Introducing Our Southeastern Regional Director: Jessica Crawford
People often ask me which of the sites in my region is my favorite. I nearly always have a different answer. It’s very easy to become attached to these places and working with people who also want to see them preserved often makes the site and the whole process a really special experience. In some cases, it can do just the opposite, but that isn’t too often.
One site that will always be very special to me is the site that played a role in my coming to work for The Archaeological Conservancy. It is the Parchman Site, a multi-mound site about 20 minutes from my house near the town of Clarksdale, Mississippi. I live in the northwestern part of Mississippi, which many people call “the Delta.” This part of the state is the Mississippi River floodplain and is known for its rich soil and agricultural economy. In fact, my husband is a farmer and we live on the farm he inherited from his family, and I found my first projectile point in one of our fields. We are by no means the first farmers to take advantage of having 13 feet of rich topsoil. This area has one of the highest concentrations of mound sites in the country. During the Mississippian period, when large sedentary populations began growing corn, squash and beans, this is where they lived. The landscape was covered with fortified mound sites and outlier villages. I grew up seeing mounds in cotton fields all around my home and surrounding towns.
In 2000, I was a graduate student working on my MA in Anthropology at the University of Mississippi, and I spent a lot of my free time helping the Mississippi Department of Archives and History field archaeologist, John Connaway, who was (and still is) stationed nearby and had become both my mentor and good friend. His office had been established in the 1970’s, when agriculture driven precision land leveling was destroying many mound sites, and the state was struggling to deal with quickly vanishing cultural resources. John was always out documenting, mapping or recording something somewhere in a Delta cotton field, and I was able to learn a lot from following him around.
One day, a good friend of mine mentioned that her husband, who was a farmer, had just bought some land that had some Indian mounds on it. I asked him about them and he told me where they were located. I told John about this mound site and he immediately said, “That’s the Parchman site! I didn’t know it had been sold!”. John described the site to me with its large mound that dominates the site and the smaller, but still large, mound next to it, and the ridge of house mounds in the field. Then he mentioned that someone from a group called The Archaeological Conservancy had visited Mississippi and asked for a list of sites in need of preservation and the Parchman Site was one of the top sites that John had suggested.
John explained to me how the Conservancy acquired and preserved important archaeological sites, and I mentioned this to my friend’s husband. To my surprise, he quickly said, “Well, I’ll sell them the mounds if they want them.” I got the contact information for the Southeast Regional Director, Alan Gruber, who was in Acworth, Georgia, and I wrote him a letter telling him my friend’s husband had recently purchased the farm containing the Parchman site and he would be willing to sell the mounds to the Conservancy. I heard back from Alan almost immediately and soon, he came to Mississippi to meet me and my friend’s husband. They were able to work out a deal in which the Conservancy would purchase the mounds on the edge of the field, along with an access easement into the site, and also purchased an archaeological easement on the area in the field where there are several low house mounds. The archaeological easement states that the area will not be deep plowed or leveled, and archaeological research will be allowed at times.
At the time, the Conservancy’s Southeast Region only had one staff member- the Regional Director, and not long after the purchase, Alan asked me if I would be interested in doing some part time work for the Conservancy in Mississippi, Arkansas and Louisiana. He explained that this would mostly entail visiting courthouses looking up land owners and property maps and doing some other leg work for him. I jumped at the chance, loving every minute of going to new places and learning about new sites.
Once I was finished with my course work for grad school, I was offered a full time position with the Conservancy as the Southeast Region’s Field Representative. It was a newly created position and I was added. Now I covered the other states in the region as well and spent a lot of time traveling and gathering information for the Regional Director, as well as taking care of maintenance issues on some of the preserves the Conservancy already owned.
During all of that, I had our daughter, Caroline, in 2000, and needless to say, she has grown up climbing Indian Mounds! I managed to finish my thesis and in 2003 I finished graduate school. Not long after that, Alan Gruber left the Conservancy and I was offered the position as Southeast Regional Director. Since my husband’s farming interests meant I couldn’t move to Georgia, the Conservancy agreed to move the Southeast Regional Office to the small town of Marks, Mississippi, about an hour south of Memphis, Tennessee.
Working for the Conservancy has been a perfect fit for me. Living on a farm and knowing about agriculture and the issues that concern farmers and landowners is a big benefit for me when I’m meeting someone who farms and owns a site we want to preserve. I understand their concerns and am always at home riding in a dusty pickup truck talking about commodity prices, the weather, irrigation, labor or any of the problems that farmers have to deal with. Of course not every site is on a farm, which is the beauty of my job. It’s never the same and the variety of sites in my region keeps my job interesting.
But I always love coming back home and going back to Parchman, the site that started it all. It really is a wonderful site, and not long after the Conservancy acquired it, my professor from school conducted 3 summers of field school there and the research at the site has resulted in several excellent graduate student theses. Parchaman was also a testing ground for some of the University’s cutting edge geophysical equipment and has literally helped write a book on geophysics in archaeology, Remote Sensing in Archaeology: An Explicitly North American Perspective, by my grad school professor, Dr. Jay K. Johnson. Parchaman has also been the site of two volunteer digs, where people came and helped excavate for a weekend. It’s a site that embodies all the Conservancy stands for, preservation, research and public education, and it will always have a special place in my heart.
American Archaeology Magazine back issue with Story on Parchman Site
Research Page from the University of Mississippi on the Parchman Site