MONUMENTAL SURVEY METHODS AT POVERTY POINT

By: Lauren Bailey, Mark Clemente, and Simon Sherman III.

May 15th Jeffery Alvey and Lauren, the teaching assistant, left Mississippi State’s curation facility with a group of 12 students bound for Poverty Point for the annual survey field school. Poverty Point is a UNESCO (United Nations Education, Scientific, and Cultural Organization) World Heritage Site. This designation allows Poverty Point to spread its history throughout the world with a greater understanding of the Native American population.

Poverty Point is a site in Northeastern Louisiana outside of the town of Epps. The town of Epps, as well as the site, are located along the Macon Bayou, a terrace overlooking the floodplain of the Mississippi River. Poverty Point dates between 1650 to 700 BCE, which is commonly considered to be between the Late Archaic to Early Woodland culture periods. The original purpose of Poverty Point is unclear to archaeologists; however, the construction of the mounds and earthworks signifies the importance of Poverty Point as a society and the poverty point culture. Diagnostic of the material culture of Poverty Point are the Poverty Point Objects (PPO’s) which contain; the small projectile points known as microliths, cooking rocks, and hematite plummets whose use is still unknown. While finding these artifacts would be exciting and astounding the goal of the survey field school is to better understand the extent of Poverty Point outside the plaza area. Providing an opportunity to employ these new survey methods and practices at a world heritage site.

Screening test pits.

Archaeological survey employs a sampling method that is specific to the environment that survey is completed in. For the first day of field work, the students were separated in a grid pattern with 30-meter spacing between each transect, line of holes. If a hole proved to be positive for either prehistoric or historic artifacts, the distance between holes was shortened to 10-meters until two consecutive negative holes were dug. This method for conducting survey allows the archaeologists to better understand the extent of the site being studied. To identify positive holes, the students sifted the dirt through a 1/8” mesh screen and what was not able to be sifted was then put in a bucket to be water screened back at the lab by students. These methods were supported with the assistance of employees of Poverty Point: Alesha Marcum-Heiman and Dean “Hurricane” Nones. A methodological lecture was also completed by Jeffrey Alvey prior to fieldwork, as well as an introductory lecture about Poverty Point by Dr. Diana Greenlee.

The crew screening dirt from test pits.

Throughout the field school, we were plagued by rain. Fortunately, there was always plenty of work to occupy us in the lab on the days when it was too wet to dig. The head of the lab [Lisa] had us perform a variety of tasks while working in the lab. These included water screening, artifact identification, and sorting collections from past projects. Each day three students were designated to work in the lab, and on inclement weather days, the effort was collective. Luckily the rain didn’t damper our learning opportunities. Our group had the opportunity to take the afternoon to explore the greater Poverty Point ‘site’ as well as tour the museum, and take a ride on the tram around the site. On a different rainy afternoon, we visited Natchez, Mississippi. While there the group visited both prehistoric and historic locations, taking a tour of both the Grand Village of the Natchez and of the historic city.

Halfway through our time at Poverty Point, we were joined by a group of graduate students from Binghamton University who were led by Dr. Tim de Smet, Dr. Matt Sanger, and Dr. Carl Lipo. Two former MSU Master’s students, Tiffany Raymond and Sarah Gilleland, were also part of the Binghamton group. Each day, an MSU student joined one of the teams from Binghamton and were able to gain experience using several remote sensing techniques such as ground penetrating radar, magnetometry, electromagnetic interpolator, and resistivity. Data was collected using these techniques in several locations at the site such as Mound A, Mound B, south of Mound E and on the northern ridges. A lecture was given by Dr. Virginie Renson on artifact sourcing using isotopic signatures. This lecture enhanced student understanding of different lab techniques that could be used in collaboration with archaeological methods to better understand the movement of various artifacts across space and time.

The last full week of field school culminated in the continuing work with the Binghamton crew, as well as the discovery of two bears. One bear was approximately 10-meters from student workers in a remote location of the survey area and the other bear was close to the dorm, where more survey was being completed. This last full week was also a celebratory event because it was the 21st birthday of Cody Oscarson on Wednesday. The final hole of this day ended with 10 individuals digging and sifting to complete the day at a reasonable hour. With the Binghamton crew no longer working at the field site, the students completed their radials around the dormitory and past locations surveyed throughout the previous 4 weeks. While we cannot speak for the other students involved in the field school, the three of us each came away from this experience with new methods, tools, and friendships which will serve us well in our future endeavors. This experience proved to be beneficial for those in it. Two students Kevin McLeod, and Safaa Siddiqui were offered positions at the UNESCO site beginning at the end of the class. Also, numerous students will be taking the tools from this field school and employing them for 3-4 weeks in Laurel, Mississippi beginning the 19th of June.

Lauren and Simon cataloging a find.

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