Ancient Carolinians left their mark: Badin exhibit tells the story

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

“More than 12,000 years ago before the Roanoke Colony, before ancient Rome and classical Greece, even before the Egyptian Pyramids and Stonehenge ó the ancestors of today’s American Indians came to North Carolina and thrived here.”
ó Vin Steponaitis
Research Laboratories of Archaeology
UNC-Chapel Hill
By Wayne Hinshaw
Salisbury Post
BADIN ó Who were these ancient Carolinians living on a hilltop in Badin 12,000 years ago?
These Paleoindians were hunter-gathers who lived in small groups of 25 to 100 people or sometimes living in only family units coming together for ceremonies or social reasons.
The woolly mammoths, the giant ground slot, and the saber tooth tiger were in the area. The forests had more maples and beech trees and fewer pines than today.
The American Indians were on the move most of the time, eating and sleeping at the Hardaway Site for only days or a few weeks at a time. They stayed long enough to gather rhyolite stone for tool making and to gather food by hunting or fishing.
They left no written history so we don’t know their language or exactly what they might have looked like. We don’t know their customs or their religious ceremonies. Most likely they lived in grass shelters or shelters with animal hides spread across trees.
Why come to the Hardaway Site and spend time? The site is located at the Narrows of the Yadkin River. The river becomes very narrow there. Before the giant dams were built across the river, shad fish used to make runs up the river much like salmon do on other rivers. Fish could be caught by stretching nets across the riverbed on poles. The shad runs stopped when the dams were built.
There was a large supply of animals in the area for hunting for food. The rhyolite stone that the Indians needed for making their tools was in good supply at Morrow Mountain four miles away. Researchers says the Indians quarried the stone from Morrow Mountain and carried it back to the Hardaway Site for tools and projectile point making.
Rhyolite is a strong rock that can be flaked and shaped into projectile points as spearheads, scrapers for cleaning hides, drills for making holes in hides, and atlatl weights that can be used to help balance the spears.
Projectile points from the Hardaway Site and three other North Carolina sites helped archaeologist Joffre Coe establish a link between the sites and the dating of the artifacts.
David Summerlin, chairman of the Badin Historic Museum, said the Hardaway Construction Co. came to Badin to build the dam at the Narrows. Workers set up their construction site on top of the Hardaway Site. Later residents of the area used the site for gardens and plowed fields to raise crops.
Herbert M. Doerschuk came from Niagara Falls to Badin as superintendent of the Electrical Department for Alcoa Works. As a collector of Indian articles who studied his collection as a hobby, he discovered the richness of artifacts at the Hardaway Site. He contacted Coe at UNC-Chapel Hill to come and look at the site in 1937.
Coe visited the site over the next 11 years, collecting items from the surface of the ground. In 1948 they conducted a dig of a five-foot-square test pit. In 1951 a second five-foot-square pit was dug. These two pits contained more than 1,500 artifacts.
In 1958 a larger site was excavated, making about an acre site. Some 22,017 specimens were studied at UNC. In 1964 Coe presented his findings to the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia.
The Hardaway Site is the oldest excavated site in North Carolina and one of the most important archaeological sites in North America. It has produced over 1.5 million artifacts that Alcoa donated to the University of North Carolina.
In 2005 the Alcoa Foundation donated $225,000 to the university to establish an exhibit for students to see and study the history of the Hardaway Site.
The Ancient Carolinians exhibit was on display in Chapel Hill for a year. The showing in Badin is the first showing of the exhibit as it tours the state. Alcoa paid $8,000 to be able to show the exhibit in Badin, where it is open Tuesdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sundays from 2 to 5 p.m. through April at the Firehouse Museum.
Summerlin says the exhibit is geared toward school students in the fourth grade and older. Most of the exhibit is a hands-on interactive display.
For example, one display allows students to add weights to a scale to determine how much weight a person who was on the move could carry, much as the early Indians lived. Students can decide which items they would need to survive and how much they can carry.
The Solving the Puzzle display offers a sampling of rocks that can be viewed with a microscope. The rhyolite stone from Morrow Mountain that the Indians used for tools is among them. The puzzle is why the Indians went to Morrow Mountain for the stone. There are no rhyolite stone outcroppings at the Hardaway Site, but all the stone artifacts there are of rhyolite.
Other displays are Lifeway and Landscapes of the Past, a timeline from 1789 going back 12, 000 years, Making Tools, Tools Then and Now, Stories in Stone, Telling Time, Change Over Time, The Perfect Spot, A Seasonal Menu, A Cut Above and American Indians at Hardaway.
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Want to go? The Firehouse Museum can be contacted at 704-422-6900 or 704-422-3713 for tour groups or school groups.
It is located at 90 Falls Road, Badin.