Articles

ARCHAIC ENGRAVED SLATE

In the year 1913, the Hardaway Construction Company began building a dam across the Yadkin River between Montgomery and Stanly Counties in North Carolina.  This dam, at a place on the river called “The Narrows”, created a large body of water that was named Badin Lake.  On a high Stanly County hilltop, above this dam and the river, was a very ancient Indian campground that was subsequently named the Hardaway Site in honor of the construction company.  And a short distance downriver on the Montgomery County side was another ancient site discovered by Mr. H. M. Doerschuck and named for him.  Both these prehistoric village sites were ultimately excavated, beginning in 1948, by scientific teams led by Dr. Joffre Coe, of the University of North Carolina.  On both sites the archaeologists discovered many old tools and other artifacts including some very rare and unique pieces that are today simply known as archaic engraved slate.

Slate is a relatively soft sedimentary compressed rock that is also known as argillite or claystone or even mudstone.  Since both these ancient sites are located within the “Piedmont Slate Belt”, pieces of this workable stone would have been readily available to the ancient native peoples.  Slate is normally too soft for any usage as cutting or killing tools.  Therefore it was probably used by ancient peoples for ceremonial/religious purposes, including engravings.

When the UNC academic team began excavating both sites along the Yadkin River they discovered six different stratigraphic zones of ancient occupation beginning almost 10,000 years ago..  But before a trowel or shovel was put into the earth, systematic surface explorations were made.  And many tools and pottery sherds and some of the engraved slate fragments were found there on the earth's facade.  Surface finds do not, however, give any evidence as to exactly when a given archaeolgical object was actually made and used - that requires excavations.  And when the students and archaeologists did begin digging on the Doerschuk and Hardaway sites, they found the engraved slate pieces in all the stratigraphic seams top to bottom, though in very limited numbers.  And some more were discovered in other related regional sites. This meant that multiples of thousands of years of human occupations produced a rather meager quantity of these unique artifacts.  In fact only a total of sixteen (16) engraved pieces were excavated at Hardaway and ten (10) at the Doerschuck site.  That is not many for ten thousand years of ancient men and women living at these places and the multitudes of tools and other artifacts made by these people.   And to complicate the problem, there were few answers to the question about the ages and usages of these engraved fragments.  Most, including the surface found pieces, appeared to be randomly incised with no particular patterns.  Some few, though, did appear to have deliberate inscribed designs of crisscross lines as well as somewhat geometric patterns.

The two engraved slate fragments, pictured with this article, also have the random carvings but give no answers as to their purposes for the ancient people.  At least, though, we know when they were possibly made.  Shown with the two slate shards are two classic Kirk Stemmed Serrated points and a broken but well made early Archaic Period drill.  These three tools were discovered laying directly on their respective pieces of broken and incised argillite.  That means these two engravings were probably done at the time the points and drill were made some 8,000 to 9,000 years ago.  WOW!   Was there abstract or non-representational art by humans simply for visual enjoyment at that ancient time?  The discovery of these two objects appears to be saying that it was ancient art concocted only for the optical pleasure of people.  You can choose to believe or not to believe in 9,000 year old artistic crafts in our country but the photos seem to be telling us that it did happen with these two small sections of archaic engraved slate.

 

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