to leave other Europeans behind and strike out as explorers and traders across a landscape completely outside of their own experience? The trails were like arteries, carrying them away from the heart of the European coastal settlements, but then changing into veins carrying them toward the heart of the Indian towns.

And what of their hearts? Did they see only money, only personal advantage in their dealings with their trading partners? We know that by 1715 the Yamasee and the Creek felt mistreated and abused by many of these traders, and this led to the greatest and most dangerous Indian war that occurred in the colonial South – the Yamasee War. But the traders also seemed to prefer living amongst the Indians, adopting their buckskin clothes and more easy-going lifestyle. So these foreigners truly felt an affinity for the natives, though each trader lived a double life. He would have to bring new trade goods in and take the results of his trade back out. And what did the British want that the Indians had? Deerskins and Indian slaves. Deerskins were turned into European leather goods, book covers, hats, and other items of apparel, and Indian slaves were sent to to work on Caribbean plantations where nearly all of them quickly died from diseases.

In fact, the currency of the backwoods, and for the Southern colonies during their earliest decades, was usually deerskin. According to the “Journals of the Commissioners of the Indian Trade,” the prices for trade goods in 1716 were established as follows: Guns (30 buckskins each); Pistols (20 each), a Cutlass (8 each); Duffield blankets (14 each); Hatchets (2 each); and 1 buckskin each for rum mixed with 1/3 water per bottle, or fifty bullets, or three strings of beads, or eighteen flints, or a pair of scissors.

Did the traders, who usually worked for wealthier men, merely inventory their goods and chuckle as they ruminated on their portion of the profits as they made their trips back and forth from the coastal cities to the interior Indian towns? Did they feel relieved to be away from the cities? Were they happy to see old friends in the woods and towns, and did they enjoy making new ones? Did they feel apprehension for some unseen and unknown foe while on the trails? Did they have remedies for keeping away ticks and mosquitoes, were they worried about alligators, rattlesnakes and cottonmouths, and did they study the ways of the possum, the raccoon, the bear, the panther, and the deer? Did they keep journals, now lost to time, documenting their lives amongst the Ochisee, Okmulgee, Kawita, and Kasita?

Many of these things we shall never know. But it is a very enjoyable experience to camp in the woods away from the sights and sounds of modernity, and to imagine for a few moments – at dawn or dusk when all the world is quiet – that the year is A. D. 1700, and that the people, plants, birds, woods, and animals are all yet to be classified and studied. And all of them are a wonder to behold!

The Woods of Natural Wonder

The Woods of Natural Wonder

Categories: Archaeology, Exploration, Indian Trails | Tags: , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Exploring the Woods and Rivers of Middle Georgia

Exploring the Ocmulgee by Helicopter!

Exploring the Ocmulgee by Helicopter!

Exploring the Ocmulgee, Oconee, and Flint Rivers of Middle Georgia is not for the faint of heart, but for the adventurer!  Whether by kayak, canoe, or motor boat, by hiking on trails or along deeply wooded ridgetops with no paths, or in the sky by helicopter, there are many ways of looking for the long lost traces of Native American mounds and towns, and for those of the American soldiers and early settlers who followed in their wake hundreds and sometimes thousands of years later.

Exploring the Ocmulgee River by Kayak!

Exploring the Ocmulgee River by Kayak!

The most important aspect is being fortunate enough to know someone on the ground in any given locale.  This person is the key to the success of any exploring archaeologist, and it is they who serve as escort and guide through the snares and tangles not just of briars and brambles, but of local indifference or misapprehension.  When it becomes clear that knowledge and the subsequent enrichment of the community are the ONLY goals, then most folks are interested helping sooner or later.

Exploring the Flint River by Kayak

Exploring the Flint River by Kayak

Exploring the Oconee River on Foot Upstream from Milledgeville

Exploring the Oconee River on Foot Upstream from Milledgeville

“If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, Infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro’ narrow chinks of his cavern.”

William Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, 1790

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Making Asi, Or How to Drink Tea the Southeastern Indian Way

The White Drink of the Hitchiti Creek of Georgia

The White Drink of the Hitchiti Creek of Georgia

About 350 years ago a refugee group of Muscogee-speaking Indians arrived in what later became Georgia, and began a protracted struggle for dominance with the native Hitchiti-speaking Indians. The Hitchitis “made them Black Drink as a token of friendship” and took away the Muscogees’ tomahawk and buried it under a house as part of a peace ceremony. Then they adopted them as one people with their own, and gave them white feathers. This is told in the Kasita Migration Legend, as recounted in Savannah in 1735, and describes an event that probably took place sometime just prior to A.D. 1662.

The Carolina traders, who mostly translated such speeches, called it the Black Drink because of its dark black hue, but since white was the color of peace and friendship to the Southeastern Indians, for them it was always the White Drink regardless of its color. In Hitchiti the word for this drink is asi (leaves). The Apalachee Indians of northern Florida, who spoke a related language, also had this custom, but called it cassina, in which you can see “assi.” And the Catawba Indians of North Carolina called it yaupon, the common name of the plant today. Botanists call the plant Ilex vomitoria, since the Indians drank this tea before any important decisions were made, and then to symbolize ritual purification, they regurgitated it on the ground at will. At other times tea made from “the leaves” were merely drunk for social reasons, but only ever by the male leaders and warriors of a village or their honored male guests, whether from other towns or tribes or from the European colonies on the American seaboard.

Healthy Yaupon Leaves from an Archaeological Site in Middle Georgia

Healthy Yaupon Leaves from an Archaeological Site in Middle Georgia

Although Ilex vomitoria (the horrible scientific name botanists gave the plant) is native to the coastal South from Virginia to Texas, it can still be found throughout the places where Southeastern Indians lived within the last 500 years or so, including numerous river and creek valleys hundreds of miles into the interior coastal plain and piedmont. So having decided to try my hand at making asi and advice from my friend Jim Preston on where to find some, I gathered my yaupon leaves, and let them dry out for about a week. Then I parched them in the oven in a stainless steel pan until they were brown and crunchy. Thirdly, I let them cool a bit, and crushed them as much as possible with the bottom of a coffee mug. Next I put “the leaves” in a stainless steel pot and filled it with water and boiled them on medium for about 20 minutes. Finally, I strained the leaves out and poured a mug of this dark black tea for my very first taste.

Delicious! Americans have no need to import tea from China or India (or Great Britain for that matter)! We have a source of caffeine in the native yaupon plant, and it makes a lovely spot of tea! Although some may like to add sugar (and/or milk – yuck) to their Black Drink, I prefer it au naturel, without any additives. It is definitely a jolt of caffeine, and the literature all says it’s a natural diuretic, although I can’t claim to know this from my experience. It does give a whole new meaning to drinking tea down South however, and puts us back in touch both with nature and our Native American forbears.

Categories: Archaeology, Exploration, Food & Drink | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

A Continental Divide Over Displaying the Dead: Celtic and American Indian Burial Exhibits

Maiden Castle, Dorset, England

Maiden Castle, Dorset, England

Maiden Castle was a Celtic Iron Age earthen enclosure and fort begun about 600 B.C. and expanded in the following several centuries.  It was attacked and taken by Legio II Augusta (the second Augustan legion), which was commanded by Roman general Vespasian, who later became emperor.  The photo above shows the Romano-British temple on the hilltop, and the surrounding landscape of Dorset – a truly beautiful county on the south coast of England.  Excavations recovered locally-produced pottery, projectile points, and skeletons of Celtic warriors killed in the battle, including one (below, left) with a Roman ballista bolt in his vertebrae.  Artifacts from the excavations, including several burials, are on display today in the Dorset County Museum in Dorchester.

IMG_3466

Celtic Warriors Buried at Maiden Castle, Dorset, and now on display at the Dorset County Museum in Dorchester

It is interesting to note the relaxed manner British museums in general have toward exhibiting the remains of what are seen as the ancestors of modern-day Britons.  This can be compared and contrasted in an interesting fashion to American museums, which rarely exhibit burials or grave goods anymore due to a relatively new-found sensitivity over displaying the remains of Native Americans.  Such is the case partly because the indigenous peoples of North America are not normally seen as being the ancestors of the average American, and partly due to reaction against the complete and utter lack of such sympathy in the past.  Interestingly, many Americans today might be surprised to learn that their DNA exhibits some amount of admixture of Native American ancestry – particularly if one is from the American South where contact between Europeans and American Indians began almost 500 years ago.  Additionally, the DNA of most modern American Indians – no matter where they live – contains quite a bit of European ancestry.  More information on DNA studies of Southeastern Native Americans can be found in articles by Bolnick and Smith (2003) and Bolnick, Bolnick, and Smith (2006). Another highly interesting study into British DNA, showing that Celtic bloodlines are quite prevalent in today’s Brit, was recently performed by professors at the University of Oxford – http://www.oxfordtoday.ox.ac.uk/features/what-makes-british.

“But thou shalt not die unknown…my bards are many, O Carthon! their songs descend to future times. The children of years to come shall hear the fame of Carthon, when they sit round the burning oak, and the night is spent in songs of old.  The hunter, sitting in the heath, shall hear the rustling blast, and raising his eyes, behold the rock where Carthon fell….Three days they mourned above Carthon; on the fourth his father died. In the narrow plain of the rock they lie; a dim ghost defends their tomb.  There lovely Moina is often seen when the sunbeam darts on the rock and all around is dark. There she is seen, Malvina; but not like the daughters of the hill.  Her robes are from the stranger’s land, and she is still alone!

James Macpherson, excerpted from Carthon in The Works of Ossian, 1765

Categories: Archaeology, Museums | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

An Archaeological Exploration of Little Cumberland Island, Georgia

Exploring Little Cumberland Island, Georgia

Last summer I took a trip to visit a friend on one of Georgia’s Golden Isles to record archaeological sites. Little Cumberland Island (LCI) is a private island owned by an association of homeowners, so it was a wonderful privilege to be invited there at all. The purpose was to record the coordinates of a few surface scatters of artifacts that had become exposed by wave and wind action on the beach and in the sand dunes.

After crossing over from Jekyll Island by boat one afternoon, and spending a lovely evening with my hosts, we started bright and early the following morning on our peregrinations, as we knew the day would be hot. There was still no way to imagine just how hot! It felt like 110 degrees Fahrenheit in the shade, with 100% humidity, by eleven o’clock in the morning! But we pushed on through, and visited and recorded several sites including a couple Archaic period shell middens, a prehistoric ceramic-making site, as well as a Union sailor’s relocated grave, and the lovely tabby lighthouse.

An Archaic Shell-Midden on LCI

An Archaic Shell-Midden on LCI

LCI Lighthouse

LCI Lighthouse

It was a unique experience that I hope to repeat some day, and I am indebted to my hosts for their hospitality and the opportunity to visit a special place that even most Georgians never see. And we even got to see the wild horses on the beach!

LCI's Wild Horses

LCI’s Wild Horses

“The sun was shining on the sea,
Shining with all his might:
He did his very best to make
The billows smooth and bright….”

Lewis Carroll, The Walrus and the Carpenter, 1872

Categories: Archaeology, Exploration | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

The Pitt Rivers Museum

Museum Entrance

Museum Entrance

Oxford University’s Pitt Rivers Museum is a unique place where artifacts are arranged by their usages and how they evolved over time, something more common in the 1800s, and not by geography, which became more common with the rise of Franz Boas’s cultural and geographical ideas in the early 1900s. Below are some photos showing how the artifacts are grouped. Although museums normally mirror the philosophical changes of their societies, the Pitt-Rivers is a kind of fossilized museum, preserving the vision of Lt. General Augustus Henry Lane-Fox Pitt Rivers, one of the earliest scientific excavators in British archaeology.

Main Floor

Main Floor

War Trophies

War Trophies

Religious Figures

Religious Figures

North American Pottery

North American Pottery

Early Firearms

Early Firearms

War Helmets

War Helmets

“The Past! the dark, unfathom’d retrospect!
The teeming gulf! the sleepers and the shadows!
The past! the infinite greatness of the past!
For what is the present, after all, but a growth out of the past?”
Walt Whitman, Passage to India, 1900

Categories: Archaeology | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

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