Alabama students digging Indian mound at Gautiet

Gautiet, Mississippi (AP) July 2010

Anthropology students from the University of Alabama are digging into a mound built by Native Americans about 1,500 years ago. The 6-foot high mound is tucked away in a wooded lot in a south Gautier neighborhood near the Mississippi Sound.

A Mississippi Department of Archives and History historical marker identifies the site as the Graveline Bayou Indian Mound.

Lauren Downs, a doctoral student directing the dig, which has been under way since May, said the site was first documented in 1905 by archaeologist Clarence Moore, but has been relatively unexamined except for looters who have pockmarked the mound.

The project director for the current dig is John Blitz, an anthropology professor at the University of Alabama.

“It been a wonderful project because it is in a residential area,” said Downs. “We can drive up to the site. Mr. Jones and the neighbors have been wonderful to us.”

The site is next to Gautier Councilman Johnny Jones’ house. Jones said several Gautier residents were instrumental in saving the site that is owned by the Archaeological Conservancy.

Downs said the mound may have been part of a larger mound center.

“We know folks would have been living throughout the area both along the coast as well as inland.”

Carrying woven baskets filled with dirt, the mound was constructed over about a 200-year period, Downs said.

“We know from our excavation that it wasn’t built all at once. It was built over a longer time. We know that by looking at the changes in the soil.”

The rectangular mound was used as a ceremonial site with a variety of uses that included gatherings and feasts, she said.

Trash from the ancient residents includes oyster and clam shells, fish bone and small mammal bones, she said. The predominate food was marine life, she said.

A primary goal of the project is to date the mound and determine how it was constructed, Downs said.

Pottery chards and radiocarbon dating will be used to date material found at the site. A soil scientist was scheduled to examine the site, she said.

“The preservation is actually pretty good in this mound,” she said.

The 10 students involved in the project have dug as deep as 7 feet;using shovels, trowels, wooden instruments and wire mesh in a search for artifacts, she said. Digging in about 6-inch layers, the progress ;is documented in photographs and drawings, she said.

The dig is scheduled to end on July 30, she said. During the final week the soil that has been removed will be returned to the mound, she said.

“The mound will look as it did prior to our arrival,” Downs said.

Downs said MDAH officials will receive and publish a report on the dig.