NPS Profile: Uncovering the past
To figure out the human history of a landscape, archeologists Erik Kreusch, technician Heath Bailey, and seasonal crews hike to landscapes where humans could have hunted, traded, or lived in the past. The Smoky Mountains range from craggy, crumbling mountainsides to level meadows. The sites where you would like to set up camp are also the places people in the past preferred: wide, shady coves at low elevations and grassy, flat gaps at high elevations. These sites weren’t always easy to reach on foot (and they still aren’t), but for their effort people had fertile soil for planting, or, at the high elevations, ideal hunting and food gathering grounds.
Because there are so many archeological resources in the park, it would take a very long time to excavate them all. In some cases, it would also cause a lot of damage to the site itself and to native plants and animal habitat. To use the small archeology crew’s time effectively and to reduce harm to natural and cultural resources, archeologists only excavate the footprint of a proposed building in future construction sites. When the park plans a new building—a large one such as the visitor center at Oconaluftee, or a small one such as a vault toilet at Cataloochee (featured in the podcast)—archeologists dig shovel tests, and if any artifacts are found, excavate the area in careful layers.
NPS photo by Heath Bailey.
Wonder what signs of past life archeologists have found during their tests? Go to page 2: Pieces of a larger picture to find out.
Return to Dispatches from the Field: Cultural Resources.
Did You Know?
The park’s high elevation heath balds are treeless expanses where dense thickets of shrubs such as mountain laurel, rhododendron, and sand myrtle grow. Known as “laurel slicks” and “hells” by early settlers, heath balds were most likely created by forest fires long ago. More...