Oakville Indian Mound park was open on our latest trip to Florence, so we went in. The largest mound is 27 feet high and the largest ceremonial woodland mound in Alabama. The base is 1.8 acres and the flat top is 1 acre. It was built by Copena Indians about 2000 years ago and there are 20 or so mounds that they built in this area.
This next mound we did not go up – it’s the Copena burial mound. In the 1800s, settlers used this mound as a cemetery for their families:
Since the time of the original mound builders here, one of the historic markers read that there have been five other tribes in this area: Yuchi, Shawnee, Cherokee, Creek, and Chickasaw.
OXFORD — People who oppose the destruction of a 1,500-year-old American Indian mound may have few legal options according to people familiar with state law.
Even if the site contains human remains it may not be enough to stop the destruction because it does not involve the use of federal money.
Workers hired by the city carried more dirt away from the site Tuesday. The mound is the largest known structure of its kind in the state. It will be destroyed so part of the dirt in the hill can become fill for a Sam’s Club, a move that has angered American Indians.
Two state laws could apply here. One section of the law deals with excavating these types of mounds and other historical artifacts. The other law deals with destroying bodies, graves or markers.
According to Tracy Roberts, assistant general counsel with the Alabama League of Municipalities, the law on excavation is clear. Cities must get permission from the state before they can remove a stone mound like the one in Oxford. Breaking the law is a misdemeanor punishable by a fine.
The problem is figuring out which state agency is responsible for giving permission.
(Harry Holstein, a professor of archeology and anthropology at JSU) said mounds constructed in this time period, known as the Woodland era, were commemorative and tend to contain human remains.
“The Native Americans are saying it’s a commemorative marker,” Holstein said. “It’s a class C felony if you break up a tombstone and you knowingly do it.”
But the man who helped write the law said the site could be destroyed as long as human remains are properly removed. Greg Rhinehart, a project reviewer with the Alabama Historical Commission, said if there were burials there the city would have to relocate the remains. But it wouldn’t stop the destruction of the mound.
Mayor Leon Smith has said the city intends to take care of any remains, if found. Attempts to reach Smith for this story were unsuccessful.
The crime would be if the city knowingly destroyed human remains, Rhinehart said.
So what would stop the destruction?
According historical commission officials, there must be federal money spent on the project.
Holstein said it’s possible the remains are so fragile that excavation would pulverize them. Hathorn said she wished the city would leave the site alone. She co-authored a letter saying the site should be considered for the National Register of Historic Places.
“This is like tearing down a church,” she said. “It really is.”