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Discoveries might reveal origins of first inhabitants in Southeastern North Carolina

A local captain and his crew have discovered a unique rock and nearby artifacts that might help reveal how the first people came to Southeastern North Carolina thousands of years ago.

Geologists said the rock, called black chert or novaculite, was previously thought to only be available in vast quantities in the mountains of Arkansas. Zulu Discovery, a local underwater exploration company, found a very dense version of the rock dozens of feet below the surface of the Atlantic Ocean off Wrightsville Beach. Chert was used by the first people in North America, called Paleo-Indians, to create the stone tools they needed to survive.

Zulu Discovery owner Jim Batey holds a piece of North Carolina black chert that his crew found off the North Carolina coast The discovery of black chert off local shores could rewrite America's prehistory by supporting a theory that Paleo-Indians might have come to the continent via a coastal route rather than by land, said Phil Garwood, a geology instructor at Cape Fear Community College who first identified the local rock as chert. The exact route Paleo-Indians followed will always remain a mystery, but clues have come in the form of the tools they left behind.

“This is a piece of the puzzle,” Garwood said.

In collaboration with CFCC, Zulu Discovery founders Capt. Jim Batey and his son Rusty Batey hope to find grants and other sources of funding to continue their research and exploration of the areas where they've found the rock and artifacts. The Bateys don't want to reveal the exact depths or locations of their finds, fearing the disruption by other divers of their efforts to study the material.

Continuing their research, Zulu Discovery and CFCC met with state geologists and an underwater archaeologist recently to present their findings and get some advice on what to do next.

Kenneth Taylor, chief of the N.C. Geological Survey, was one of those geologists.

“One of the things about it, when you look at samples of chert – very, very hard, very, clear chert, – that has to come from Arkansas. There's not an outcrop of this stuff in North Carolina,” Taylor said, explaining the prevailing theory. “Now there is. If there are archaeological artifacts that prove its first peoples' or native peoples' ... This is outstanding. It's outstanding. It then says that they had a ready source nearby.”

The rocks weren't underwater thousands of years ago.

“It's offshore today, but it wouldn't have been covered by the ocean at that time because the ocean didn't come that far inland,” Taylor said.

Not just a piece of cement

The North Carolina black chert, dubbed SeaViculite by Zulu Discovery, was found by accident.

Zulu Discovery diver Kevin Rooney picked up the unusual rock last summer as he searched underwater ledges for shark's teeth and fossils.

“He brought it up just to see what it was, just to bring it to the surface and analyze it,” Rusty Batey said.

At that time, no one suspected it was anything special.

“We just thought it was a big square piece of cement,” Rusty Batey said.

It wasn't until several months later, when Jim Batey got tired of seeing the rock in his yard, that they got their first clue to the rock's significance. Jim threw it to Rooney, telling him to get rid of the cement-colored stuff, when a piece of it broke off, revealing a lustrous black interior.

“I knew it was something that needed to be looked at. It was so unusual,” said Jim Batey, who added that he'd never come across anything like it in his 45 years of deep-sea diving.

Jim gave it to Tim Shaw, a marine technology instructor at CFCC, who showed it to Garwood.

“If there's one rock in the world I know, it's chert,” said Garwood, who studied chert in Australia. Chert is a sedimentary rock, believed to have formed when the shells of ancient, microscopic sea creatures fused together, Garwood said.

“People might have been picking up those rocks for years and they just didn't know what it was,” Taylor said. It took showing the find to someone who knows rocks, like Garwood, to make the significant connection, Taylor said.

Garwood said the SeaViculite is being analyzed by a laboratory at the College of Charleston in Charleston, S.C., and so far the lab has found an 85 percent probability that the SeaViculite is the same material used to make tools found in Southeastern North Carolina.

The artifacts Zulu Discovery has found near the underwater chert sites and identified by Garwood include an ornament called a gorgot, a scraper used to clean hides, a knife and a stone used to start fires.

Rusty Batey said he's mailed at least 30 samples of the SeaViculite to flint knappers – people who make stone tools – and others for examination.

What's next

Jim Batey said the crew plans to take an archaeologist from the state's Underwater Archaeology Branch to one of their chert sites. In addition to showing him the sites, they want the archaeologist, Nathan Henry, to examine a possible artifact that looks like it might be a pot of some kind. A video shot underwater by Zulu Discovery's Video Ray Pro III remote operated vehicle shows a half moon shape wedged under a ledge. The Zulu Discovery diver didn't want to try to pull out the potential artifact, fearing it's destruction.

The question of whether parts of the chert locations need to be preserved as culturally significant sites is another reason Zulu Discovery is working with the state and college on the project, alternately called Operation Chert and Project SeaViculite.

“This may be a very significant site archaeologically if indeed it turns out there is cultural material associated with the rock,” said Richard Lawrence, director of the state's Underwater Archaeology Branch.

“We don't want to disturb a site if it's an Indian site,” Jim Batey said.

The company has not yet determined whether mining the chert, which would require permission from the federal government, would be a profitable venture. In addition to its historical value, chert has commercial value, including its ability to sharpen knives, surgical instruments and wood carving tools.

“We don't know where it's going to go right now,” Jim Batey said.

The company plans to continue exploring the SeaViculite sites they've already found and look for more.

“You could make your projectile points for the next whole year by wintering over at that location,” Taylor said, of the large pockets of chert already found by Zulu Discovery. “That's incredibly fascinating.”

Source: Free Republic


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1 comment :

  1. Is it possible to get more information on this article?Would love to know the latest updates on this under water Chert site


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