Prehistory of West Virginia

My Day at Grave Creek Mound

A Day in Archaeology at Grave Creek Mound Archaeological Complex, for this volunteer, means doing whatever is necessary to help the staff of the complex.

This location consists of a mound built from 250 BC to 150 BC by Early Woodland Indians to honor three persons who held some position of regard in their culture, a museum which holds exhibits of the Adena culture of these Indians, and provides background of other West Virginia sites and Adena mounds.  Added to this is the history of efforts of modern man to preserve the Mound. A recent addition to the museum is the research complex which houses and archives artifacts found throughout the State of West Virginia and also archives reports and other written material relevant to prehistoric and historical archaeology for the State.

I began volunteering two years ago after having retired from a social service agency here in West Virginia.  I have been interested in archaeology since I was 13, but at that time I thought it was done only in Egypt, so I put my energies into other studies.  It was unfortunate for me that as a teenager I was not aware that two very important archaeological sites (Meadowcroft Rockshelter in Pennsylvania and Grave Creek Mound in West Virginia) were within a 30-mile radius of my home, and if I had been born 10 years later (and had good vocational guidance), I may have had the opportunity to work on one of the sites as part of an undergraduate or graduate program.

In my current volunteer experience I have done many things, the most important to me being work with the exhibits.  I have been doing data-entry of all the text in the core displays of the museum. The original intent of this effort was that by converting this information into digital form it would enable it to be accessible to those with vision impairment (as a social service worker, this was one population with which I became concerned).  To supplement the text, I would enter a description of the accompanying display.  I started this project nearly two years ago and I am still at it.

There are two major secondary benefits to this project.  This information documents the exhibits which will be helpful for future work with exhibits and public programs.  Also, my having to read (and re-read) every single word of each display has familiarized me with the exhibit to such an extent that I am comfortable in providing an introduction to the museum for the visitors.

Today three of us are working and it is a busy day in the summer. In my three hours here today, I am needed at the front desk, to greet visitors and help customers in the gift shop. I provide an orientation to the exhibits to 24 adults and 11 children, some coming individually and others in small groups. Some of these visitors came from Ohio, Virginia, Indiana, North Carolina,  Arkansas and Louisiana. In addition, 25 people came as part of a cub scout troop for an educational program and activities conducted by Andrea, the educator on staff.  After Andrea took the cub scouts and their adult leaders outside to do a demonstration, and then to try their hand in atlatl-throwing, the museum became quiet. I would have liked to have gone out to watch them — 8-12 year old competitive boys, doing something outside their normal activities. I enjoy watching young people learn about the Indians and archaeology, but a large group is difficult to manage — thank goodness for Andrea.

I would advise anyone who has an interest in archaeology to volunteer at a place like this.  The staff is appreciative of the help and shows it by word and deed. They include me in many of their activities and conferences, so that I get hands-on experiences and hear presentations from experts in various fields of studies.   Having the opportunity to go through the exhibits on a weekly basis provides me with vastly more knowledge of the subject matter than anyone can hope to acquire in just occassional visits to the museum.