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Unearth Ancient Relics at Catawba Science Center

January 26, 2011

Eli Tucker, 9, finds out how much weight
a person on the move could carry, and then
he decides which items are needed to survive.

    Duane Strelow’s interest in archaeology began when he was a fourth-grader. He pursued his interest in ancient cultures, societies and “digs” from then on.
    As Visitor Services Manager/Educator at Catawba Science Center, Strelow, 39, watches youngsters interact with CSC’s current exhibit, “The Ancient Carolinians.”
    Now, visitors to the exhibit can be an archaeologist, uncover artifacts and search for clues in the exhibit’s full-scale, interactive dig-site.
    Take part in daily, hands-on demonstrations and learn about the techniques and tools used to unearth ancient relics.
    The exhibit, geared toward school students in the fourth grade and older, is a hands-on interactive display that explores the lives of  early civilizations and tells in easily understood ways how archaeologists unearthed the history over the past 60 years of the ancient people in North Carolina. The Ancient Carolinians  is now open at Catawba Science Center in Hickory.
    Offering visitors a unique glimpse into the past, the exhibit’s main storyline focuses on Hardaway, a site in central North Carolina near the town of Badin on the banks of the Yadkin River.
    “Ancient Carolinians” tells the fascinating story that emerged from Hardaway and the 10,000-year-old artifacts found there.
    “The exhibit doesn’t showcase the entire history but focuses on 12,000 years ago,” Strelow said. “Populations began to move into the Carolinas, and the Uwharries played an important part in the story we are telling here.
    “Why?” Strelow asked. “Rhyolite was found in abundance at Morrow Mountain — just four miles away — and was easy to work with.”
    Rhyolite is a strong rock that can be flaked and shaped into projectile points as spearheads, scrapers for cleaning hides, drills for making holes in hides, and atlatl weights that can be used to help balance the spears.
    Native Americans quarried the stone from Morrow Mountain and carried it back to the Hardaway Site for tools and projectile point making.
    “They made tools and stuff out of bone and wood, but it decomposed,” Strelow said. “This exhibit shows different parts of their lifestyle.Archaeology is not so much about finding stuff, well, it is, it’s a science, but a lot of folks think of archaeologists as treasure hunters.
    On a dig, archaeologists find items, and these items are treasured, but they are used to reconstruct ancient cultures, processes and how they lived and moved around.
    “And, archaeologists don’t dig ‘willy-nilly” — it’s a precise science.”
    The ancient Carolinians hunted, fished and collected.
    “But, they were not farmers,” Strelow said. “They were nomadic, moved around to hunt and fish, and traveled in bands.”
    Each band went from place to place as the seasons changed, and thus, the foods they could gather and hunt, too.
    “There were 50 to 150 people in a band,” Strelow said. “They were extended kindred that was human society. What they called themselves, we don’t know.”
The importance of visiting the “Ancient Carolinians” lies in linking the past with today. Tools may change over time, but societies will always use tools. And, people change.
    “We are interpreting what we find,” Strelow said.
    Be like Strelow: be an archaeologist, uncover artifacts and search for clues in the exhibit’s full-scale, interactive dig-site. Take part in daily, hands-on demonstrations and learn about the techniques and tools used to unearth ancient relics.
    Learn about hunter-gatherers and how much weight a person on the move could carry, then, decide which items are needed to survive. Plus, get an up-close look at a sampling of rocks, including the rhyolite stone from Morrow Mountain, once used to forge ancient tools.
    Peruse Southeast Woodlands Indian artifacts, including pottery, bowls and baskets, on loan from Catawba County Historical Association and private individuals.
    “We want to take this excavation and bring it down to the kids’ level,” Strelow said. “Once they move through the exhibit, then they have the opportunity to do on their own dig to look for ancient tools — right here, in the ancient tools pit.”
Strelow encourages people to see the exhibit — it’s a way to expereince and learn a lifeway very alien to us, but it somehow resonates with us.
    “They liked to eat deer and rabbits,” he said. “Some of us do.”
    Strelow urges people to come learn how scientists go about interpreting the past  — it’s fun.
    “We don’t normally do exhibits like this — usually its biology or astronomy,” he said. “This is human science, and it’s about our own past.”

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