Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Archaeological dig aims to save [destroy] Native American burial mounds

Does this from the Tennesseean make any sense?

These mounds have "long been known to historians". What is strange is that they are digging up a mound in order to "show that the grave is undisturbed", as part of getting National Historic listing. Some of the cognitive dissonance appears in this part:

To be eligible for the National Register, he said, an archaeological site has to have “research potential,” meaning scientists could dig into the mound and answer questions about how and why they were created.
It is illegal, however, to disturb a grave. Scientists also understand that once they’ve rooted through a historically significant site, they’ve destroyed it, Deter-Wolf said.
“For the same reason, you don’t go out and dig up Gettysburg,” he said. “It’s enough to know that it’s there.”

Got that? First destroy the grave, in order to determine its scientific potential, all the while doing something illegal. 
I don't have an answer to all of this but clearly there is a lack of logic to the topic. Also we darn well better show the research potential of rock pile sites without digging any up, to get into people's minds the idea that the artifact is the site, not the hidden "treasure" which, to be honest, they seem to be digging for in Tennessee.


Tim MacSweeney said...

Sounds a lot like the logic of Catch-22. "solving one part of a problem only creates another problem, which ultimately leads back to the original problem."

Unknown said...

Just stumbled on this post and wanted to clarify: The excavations at the Glass Mounds site last spring consisted of limited testing at two earthen mounds. There were *no* excavations of burials or graves. Had any burials been encountered excavations would have ceased immediately per state law.

Both mounds were heavily disturbed in the 18th & 19th centuries, and it was unknown what portion (if any) of the original mounds remained. The excavations were able to show that one of the mounds is at least partially intact and therefore eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places. The other "mound" turned out to be a pile of historic fill. Sometimes what is "known" to historians turns out to be incorrect - this is why careful archaeological testing is important!

Here's a link to the NPS Bulletin on evaluating archaeological properties for the NRHP. It has some good explanations of how to evaluate "research potential:"