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“Still Searching...”

De Soto National Forest, Mississippi, 2001
by Robert “Searching” Reams, FS Archaeologist

In 1992, Wayne McCardle found the Inspiration Point site—artifacts in a plowed line above a small perennial drainage—near active military firing ranges. Later that year, McCardle and I revisited the site. We dug more than 33 shovel tests to determine the dimensions of the site. Thirty of the shovel tests had artifacts dating between the Late Archaic and the Early Mississippian (2500 B.C.–A.D. 1100). In addition, a single sherd of late-18th- or early-19th-century Choctaw pottery was found at one end of the ridge. This black-on-red painted rim sherd was the first and only Choctaw sherd known from the forest. Since the first one was found, two others have turned up.

The 2001 project actually started the week before the PIT volunteers were scheduled to arrive. Dr. Kent Schneider, the regional archaeologist for the Southeast Region, brought a ground-penetrating radar (GPR) from Atlanta, and Louis Kampouris, a volunteer assistant from North Carolina, brought a GPS unit. Together, they not only plotted each and every corner pin, but they also instructed everybody present on the use of GPR and gave them some hands-on experience with the device.

We walked about half of the project area (on top of the ridge) with GPR, providing images of the subsurface to a depth of 1 m. The next day, Kent and Louis marked the units containing anomalies as “starter” units for the PIT volunteers. Finally, we were ready to start “Searching for Southern Choctaws” at the Inspiration Point site.

We started Tuesday with high hopes and the routine morning joke. That day’s joke bears repeating, as it has to do with football and fans in the Southeast who take college football very seriously: “Four football fans go rock climbing one afternoon—an Alabama fan, a Kentucky fan, a Tennessee fan, and a Florida fan. They had been arguing all the way up the mountain about who among them was the most ‘ die-hard’ fan. Upon reaching the top of the mountain, the Kentucky fan proclaimed to the other four, ‘This is for the Wildcats!’ and promptly threw himself off the mountain as a form of sacrifice. Not to be outdone, the Alabama fan jumped up and said, ‘This is for the Crimson Tide!’ and threw himself off the mountain. Refusing to be outdone by the Kentucky and Alabama fans, the Tennessee fan rose to his feet and yelled at the top of his lungs, ‘This is for the Volunteers!’ and without any hesitation pushed the Gator fan off the mountain.” We had a Kentucky fan, a Tennessee fan, and a very big Gator fan at the excavation. They all stayed on, even after this joke.

The returning volunteers were assigned units, and the various “new” volunteers were teamed with them. The search for the hidden soil anomalies and more evidence of Choctaws had begun. On Wednesday, the field lab was started near the units being excavated. Caroline Sittler, a.k.a. Mama Caroline, ran the lab throughout most of the three weeks, generally keeping up with the crew. Some of her helpers included Ron Cummings, Marge Brazda, Joe and Joy Miller, and Donn Ivey. FSHeritage Resource Technicians Gary Lott and Wayne McCardle assisted with the washing process.

Throughout the three weeks of the fieldwork, we excavated 36 1-by-1-m units. During the field season, we concentrated on the top of the terrace ridge that overlooked the drainage where Wayne had found most of the surface artifacts. Most of the units went down as deep as 50 cm. We had more than 360 bags of artifacts. The volunteers found projectile points, quartz crystal fragments, a soapstone bowl fragment, stone tools, and many pottery sherds. A few “woo-hoos” were heard after every good find. The artifacts ranged in date from Late Archaic to Late Woodland (2100 B.C.–A.D. 900). The anomalies picked up by GPR seemed to be the clusters of sandstone found throughout the site.

No evidence of a Choctaw presence was discovered during the project. Almost all of the artifacts have been washed and separated. The volunteers did a great job. This was our largest PIT project to date. We had many visitors, and one local television station even came by. In addition, we had two 5th grade classes and one 6th grade class come out to help. For now, the analysis continues...
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