Sunday, January 29, 2012

Post and Courier: Secrecy protects Indian Mounds

Check out a nice piece in the Charleston Post and Courier:

Buriedhistory: Secrecy protects local Indian mounds

Indian mounds are mysterious snakes of dirt rising along the river floodplains, sacred calling cards left by another people from another time.

Piled hundreds of years ago as daises for burial grounds, temples or the homes of chiefs who were considered descendants of the sun, the mounds are scattered in remnants across the Lowcountry, as well as the state and nation.

If you roam or hunt a Lowcountry woodlands, you might well have stepped across one.

The raised area running from the lower left to the right side of this photo is thought to be a remnant of an Indian mound in the Santee River basin.
But they aren't nearly as widely known as coastal shell middens or rings. Tribal groups and archaeologists keep most of them a closely held secret: The mounds are illegally looted for trinkets.

It's a crime that can be prosecuted as a felony under state laws governing burial grounds, archaeological artifacts on public lands, and under federal laws pertaining to public land.

To tribal descendants, it's no different than grave robbing. To archaeologists, it's like burning rare books.

A mound was discovered dug into earlier this month in Manchester State Forest outside Sumter. A bridge contractor apparently dug inadvertently into a mound that was not a burial mound, said Scott Hawkins of the S.C. Forestry Commission.

But the incident raised fresh concerns about a problem so prevalent that archaeologists regularly find holes already dug when they are called to confirm a newly "found" mound.

"A lot of them have been dug into for centuries," said Chester DePratter of the S.C. Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology.

"It's an atrocity and a disrespect when someone will go in and desecrate a mound," said Chief James Caulder of the Pee Dee Indian Tribe of South Carolina. "Your mother and father and brother and sister are buried in there. You don't want to see someone dig up that box to see what's in there."

Tribal members who find a mound keep so quiet about it that -- even though Caulder knows about mounds in Marlboro County near where he lives -- he doesn't know where they are. The mounds often are found by hunters and, if the word gets out, treasure seekers soon follow.

Mound types

Platform: Held the homes of chiefs. Gradually raised over time as death, destruction or natural disaster required a new home.

Burial: Held the remains of esteemed tribal members, usually buried with elaborate "furniture" such as pottery or ornaments they would use in the afterlife.

Temple: Held ceremonial halls often ornately decorated and containing sacred bones of ancestors.

Authentic tribal items are valuable on the market, he said.

A few dozen mounds have been identified across the state, DePratter said.

More of them easily could be out there. In the Lowcountry, the Santee River was a major trade route for any number of coastal and inland tribes, so the mounds ought to be relatively commonplace.

But generations of overgrowth, erosion, as well as human digging, have left a lot of them unrecognizable. Caulder talks about scouring a Pee Dee River bottom for a mound the tribe knew about, but not finding any sign of it after years of logging and plowing.

Maybe the best-known of the mounds is a 50-foot-tall platform in Santee National Wildlife Refuge in Clarendon County. But the smallest found has worn down to little more than a swell, DePratter said.

You can read the entire piece here

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Buried Edgefield jar inspires documentary on slave potter known only as 'Dave'

The Augusta Chronicle published a piece about The "Dave" documentary:

Buried Edgefield jar inspires documentary on slave potter known only as 'Dave'

Savannah River Site historian George Wingard’s fascination with the slave potter known as “Dave” began with a phone call in 2006 and led to an upcoming film honoring one of the South’s most mysterious artisans.

“That morning, we had people looking around in an area where some monitoring wells were planned,” said Wingard, the administrative manager for the Savannah River Archaeological Research Program, whose workers are required to evaluate areas to be disturbed by construction.

As routine, random test holes were dug to determine whether any important artifacts might lie beneath the soil, the technician discovered the proverbial needle in a haystack: a large, greenish-glazed shard of stoneware pottery.

“When he pulled it out, it had ‘Dave’ inscribed on it,” Wingard said. “He called me right away, from his cellphone.”

Both men knew immediately the find was an important one.

Dave was a slave who worked among the dozens of potteries that operated during the 1800s throughout South Carolina’s plantation-strewn “Edgefield District” near Augusta.

The region’s alkaline-glazed pottery is widely sought by art collectors, but the works of the mysterious Dave are the most prized examples of all. Further excavation at the remote hillside within Savannah River Site yielded more pieces of Dave’s handiwork.

“We were digging in what turned out to be a mid-20th century trash pile,” Wingard said. “We found about 95 percent of the jar.”

In addition to Dave’s signature, the jar – which was carefully reassembled – carried the date of manufacture: April 16, 1862. Soon it became a popular item in the research program’s outreach activities, which include educational programs to acquaint others with the region’s cultural past.

Wingard’s interest in Dave’s legacy expanded. He soon teamed up with Augusta filmmaker Mark Albertin, of Scrapbook Video Productions, and they began work on a documentary.

Their film, Discovering Dave – Spirit Captured in Clay, is expected to be completed and released this year for selected local showings and educational television.

“We have five or six more interviews to do, and we plan to hire an actor to play Dave and get some shots of him at work, too,” Wingard said. “We’re aiming to have it finished by late summer, hopefully.”

It wasn’t just the quality of the clay vessels that made Dave special. He was also a poet who, despite being born into slavery, learned to read and write – and inscribed insightful verses on some of his jars.

His vessels, often signed and dated like the one found at SRS, can be seen at the Smithsonian Institution, the Philadelphia Museum, the Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts in North Carolina, Atlanta’s High Museum, Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts and Detroit’s African-American Museum.

The Dave jar found at SRS, however, is unusual in that it is available for everyone to see, enjoy – even touch.

“These pots were made to be used – to keep meat, lard or butter – so they were utilitarian,” Wingard said. “Today, so many of these pots are behind glass or hidden in private collections, but our pot is still being used in a utilitarian way. People can touch it and feel it. They can even run their fingers across Dave’s name.”


You can read the entire article here.

USC Aiken also wrote a piece about the documentary here.