Sunday, July 5, 2009

Chesterfield, Missouri Site May Be Major Find

This is a great story. There is no way of knowing, unfortunately, just how many cities, sites and settlements of earlier resident Americans have been destroyed in the past, either knowingingly or unknowingly, as the people who eventually came to be known as the USA rushed to develop itself. Today we (hopefully) know better - Story at, serving southwestern Illinois and the St. Louis region July 3, 2009 Archaeologists intrigued by Chesterfield site The Associated Press CHESTERFIELD, Mo. -- Archaeologists digging at a site in west St. Louis County believe it was once a major market center for Mississippian Indians. Last year, Chesterfield workers excavating soil to build a retention reservoir cut into the ruins, exposing thousands of artifacts that included decorative pottery, ear spools, arrowhead and tool fragments, and beads used to make necklaces. Those involved in the dig hope to develop a more complete picture of what has been called Mississippian culture, a people who thrived from 1050 to 1400 then mysteriously disappeared. Archaeologists are especially intrigued because the site isn't far from the Cahokia Mounds in Collinsville, Ill. Cahokia was a pre-Columbian political and religious capital and was the largest Native American city north of Mexico. "Nobody's ever looked at a major market center like this in eastern Missouri," said Joe Harl, vice president of the Archaeological Center of St. Louis. "The number of bowls, the highly ornate vessels that we are getting, tells us this was a major site." The excitement about the site has developed quickly. Not long after the artifacts were exposed last year, Stan Dampier was walking through the area with a friend looking for arrowheads. Instead, they found pottery shards that Dampier said looked "a little special." He contacted Harl, who was skeptical but still drove to the site about an hour after he spoke with Dampier. Harl quickly discovered a treasure trove of relics - copper ear spools, the remnants of homes, cooking and storage pits, even leftover deer bones. "That tells us there was a lot of ceremonial feasting," Harl said. All told, they discovered roughly 5,000 artifacts just in the initial search, although some were just tiny shards. The Army Corps of Engineers owns the site, so Harl and other employees of the Archaeological Research Center worked with the corps to get $150,000 in government money to conduct a dig, which began in earnest on June 24. Theories abound about what brought about the end to the Mississippian culture. Perhaps a minor ice age. Major crop failure. Political infighting. Economic competition. Flooding. Last Wednesday, excavation uncovered the remnants of a stockade wall - one more sign that the site was inhabited by a large community, Harl said. They also had found copper ear spools that probably came from the Great Lakes region. Among the Mississippians, wearing copper was a display of wealth. Harl's team had uncovered what they believed were the remains of a house. It was just a black patch of earth. The Mississippians built their homes with logs, vines, prairie grass and mud. The decaying remains left a dark square in the dirt, too well-defined to be a natural phenomenon. Harl said months of hard work and analysis lie ahead. The team planned on taking buckets of dirt and running them through a device similar to a washing machine, hoping to learn a little more about the Mississippian diet. Just one small part of a large mystery.

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