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Moonshine Archaeology Project

In 2016-2017 French directed the Moonshine Archaeology Project in western North Carolina.

For more than 150 years the vast majority of local whiskey production has been unregulated, illegal, and in many regards – illicit. The production and distribution of this illegal liquor takes place in a tight-knit community where knowledge is usually passed down within a family. The economic impact of this craft production is difficult to measure. To better understand this intimate economy the Moonshine Archaeology Project (MAP) attempted to quantify whiskey production in western North Carolina.


MAP's plan was to empirically estimate the quantity of liquor produced in the Cataloochee area of Haywood County, North Carolina before, during, and after Prohibition. Understanding the quantity of alcohol produced will be useful in regards to the impacts on the local economy, organized crime, volume of consumption, success rates of revenue agents seizing stills, as well as an appreciation and protection of our cultural heritage.

The Cataloochee Valley is located within the boundaries of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and has a long history of European settlement – starting in 1808. Being that most of these early settlers were of Scotch-Irish descent, they brought with them their knowledge of whiskey production from Ireland. This expertise, coupled with the high mineral content of the water flowing through the mountains, made this area ideal for quality whiskey production.

Unfortunately, the archaeological side of the project never came to fruition due to timing. The undergrowth in the mountains in June was underestimated. The team focused instead on collecting interviews and making a short video (see below).

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