Pieces of a larger picture
Archeologists uncover many, many traces of past life in the Smokies. These can include tiny stone chips, washed away wood mills, or underground posts from Cherokee houses hundreds of years old.
Here’s some more of what they have found:
Archeologists can tell these things from pottery because the styles, methods, and patterns people used changed over time and space. People living near the Smokies in the Qualla, or Middle Towns, of the Cherokee, for example, made pottery that looked different from pottery that the Over hill Cherokee people—those along the Tennessee River 100 miles away—made. And styles changed over time, so pieces of pottery from 1400 will look very different from those crafted in the 1800s. If we found pottery here that matched that of a group hundreds of miles away, for example, we could tell approximately what century the pottery was from, as well as infer that the groups may have traded, had members marry one another, or relocated to somehow share that pattern.
Other artifacts are good indicators of how people’s lifestyles and trading patterns changed over time, as well. A good example is in another artifact archeologists commonly find: pieces of tools used to hunt food. The Cherokee often traded for and began using European goods, so a stone arrowhead in the 14th century might be replaced with a metal arrowhead and a musketball in the 19th century.
All of these clues are vital to understanding our past and presenting it to future generations. We all have ancestors that go back in time for tens of thousands of years, but we often cannot see the traces of these people on the landscape. Archeologists help the park piece together an ongoing story of its people and protect it for the future.
Return to Dispatches from the Field: Cultural Resources.