The arrowhead may be 10,000 years old. Bullets, a cannonball fragment and buttons trace back to the Civil War. A rusty knife and fork are from World War I.
Each is on display in glass cases at the Chickamauga Battlefield Visitor Center in Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia. Each was uncovered on the battlefield by a student at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.
Over the course of several weeks in 2020, students found dozens of Civil War items, including minié balls—the bullets of the war—pieces of flags, shards of 150-year-old glass, chunks of charcoal from campfires and nails from wooden boxes soldiers burned for warmth.
“It was the first archeological work that had been done on the battlefield in quite some time, so we thought it’d be kind of fun to showcase the community partnership with UTC and the National Park Service,” said Morgan Smith, the assistant professor in the UTC Department of Anthropology who led the 2020 explorations.
“It shows a lot of trust in the professionalism of the archeology program and the promise of the students.”
By digging, undercovering and identifying the artifacts, students get the chance to conduct the same type of work they’ll be doing if they choose a career in anthropology or archaeology, Smith said.
In addition, the National Park Service gets its archaeological surveying done for free as well as making sure the historic significance of the artifacts remains intact.
“As cool as it may be to have your very own minié ball to take home and show off, it ultimately takes away the provenance of that item and its correlation to the park, as well as a part of the greater picture that it can show if it is found in its origin,” said Abbey Vander Sluis, who graduated from UTC in 2018 with a bachelor’s degree in anthropology and now works at the Chickamauga Battlefield as an archeological technician.
“Once an artifact is removed from the site where it was found, the artifact loses its historic value. We no longer understand the circumstances and events surrounding that artifact.”
Vander Sluis helped curate the exhibit of UTC-uncovered artifacts, working with the battlefield’s Museum Curator Julia Poland.
“It was very exciting to be on the other side of the archeological world and working in the museum aspect post cleaning and cataloging of the objects,” Vander Sluis said. “I like to think that I helped connect the park with UTC for future field-school opportunities.”