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Controversy over water plant at key Monacan site may be history

Archaeologists surveyed two sites near the confluence of the Rivanna and James Rivers and found no human remains.
Archaeologists surveyed a site two miles upstream from the former site of the Monacan capital and found no human remains.

When explorer John Smith drew a map of Virginia in 1612, it showed a large settlement of native people at the confluence of the James and Rivanna Rivers. In the 1880’s, archaeologists from the Smithsonisn found burial grounds and evidence of buildings in that same location, so the Monacan tribe was dismayed when the James River Water Authority announced plans to put a water intake plant there.

“They were told there was only one place the water could be extracted from the James and that required the placement of all this infrastructures smack dab in the middle of the most sensitive part of the Monacan capital,” says Greg Werkheiser, a lawyer for the tribe.

His team reviewed the water authority’s records, found a dozen other sites that experts thought could work and recommended the one least likely to be historically important.

Now, a team of archaeologists has completed its survey. Justin Curtis, an attorney for the water authority, says they’ve found an arrowhead, shards of pottery and rock that was likely left by people making tools.

An arrowhead found by archaeologists studying two sites for a possible water plant to supply Louisa and Fluvanna Counties
An arrowhead found by archaeologists studying two sites for a possible water plant to supply Louisa and Fluvanna Counties

“You have to reduce the size of a rock to make it sharpen to a point, for example, for some types of tools, and you get a lot of flakes," Curtis explains. "There’s a lot of evidence of fires for cooking – pieces of animal bone, fire-cracked rock.”

But they didn’t find human remains, and Werkheiser says building there would be a victory for all of Virginia.

“The point of saving Rassawek is to save Rassawek for not just the tribe but for everyone who cares about history, but it’s also an example that the tribes in Virginia – seven of them now federally recognized – are no longer going to roll over and be helpless in the face of development.”

He has not yet seen a written report, but once that’s available, Werkheiser says the tribe could give its blessing to construction.

Sandy Hausman is Radio IQ's Charlottesville Bureau Chief