From Jessica Crawford, Director of our Southeast Regional Office
In the Southeast Region, we’re putting the finishing touches on our 2014 Peoples of the Lower Mississippi Valley tour. This is my favorite tour to guide because it’s pretty much in my back yard. Since I’m from Mississippi and received my MA in Anthropology from the University of Mississippi, the archaeology and sites of this area are what I’ve studied for years. Most of the sites we visit, I’ve been familiar with for many years and I have worked with most of the archaeologists both as a student and a professional. These back roads of Mississippi, Arkansas and Louisiana are the roads I travel on a regular basis. It’s always fun for me to share these fascinating places with others- especially those who are interested in archaeology.
It’s not unusual for this tour to include several people who have never been to this part of the South before, or who are not familiar with the archaeology here. I love seeing their faces when we visit incredible sites like the 3,500 year old Poverty Point, in Louisiana, which is a late Archaic site composed of several mounds and ridges located on Bayou Macon, in northeast Louisiana. It was recently named a World Heritage Site and with good reason. The people at Poverty Point were building earthworks and taking part in long distance trade networks thousands of years before other cultures. I can’t count the times I’ve heard people say, “I had no idea!” when we leave Poverty Point or the nearby Watson Brake mound site, which is another mound site with several mounds on a doughnut-shaped ridge and it is even older than Poverty Point and predates the pyramids in Egypt.
This tour allows participants to see how the Conservancy works and the important role we play in preserving sites for research and education. The first site we visit, the Parkin Archaeological State Park in Arkansas, a Mississippian Period Mound village site dating from AD 1000 to AD 1600, would probably not even exist as a park if not for the Conservancy, which played a large role in the land acquisition for the park. On the river bank a large platform mound remain marking the village. At one time there were once many sites similar to Parkin throughout this region, but they did not survive as eastern Arkansas was settled. Some scholars believe the Parkin site is the American Indian village of Casqui visited by the expedition of Hernando de Soto in 1541, and written about in his chronicles.The archaeologist at Parkin, Dr. Jeffery Mitchem, will also be our featured speaker Saturday night at our welcoming reception.
We have acquired a portion of the earlier mentioned Watson Brake site in Louisiana that belongs to Louisiana State Parks and we continue to work with them to try to acquire the other portion. We visit other archaeological sites that the Conservancy currently owns and will always maintain as archaeological preserves. These sites are not open to the public, so few people get to see them. These stops allow our tour participants to learn and see firsthand how the research conducted on our sites helps archaeologists understand the archaeology of the region, and they learn this directly from the archaeologists.
It’s even more interesting when there is an excavation occurring on one of our sites and that’s almost always the case in my region. We will visit the Carson Mounds preserve near Clarksdale, Mississippi, dating to about AD 1400, to where excavations by two universities as well as the State of Mississippi have been ongoing for several years. The Carson Mounds site is one of the largest prehistoric ceremonial centers in the Mississippi alluvial valley. In his 1894 landmark publication on the mounds of the eastern United State, Cyrus Thomas included this site with a map showing more than 80 mounds. While today most of the smaller mounds have been obliterated by the more than 100 years of cultivation that followed, the larger mounds remain. This site is just around the bend from my office and I’m very familiar with it and all the archaeologist working there so tour participants will be able to literally look over the shoulder of Mississippi’s most senior archaeologist as he excavates houses, pits and other very interesting features.
Prospect Hill Plantation, the Archaeological Conservancy’s newest acquisition, is also a stop on the upcoming Peoples of the Lower Mississippi Valley tour and participants will get to meet Isaac (the peacock). One of the most important things we have been able to do at Prospect Hill is bring together descendants of the the original owners of Prospect Hill, as well as descendants of the slaves who remained at Prospect Hill their entire lives, as well as the descendants of the Prospect Hill slaves who chose to leave the United States in the 1840’s and settle in an established colony that eventually became the country of Liberia. At this special open house everyone mingled and bonded. It was the kind of event that doesn’t happen very often and it would not have happened if we had not acquired the property. It’s a benefit that comes along with preserving the archaeology at such a unique place.
As the tour progresses, I share stories of how we acquired sites or funny things that happened during negotiations or on a trip to see a certain site. I’m also usually working on an acquisition or closing as we travel, and I like to share what’s going on in my region with everyone on the trip. There’s never a dull moment working for The Archaeological Conservancy, and our tours, especially my Peoples of the Lower Mississippi Valley tour, gives me a chance to share the fun and excitement with our members. Most importantly it gives George Lowry, our Southeast Field Representative, and me an opportunity to meet Conservancy members and share with them the significant impacts their support has on archaeological preservation and research. Perhaps best of all, we always end the week with a bus full of new friends who we often keep in touch with throughout the years.