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chloe
07-05-2009, 08:31 PM
Friday, July 3, 2009 9:21 AM CDT
CHESTERFIELD, Mo. -- Joe Harl held up a shard of black pottery, encrusted with centuries-old dirt.

It was about an inch long — the rim from some ancient vessel, discarded long ago and buried in silt and mystery.

Now, nearly 1,000 years later, a man in a sweat-stained gray T-shirt fished it from the ground.

“You can tell that it was bowl,” said Harl, vice president of the Archaeological Center of St. Louis. “Probably a serving bowl. Even something that small you can tell.”

Harl stood at the edge of a retention pond off Olive Street Road last week. Long ago, the area was likely a substantial market center for Mississippian Indians, he explained.

But it’s uncertain how the site was connected to the Cahokia Mounds in Collinsville. Cahokia, a pre-Columbian political and religious capital, was the largest Native American city north of Mexico.

The Chesterfield site’s relatively proximity to Cahokia only adds to the intrigue, Harl said. “Nobody’s ever looked at a major market center like this in eastern Missouri,” he added, noting that virtually all of the ceremonial mounds that gave St. Louis its nickname — Mound City — were destroyed as the city was being built.

Archaeologists hope the parcel in Chesterfield — roughly the size of four football fields — will provide a clearer picture of how this network of prehistoric settlements functioned.

“The number of bowls, the highly ornate vessels that we are getting, tells us this was a major site,” Harl said.

A backhoe stripped away thin layers of dirt while half a dozen archaeologists watched. When the backhoe uncovered something intriguing, the archaeologists waved their hands in the air and began carefully sifting through the dirt.

Late last year, city crews had excavated this parcel for soil to build a retention reservoir. Work crews cut in to the ruins, exposing thousands of artifacts. Rains washed some clean, revealing pieces of decorative pottery, ear spools, arrowhead and tool fragments, and the beads that used to make up necklaces.

Soon after, Stan Dampier was walking through the area with a friend in search of arrowheads. Instead, they stumbled across scattered pottery shards.

“The pottery looked to me to be a little special,” he said. “I knew it was more than just a camp-out place.”

‘Artifacts galore’

Dampier contacted Larry Kinsella, a volunteer he knew at the Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site in Illinois. Kinsella listened to Dampier’s description of the pottery. It was of a genre called Ramey, known for its swirling patterns, fashioned during the height of Mississippian culture.

“It sounded like it was a big site,” Kinsella said.

Harl was more skeptical when he took Dampier’s call. He often receives tips about large sites that never pan out. Nevertheless, he drove to the site about an hour after he spoke with Dampier.

Harl quickly discovered a treasure trove of relics — copper ear spools, the remnants of homes, cooking and storage pits. “We were finding artifacts galore,” Harl said.

They also found leftover deer bones.

“That tells us there was a lot of ceremonial feasting,” Harl said.

All told, they discovered roughly 5,000 artifacts just in the initial search, although some were just tiny shards.

For the next few months, Harl and other employees of the Archaeological Research Center surveyed the land and worked with the Army Corps of Engineers to get the $150,000 in government money to conduct a dig. (The corps owns the site.)

The effort at the site — since named after Dampier — began in earnest June 24. The hope is that it will help paint a more complete picture of what’s been called Mississippian culture, a people who thrived from about 1050 to 1400 A.D. and then mysteriously disappeared. No one is quite sure why. But theories abound. A minor ice age. Major crop failure. Political infighting. Economic competition. Flooding.

For decades, experts have been trying to piece together a more complete picture of their existence. What kind of language did they speak? Did they write? Where did they go? What tribes did they spawn?

Last Wednesday, excavation uncovered the remnants of a stockade wall — one more sign that the site was inhabited by a large community, Harl said. They also had found copper ear spools that probably came from the Great Lakes region. Among the Mississippians, wearing copper was a display of wealth.

“It’s no different today than people wearing Italian suits,” Harl said.

subtle remains

To the untrained eye, the Mississippian ruins are hard to spot.

At the dig, an old tool looked just like rock except for its smoothed-over edges. The outline of a cooking pit appears as a ring of slightly darker dirt.

Harl’s team had uncovered what they believed were the remains of a house. It was just a black patch of earth. The Mississippians built their homes with logs, vines, prairie grass and mud. The decaying remains left a dark square in the dirt, too well-defined to be a natural phenomenon.

The search can be tedious.

Robin Machiran, one of the center’s investigators, pointed to black flecks in the ground, probably leftover charcoal. She began shoveling away handfuls of dirt and paused after a few minutes.

“It’s not looking great,” she said. “I’m not seeing any artifacts.”

Before long, she could see the outline of roots. It appeared to be a tree stump a farmer had burned. False alarm. The dig continued.

Harl predicted months of hard work and analysis lie ahead. The team planned on taking buckets of dirt and running them through a device similar to a washing machine.

“That filters out tiny seeds and fish scales and all kinds of fragile things you can’t even see,” he said.

Then they would know a little more about the Mississippian diet.

Just one small part of a large mystery.

http://www.thesouthern.com/articles/2009/07/03/breaking_news/doc4a4e13c15bf22863652239.txt

Mr. P
07-05-2009, 11:10 PM
Interesting. Forwarded to my daughter who just got back from a 3 week dig in Greece.

chloe
07-06-2009, 08:50 AM
Interesting. Forwarded to my daughter who just got back from a 3 week dig in Greece.

Wow is your daughter an archeologist? I bet she has amazing stories to tell. I love looking at artifacts, Im a national geographic nerd ha ha ! I thought it is so interesting because its Missouri and 1000 years old.

Mr. P
07-13-2009, 11:55 PM
Wow is your daughter an archeologist? I bet she has amazing stories to tell. I love looking at artifacts, Im a national geographic nerd ha ha ! I thought it is so interesting because its Missouri and 1000 years old.

Anthropology (archeology) and history major...set to graduate in Dec I think.
She does have some stories and pics. I'll see if I can get her to send some pics and I'll post em for ya.

I think that Missouri find is very interesting too.

chloe
07-14-2009, 08:29 AM
Mr P that would be so cool !!!! Thank You.

Mr. P
07-19-2009, 11:07 PM
Temple of Zeus

I know you can find pics like this all day, but the interesting thing my daughter told me was that the columns and steps on the Zeus temple are the largest of any temple..makes sense to me. She says the steps were so high so only the mightiest could enter.

I'll have some of the less visited places and some dig stuff soon..I hope.

http://www.freeimagehosting.net/uploads/82d7476342.jpg (http://www.freeimagehosting.net/)

another angle....

http://www.freeimagehosting.net/uploads/5b7ef8ee1b.jpg (http://www.freeimagehosting.net/)

Binky
07-27-2009, 04:14 PM
Temple of Zeus

I know you can find pics like this all day, but the interesting thing my daughter told me was that the columns and steps on the Zeus temple are the largest of any temple..makes sense to me. She says the steps were so high so only the mightiest could enter.

I'll have some of the less visited places and some dig stuff soon..I hope.

http://www.freeimagehosting.net/uploads/82d7476342.jpg (http://www.freeimagehosting.net/)




another angle....

http://www.freeimagehosting.net/uploads/5b7ef8ee1b.jpg (http://www.freeimagehosting.net/)




Strikes me as awesome as to what they could do a thousand or more years ago. Unbelievable. And without the modern equipment of today. Just amazing....