Lawyers for Georgetown property owner Greg Vital notified the Tennessee Valley Authority on Thursday that a second archaeological study of the site found 15 different Native American artifacts, not one, as TVA said in its official report in April.
“There are 14 more historically significant cairns in a distinguishable pattern within a hundred yards of what TVA said was the only native American artifact on the site,” said Mr. Vital, whose lawyers hired Alexander Archaeological Consultants of Wildwood, Ga., to study the site. “It is impossible to walk that property and not see that there is a cairn within 15 yards of the one identified by TVA."
He said, “TVA either is intentionally deceiving all the parties involved in this, or the agency is not competent.”
The letter to the TVA included the 22-page report from Lawrence Alexander, founder of the consulting firm, and an assessment of the site from historian Troy Smith, an associate professor of history at Tennessee Tech University specializing in all phases of Native American history. In the documents, the site is referred to as 40MG305.
Among those receiving the letter were members of the Tennessee legislative delegation, the Tennessee Historical Commission, the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, the principal chief of the Cherokee Nation, the principal chief of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and the Tennessee Division of Archaeology.
“TVA needs to stop the project now, do the required Phase II archaeological study and identify an alternative plan to totally avoid what is clearly a site with significant Native American history,” said Mr. Vital. TVA condemned the private property of Vital and three other landowners in November for Project Viper’s transmission line.
He said a map included in the Alexander report tells the story. It shows a shaded area representing the TVA’s original path through the site where it found cultural resources on Feb. 26. “F1” in the Alexander study is the site of only cairn TVA disclosed.
The second shaded area shows the new, proposed path the transmission line the TVA begin surveying less than two weeks after the discovery of the artifacts. Each path is proposed to be 150-feet wide, and there is a 200-feet space between the two proposed routes.
Mr. Vital said, "The map shows three cairns, not one as the TVA said, in the original path of the transmission line. There are six more cairns in the buffer zone and six more cairns in the TVA’s new proposed route for a total of 15."
Historian Smith said the site is consistent with one that would have been located near a village or encampment.
"Man-made stone piles, or cairns, were used in the ceremonial life of several Native American groups," said Mr. Smith, who walked the site on May 12. "They are often found on hills and slopes, facing east across rivers, creeks or streams, like Gunstocker Creek. There are usually 10 to 20 of them, each one visible from the next. All of this is consistent with what I saw at the site. During the Mississippian cultural period (800 to 1600 AD), cairns such as these would often be located across the river from a village."
Lawyers from Miller & Martin in Chattanooga said in its letter that the government agency “considered one cairn to be significant enough to move the route for the transmission line to avoid what it thought was one potentially sensitive resource. Therefore, by TVA’s own standards, it should seek to avoid the entire potentially sensitive resource, which consists of fifteen cairns. In the alternative, TVA should conduct further investigation in a Phase II archaeological evaluation.”
Mr. Vital said, "TVA will not let anything slow down Project Viper, even it means trampling on private property rights and Native American history.
“TVA’s own consultant said the site likely qualified for the National Register of Historic Places. TVA’s solution was not to do a Phase II study. They just moved a few yards, started cutting a new swatch and tagging the route that sits right in the middle of more cairns than the first site. How does that happen? It happens because the timeline of Project Viper is more important than preserving native American history.”
The presence of the cairns is not the only historically significant conclusion of the two studies, Mr. Vital said. “Moreover,” the letter said, “both reports suggest that Site 40HA534 should be further evaluated as a potential segment of the Trail of Tears.”
Click here to read the letter to TVA from Mr. Vital.