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Drought gives NC educator, historians second look at lost village

Durham, North Carolina (AP) 9-07

Joe Liles caught a glimpse of history in 2005, only to see it vanish under a week’s worth of rain.

Now a new round of drought has given the Durham educator, students and archaeologists another chance to explore a lost world on the bottom of Falls Lake.

“I never expected it would happen so soon,” Liles said.

Liles is an outdoorsman and teacher at the N.C. School of Science and Mathematics who tries to find projects that will draw his classes outside and into nature.

One of those opportunities arose in 2003, when the Eno River Association asked him to help plot the course of Fish Dam Road, a colonial byway that stretched out from Hillsborough. Liles and his students traced its nearly obscure remnants through forests and even urban areas of Orange, Durham and Wake counties.

“The students felt they were explorers,” he said. “They felt they were discovering something everyone else had forgotten.”

The students tracked the road west of the Eno River, where it apparently ended in the Falls Lake basin. There, as drought spread across the region in 2005 and the lake level dropped, Liles saw another opportunity.

It appeared as foundations of old buildings that Liles believes to be the village of Fish Dam, a settlement named for a nearby stone weir that American Indians used to catch fish in the Neuse River, which was dammed to create the lake.

He called the state archaeology department in Raleigh, which later estimated the site dated to the early 1800s or before.

“They were impressed, even amazed,” Liles said.

State workers and members of the Army Corps of Engineers visited the site in December 2005, where a Corps official “saw these ruins and he immediately authorized the funding for a dig,” Liles said.

“Almost as soon as he did that, we had rain for a week.”

Unlike most North Carolinians, Liles has been praying for a dry spell ever since. This year, he got it.

So Liles and 29 of his junior and senior students joined state archeologists and the Army Corps of Engineers to help explore the exposed lake bottom last week.

They found the foundations of nine buildings and a collection of artifacts that included a door handle, a hand iron, an ax head and a piece of glass bottle bearing the letter “C.”

The significance of the find inspired senior Natalia Chodelski, 17, of Charlotte, who believes the dig will ensure the lost village’s history will not just “disappear into blackness.”

Though the area is on federal property and it’s illegal to remove any artifacts, Liles initially struggled with the notion of publicizing his find for fear of alerting scavengers.

He hopes respect and love for history will encourage people to leave it untouched.

“These ruins are for everybody to appreciate,” Liles said. “If people come in and take what’s left, there’ll be nothing for further study, nothing left for people to see.”

Information from: The Herald-Sun, http://www.herald-sun.com
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