On a narrow beach in the east coast of Virginia, a humble pile of broken shells is changing the chronology of history. Broken pottery mixed with the shells could be pottery oldest of its kind found in eastern North Americaarchaeologists say, they could be 1,000 years older than previously thought. In addition, the site tells a story about biodiversity, rising sea levels, and a network of trade between native coastlines and Ohio Valley mound builders.
The whole story comes out of the concheros, which are essentially piles of prehistoric garbage. "The Savage Neck shell is a prominent site”Says Torben Rick, an archaeologist in the Department of Anthropology at the Smithsonian Institution. “This place has put us in an interesting direction”.
Professional archaeologists and volunteers from the Virginia Department of Historical Resources and the United States Forest Service Passport in the Time program have excavated on the shore of the Chesapeake Bay During last week. It was discovered many years ago, and the shells have been dated to 3,000 years ago by Smithsonian researchers.
The ceramic fragments are made from a clay mix with small pieces of crushed lake. This process, called tempered, protects the vessels from cracking or shrinking as they were fired in ceramic.
“People crushed shells and mixed them with clay 2,800 years ago, which is much earlier than we thought”Says Darrin Lowery, a Smithsonian geoarchaeologist and research associate who discovered the shell.
Can be used different methods to date archaeological objects: nobody agrees on the best way. Previously, the tempering of shell clay was thought to have originated 2,000 years ago. The dating method used by the Smithsonian delayed it another 1,000 years.
“We have a thousand year problem to deal with”Says Mike Barber, Virginia state archaeologist. "There are always more questions than answers”.
The pottery at Savage Neck is warm with scallop shells, another unusual feature, as most vessels of this type have oyster shells crushed. "Biologists now say that coastal scallops were not produced at this location."Says Lowery,"but archaeologists say they did”.
The shells are still visible in some ceramic pieces. In others, the shells they have detached, leaving small, flat depressions in the hardened ceramic. The shell contains various types of shells (hard clams, razor clams, scallops, horn, clams, snails), an indicator of the variety of the area at that time, Lowery says.
The place also contains million year old shark teeth, which can be found today in the earth layers of the high cliffs of the James, York and Rappahannock rivers. That's where they have been for 3,000 years, Lowery says.
“A prehistoric person would probably gather them together, canoeing across the bay, and these fossilized teeth were stored or used and disposed of in the dump.”Lowery says. "More importantly, Native Americans traded the fossilized teeth to mound builders in the Ohio Valley.”.
Trading networks probably they followed the rivers from the Atlantic coast in the Ohio valley. The objects of the mound culture They have been found on the East coast, so the trade came both ways, he says.
The population also traded with snail shells, which were used to make pearls and cups, he says. They particularly favored the left handed snails, those whose spiral opens to the left. When they transformed it into a cup, the longer and narrower end of the shell extends to the right as a comfortable handle.
The Savage Neck shell will likely disappear in a decade due to the erosion of the coastline and rising sea levels, Add: "since the time the conchero was occupied, the sea level has risen about 12 feet”.
Two of the excavations are underway underwater and you can only work with the Low tide. The same is true in many other places on the East Coast, Lowery says. Work at the site has been funded by the Virginia Department of Historical Resources's Threatened Sites program.
“It's a race against the tides”Says Mike Madden, an archaeologist at the George Washington and Jefferson National Forest who was volunteering for the Time program.
An open house at the excavation on Sunday attracted a steady stream of local residents to whom Madden explained the work in simple terms: “We're digging through dead people's trash”.
With a degree in Journalism and Audiovisual Communication, since I was a child I have been attracted to the world of information and audiovisual production. Passion for informing and being informed of what is happening in every corner of the planet. Likewise, I am pleased to be part of the creation of an audiovisual product that will later entertain or inform people. My interests include cinema, photography, the environment and, above all, history. I consider it essential to know the origin of things to know where we come from and where we are going. Special interest in curiosities, mysteries and anecdotal events in our history.