Warren Wilson College News

David Moore and the Emergency Excavation (WIP)

By: Kimberly Miller


In September 2004, hurricane remnants stormed through Western North Carolina leaving behind over a foot of rain. (Francis up to 17 inches … Ivan 11 inches in black mountain) The Johns river lost nearly 100 meters of bank because of flood and erosion damage. The riverbank was at risk for further damage if action wasn’t taken to make the bank secure again. Federal funds were allotted for fixing the riverbank. Each time funds are given a statement of environmental impact must be issued. Federal archaeologists visited the site and found what they believed was a potentially significant archeological site. Archaeologists were then encouraged to submit plans of study for the area. David Moore and his crew won the bid. Moore knew this site could impact current and future research and planning because of the proximity to the Berry site. The site is located 1.5 miles from the Summer Archaeological field school and, as was later discovered, is directly related to the Berry site.

Within a few days of beginning the work, Moore realized the site was larger and more important than anyone had anticipated. So, the team developed a second proposal for more money to continue working on uncovering the area’s secrets. The proposal was approved. After 3 weeks, the team discovered that a 20 meter by 100 meter piece of land at the river bank, an area set to be destroyed, was historically significant.

This new site, dubbed the Ensley site, contained a large burned building, similar to ones found on the Berry site. Moore had originally thought the buildings found at the Berry site were unique. The Berry site buildings ranged from 70 to 90 square meters in size. At the Ensely site, the burned building was about 1000 square feet. Moore deduces that the burned buildings may have been the homes of Spanish soldiers.

The Moore team then submitted a 3rd budget proposal so work could continue on this important historic excavation site. Their budget now totaled over $100,000. What began as 3 weeks of digging turned into 3 months of work. Moore used field school students and staff to help with the excavation. When WWC resumed classes for the fall semester in August, Moore faced a new challenge of teaching full time and working on the site 6 days a week. He taught 2 days a week and cancelled Friday classes in lieu of students coming to work at the Ensley site.

"No one knew the Ensley site existed until the flooding pushed dirt from the burned building. The Ensley site is at least as big and significant as the Berry site," says David Moore.

Now, the archaeology crew students are sifting through dozens of boxes filled with artifacts from the Ensley site. The crew will most likely spend the rest of the year sorting through what was found. So far, they’ve found over 1800 pieces of pottery, debris from the making of stone tools, 7 arrowheads, charcoal from the burned building, and animal bones. Three particularly significant artifacts were discovered, a piece of lead shot, a nail, and a piece of copper all very possibly Spanish artifacts from the 16th century.

Sadly, the owner of the land where the site was discovered has no interest in local history. It is likely that Dave Moore and his crew will not be allowed back on the land to do further excavating. However, they did learn much while they were working at the site that will help them in their quest for discovering what happened to the Indians that once called the Catawba Valley home. Moore’s research suggests that the Spanish settlers were disruptive to the Natives. Disease brought by the Spanish may have caused many of the native population to be decimated.

All of this work to better understand the impact of Spanish invaders on the native culture, so many years ago.

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