The spectacular tomb treasures of the first Chinese emperor and the Egyptian pharaohs aren't the only ancient finds to debut in Atlanta in November. Fernbank Museum of Natural History has opened a new permanent exhibition of objects uncovered much closer to home.
"Conveyed in Clay: Stories from St. Catherines Island" is an introduction to Fernbank's vast collection of artifacts that were discovered on this barrier island, 50 miles south of Savannah.
The Native Americans who inhabited this little bit of land for more than 5,000 years were among the first on this continent to make pottery, and they continually refined and elaborated on their initial pinch pots until European colonists drove them away.
More Sherlock Holmes than Indiana Jones, archaeologists have deduced the history of the Guale Indians from changes in pottery technology, its forms and decoration.
"Without written records, archaeologists must become investigators —- piecing together the stories of who was there, and what, when, why and how historic events happened," said Dennis Blanton, Fernbank's curator of Native American archaeology. "Pottery survives better than most things in the ground, giving us the best set of clues to work from."
For instance, they developed the coil method, a technique that made for stronger pots, in response to changes in diet as they evolved from foragers to farmers, and they began making plates and pitchers, and even mimicked majolica, after a Spanish mission was established on the island in 1580.
The pottery, much of it in shards, is not glamorous like the artifacts at the High and the Civic Center, yet it serves the same purpose: to provide a window onto the daily lives and beliefs of these ancient civilization. As Blanton said, "This is not a story about ceramics —- it's a story about humans."
10 a.m.-5 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays; noon-5 p.m. Sundays. $15 adults, $14, students and seniors; $13, children 3-12; free for 2 and under. Fernbank Museum of Natural History. 767 Clifton Road. Call 404-929-6300 or visit www.fernbankmuseum.org.
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