|17 May 2010
Shedding light on North Carolina's first inhabitants
A unique rock and nearby artifacts discovered by a local captain and his crew might help reveal how the first people came to Southeastern North Carolina (USA) thousands of years ago. Called black chert or novaculite by geologists, the rock was previously thought to be available in vast quantities only in the mountains of Arkansas. A local underwater exploration company, Zulu Discovery, found a very dense version of the rock below the surface of the Atlantic Ocean off Wrightsville Beach. This particular type of rock was used by the first people in North America, referred to as Paleo-Indians, to create the stone tools they needed to survive.
The exact route Paleo-Indians followed will always remain a mystery, but clues have come in the form of the tools they left behind. Phil Garwood, a geology instructor at Cape Fear Community College, states that the discovery of black chert off local shores could rewrite America's prehistory by supporting the theory that Paleo-Indians may have come to the continent via a coastal route rather than by land.
In collaboration with Cape Fear Community College, Capt. Jim Batey and his son Rusty Batey of Zulu Discovery hope to find grants and other sources of funding to continue their research and exploration of the areas where they've found the rock and artifacts. Fearing the disruption by other divers of their efforts to study the material, the Bateys are reluctant to reveal the exact depths or locations of their finds.
Continuing their research, Zulu Discovery and CFCC met with state geologists and an underwater archaeologist recently to present their findings and get some advice on what to do next. The chief of the N.C. Geological Survey, Kenneth Taylor, was one of those geologists. "One of the things about it, when you look at samples of chert, that has to come from Arkansas. There's not an outcrop of this stuff in North Carolina," Taylor said, explaining the prevailing theory. "If there are archaeological artifacts that prove its first peoples' or native peoples'... This is outstanding. It's outstanding. It then says that they had a ready source nearby."
Garwood said the samples are currently being analyzed by a laboratory at the College of Charleston in Charleston, S.C., they have concluded that there is an 85 percent probability that is the same material used to make tools found in the Southeastern North Carolina area. Some of the artifacts Zulu Discovery has found near the underwater chert sites were described by Garwood as an ornament called a gorgot, a scraper used to clean hides, a knife and a stone used to start fires.
The Zulu Discovery crew is planning to take archaeologist Nathan Henry from the state's Underwater Archaeology Branch to one of their chert sites. In addition to showing him the sites, they want Nathan to examine a possible artifact that looks like it might be a pot of some kind."This may be a very significant site archaeologically if indeed it turns out there is cultural material associated with the rock," said Richard Lawrence, director of the state's Underwater Archaeology Branch.
Source: Star News Online (9 May 2010)
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