Newspaper article The Tuscaloosa News

Artifacts at Risk as Black Warrior River Erodes Soil at Moundville

Newspaper article The Tuscaloosa News

Artifacts at Risk as Black Warrior River Erodes Soil at Moundville

Article excerpt

An archaeological team with the University of Alabama is working to save artifacts from an eroding stretch of the Black Warrior River's bank on the north side of Moundville Archaeological Park.

"This is a salvage operation to get as much as we can," said archaeologist Jera Davis, who is part of the team excavating the site.

The sites along the bank overlooking the river have been endangered by rapid erosion caused by a shift in the river channel. The salvage effort is a stopgap measure until UA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers can agree on a plan to stabilize the stretch of riverbank along the wooded northern border of the park, according to Matt Gage, director of the UA Office of Archaeological Research.

"Since 2010, we have really seen a major change in what is happening with the erosion in this area," Gage said.

The university and the Corps are trying to work on a feasibility study, he said.

The stabilization work would likely be funded by local and federal matching funds, with the Corps responsible for the stabilization and the university assisting with the archaeological work at the site.

At a site below the raised walkway that runs along the edge of the bank, the team has been excavating a midden heap -- or trash pit -- for about a week.

The bank below the excavation is a steep slope of exposed sandy soil where the trunks of toppled cypress and gum trees protrude from the silt at the water's edge.

Gage estimated the staff has about six to eight months of salvage work along the riverbank on the edge of the park. The salvage by the archaeologists needs to be done before the stabilization work begins and before the valuable archaeological deposits slide down the slope into the river.

Only about 15 percent of the massive Moundville complex has been excavated. The section threatened by the river is among the least explored, according to Davis.

The site overlooking the river was likely one of the first and last places to be occupied at the complex, which was inhabited from roughly the 11th to 16th centuries by Native Americans of the Mississippian culture. …

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