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Science & Technology

Archaeological Site Reveals New Details About Georgia History

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

There's still a lot archaeologists don't know about the time between when the Spanish explored the southeastern United States and when Europeans began to colonize it. Native American societies were in upheaval then. People moved around. As Molly Samuel reports from member station WABE, an archaeological site in northeast Georgia is revealing some of that history for the first time.

MOLLY SAMUEL, BYLINE: The place is in the deep woods of the Blue Ridge foothills in Georgia's Stephens County. Archaeologists started studying it after ATVs and pickup trucks had torn the area up bouncing around near a river. In the past few years, they've not only found pottery, but a foundation for a wood and mud house, and a couple hearths.

JAMES WETTSTEAD: You can see we have this line of black soil and charcoal.

SAMUEL: James Wettstead is the archaeologist at the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest.

WETTSTEAD: This is the corner of the house that was here 400 years ago.

SAMUEL: Wettstead says the assumption had been no one lived in this part of Georgia at that time. This house shows that was wrong. In the early 1600s, the Spanish had come through Georgia, and Europeans were beginning to disrupt Native American cultures.

WETTSTEAD: A lot of the societies were falling apart from the aftereffects of the Spanish explorers. To be able to learn about what those types of disturbances meant to people just trying to live day to day gives us an opportunity that we don't have in many other sites.

SAMUEL: Wettstead says archaeologists don't really know where people went in this part of Georgia as native civilizations crumbled. This settlement fills in some information. It appears to have been inhabited by ancestors of the Cherokee people. The patterns on the pottery show that.

TIM PIGEON: This is a rim piece. Could be a pot or some sort.

SAMUEL: Nineteen-year-old Tim Pigeon is part of the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians in Oklahoma. He's working here this summer with a program called Youth Conservation Corps.

PIGEON: Just finding out where and how ancestors lived is - it'll get to you, you know? It's like, wow, that could've been made from my bloodline. I could be further down from the person that touched and made this piece of pottery.

SAMUEL: So for Pigeon, this place may be part of his past. For archaeologists, it's a piece of a historical puzzle. For NPR News, I'm Molly Samuel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.