Photo Essay: Digging Up History in the Cataloochee Valley

First posted in August, 1999

Here's an essay to give you a taste what I did when I worked at the Smokies.

Cataloochee Valley at sunrise

In the summer of 1998, and again in the summer and fall of 1999, we conducted an archaeological survey of the Cataloochee Valley, which is located in Haywood County, NC near the town of Waynesville in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Rattler killed in CataloocheeThe valley is filled with history, including historic farmsteads, a school, two churches, and numerous cemeteries. I like to think of Cataloochee as one of the park's best kept secrets... it has beautiful open fields. It's not uncommon to see deer, turkeys, an occasional hawk, and even a bear now and then. Unfortunately, not every visitor to the valley sees the beauty in all these creatures; the photograph at left was taken near our work site this summer. Although the photo is a bit dark, you can make out the dead timber rattle snake that I'm holding, killed by a visitor only minutes before.

As for archaeology in the valley, we've completed a total of fourteen weeks of field work in the valley as of Oct 1, 1999. The survey has been well publicized, through both radio and newspapers, and we've received a number of volunteers eager to try their hand at digging and sifting the history of the valley. (The photograph at right was taken by Jody Duggins of the Waynesville Mountaineer.)

I think all the volunteers so far have had a good time. We've had a variety of folks, ranging from young home-schoolers and their parents to retirees. The volunteers have helped with all the facets of fieldwork, from surveying and plotting where to dig, to testing, to excavating larger units. The photograph below shows two volunteers, both students from the University of Tennessee, creating a small-scale topographic map of the site surrounding the recently reconstructed Dan Cook cabin (photograph taken by Jennifer Matternes).

Mapping the site

The valley is a beautiful place to work, and the project is on-going, even though I will be far away in Alaska. If you think you might be interested in volunteering, contact the Volunteer Coordinator at Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Here's a final photo of a summer lunch break at the Dan Cook cabin.

Lunch break at the Cook cabin