Sunday, February 16, 2020

Potential Site in Albermarle County, VA

Reader Jackson Landers writes:

I've come across a site that I don't quite know what to make of and I would really appreciate your advice.
By way of background, I am a science journalist who wrote for Smithsonian Magazine for several years, a few years with Slate, some work for The Washington Post, etc.
This site is in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, about ten miles outside of Charlottesville, Virginia. It was first settled by Europeans around 1850. The Saponi occupied the area before being pushed out, and they were probably here since around 1200 CE, when they believe that they arrived and introduced agriculture to the people who were here before as hunter-gatherers.
There are at least 40 of these piles, spread out across a ribbon of area of approximately 12 acres.

Most of the stone piles in question here face west, over Ward's Creek, which typically runs year-round and probably contains eels, green sunfish, channel catfish in the spring and summer and perhaps shad 150 years ago before dams were built. The area faced on to is a broad flood plain, suitable for agriculture to the tune of about 200 acres with a small elevated tertiary bench area. There is room for a stockade typical of a Saponi village within the primary flood plain, but the elevated area would be a very tight fit for a stockade and village and more suitable for people passing through.
Around the site at high elevation are what I believe to be old pastures. Wire fence remains are in evidence, with stones littered across the the top of the knob and surrounding areas. There is no place within half a mile where a plow could be dragged due to the stones obvious on the surface. I've read the paper by Charity Moore and Victor Weiss which touches on the transformation of pastureland and the aggregations of stone that I find do not think to fit this model.
A few of the piles involve a base that is stacked in way that could not happen by chance, and I include photos to that effect. None of the stone piles include a visible quartz stone. I should mention that this area has some deposits of blue quartz that are not included visibly within the top layer of any of the piles. Nor are there any split stones in the area which could have involved a wedge.
I have searched the local stream beds for artifacts without result. Though I should say that I have never found a point in this area in spite of having lived, visited and camped here since I was 13 years old and never found a point. Perhaps they are here but I'm not quite programmed to see them. Getting the eyes for snakes, or deer, or mushrooms, or points seems to be an acquired skill. I can find deer or chantarelles, but perhaps points aren't in the algorithm here.
Any advice on how to proceed would be enormously appreciated.


pwax said...

I see what looks like a typical Native American site. Someday these things will not be unfamiliar.

Norman said...

I would have the landowner contact Moore and Weiss for advice.


Is this location east or west of Ballards Mill Road?

Jackson Landers said...

@Curtiss Hoffman, east. This may be important relative to the known stone tool workshop a few miles to the north of this area. During the next few weeks I intend to invite professional investigation by researchers associated with the team that excavated the known workshop, which took place over 20 years ago and I hope that some institutional memory may be involved. Since my initial message, I would revise my estimate to at least 60 stone piles associated with this site, with around five more that I think may be secondary post-colonial anthropgenic constructions.

The site is immediately adjacent to an area that includes a stream and flood plain with sufficient area to have plausibly supported 30-50 people engaged in a combination of farming with hunting and fishing for eels and shad. I have not been in a position to dig within the flood plain for pottery shards, points, stockade remains, or other evidence of prolonged occupation.