Skip to comments.Tribes, Archaeologists At Odds Over Cemetery
Posted on 07/28/2003 5:04:55 PM PDT by blam
Tribes, archaeologists at odds over prehistoric cemetery
By John W. Gonzalez
Monday, July 28, 2003
VICTORIA -- Prehistoric human remains and artifacts discovered in one of the continent's oldest known cemeteries will undergo extensive analysis, despite complaints of grave desecration from several American Indian tribes.
Federal officials say they hope to minimize destructive tests on the human bones and promptly rebury them when studies are complete, but tribes say they are considering legal action to halt further analysis.
"These are our ancestors," said Walter Celestine of the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe in East Texas.
After more than 18 months of talks with archaeologists, tribes and others, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers acknowledged the tribes' concerns and vowed to comply with the National Historic Preservation Act that prescribes treatment of such sites. Corps officials insisted that more study is warranted, given the knowledge to be gained about prehistoric culture.
The ancient cemetery, known as Buckeye Knoll, is south of Victoria on several acres owned by DuPont Textiles and Interiors Corp. Reflecting more than 10,000 years of human history along the marshy Texas Gulf Coast, the site has the largest Early Archaic cemetery west of the Mississippi, holding 10 percent of all ancient human remains from 8000 B.C. to 6000 B.C. discovered in North America. Only about 20 similar sites have been discovered in the United States.
The graveyard was first noticed around 1960, but preliminary analysis didn't begin until 2000, when the Corps of Engineers was preparing to enlarge the Victoria Barge Canal near where the Guadalupe River reaches the Gulf. Initial tests indicated that bones and primitive artifacts ranged from 600 to nearly 11,000 years old, exciting archaeologists who pressed for a more thorough examination.
No more excavation is planned at the site, only further study of the items found there during 2000-01. Seventy-nine sets of remains were encountered and taken to a laboratory for study and storage.
The government's decision to proceed "balances the diverse concerns of Native Americans and the archaeological community to the greatest extent possible," said Col. Leonard Waterworth, the Corps' Galveston district engineer and commander.
"The Corps concluded that limited analysis of the human remains is necessary because they are the only evidence of the unique Early Archaic occupation at the site. This means that questions important to the prehistory of this country cannot be answered without direct analysis of the remains and associated mortuary materials," Waterworth said.
Working with private contractors, the Corps will analyze all human remains and archaeological materials found at the site, officials said. Nondestructive techniques such as observation and measurement will provide some information about those buried there, including their ages, genders, physical traits and health -- possibly even causes of death.
But information about when the burials occurred and DNA makeup can be accomplished only using small samples of bones, weighing as little as 1 gram, said Corps archaeologist Jan Stokes.
"Because of concerns expressed by the consulting Native American tribes, and out of respect for the human remains, the number of samples obtained for destructive analysis has been limited to the amount necessary to obtain statistically valid results. The human remains and associated mortuary goods will be released for eventual reburial at the site of origin," Stokes said.
Several meetings and public hearings were held about the project, which has cost the federal government about $1 million and will require another $1 million and two years to complete, Stokes said.
The Corps is determined to learn all it can from the site, Stokes said.
"We have very little evidence of that time period, very few sites with this detailed amount of information," she said.
Tribes including the Alabama-Coushatta, Choctaw, Comanche, Caddo and Tonkawa oppose the effort, said Celestine, of the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe. In early 2002, they unsuccessfully demanded a halt to the project, saying the remains should never have been disturbed after the initial discovery.
"They went out of their way to dig up those 79 remains," said Celestine, who visited Buckeye Knoll last year. "They were about 100 yards from the actual (canal) dredging, and I don't see why they went over that far.
"Even though we really tried hard to convince Colonel Waterworth, he wasn't going to budge. He was more afraid of all these different archaeological societies than he was with native people."
The basis for the tribes' opposition is the tradition that those buried enter a spirit world and must not be disturbed, Celestine explained.
"Any time the remains are unearthed, the spirit of that person is in a state where they can't go to where they're supposed to go. Once it's disturbed, we want to put them back in" the grave, he said.
The landowner said it was the government's decision to proceed with further study.
"We certainly understand the historic and scientific significance of this discovery. We also see the need to respect and honor the human remains that were discovered there," DuPont spokeswoman Amy Hodges said.
"One of the things we did fairly quickly, once the archaeologists had finished their work, was we took great measures to secure the site."
8000 B.C. to 6000 B.C.? I doubt it. Could be, but not real likely.
But let's do a DNA test and find out.
Et tu, blamus?
Put me on it, please.
Just let the bones be tested.
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Most excellent my farm friend, thanks.
Yet more amazing, absolutely NO Indian remains have been found on sites where a reservation plans to build it's next mega-casino...
Maybe. I think the jury is still out on the murdering part.
Maybe caucasians? Who cares.
The fact that the recent archeologists have so grossly underestimated the mobility and ability of "modern" man is fun unto itself.
James Chatters (Of Kennewick Man fame) thinks they may be the forefathers of the people who eventually became Asians and Europeans. See the book by him, Ancient Encounters.
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