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Judge column: Growing county needs to protect its archaeological, historical sites

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Guest columnist Christopher Judge is assistant director of USC Lancaster’s Native American Studies Center.

November is National Native American Heritage Month. As I reflect on this, I see a cause for concern.
The upswing in the economy and the related growth in the Panhandle of Lancaster County signal vibrant growth. My fear is that we are losing a tremendous number of archaeological and historical sites in this path, as once-open land is logged, graded and paved. Beaufort County experienced a similar phenomenon decades ago.
This area is in the heartland of the Catawba Indian Nation, crisscrossed by historic Indian trading paths, and certainly contains important and irreplaceable archaeological sites that can tell the story of South Carolina’s Native Americans, who have been ignored, disenfranchised and marginalized in the pages of the so-called history books.
Early Euroamerican and African American cultural resources are present here as well.
Growth is good for the local economy. It creates jobs and is widely viewed as positive progress. But at what cost? The few sites that have been investigated have produced significant information that helps us tell the true and whole story of Native America. The progress will destroy the archaeological record as Charlotte will eventually sprawl unchecked southward toward the city of Lancaster.
Some of these sites could be saved through conservation easements or green spacing, or the loss could be mitigated through archaeological excavations. Construction could be monitored by archaeologists.
It may be too late to pass an ordinance requiring archaeological study as part of the permitting process. But we should all be aware, when we drive up U.S. 521 and encounter the changing landscape, that the heritage of our neighbors, the Catawba, and other ethnic groups is vanishing before our eyes.
The sense of place from the Native American perspective will soon be lost forever.