2021: Edwards Cupule Site, Watauga County, NC
The Appalachian State University (ASU) summer 2021 Field Archaeology course focused efforts on a newly discovered site in Watauga County, North Carolina. The Edwards Cupule site (31WT403) consists of a large boulder or outcrop of anthophyllite schist containing cupules on its apical surface (Figure 1). Adjacent to the rock is a wooded small spur of an alluvial fan where ASU undergraduate students under tutelage of the author excavated a line of 1m by 1m squares (Figure 2) and recovered numerous items from the A and B horizons, including fire-cracked rocks, chipped stone tools, soapstone vessel fragments, pottery sherds, and samples of carbonized plant remains. Also recovered was part of a flat green slate object that had been notched along its margin (Figure 3). Most of the artifacts (Swannanoa pottery, Swannanoa projectile points, Appalachian stemmed knives, and soapstone vessel fragments) appear to date to the Early Woodland period. Lesser amounts of artifacts (triangular arrow points and stamped pottery) indicate a Late Woodland period encampment.
At this time, it is not known which of these Woodland components is associated with the cupules on the adjacent rock. The cupules are variable in size, ranging between 6 and 10 cm in diameter and between 2 and 5 cm in depth (Figure 4). No patterning that can be related to astronomical or other natural phenomena is discernible, nor do the cupules resemble bedrock mortars more common to sites of the Mid-South. Furthermore, the soft rock on which they were found would not have benefitted food processing. The cupules more closely resemble those found on soft boulders such as nearby Cranberry Rock and ones in southwestern North Carolina that have been interpreted as symbolic artifacts (Whyte 2020).
In the following months, flotation samples and artifacts will be processed and analyzed to better determine the ages, seasons, and reasons for site occupation. In addition, the author’s Fall-semester Experimental Archaeology class will undertake cupule replication experiments in an attempt to determine how and why the cupules were made.
Whyte, Thomas R. 2020. Boone before Boone: The Archaeological Record of Northwestern North Carolina through 1769. McFarland, Jefferson, NC.
Cleaning and Mapping the Edwards Cupule Site Rock Surface.
Excavation Units at the Edwards Cupule Site.
Notched Green Slate Object found at the Edwards Cupule.
Cupules Found at the Edwards Cupule Site.