Uncovering West Virginia’s history

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin - Guest Columnist



No matter where you live or where you’re from, there is always something fascinating about finding an unearthed treasure.

Whether it is an arrow-shaped fragment or a piece of old pottery, our imaginations immediately think back to the lives of the people who lived here before us. Uncovering the stories and the history behind these unearthed pieces is the work of archaeologists across the state and around the world.

This past October, we celebrated Archaeology Month, recognizing the amazing history of our ancestors and state’s founders by studying what they left behind.

West Virginia is rich with archaeological sites. Early prehistoric tribes traveled through our state, stopping for periods of time along the major rivers, including the Ohio and Kanawha, and preserving food at the Kanawha Salines located just east of Charleston. They even paid respect to their dead by leaving behind a number of burial sites, such as the Adena mounds in South Charleston and Moundsville. Whether we examine sites along the rivers or found throughout our hills, West Virginia is home to a number of historic village sites where artifacts and human remains reveal to us intimate details of the lives they lived.

While archaeology gives us a look into centuries past, it also helps shine light on more recent events that helped build the state we call home. Across the state, West Virginia is home to a diverse collection of frontier forts, Civil War battlefields, 19th century farmsteads and 20th century coal camps and industrial sites.

The State Historic Preservation Office works with individuals, organizations and state agencies to protect and preserve historic sites upon discovery. The Grave Creek Mound Archaeological Research Complex in Moundsville is the state’s premier resource for curating and caring for artifacts and remains, both prehistoric and historic. In addition, the West Virginia State Museum in Charleston offers residents and visitors a glimpse into our state’s prehistoric past as well as the path leading to our present.

Caring for these stories takes patience, and that’s why these surveys and excavations are led by our team of experts. For example, a State Historic Preservation survey and planning rant helped establish the Beckley Grist Mill site, leading to the excavation of more than 470 historic artifacts, including machine-cut nails, handmade brick fragments, stoneware ceramic, glass tableware fragments and buttons.

This past month, the West Virginia Division of Culture and History removed the trees from the Grave Creek Mound, allowing the site to return to its original and natural landscape as it was cared for by the Adena. The Mound property also features a heritage garden — planted with an assortment of vegetables, herbs and plants relevant to that prehistoric time period. Throughout the year, free family activities at the Discovery Table and monthly lecture programs provide guests with opportunities to learn more about prehistoric cultures.

Curating the artifacts found at sites around the state also takes time. This past year, West Virginia entered into an exciting partnership with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in which collections found at Corps construction sites are curated by United States veterans who are receiving retraining to become curators. In 2016, visitors to Grave Creek Mound will see an exciting new exhibit as part of this partnership that will feature artifacts from sites across the state.

I encourage all West Virginians and their families to take time to learn more about our state’s storied past. Take a weekend road trip visit one of our many historic museums in towns across the Mountain State.

For more information about these sites and our state’s museums, visit www.wvculture.org/museum.


Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin

Guest Columnist

Follow the governor on Twitter @GovTomblin.

Follow the governor on Twitter @GovTomblin.