Learning about Alabama history and new places on a sunny, colorful fall day was the focus for a group of people traveling in a van with Harry Holstein, a Jacksonville State University professor.
Recently a friend and I attended my fifth tour of Holstein’s as he has led groups throughout Northeast Alabama.
Each is based on archeology (the study of human history) and anthropology (the study of man’s cultures and development) throughout Northeast Alabama. I have enjoyed each one and have even attended two twice.
The tours, sponsored by the JSU Field School, create community involvement and interest in his work as he has studied the history of those of us living, particularly, in Calhoun County. He has discovered that many of us have ancestors who are Native Americans, and he knows a lot about the earliest pioneers once living in the area.
In addition to the tours, Holstein spearheads a combined monthly meeting and invites in scientists and locals.
Two groups actually combine to meet each month, the JSU Student and Staff Archeological Society and the Coosa Valley Chapter of the Alabama Archeological Society. The next meeting will be at 7 p.m. on Nov. 30 in Martin Hall. The speaker will be John Gladen who will be telling about the techniques used in a paleontological excavation (finding animal and plant fossils) that he attended last summer. The discussion will compare techniques used when investigating other sites and compare them to discoveries about the Bain’s Gap Native American site.
Local residents may want to attend at least one meeting of the club for another reason.
“If people have artifacts they want identified,” Holstein said, “they can bring them to one of the monthly meetings or photograph large artifacts and bring in the photo. People are finding things from this area all the time.”
I have at least three friends who have a collection of artifacts. Some are grinding stones, arrowheads, and stones once used for games. However, all three have items that they wonder about.
During our recent tour of Fort Payne, Mentone, and Weiss Lake areas, Holstein shared many insights. We stood in a cave-like overhang that Native Americans once used as a temporary shelter from the weather. It is located behind the DeSoto Falls State Park Country Store and is only a short walk away. We stood beneath a rock ceiling stained with soot from ancient fires and learned more about those who once used it. Then he drove the group to DeSoto Falls where we learned about Arthur Miller who developed the state’s first electrical system using water from the falls for power. Electricity ran only at night and on Wednesdays. It is obvious why electricity was used at night, but it was needed on Wednesdays because men wanted the women to iron their clothes using their new electric irons.
For those who are interested, the three annual tours are open to the public and cost $15 per person. Space is always limited to about a dozen attendees. Call 256-845-3548. While on the tour, I asked Holstein to share more about membership in the club.
“I started it about 39 years ago; and obviously, I enjoy it,” he said. “A lot of the volunteers for our summer digs come from the club.”
A couple of years ago, I attended one of the digs that yielded pottery shards and a fragment of a peace pipe.
On Jan. 19-20, Holstein is hosting the annual meeting of the Alabama Archeology Society, which will coincide with the monthly meeting of the Archeology Club. There will be speakers, books to buy, a lecture from Holstein about his 35 years of researching Native American sacred stone structures, and a guided tour to see stone structures and Choccolocco Park in Oxford. Other archeologists will speak about archeological research in Alabama. Those who wish to attend should call 256-782-5656 or email Holstein@jsu.edu.
If all of those activities aren’t enough, Holstein is working on a book about his discoveries of ancient life with author Greg Little.
Holstein is a Pittsburgh native who first thought he was applying for a job in Jacksonville, Fla., when he inquired about a new position at JSU. We should all feel fortunate about that mistake. Holstein’s work will forever enhance our understanding of this area we call home.
Email Sherry at email@example.com.