Student joins researchers at sacred site
A thousand years ago, Native Americans in the mountains of present day North Carolina carved symbols into a massive soapstone boulder that had both physical and spiritual significance for local tribes. The boulder, known as Judaculla Rock, has remained a component of Cherokee belief systems to this day. It has also become the focus of archeological scrutiny, as scholars attempt to understand the culture and behaviors of prehistoric peoples.
This summer, geography and chemistry major Dariusz Chlebica ’10 joined Assistant Professor of Physical and Earth Sciences Douglas Frink, Ph.D., for a one-week practicum at Judaculla Rock. Along with principle investigator, Johannes Loubser, they conducted archaeological and soil research to support management and conservation of the site.
The boulder is covered with glyphs of circles, lines, anthropomorphic images, and other symbols. The exact meaning of the symbols remains a mystery, but scholars have identified a map that indicates the location of rivers, villages, and other physical and spiritual landmarks. There are also clear representations of a supernatural being, thought to be Judaculla—a great hunter who lived in the mountains. Rounded indentations in outcroppings surrounding the boulder were made when prehistoric people carved bowls out of the soft stone, some five thousand years ago.
Because of the significance of the site to Cherokee Indians and because of its archaeological importance, efforts are underway to preserve the site from being buried by sediments washing down from the surrounding mountains, and to provide appropriate visitor access and interpretive signage.
“It is very important to provide undergraduates with hands-on research experience,” noted Frink, an archaeologist and geomorphologist who has conducted research at numerous sites around the globe. “Learning is strengthened when students apply classroom knowledge to real-world situations.”
Chlebica agreed. “I have attended hundreds of lectures in many disciplines but lacked real-world, hands-on experience until this summer,” he said. “Professor Frink and I teamed up with renowned rock art specialist Johannes Loubser to assess the geomorphic and soil processes affecting the archaeological potential and preservation of this site. This brought to life the Soil Science course I took last spring, allowing me to see different stages of pedogenesis first hand.”
He added, “Being able to identify and describe soil horizons has provided valuable outside-the-classroom experience, and witnessing how field work is actually conducted has opened new career possibilities for me.”
Worcester Statement, fall 2009