SWANNANOA, N.C. (WLOS) — At Warren Wilson College, the work is methodical and time-consuming. Each tiny fragment makes up what could have been a forgotten chapter in history.
Largely made up of students, the group is lead by archaeology professor David Moore.
"They can work on the excavation in the summer, they can come and sort this material during the year, then they learn how to analyze the different materials," Moore explained.
"I love getting to work with this material," said Abra Johgart, who's been consumed with it for a decade, first as a student and now as the archaeology lab supervisor.
"I loved it and decided to never leave," Johgart said.
They're processing some 20,000 items recovered last summer from a significant site in Morganton, just the latest batch from what's known as the Berry site.
The site, named after the current property owners, was once known as Joara, one of the largest native towns in Western North Carolina.
Spanish soldiers establishing a route to Mexico arrived in 1567 and built Fort San Juan.
Moore learned the Spaniards embedded iron into the fort as a way of protecting themselves from the Native American women who fed them.
"15th and 16th century Spaniards would put a piece of metal into the frame of their home to ward off witches," said Moore.
Moore says the residents of Joara were “cooperative and generous hosts” at first, but that changed when the Spanish did not reciprocate. By 1568, Fort San Juan and five other Spanish outposts in the region were destroyed.
"The determination by native peoples to end this experiment literally changed the history of our country," he said.
San Juan's one of the most intact 16th century colonial forts in the U.S. and it gives us a teachable moment, Moore believes.
"And it ended up being catastrophic for both groups. This is something that we should learn from!" Moore said.
Shattered remnants of the past are now sorted, weighed, and documented. In the process students get the archaeological experience of a lifetime.
The project operates largely on donations. To contribute, go to the Warren Wilson "Make A Gift" page and select "Archaeology" from the drop-down menu.