The mission of The Archaeological Conservancy is protecting the nation’s archaeological record by acquiring title to properties containing significant archaeological sites then dedicating them as permanent archaeological research preserves. So naturally, the principle tasks of the regional staff are identifying significant archaeological sites that might be acquired through purchase or donation and then doing the deals that allow us to become the owner. However, even after they are acquired, archaeological preserves require some attention to insure they are stable and amenable to archaeological study.
In the Midwest Region, generally this involves stabilizing any erosion, fencing to restrict ATV access, and a constant regimen of brush-hogging to keep the preserves from reverting to forest. Maintaining the preserve as an open field is generally good enough in rural areas.
An exception in the Midwest Region is our East Saint Louis Preserve, located in the heart of the rust-belt town. The East Saint Louis Mound Center dates from the 11th to 13th centuries AD and is coeval with, and related to, Cahokia Mounds, recognized today as a World Heritage site. The East Saint Louis Mound Center received much recent attention due to the impressive finds from the archaeological mitigation done in advance of highway construction that was slated to destroy a large portion of the ancient site’s residential area (see American Archaeology 15(1) Spring 2011).
Before this, however, archaeologist John Kelly and The Powell Archaeological Research Center (PARC) had been conducting small-scale test excavations about a mile away in the ceremonial district identifying abandoned lots with buried archaeological deposits (see American Archaeology 6(4) Winter 2002-03). PARC then bought a half dozen lots at tax auction, and eventually Kelly convinced TAC that creating an East Saint Louis Archaeological Preserve was feasible and important. From that point forward, PARC and TAC have worked together cobbling together an archaeological preserve from abandoned city lots (see TAC updates American Archaeology 10(3) Fall 2006). To date TAC has acquired over 30 lots totaling about two acres. Including adjacent open space maintained as a light-rail right of way and as public housing athletic fields, about five acres are potentially accessible for archaeological study.
Sadly East Saint Louis has declined greatly since its designation in 1959 as a Look Magazine All-American City, and today it struggles with crime, vice, vandalism and all the ills that unemployment and poverty bring to rust belt cities. TAC’s strategy of creating blocks of open space by buying lots adjacent to the light rail right-of-way had the unintended consequence of our owning many abandoned lots at the ends of cul de sacs. That these became magnets for trash-dumping was no surprise – all regional directors contend with unregulated dumping — but the complaint from a neighbor that one of our wooded lots had become the favored trysting place of the local street walkers did present the Midwest office with a novel stewardship problem.
TAC responded by hiring a local tree service to clear the preserve of trees, which were almost entirely invasive Chinese tree-of-heaven and Amur honeysuckle.
This led to the discovery of considerable demolition debris, left behind when the city removed abandoned structures from the properties sometime in the past.
While the lot is greatly improved and no longer generates complaints from neighbors, we’ve been unable to establish a healthy stand of grass, probably because of quantity of wood chips that now dominates the topsoil. As a result the lot is overtaken each summer by tall weeds that defy lawn-mowers.
This summer in the latest battle to subdue this place, TAC was wonderfully aided by volunteers from the Washington University in St. Louis Kathryn M. Bruder Center for American Indian Studies, and the Washington University American Indian Student Association. They pitched in mightily, greatly reduced the vegetation and stymied the eastern woodlands never ending attempt to reclaim the East Saint Louis Archaeological Preserve. The Archaeological Conservancy greatly appreciates their help and hard work.
Thank you to all our Fantastic Volunteers! What a difference you make!
-Paul Gardner, Midwest Regional Director
Learn more about the Cahokia World and plan a visit to Cahokia Mounds State Historic Park
Read more about the Mississippians of the American Bottom
Big News in 2015 on the construction of Cahokia’s Monk’s Mound
News from 2012 of East St. Louis Excavations during Bridge Development