Saturday, January 23, 2010

American Indian remains found at sports complex site

American Indian remains found at sports complex site

by Dan Whisenhunt and Patrick McCreless
Staff WritersJan 21, 2010 | 2777 views | 25 | 54 | |

Harry Holstein, Jacksonville State University professor of archaeology and anthropology, holds a topographic map of the new Oxford Recreation Complex while standing where the indian mounds were. Photo: Stephen Gross/The Anniston Star

Alabama's state archaeologist said Thursday that crews building Oxford's multi-million-dollar sports complex uncovered American Indian remains at the site.

Stacye Hathorn, the state archaeologist who works for the Alabama Historical Commission, said University of Alabama archaeologists contacted her around Jan. 8 with their findings.

"UA called, said they found a body, said it was Native American, said it was reburied and the site is being avoided," Hathorn said.

She said the call was the only one she had received about remains at the site. UA officials have been monitoring construction of the sports complex since it began last year. Hathorn would not provide a detailed description of what the archaeologists found or the specific location of the site because she did not want anyone to go looking for it.

Earlier this week, Jacksonville State University professor of archaeology and anthropology Harry Holstein said the site at the historic Davis Farm adjacent to the sports complex site in Oxford contained remnants of an American Indian village and the 3-foot-high base of a once 30-foot-high temple mound. He says the mound may have contained human remains. The Davis Farm property and the sports complex site are both part of an area archaeologists believe was once a large American Indian village site.

Holstein said the 3-foot mound has vanished, but the city claims it is still intact and hasn't been disturbed. A reporter visited the site this week and found no evidence of the mound.

When told of the archaeologist's discovery at the sports complex site Thursday, Holstein felt vindicated.

"I knew it," he said.

Holstein believes the Davis Farm property and adjacent site is associated with a mysterious stone mound across Leon Smith Parkway behind the Oxford Exchange.

Last year, a contractor hired by the city's Commercial Development Authority attempted to demolish that mound to use dirt underneath as fill dirt for a Sam's Club under construction. After protests from local residents and activists, the destruction stopped and a private landowner said the city started purchasing fill dirt from his property.

City officials claimed that stone mound was the result of natural forces.

Holstein and others, including UA archaeologists who produced a city-financed report on the mound, concluded it was likely man-made. Holstein believes that mound also may contain human remains.

City project manager Fred Denney still maintains the site behind the Oxford Exchange is unimportant, and said Thursday he had no knowledge of the discovery at the sports complex site.

He said the UA archaeologists were supposed to prepare a full report on their activities, which they would submit to the city at a later date. He said he did not know when the report would be completed.

"(The archaeologists) told us they've got people looking," Denney said.

Denney said the archaeologists are supposed to inform the Alabama Historical Commission if they find anything.

Denney said he and the city did not want to disturb any kind of remains at Davis Farm or any other site.

"We are not going to be a party to destroying a body that's been buried," Denney said. "The mayor backs that 100 percent."

When a reporter called Mayor Leon Smith for his reaction, he said he did not know anything about the discovery and accused The Star of trying to chase business away from Oxford. Then he hung up.

Denney said if he receives confirmation that human remains were discovered at Davis Farm, the city would alter its construction plans so as not to disturb them.

"Yes, we'd absolutely alter them," Denney said. "I would not be a part of altering a burial site."

Councilwoman June Land Reaves said she had not heard about the discovery and said she was upset when she learned Thursday about the disappearance of the mound on the Davis Farm site. She said the construction contract for the sports complex dictates crews would avoid "culturally sensitive" areas. She said she wanted a barrier around these sites to let visitors to the complex know about the history of the area.

"If they've actually found something we definitely need to be more careful," she said.

The news of the discovery took Councilman Phil Gardner by surprise.

"This is the first I've heard of finding remains," Gardner said. "I knew they'd found some arrow heads and pottery. They were supposed to have staked it off or fenced it off."

Councilman Steven Waits said he wanted to know what part of the site contained the remains and read the UA report before he would comment.

Attempts to reach other City Council members Thursday were unsuccessful.

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