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Expert Series Committee member Shelley Hanson, left, with speaker Gwen McDonald.

Expert Series uncovers archaeology in Big Canoe

By Rita Van Fleet

The final program in the Big Canoe Expert Series, “Archaeology and Big Canoe, too,” was presented by Gwen McDonald Saturday, Aug. 12 to a full house at the Canoe Lodge.

The program began with "The Southeastern Indians," an overview of the history of the native people who settled northwestern Georgia. The award-winning film was co-produced by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources Film and Video Division and Reinhardt University. McDonald encouraged a visit to Reinhardt University’s Bennett History Museum, which has numerous displays documenting the history of the native people in Northwest Georgia.

She reviewed the history of the native people in this area, beginning with the Paleo era when they crossed the land bridge to Alaska. It is characterized by the presence of stone tools.

As the native peoples spread across the continent, the Paleo era was followed by Archaic era evidenced by fishing hooks, drills, and mortar and pestles. Pottery from the Woodland era of 1000 BC survives. The Mississippian era was known for mound-building and the development of agriculture. The most recent era was that of the Five Tribes: the Cherokee, Creek, Seminole, Chickasaw and Choctaw.

With the arrival of Europeans, diseases—smallpox, TB, measles, and typhus—decimated an estimated 80 percent of the native population. The natives became less self-sufficient and more dependent on trade for manufactured goods with the Europeans.

In 1838, most of the remaining natives were forced to leave the Southeast on a journey to Oklahoma known as the "Trail of Tears" in which one-third of the people died. The Trail of Tears started near the Etowah River on what is now called Old Federal Road in Forsyth County. Historical markers identify several miles of the original trail.

McDonald has completed extensive research in the Smoke Signals archives related to local area history. She discovered that comprehensive archeological surveys completed by the state of Georgia are only available to archaeologists to prevent the destruction of sites. According to McDonald, an archaeology assistant, it is necessary to obtain permission prior to conducting any work. An archaeologist might be required on site during work. Nevertheless, groups and individuals have conducted research and documentation of sites in the area, including the marker (bent) trees and rock cairns.

A Big Canoe resident and Texas native, McDonald is a retired award-winning elementary and middle school educator with a life-long interest in history and archaeology. Since retiring to Big Canoe in 2016, McDonald has joined the Big Canoe Artists Club and serves on the POA’s Conservation and Preservation Committee.

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