Professor says 900-year-old Indian mound in Oxford has been destroyed
By The Associated Press
January 21, 2010, 7:01PM
OXFORD, Ala. -- A Jacksonville State University professor says an ancient American Indian site Oxford city officials agreed not to disturb has been destroyed, but he does not know by whom.
City officials say they have done nothing to harm the site.
JSU professor of archaeology and anthropology Harry Holstein said the site at the historic Davis Farm property in Oxford contained remnants of an American Indian village and the 3-foot-high base of a once 30-foot-high temple mound, which he says may have contained human remains.
When Holstein visited the site last summer, it was still intact.
But when he returned to the area Monday, he could find no sign of the mound or the village remnants.
The land is now flat, with tire tread marks clearly visible in the dirt.
"It's been flattened like a pancake," Holstein said. "There is just grass over it now."
Holstein believes the temple mound and village are related to a stone mound on a hill behind the Oxford Exchange. Last year workers hired by the city of Oxford attempted to destroy that mound and use the dirt below it as fill for a Sam's Club. Following protests from local residents and activists, the contractor hired by the city's Commercial Development Authority apparently stopped work there, and a private landowner says he is now providing fill dirt from his property.
The city is constructing its new sports complex on land near the former Davis Farm property on the other side of Leon Smith Parkway. The area near the location of the temple mound on the Davis Farm site is slated to become ball parks.
Oxford's project manager, Fred Denney, said the city has not disturbed the site.
"We've never done anything to it," he said.
Before construction began, Holstein and other JSU researchers prepared a report for the city. The report said the Davis Farm property contained some of the most significant archaeological sites in northeast Alabama. It recommended the city leave the sites alone.
City officials agreed to the recommendation and told the Alabama Historical Commission the site would be left alone, Denney said.
Stacye Hathorn, Alabama Historical Commission state archaeologist, confirmed Tuesday the city agreed not to disturb the sites.
"No, we're not touching the mound out there," Denney said Monday. "We did have some ribbon and stakes of where to go to show we're not going any further than this."
Denney said the same thing when interviewed about the site in August. No markers were visible when a reporter visited the site on Monday.
After Holstein surveyed the area, he said he could not find any stakes or markers or any signs of the American Indian site.
"There was a big noticeable hump, maybe somebody stole it at night," Holstein said, jokingly. "(It) has been here since the 12th century and now it's gone. It was there when the city bought the property."
Denney said University of Alabama archeologists were hired to observe the construction work.
"They have been out there," he said. "They are watching us, looking to see if there are any artifacts."
Denney said no artifacts have been found since construction began. He added the hiring of the archaeologists to oversee the recreation center construction had nothing to do with the earlier mound controversy.
Chris Bryant, assistant director of media relations at the University of Alabama, confirmed Monday that members of the UA Office of Archaeology were working at the Davis Farm site.
"The University of Alabama's Office of Archaeological Research is evaluating the archaeological significance of the site," Bryant said. "Our role is ongoing."
Bryant would not be more specific about what the archaeologists were doing or if they had found any artifacts, citing a confidentiality agreement. UA archeologists were also hired to examine the stone mound behind the Oxford Exchange, but university officials last year declined to discuss their work for the same reason.
Mayor Leon Smith said Tuesday there should be archaeologists at the site, but did not know if they found anything. Smith said he was not familiar with the city's agreement to avoid disturbing the Davis Farm site.
"Fred Denney knows more about that than I do," he said. "If there is anything wrong out there, I don't know anything about it."
Holstein said he never came into contact with any Alabama archaeologists during his examination of the area.
According to the JSU report, which noted 12 separate excavations conducted by researchers, all of the sites on the Davis Farm property yielded hundreds of artifacts, indicating the area was occupied for thousands of years by prehistoric American Indian populations. The artifacts included gaming stones, greenstone tool fragments, and large amounts of ceramics and house wall fragments.
Records indicate much of the temple mound was bulldozed by farmers in the 1950s, Holstein said. He said the apparent loss of the village and mound was significant.
"History is important," he said. "There was a high probability there were human remains under that mound. It would be like tearing down Abe Lincoln's cabin."
To Holstein, the sites could have been restored and turned into an attraction similar to Moundville, near Tuscaloosa.
"I'm not against development," Holstein said. "But you can work with the natural and cultural resources."
(This report was written by Patrick McCreless of The Anniston Star and distributed via The Associated Press.)