Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest activities

After several years in which the position was vacant, the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest filled the position of District Archaeologist on the Oconee Ranger District in Eatonton, Georgia, in April 2005. James Wettstaed took this position after working as an archaeologist with the U.S. Forest Service for 13 years in Missouri and four years in Montana. Most of his time over the last year and a half has been spent getting the files and basic aspects of the program up to speed; clearing up a backlog of projects requiring surveys or review, and learning Georgia archaeology. In addition to several small run-of-the-mill timber sale surveys, the Oconee Ranger District sponsored two Passport in Time public archaeology projects in 2006, one in May and one in November (see below).

In May, 12 volunteers from five different states assisted with test excavations of an historic site on the former location of the Head/Pearson Plantation in Putnam County, which was occupied by this family from 1816 until 1895. The U.S. government acquired the land in 1935. This project was the first of what we hope are several on this property designed to investigate life on a nineteenth through early twentieth century cotton plantation in the Piedmont. The site we investigated was thought by descendants of the Pearson family to be the house the family occupied in the 1800s. Based on the results of the excavations, it appears to be the remains of a tenant farmer’s house occupied in the early twentieth century. A final report of these investigations is being prepared. Volunteers also assisted in cleaning up and clearing brush from the Head Cemetery.

One accomplishment of note was the successful completion of a criminal investigation of violations of the Archaeological Resources Protection Act (ARPA) at the Ocmulgee Bluff site (9JA269), a multi-component prehistoric site located next to the Ocmulgee River in Jasper County. This site had been looted a number of times, and thanks to a tip from members of the public who witnessed some of the illegal digging, an arrest was made of a suspect and numerous artifacts were seized. This individual pled guilty to violations of ARPA in August 2006 and is awaiting sentencing.

In November 2006, four volunteers from Georgia, Florida, and Indiana assisted with test excavations at the Ocmulgee Bluff site to try to determine the extent of damage to the site as a result of the looting, as well as to assess the potential impacts of proposed Forest Service projects in the area. These excavations determined that at least part of the site remained undisturbed. Cultural material was found to extend at least 1.0 m deep and the primary periods of occupation are thought to be Late Archaic and Late Woodland, but analysis and report preparation have only just begun.