Imagine a trove of artifacts buried for as long as 2,000 years. Just such a find was made in Cherokee County prior to the Canton Walmart construction in 1994. Dr. Paul Webb, pictured below, was the first archaeologist involved in the excavation at this site. He presented a lecture and slides on the excavation and artifacts on March 1, 2012. More than 100,000 artifacts from the banks of the Etowah River have undergone study and analysis by Webb. The site is now known to archaeologists as the Hickory Log Site. Human remains unearthed at the site were reinterred according to federal laws protecting them and with the participation of representatives from the Cherokee Nation. Ancient pottery, turquoise pipes and 19th century remnants of the Native American presence in North Georgia are among the sampling of objects photographed by Webb.
The History of the Project
In 1994, construction of a new Walmart in Canton opened the doors to this discovery. When contractors encountered archaeological materials, Walmart reacted as a good corporate citizen, suspending construction so a scientific excavation could be made. The actual work was funded by the Army Corps of Engineers and accomplished by Archaeologist Paul Webb’s
Atlanta-based firm. Billy Hasty
, Reinhardt University Board of Trustees Chair, was Canton city attorney at the time. He recalled his amazement when he saw pottery and stone tools that dated to the time of Christ-and before-as well as the remnants of Cherokee life. He said, “It was incredible to hold in my hand an object used by Native people thousands of years before Canton existed.”
The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) assigned an official name to the site: “Hickory Log” after a small creek that enters the Etowah River there. Later, Webb’s company was acquired by TRC Solutions and Paul relocated and took the artifacts with him to TRC’s facility in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. For eighteen years, Paul has worked with this and other collections. It has been a slow process. Organizing and analyzing them takes time. At the urging of Billy Hasty, Heritage Center Director Joe Kitchens located the collection and contacted Webb in late 2010.
In early 2011, a delegation from Reinhardt University, including President Thomas Isherwood, and members of the museum’s Advisory Board, went to Chapel Hill to see the collection. Pictured below (l to r) are Skip Spears, Billy Hasty and Paul Webb looking at artifacts from the collection. The Reinhardt delegation came away hopeful that a way could be found to acquire and exhibit these artifacts in the Funk Heritage Center—to bring them home. Now, once the funds are raised, this will become a reality.
When Webb came to the University in March, 2012. He brought examples of the collection and lectured on the significance of the study that had consumed almost half his professional life. An interested audience from Cherokee and surrounding counties turned out to hear what Webb had to say. He was enthusiastic about returning the collection to Georgia, however, he pointed out that other entities would need to be involved in any agreement, including the Corps of Engineers and officials at Georgia DNR. Meetings with Georgia officials underscored the importance of professional curation of the objects to meet guidelines which are set by federal regulators making this an expensive project.
Meanwhile, an ad hoc committee of the Reinhardt trustees began working through some of the issues involved. It was thought a partnership with some research entity might be a way around spending the inevitable millions of dollars for curation. Discussions with Dr. Mark Williams, Director of the UGA Laboratory of Archaeology, have led to a partnership in which we will pay UGA to curate the collection. The Reinhardt Board of Trustees approved of this approach. Appeals are being sent to volunteers, members and donors to help fund of this project. We plan to have each donor’s name inscribed on a plaque identifying the Hickory Log Collection as our own. It will take time to raise funds and arrange to have the best of the collection exhibited at the Funk. But eventually, it will be available for the people of our county to see, for our children to learn about and for all visitors to appreciate. Anyone interested in making a donation for this project can write a check to the “Funk Heritage Center of Reinhardt University” marked “For the Hickory Log Collection.” All donations, large and small, will help with this project. Any surplus will be used for Phase II of the project, to create a first class exhibition utilizing the Hickory Log material, an effort that will revitalize our museum.
Dr. Joseph Kitchens, Executive Director of the Center said, “This was an ideal site to search for Native American artifacts. The valley of the EEtowah has been home to people for more than two thousand years. Archaeological excavation revealed evidence of at least five periods of occupation before the historic times when whites first explored the area.” Webb’s work on this project included identifying the artifacts and sorting them in a way that could reveal the secrets of several past cultures. The Walmart construction went forward and interest in the archaeological discoveries waned. But the artifacts were far from forgotten or “missing.” Area residents wondered what had happened to the artifacts and it looks like they will be able to see them in the not too distant future.