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Prehistoric Native American site near Eagle Rock added to Virginia Landmarks Register

BOTETOURT – The Gala Archaeological Site just north of Eagle Rock is among the 16 new listings approved for the Virginia Landmarks Register by the Department of Historic Resources in December—and the 24th listing in Botetourt County.

The Gala Archaeological Site was occupied by Native Americans from circa 3000-1000 B.C. to circa 900-1607 A.D., according to research done at the site that began in the 1890s and more recently in 2005 and 2006.

This USGS map shows the location of the Gala Archealogical Site that has been added to the Virginia Landmarks Register and nominated for the National Registor of Historic Places.
This USGS map shows the location of the Gala Archealogical Site that has been added to the Virginia Landmarks Register and nominated for the National Registor of Historic Places.

The site is on private land known as the Gala Compressor Station, an active natural gas transmission facility located on the east side of the James River between the river and US 220 at Gala.

It is the second pre-historic site in that area now on the Virginia Landmarks Register. The other is closer to Eagle Rock on the west side of the James River and is known as the Bessemer Archaeological Site. It was placed on the Virginia Register in 1982 and added the National Register of Historic Sites in 1984.

The Gala Archaeological Site includes intact remains that range from a mortuary-style burial site to architectural features to indications of subsistence living as well as a community refuse pit.

According to the application to have the site listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the site has the potential to provide scholars with “invaluable information” about Native American funeral practices, settlement patterns, ethnic diversity and other information about the people who inhabited the upper James River portion of southwestern Virginia.

Archeological investigations of the site began in the 1890s, according to the application for the National Register. “The site was first identified by Gerard Fowke of the Smithsonian Institution in 1891-1892 when construction of the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad disturbed as many as 200 burials,” the application says.

Fowke encountered the midden deposit, pit features, ash lenses, and as many as 31 burials.

During the 1940s R.P. Carroll, a professor at the Virginia Military Institute and member of the Archaeological Society of Virginia, recovered artifacts during construction of the Gala Compressor Station. These items included ceramic and lithic artifacts, as well as human and animal remains.

Clifford Evans of the Smithsonian Institution analyzed ceramic artifacts from Fowke’s collection during the 1950s and classified these materials as belonging to an early Late Woodland ceramic classification.

The application says in 1983, Keith Egloff of the Virginia Department of Historic Resources analyzed additional ceramic artifacts that had been recovered from a utility trench that was being built at the site, and Egloff identified other Late Woodland ceramic types that indicated the site could have been a cross roads of sorts for different Native American tribes.

Animal remains were analyzed by Michael Barber, archaeologist with the United States Forest Service, who identified white-tailed deer, bear, rabbit and various unidentified mammal and avian species.

In 1992, the archaeological firm Gray & Pape Inc. undertook additional archeological investigations that identified Archaic and Woodland artifacts that were recovered, including Late Woodland New River, Grayson, Dan River, and Radford ceramic sherds.

From 1992-1996, Gray & Pape Inc. undertook monitoring and clearance work that resulted in the recovery of artifacts during upgrades to the compressor station.

Between 1998 and 2006, the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) has undertaken investigation of the site as part of the proposed widening of US 220.

A VDOT data recovery investigation in 2001 revealed burials of 28 individuals, all associated with the early Late Woodland period, clustered in a less than 20-foot diameter mortuary complex that led the excavators to surmise that they represent the early stages of an accretional mound associated with the Lewis Creek Mound Culture.

This is one of the most important components of the site because it indicates a cluster of burial pits that is a common feature at the bases of mounds and is an unusual trait in

Virginia’s prehistory sites.

This has led to attempts to link this culture with other contemporary mound-building cultures from the Ohio Valley and the Clemson Island of the Susquehanna Valley.

During 2005 and 2006 investigations associated with minor upgrades at the compressor station, R. Christopher Goodwin & Associates Inc. uncovered the remains of several more individuals allowing the archeologists to surmise that the features comprised perhaps another burial cluster, which raised the potential for the presence of the early stages of another accretional mound. None of the 2005 and 2006 burials were excavated since they were avoided after discovery.

The site is important for further research, the application says, because it is “located in an area of cultural intersection.”

What was found at the site are important for the data that they “can contribute to an understanding of Late Archaic and Late Woodland behavioral patterns and of the influences from and interaction with nearby regional cultures during the Late Woodland, especially Mississippian/Cherokee cultures to the south, Fort Ancient in the Ohio Valley, Clemson Island in the Susquehanna Valley, and Dan River culture in North Carolina.”

The application concludes the site is eligible for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places because it “contains a significant potential to address research issues relating to community structure, funeral practices, settlement patterns and ethnic diversity, and socio-cultural complexity in the upper James River valley.”

Other sites added in December to the Virginia Register are in the counties of Campbell, Fauquier, Floyd, Henrico, King and Queen, Mathews, Nottaway, Smyth, Washington and Westmoreland, and the cities or towns of Charlottesville, Portsmouth, Richlands, Saltville, Staunton and Winchester.

The other sites in Botetourt include:

The Town of Fincastle Historic District.

Callie Furnace at Glen Wilton.

Santillane in Fincastle.

Phoenix Bridge near Eagle Rock.

Wilson Warehouse in Buchanan.

Looney Mill Creek Archaeological Site in Buchanan.

Prospect Hill near Fincastle.

Nininger’s Mill (Tinker Mill) in Daleville.

Breckinridge Mill west of Fincastle.

Roaring Run Furnace west of Eagle Rock.

Bessemer Archaeological Site at Eagle Rock.

Wiloma near Fincastle.

Wheatland Manor east of Fincastle.

Annandale east of Buchanan.

Varney’s Falls Dam and Lock on the James River east of Buchanan.

Anderson House west of Fincastle.

Town of Buchanan Historic District.

Bowyer-Holladay House at Greenfield near Daleville.

Catawba Furnace west of Daleville.

Hawthorne Hall near Fincastle.

Thomas D. Kinzie House near Troutville.

Greyledge near Buchanan.

Lauderdale south of Buchanan.

For more information about the Gala Archaeological Site and the Virginia Landmarks Register, visit: http://www.dhr.virginia.gov/registers/register.htm

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