July 15, 2013

Archaeologist talks importance of saving history

By Christopher Smith
christophersmith@daltoncitizen.com

— CHATSWORTH — As a time lapse of aerial photos above the Leake site — an American Indian archaeological site on the Etowah River southwest of Cartersville — showed roads and buildings replacing green grass, several members of the Whitfield-Murray Historical Society sighed with disappointment.

Why?

Because some of the stories held underground at the historic site were lost forever by development, said New South Associates Senior Archaeologist Scot Keith.

Keith spoke to historical society members at the Chatsworth Depot Sunday afternoon about the importance of preserving history.

“It’s our history and if we destroy it then we don’t know where we’ve come from,” Keith said. “Obviously some people don’t have that type of interest in history and that’s what leads to the developments like that to the determent of archaeological and historic sites.”

But the Leake site wasn’t entirely lost, Keith said.

Several archeologists have found artifacts and remains from American Indians who lived in Bartow County between 300 B.C. to A.D. 650, a time called the Middle Woodland period when Indian tribes were diversifying and scattering along rivers in the eastern half of the country.

Keith’s team said living on rivers is what connected those ancient people with each other. It’s also part of what makes the Leake site have local interest since it shows how connected humanity has always been, he said.

Indians used rivers like railroads, canoeing through the Appalachian Mountains, including Fort Mountain, and up as far as present-day Ohio on year-long travels, spreading pottery and history tribe-to-tribe, Keith said.

What Keith said his team of archaeologists found in their 9-year excavation included pottery, burials, mounds and earthworks that tell a fragmented story about a people with a unknown religion focused on purifying the earth.

It was a religious network that may have had a hub at the Leake site, Keith said.

“We can kind of tell what they were doing 2,000 years ago with this religious and interactive network,” he said.

Though not as much as he would like since the Leake site has been covered by roads and buildings starting in the 1940s, he added.

“It’s a very important site,” he said. “It’s every bit as important as other sites. We’re trying to raise awareness about it ... to protect it.”

Why is it so important?

“It tells us where we’ve been and shows us where we might should go,” Keith said. “Most people are interested in their past and what came before them. Once those sites are destroyed, you can’t get them back. That’s why it’s important to record and learn as much as you can.”

Keith said the city of Cartersville and Bartow County government leaders are “proactive” in saving the remainder of the Leake site and added that community members should always be aware of places in their county that could be of historic value.

Those places attract a universal “interest-side, curiosity-side of human nature,” Keith said.

ON THE WEB: Learn more about the Leake site by visiting bartowdig.com.