Saturday, July 02, 2011

Hatteras Island Archaeology Myths

Dr. David Sutton Phelps

There has been a lot of talk about former archaeology on Hatteras Island dealing with Dr. David Sutton Phelps' 1997-98 digs at 31DR1, or Cape Creek.  Many people are being told that he removed artifacts from the island and never intended to return them.  This simply is not true. 

When Phelps conducted that dig at Cape Creek, he found an amazing "workshop" facility that proved that Englishmen had worked on Hatteras Island since the 1650s.  This was an amazing find!  And it was quite helpful in discovering what took place there between the time of John White's eventual arrival about 1588/9 and 60 years later.  There are no written records to fill this gap. 

Phelps was retired from East Carolina University at the time he conducted this dig.  But, his knowledge and expertise was essential in bringing these facts to light.  He retired to Florida and did take artifacts there with him to study.  But, can we blame him for dying?  Seriously.  He died... certainly an unexpected event.  That is the reason that it took so long to recover the artifacts that he took with him.

Those artifacts are at ECU at this very moment, awaiting claimants who wish to recover their property.  There are those out there who can financially benefit from keeping Hatteras residents fully cognizant of the removal of those artifacts, however temporary, rather than the recovery and restoration of those artifacts to their rightful owners, at the strenuous recovery efforts of ECU.  These people would have islanders believe that they are there to protect their interests from other archaeological "thieves." They warn the islanders about outsiders who might steal their heirlooms.  This is ridiculous!  ECU and any other archaeological institute is only interested in knowledge... they certainly don't want display items.  I have personally seen one of their storage facilities and believe me, they don't WANT to keep it.  If these individuals are truly working for the islanders' benefit, then they would immediately make contact with ECU and retrieve these items rather than continue to blame ECU for taking them and isolating the island for their personal benefit.

There are some out there who use metal detectors in their skewed version of "archaeology" and have damaged the archaeological context.  These people are most certainly to be avoided like the plague.  But, Dr. Phelps was highly respected in his field and he has been put literally on the "chopping block" for having died in Florida. I won't have any more of this endeavor to smear his good name for personal profit and fame.  Dr. Phelps contributed greatly to our knowledge and understanding of Algonquian Indians and should be honored for that. 

This does not make sense.  I personally charge everyone who might have an interest in Hatteras Island residents who believe that they have "lost" heirlooms, etc. to contact the Phelps Archaeological Laboratory at ECU immediately to arrange to claim and pick up whatever items they want back.  Dr. Charles Ewen is the head of the department and can be reached at:

Dr. Charles R. Ewen, Director
267 Flanagan Building
East Carolina University
Greenville, NC 27858

Please, once and for all, let's stop using the fear of outsiders to promote our personal benefit!  Educational institutions are there for all of our needs and endeavors.  They have no interest in stealing your heirlooms and personal items.  Contact them today and get your artifacts back... I'm sure they will be happy not to have to store them for you any longer.  


Dr. David S. Phelps, Jr.
LAKE WORTH, FL -- Just before dawn on February 21, 2009, Dr. David S. Phelps Jr., 79, passed away peacefully in the arms of his loving wife Dorothy Block Phelps.
Dr. Phelps was a Professor of Anthropology Emeritus at East Carolina University.
A public celebration of his life will held at the Fort Raleigh National Historic Site Visitor Center in Manteo, NC at 11:30 a.m. on Sunday, March 15, 2009. All who knew him are invited to attend.
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the David S. Phelps Jr. Anthropology Scholarship Endowment. Please make checks payable to the ECU foundation with the notation Phelps Memorial and mail to the Phelps Archaeology Laboratory, 267 Flanagan Building, East Carolina University, Greenville, NC 27858.

He devoted his life to the Indians of North Carolina...

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