Storied Site Archaeologists Dig in at New Wal-Mart Location

Article excerpt

For 8,000 years, the wooded ridge overlooking the Etowah River has been home to vastly different cultures - Paleoindian, Archaic, Woodland, Mississippian, Cherokee.

Next comes Wal-Mart.

Wal-Mart's selection of this spot for its newest superstore has, in fact, been the cause of the discovery of one of north Georgia's richest archaeological sites, with artifacts representing 80 centuries of human habitation.

For the past month, archaeologists have scoured the ridge near Interstate 575 in Cherokee County, digging and sifting through the hearths, houses and garbage pits of earlier times.

Because the ridge, a one-time pasture gone to seed, soon will be bulldozed for the 204,931-square-foot Wal-Mart and its 1,260-car parking lot, such work is often called "salvage archaeology."

"This is the best-preserved prehistoric site I have seen in the 28 years I've worked in Georgia," says Patrick Garrow, chief archaeologist for Garrow and Associates, which is excavating the site under contract with the developer. "What is most remarkable about it is that it was occupied over and over again through the centuries - and each of these people left their own mark."

"Every one of these excavations is a time capsule containing information about the people who lived here," says Garrow.

Behind them, spread across several acres of cleared land, hundreds of blue, red, white and yellow flags flutter in the wind - each marking a spot deemed worthy of closer scrutiny.

The work is far from complete, but Garrow's team already has found thousands of items ranging from weathered 8,000-year-old spear points to harness fittings and peach pits left by Cherokee settlers in the early 1800s.

Except for stone implements and clusters of rock that mark the site of an ancient campfire, little remains of the earliest inhabitants, bands of hunter-gatherers who roamed the area between 6000 and 1000 B.C.

Archaeologists also have uncovered overlapping foundations of three distinct types of dwellings, each built atop the remains of an earlier structure. …