Dr. Joe Kitchens, executive director of the Reinhardt Funk Heritage Center, said Cherokee could see the first set of artifacts exhibited in the Waleska museum as soon as this fall.
Reinhardt University President Dr. Thomas Isherwood praised the community’s support and the efforts to bring the Hickory Log artifacts back to Georgia.
“Many of you are from Cherokee County, and you have raised your families in this county,” Isherwood said to a crowded room Thursday during a reception at the Reinhardt Funk Heritage Center. “What we’re doing is we’re bringing back to this county remembrances of families that were here before Christ. And as you love your children, they loved their children.”
At least 50 Reinhardt officials, community members and stakeholders packed a room in the Funk Heritage Center in Waleska on Thursday morning to learn the fate of the Native American artifacts, which were shipped out of state following their excavation in 1995.
In an effort to bring the artifacts closer to home, Cherokee County leaders and community members raised more than $50,000 to pay for the University of Georgia to curate the artifacts, allowing for the formation of a partnership between the state university and Waleska’s Reinhardt University, Kitchens said.
“They will be curated and protected,” Kitchens said of the items, which will be stored at the University of Georgia.
Though many community members wanted all of the items to be housed and displayed at the Funk Heritage Center, the cost for proper facilities and personnel to preserve the artifacts could have risen into the millions for the small museum, Kitchens explained.
Through a public-private partnership between UGA and Reinhardt University, most of the items will now be housed and studied at the university in Athens, with some available for exhibition and study at the Funk Heritage Center in Waleska.
Isherwood thanked many community and archaeology leaders who were involved in the process and helped make the idea of exhibiting some of the artifacts in Waleska a reality.
“It’s an honor to be part of this. It’s an honor to acknowledge those families whose artifacts will be exhibited here at the Funk Heritage Center,” Isherwood said. “It’s a wonderful and exciting development for this county and this region, because this is a special place, and that land is surely sacred land. And we’re bringing the remembrance of that back home where it belongs.”
Later this week, the artifacts are expected to arrive at an archaeology laboratory at UGA, where the items will be protected and available for study after spending more than a decade in a North Carolina facility.
Dr. Mark Williams, director of the UGA Laboratory of Archaeology, will oversee the artifact collection and said he is excited to be part of the project.
“This is just such a fabulous project, I’m totally excited,” Williams said Thursday. “We are absolutely delighted to take care of these collections and work with Dr. Kitchens and Dr. Isherwood. This is going to be a wonderful project moving forward.”
With more than 100,000 artifacts recovered from the site, finding money to create the space and preservation technology to house the items became a long-term project.
Plans for the future display were laid out in two sizeable phases.
The completed first phase called for community involvement in raising the $50,000 needed for the cost of curating the thousands of artifacts, the creation of the partnership between the public and private universities and continued involvement and consultation with the Eastern Band of Cherokee to ensure appropriate historical displays.
The second phase, now in swing, calls for raising sufficient funds to update a section of the Reinhardt Funk Heritage Center — the Hall of Ancients — to allow for display of some of the Hickory Log artifacts.
During the first phase of fundraising, $10,000 was raised through small donations from community members, with the other $40,000 raised through larger donors.