North Alabama Cave Find

North Alabama Ancient Ameri-Indian Cave Site Discovered
by Ray Vaughn

A brief account of my recent find in North Alabama
Online Article Database Content contributed by Ray Vaughn Date: July 17, 2010

One of my favorite hobbies is hunting arrowheads and American Indian artifacts especially among the rock and gravel bars found along many creek beds.
This is something that I have done since I was a young boy after finding my first point when I was six years old. Whenever my wife and I travel, I am always
looking for new and interesting places to point hunt. I frequently find points in small stream beds in Mississippi, Alabama and Tennessee.

During a recent trip to North Alabama, we stayed at a remote cabin on private property with very limited private and no public access in deep wooded canyon
country. The cabin was situated on top of a bluff overlooking a large creek of crystal clear water strewn with boulders and rocks surrounded by sheer rock bluffs
thrusting up from 20 to 200 feet high.

View Overlooking the creek and canyon near the cave entrance 
I spent two days walking in the creek bed looking for points, moving rocks around but nothing was showing other than a few incidental chert chips and one seemingly out of place Tallahatta quartzite chip. 

Working Rock Bar Looking for Points

            Then, late in the evening of the day before we were to leave, I took a short walk up the creek. There was a large boulder and rock pile in the middle of the creek I tried to reach, but the water depth on my side of the bolder pile was just too deep to get across.  So, I decided to go back down the creek and cross over stepping on exposed boulders to the other side. After crossing over, I looked for points along the steep base of a boulder strewn mountain side exposed and eroded by the creek bed.  Finding absolutely nothing, I climbed up onto a very large rock that had broken loose and fallen into the waters edge. I walked along a little further trying to theorize where points might be located on this creek. As I looked back across the creek and up the slightly elevated bank toward the base of a rock bluff, I noticed a black hole behind some bushy overgrowth at the base of the steep bluff. This was not easily visible from the water level in the creek. Crossing over the creek again, I ascended up the sandy bank toward the base of the rock bluff into the bushes that gave way to a gaping black hole hidden behind the bushy covering.

Approach To Cave Entrance
View Beyond Bushes Covering Cave Entrance
The opening was hidden beneath an overhang and is best described as a shallow cave. Looking down, I immediately spotted a broken blade made of dark gray Fort Payne chert. I looked around and immediately found more chips of various shades of chert and then two more broken points. One with an impact fracture along the side and base was made of a beautiful white quartz with very well defined sharp corner barb and finely flaked edges that were still quite sharp. Looking into the cave opening, I could see no growth and very little debris inside. The ground was exposed and very sandy.

Rock Bluff Above Cave Entrance

 Darkness was approaching fast, so I climbed back up the rock bluff to the cabin and retrieved a light and a shovel. My wife returned with me back to the cave and we explored the entrance with a light. There was no evidence of anything inside the cave other than sand that appeared to have filled in over time most likely from high water. The inside height of the cave was  just over 5 ft. so I had to stoop to walk inside. Shinning the light on the ceiling, we spotted a large area of soot and carbon deposited from many ancient camp fires. The soot had been there so long that it was aged into the rock and could be rubbed off. At this point, I knew that I had found the real thing. An ancient camp site nestled into an overhung cave that had remained undiscovered and undisturbed for perhaps thousands of years. By now it was too dark to do anything else and with our schedule to leave the following day, I made plans to return early the next morning to do some testing of the site.

Next morning, after having my coffee, I grabbed my shovel, gloves, and my light and returned to the cave. I carefully checked out the inside and entrance which was open all the way across. I found evidence of chips everywhere and the sand in the cave was a chocolate colored brown down to about 2 Ft. and at that point it became almost white. The cave was large enough for perhaps a dozen people to get up inside and from the looks of the floor, could have been deeper at some point in the past. There were chips of all sizes everywhere and many micro sized, narrow final finishing flakes. Every shovel scoop contained multiple chert chips. I could see the spot where the ancient camp fire would have been located on the floor at the front and

center of the cave. There was a large rock about 4 ft. long and 2 ft. wide to the outside of this spot which could have been used to bank the fire from the inside and the charred soot deposits on the ceiling were just above this rock. I finally chose a spot nearer to the center of the cave about 3 feet from the fire pit site and sank a test hole. Within 5 minutes I had two very good points. I continued to dig finding many broken points and hundreds of flakes. Another 30 minutes and I unearthed 2 points in a single shovel scoop. There were white quartz flakes, Ft. Payne chert flakes and some unusual glossy black flakes that looked like volcanic glass.

It was time to take a water break and to cool down as it was in the mid 90s outside. Inside the cave was not so bad though as a gentle breeze blew along the rock bluff walls coming down the canyon. I climbed back up the bluff to the cabin for a break and when I returned, my wife, daughter and grand daughter came along to help out.  I continued to dig and unearth another perfect larger point. All so far were made of Ft. Payne chert dark to medium gray in color with some reddish brown and light gray color spots.

Next I extended the depth and down where the sand begins to change to a whiter color (about 2 Ft.) and uncovered a nice white chert serrated Dalton point. A few minutes later a broken Greenbrier Dalton came up. During the next hour I found several Adena and Motley points, a very nice sized Ledbetter point and a fine drill.

A few of the points found at the cave site

The sand was very dry and a rich dark brown color-full of multi colored chert chips. By now 2 hours had passed and it was time to give up the dig. I had found some 13 complete points and more than 18 broken bases and tips and a few mid sections. I refilled my test hole and returned the site to the condition in which I found it.

Gathering up my tools and my points, I returned up the bluff to the cabin and took stock in my finds. More than 30 complete and broken points in just 2 hours of digging. Wow, not bad.

This discovery is a fantastic find and it is with great hesitation that I leave it, but I have to return home and back to work. However, we are already planning a return trip to continue the excavation and I have no doubt that there will be many more points and that this is a multi-period, multi-cultural site. This dig could go on for quite a while and with the trans-paleo pieces found at the bottom of the pit, who knows what else will be down there where colored sand changes to white. This was an exciting experience and it was like living an Indiana Jones adventure. My best find ever. I hope to continue this story after my next dig on this site. And I should mention that this area as well as others in North Alabama, Northern Georgia and Eastern Tennessee abound in legends of lost Cherokee Indian lead and silver mines which were hidden and kept secret to prevent the early European settlers from taking the riches of these tribal resources.  So long lost that they are only remembered today in old historical accounts of the early history of these areas and in Creek and Cherokee Indian tribal legends.

Original Article by Ray Vaughn;  edited for Southeastern Archaeology Online Publication
John Gates, Editor


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