Enduring Mysteries

"Enduring Mysteries: ECU and the Archaeology of the East" Video Transcript

Narrator: Archaeology connects us to our past. It provides the context to which our written and oral histories apply.

Eastern North Carolina is home to a host of archaeological and anthropological sites that hold deep cultural and historical significance. Human beings are known to have inhabited the region for more than 12,000 years. And for the past 300 years the region has featured prominently in American history.

Located in the midst of these treasures, East Carolina University, and its Department of Anthropology, are leading the way in the discovery, excavation, and preservation of these sites and the treasures they hold.

Dr. Charles Ewen: ECU really has taken the lead, in fact we’re about the only player here in the eastern part of north Carolina as far as looking at both prehistoric and historic sites.

It’s hard to think of a time where we don’t have some field work going of one kind or another. And when we are not in the field we are in the lab cleaning the artifacts and doing the analysis.

Narrator: The latest in a long line of historical quests undertaken by ECU’s Department of Anthropology is the search for the burial site of Richard Caswell, a Revolutionary War hero and the first governor of the state of North Carolina. Graduate student Sheri Balko, is searching for Caswell in Kinston, North Carolina as part of her master’s thesis.

Sheri Balko: Through using historical documentation and geophysical techniques, such as ground penetrating radar, we located what we believed to have been the grave of governor Richard Caswell.

This is a shot from the Caswell family cemetery in Kinston, North Carolina. The red line outlines the cemetery. You can see here, some red bars, and those are more modern graves from about the 1940s. And within this circle is the area we were specifically looking at, which is where we thought Richard Caswell was buried.

Narrator: After receiving permission from the Daughters of the American Revolution, the current owners of the cemetery, Sheri and members of ECU’s anthropology department were able to excavate the gravesite.

The Daughters of the American Revolution and the staff of the CSS Neuse State Historic Site and Governor Richard Caswell memorial in Kinston, North Carolina, are hopeful that Caswell’s remains are located so that the state can properly recognize the man for his role in American and North Carolina history.

Morris Bass: He’s just been ignored all these years. And this man is the one who put his money, his prestige, and everything behind keeping North Carolina on the road to independence.

Narrator: The quest for Caswell is indicative of the reality of archaeology. Regardless of the quality of the research, and the meticulousness of the excavation, it is still very difficult to find things that have been lost for hundreds of years. No human remains were found during the excavation, but the researchers did find the bottom of a coffin, proving that something was buried there. Like many archaeologists before her, Sheri leaves her dig with new questions to ask.

Sheri Balko: I would say that one of the things that when I come back from the field that I really like to keep in mind, is that not to be disappointed if you don’t find exactly what you are searching for, especially with my thesis project. We didn’t find exactly what we were looking for, but we have more questions to answer, which I think is just as exciting. So I think being optimistic at the end of the day, even if it rained or you didn’t find what you were looking for, it’s still a worthwhile day.