In touch with state history

Veterans find work cataloging Georgia artifacts

 

 

It was called Cemochechobee, where prehistoric families lived and died for centuries before vanishing.

Today, decades after the rich archaeological site in southwest Georgia was flooded to form Lake Walter F. George, artifacts rescued from the rising waters are yielding new secrets through a program that offers wounded veterans an opportunity to study the past.

"I never thought I'd be interested in archaeology," said Leanard Marshall, one of 10 wounded combat veterans helping the Army Corps of Engineers curate material gathered from federal lands. "But the more you do, the more you get into it."

The 38-year-old Army specialist -- medically retired after being injured by a roadside bomb -- spends his time categorizing, listing and photographing artifacts dug from the site in the 1970s.

"We see a lot of pottery and arrowheads, and some things that will surprise you," he said.

Unusual items Marshall has helped curate include a clay artifact with a carved eagle's head and a white- tail deer jawbone, with teeth still intact.

"He was probably dinner a long time ago," Marshall said.

The lab in West Town shopping center in Martinez was the first of three such facilities opened in recent months using federal stimulus funds, said archaeologist Alana Lynch, one of the lab's two managers. The others are in St. Louis and Washington, D.C.

The corps, which hired the Brockington & Associates cultural resources consulting firm to manage the program, has about 55,000 boxes of material that need to be categorized and brought up to date under federal curation guidelines, Lynch said.

The recovering veterans, most from Iraq and Afghanistan, are wonderful candidates for such programs, she said.

"It's a work and training program where they learn digital photography, database management, computer skills," Lynch said. "It was also an opportunity to use stimulus money to catch up on 30 years of backlogged archaeological material."

The Martinez lab is focusing for now on the collection of artifacts from beneath Lake Walter F. George.

"This was a very large Native American mound site," Lynch said. "There is still a lot we can learn from it."

The village, complete with a temple mound, was believed to have been occupied from 700 A.D. to about 1500.

"They farmed, buried their dead, built villages and a temple mound -- and disappeared," Lynch said.

Marshall and his colleagues are helping to create a database that will be useful for museums, students, scholars and others who need access to organized details about the settlement.

"There's more than 100 boxes to go through," Lynch said.

Marshall, who was a gunner aboard a patrol Humvee until his injury, said the work is sometimes tedious but rewarding.

"You do a lot of checking and rechecking because you may overlook certain things the first time around," he said. "But this is work that needs to be done. You can't put a price on history."