Lee County

Archaeologists find historic Native American sites in Pennington Gap

PENNINGTON GAP, Va. - Archaeologists have uncovered Native American sites they say are up to 10,000 years old in Pennington Gap.

The discovery came as a result of the construction of a town biking trail. Typically, an eight-month delay on a town project is not what community leaders want to see. However, in this case, Pennington Gap Town Manager Keith Harless said it has turned out to be positive.

"It's given the chance for the local kids in the middle school the opportunity to come out and witness some actual history that did take place here on this particular site," Harless said.

During the construction of a two-and-a-half mile biking and walking trail through town, officials began to find evidence of historical land.

"What we know about the site now is that it dates from about 8000 B.C. To about 1000 A.D," TVA archaeologist Marianne Shuler said.

TVA currently has archaeologists sorting through the sites. They told News 5 they have found nearly half a dozen fire pits in one location.

Shuler said, "They are really dark, organic material where they have had fires that were used for cooking. So you are also able to find materials from the type of food that they were eating from plants that they were eating and also the animals were eating."

As part of federal law, TVA is required to preserve cultural heritage during construction projects. Now, they are working with Native American tribes across the country to inform them of the findings.

Ernestine Berry is a historian for the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians in Oklahoma. She said these types of findings help solidify their heritage and the legends in their culture.

"It is part of us. The artifacts that they find. They tell about our culture during that time," Berry said.

Now, Berry and those involved in the project are trying to share the history of this culture with the next generation.

We talked to eighth grader Sarah Nelms, who said,  "I never realized that we would actually have stuff like this near my school."

"It's also interesting about the excavations, how they actually go through, and how they're so carefully placed with each touch that they make. It's so fragile how they have to go over and look at the finds," eighth grader Travis Addington said.

Archaeologists have been on site in Pennington Gap since Monday and expect to finish up this weekend. They will then take their findings to the lab for months of research.

As for the Greenway Trail in the town, construction is expected to resume in August. Harless told News 5 that he expects final construction to take about three months.


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