An artifact hunter explains why the Historical Society chose ‘archaic’ Native Americans for the mural

Joseph C. Sumner Jr., an amateur historian and accomplished hunter of artifacts from East Georgia’s Native American past, recently returned as a guest speaker for the Bulloch County Historical Society and was asked to connect his discoveries and a $30,000 mural the company had just painted. on West Main Street in Statesboro.

Professionally, Sumner is a lawyer, originally from Wrightsville in Johnson County, whose practice is based in Dublin in Laurens County. It also has woodlands where earthworks such as preparations for replanting trees have revealed artifacts over the years. During a previous visit to the Bulloch County Historical Society in October 2017, Sumner covered several tabletops with displays containing hundreds of stone projectile points and pottery fragments.

Joseph Sumner, who amassed a collection of artifacts and knowledge about the prehistoric inhabitants of eastern Georgia, speaks to the Bulloch County Historical Society.
– photo by AL HACKLE/staff

Then, as again in his May 23, 2022 presentation, Sumner pointed out that many points found in eastern and central Georgia aren’t really arrowheads and most are much older than people. tend to think so. The prehistoric stone points are not, he explains, the work of the “Creek” tribes, who lived in the area much later, nor of the Cherokee, who were also later and did not inhabit the plain. coastal.

“Creek and Cherokee – everyone says, ‘I got a piece of land and there was a Creek tribe that lived there, or the Creek Indians lived there,'” Sumner said this time. , but if you do, you’re not going to find many artifacts…. The Creeks are from the historic period. The Mississippians were the last of the prehistoric peoples. Creek and Cherokee were not until after he there have been contacts (with Europeans).

Beliefs by local people of mostly European or African descent that they had a “Cherokee grandmother” are also unlikely to be true, unless she was from somewhere like North Carolina or the United States. far north of Georgia, he noted.

No arrowheads

Many of the points discovered by Sumner are identified as having been made in the early Archaic period, 8,000 to 10,000 years ago. At that time, Georgians lived in “bands of 20 to 50 people, not in permanent, highly mobile settlements,” he said.

Some of the “tips” were actually blades, and others were the tips of atlatl “darts”, he noted. An atlatl is a shorter staff carved as a lever for throwing a longer, thin spear, called a dart or bolt, forward over the thrower’s shoulder.

“He probably had replaceable darts, so the hunter would have a number of darts,” Sumner said. “He would throw it, hit it, reload it and go again.”

Native Americans in the Southeast began using the bow and arrow a few thousand years later than the atlatl.

What archaeologists now identify as the Early Archaic period of Georgia’s prehistory was followed by the Middle Archaic, about 8,000 to 5,000 years ago, and then the Late Archaic, about 5,000 to 3,000 years old, with distinctive changes in lifestyles, pottery and tools. Then came the Woodland period, about 3,000 years ago, and later the arrival of the Mississippian culture, whose people built structures such as the Ocmulgee mounds in Macon and were the ancestors of the Creek tribes.

West Main Mural

Echoing Sumner’s presentation from more than four years ago, but drawing on Georgia Southern University’s Department of Sociology and Anthropology for research and direct input, the Bulloch County Historical Society made Native Americans from the Late Archaic period the subject of his second downtown mural project. Statesboro.

Professional mural artist David Boatwright, of Charleston, South Carolina, and an assistant painted the mural in January on the west-facing wall of the Averitt Center for the Arts installation at 41 West Main St., on the side which includes the Whitaker Black Box Theatre. hall.

Rather than being a single painting, this mural consists of five separate frames, depicting possible scenes from the lives of Late Archaic people.

For example, one image shows people catching fish using baskets and a weir, or fish trap, consisting of moats placed in the bed of a river to form a partially circular enclosure with an opening upstream. In the foreground of another scene, individuals are emptying baskets onto a dump, or debris pile, of freshwater mussel shells.

The Historical Society promised Boatwright a base fee of $25,000 and had already spent $3,200 to have the wall painted with a basecoat in a shade called camelhair. At the May 23 meeting, the Historical Society’s executive director, Virginia Anne Franklin Waters, said the mural cost about $30,000 in total.

“Enduring Artifacts”

After Sumner finished his presentation, Waters asked him to explain to the members and guests present why the Archaic period was chosen for the subject of the mural when the organization wanted to honor the Native American Indians of the area.

“The Archaic period is, again, the period when most of these stone points were made, the enduring artifacts,” Sumner said. “We don’t have artifacts like shoes, clothes and stuff they made. … All of these stitches are utilitarian pieces, but they are works of art. This is the period when all these things were done.

Production of projectile points “dropped quite precipitously” after the Archaic era, he said. The Forest Period, he noted, was when agriculture was established, including the cultivation of corn after Native Americans developed it from wild grasses, so that hunting and gathering did not were no longer the only means people had to feed themselves.

But the arrival of Europeans in the Americas then led to the collapse of the Late Woodland or Mississippian culture, as Sumner recounts.

A plot of land he purchased where he made many discoveries is at Town Creek on the Oconee River near Milledgeville. It is across the creek from the Shinholser Mound site. Sumner believes this is one of the places where Spanish explorer and conquistador Hernando de Soto and his troops encountered Native Americans in Georgia in 1540.

As before, Sumner noted the cruelty of the Spanish forces in their use of war dogs, horses and weapons against the Indians, but indicated that the diseases brought from Europe – smallpox and syphilis are two that are often mentioned – to which the natives had no immunity. were a greater plague.

“The fallout from Spanish communicable diseases after 1540 was, again, almost like a nuclear holocaust,” he said. “The numbers range from 75% to 95% mortality, and think about it, you know, if there are 100 people in the room, in two years there would be five of us left. Think about the amount of oral history lost by this death rate.

The various “creek” tribes that the English settlers later encountered, and whom they called so because they lived beside the creeks, were made up of groups of survivors, he suggests.

Waters reported that a large bronze plaque has been commissioned for the West Main mural that will describe what each of its five images represents. The Historical Society will hold an inauguration ceremony after its installation.

Meanwhile, the 2022 annual meeting of its members is scheduled for 11:30 a.m. on June 27 at the usual monthly meeting venue.

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