Numerous artifacts found at Camp Shelby

By Phil Hearn
Hattiesburg, Mississippi (AP) 12-07

Long before tanks rumbled along dusty roads and field artillerists zeroed in on distant targets in the vast piney woods of Mississippi’s Camp Shelby military training site, the bow and arrow was the weapon of choice for the area’s ancient inhabitants.

Native American tribes, probably the ancestors of today’s Mississippi Band of Choctaws, hunted the forests and fished the creeks within the 136,000 acres that now encompass the nation’s largest reserve component training site about 12 miles south of Hattiesburg.

Carved out of the De Soto National Forest in portions of Perry and Forrest counties and activated as a World War I training camp in 1917, the site was named in honor of Issac Shelby – Indian fighter, Revolutionary War hero and the first governor of Kentucky. An estimated 100,000 military personnel train annually at the site today.

Archaeological excavations now under way at sites north of Shelby’s modern-day cantonment area, however, have unearthed arrow heads, shards, stone tools, baked clay cooking pits, sandstone clusters, and other artifacts and organic deposits that provide evidence of Native American activity there many centuries ago.

“We think some of the roasting pits with burned clay are pre-ceramic, before the invention of pottery, dating the sites to somewhere between 2000 to 1500 years B.C.,” said Rita Fields, cultural resource manager for the Mississippi Military Department.

Responsible for the identification and protection of historic structures and archaeological sites on Mississippi National Guard property around the state, Fields discovered four Camp Shelby sites during timber-clearing operations following Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Loggers were shooed away from the historic sites, located along a creek that snakes through the area.

Fields, a Collins native and 2001 graduate of the master’s degree program in anthropology at the University of Southern Mississippi, called upon her former mentor in the university’s anthropology and sociology department, Ed Jackson, for help in investigating the Camp Shelby sites. Jackson quickly responded.

Under a student internship program and partnership agreement with Camp Shelby, Jackson organized a team of USM anthropology students to handle the field excavations and provide laboratory analysis of the findings. Jackson and Fields co-direct the ongoing work.

“My students are getting valuable field experience, as well as a paycheck,” said Jackson.

One of the students, Nikki Leist of Bolton, said, “It’s one of the great learning experiences we get studying under Dr. Jackson – and I love playing in the dirt all day.”

Jackson said “prehistoric features” were found during small-shovel digs at two of the sites in 2006, including some arrow heads buried deep in the sandy soil. It wasn’t until earlier this year, however, that Jackson and Fields utilized remote sensing, or “ground radar,” at the other two sites to see if that technology could speed the hunt for evidence of past civilizations.

Bryan Haley of the Center for Archaeological Research at the University of Mississippi conducted the remote sensing tests in September, producing maps that could better target spots for digging, which earlier this fall and is wrapping up this weekend.

“If remote sensing methods prove to be applicable to the prehistoric site settings such as those found at Camp Shelby,” Jackson said, “the technology has the potential to provide an important new tool for evaluating site significance, augmenting presently employed standard archaeological survey and testing methods.

“What readings from the remote sensing survey might be revealing will not be known until they are ‘ground-truthed’ through archaeological excavation,” he said.

Once archaeological materials are recovered, Jackson said they will be cleaned, appropriately labeled and analyzed at Sum’s Prehistoric Archaeology Laboratory. Materials then will be conserved and curated according to procedures employed by the Mississippi Military Department.

Fields said a report on the collected data also would be provided to the Mississippi Department of Archives and History; and to Native American tribes such as the Mississippi Band of Choctaws, the Jena Band of Choctaws in Louisiana, the Oklahoma Tribe of Choctaws and Creek tribes forcibly removed from Alabama by the U.S. government during the infamous “Trail of Tears” exodus in the 19th century.

“The identified sites will be formally protected from any ground-disturbing activity or training activity that might cause harm to the sites,” said Fields, noting she is seeking inclusion of the sites on the National Register of Historic Places.

During a recent outing on property Jackson owns along the Leaf River, the professor and his students conducted an experimental archaeology project in which they created a clay-lined cooking pit similar to those used by the ancient tribes, and actually cooked food in the pit.

“What resulted was some tasty baked bream and rather tasteless greenbrier tubers (a Native American food),” said Jackson.

On The Net: Information from: Hattiesburg American,
http://www.hattiesburgamerican.com

 

 

0
0
0