One Man’s Trash is Another Man’s Treasure
by Josh Palumbo, Forest Management Coordinator
I welcome you to The Nature Foundation at Wintergreen’s attempt to bring some nature and knowledge into your home. The Nine Minute Naturalist borrows from NPR’s lovely 90-Second Naturalist podcast. Since we all have a bit more time on our hands, the goal is to take something that is happening out in our environment and stimulate your brain for roughly nine minutes. Don’t let something as “minor” as a quarantine to keep you from learning. I hope you enjoy!
Each spring the inner explorer in all of us is filled with renewed excitement. We begin to see flowers we have not seen in a year. The migratory birds begin to filter into our backyards and many mammals appear out of hibernation. My inner explorer gets excited to search for trash! To be more clear…I get excited to find new archeological artifacts pushed above ground by winter’s processes of erosion and frost heave. What one man threw to the ground can be another man’s treasure.
Wintergreen is home to a treasure trove of archeological sites. Due to the Blue Ridge being one ridge wide from Wintergreen to north of Interstate 64, our location was used as a crossing point as well as for trading and hunting. A survey of the Wintergreen property began in 2003 to identify and record archeological sites. This investigation was led by Dr. Carole Nash of James Madison University. This exploration has led to a great expansion of the knowledge of how past cultures used the Blue Ridge Mountains.
For an amateur archeologist like me, the early spring is the prime time to search for “treasure” just sitting on the ground waiting to teach us something. Let me explain why the spring is so fruitful in terms of finding artifacts. The artifacts found at Wintergreen range from Early Archaic (10,000-8,500 yrs ago) to European contact. Let’s assume a hunter during the Early Woodland (3,000-2,000 yrs ago) period breaks a spear point. He discards his “trash” which will one day become our “treasure”. Over the next 3,000 years leaves and debris pile up and decay forming soil over top this artifact. Assuming no human disturbance, this spear point could stay buried forever. Sometimes, nature helps expose unique treasures. Through the processes of erosion (sometimes very dramatic) and frost heave (a deep freezing of water in the soil which pushes ice towards the surface) an artifact goes from buried to sitting on the forest floor. Before the forest floor is covered with growing plants is the perfect time to spot an artifact amongst the rocky forest floor.
Greenstone makes up the majority of the geology atop Wintergreen. Quartzite, which makes up a large percent of spear points and arrowheads, are very distinct in color and feel from greenstone. This color difference is stark and stands out even to the newest amateur archeologist.
So what do you do if you find an artifact? First rule of thumb is to leave the artifact where it is. Important information can be lost when an artifact is moved. Second, contact The Nature Foundation at Wintergreen. If you made a great find and want information on the artifact or you want the site documented, we are a great resource to look to for information. If you find an artifact off Wintergreen property, contact your local archeological society. They will be the best resource for local information.
The time is at hand to get onto the trails and into the environment to look for these “treasures”. See how well you can train your eye to spot the wonderful resources we have at our feet throughout Wintergreen. Don’t forget to end your hunt for artifacts at our Nature Center (when we reopen of course) and see all the amazing finds from Wintergreen sites.