Again, Oxford

Oxford Stone Mound, Oxford AL

It’s happening. Or it’s about to happen.

The New York Times had an article in Sunday’s paper about the Native American stone mound in Oxford (the mound that was on top of a hill being used as fill dirt for development of land for a Sam’s Club). The article is entitled “When Scholarship and Tribal Heritage Face Off Against Commerce.”
Here are some excerpts:

The professor, Harry O. Holstein of nearby Jacksonville State University, had concluded that a stone mound at the top of the hill was constructed by American Indians more than a thousand years ago, and in 2003 he recorded it in a state archaeological registry. The possibility of its being destroyed, Dr. Holstein said, made him sick.

“I’m not against development,” he said. “But some things should just be saved.”

As it happened, the city had already commissioned a study of the stone mound by the Office of Archaeological Research at the University of Alabama, which works on a contract basis for such projects. The report, signed by the office’s director, Robert A. Clouse, found the mound to be “definitively cultural” in origin, as opposed to having been created by a natural process like erosion.

Many of the archaeologists and some of the American Indians who lobbied to keep the stone mound acknowledge that its original purpose is a matter of speculation. That, they say, is all the more reason to preserve it.

…Leon Smith, the mayor of Oxford since 1984, was not keen to discuss the issue further. “You’re not going to hear much from me,” he said. “I’m done with Indian stuff.”

But in late January, at an Oxford City Council meeting, Dr. Clouse disclosed the findings of a follow-up report.

That study, which many had not known about, was performed in July in the full heat of the controversy. In it, Dr. Clouse’s conclusions could hardly have changed more drastically.

“It does not appear,” he wrote in the second report, “that this stone mound was constructed by human activity.”

Archaeologists around the state were surprised and angered.

“The consensus of my colleagues,” said Cary Oakley, who held Dr. Clouse’s current position for 28 years, “is that this particular evaluation is seriously flawed.”

Keith Little of Tennessee Valley Archaeological Research, who has visited the mound, suggested that the word “consensus” was not strong enough.

“I’ve been an archaeologist in Alabama since the 1970s,” he said. “And I’ve never seen archaeologists so united on one subject.”

Worse, he said, the stone mound was apparently demolished during Dr. Clouse’s examination, making any further study impossible.

Dr. Clouse, in an e-mail message, declined to discuss the issue.

Its history is not over. Mr. Smith plans to take the top off to about halfway down and flatten out what remains. A restaurant could go there, or a hotel. Or maybe a health clinic.

In any case, he said, “It’s going to be real pretty.”

Oh, my.

In better news, Fresh Air Alabama is organizing a trip that includes visiting the Bottle Creek Indian mounds – you can only get to them by water. Seven hundred years ago, there were 18 mounds that stood as platforms for homes and temples; one mound is about 45 feet tall. They’re listed on the National Register.
Spanish Fort Alabama– Deep in the middle of Bottle Creek lies an ancient Native American Indian Mound. Join Fresh Air Family as we explore what history has to offer, April 10 and 11.

Over the course of two days, we will be learning Indian history and observing nature at its best. While canoeing through 7 miles of the bottomland hardwood swamps, flowing creeks, and mucky sloughs, trained experts will share their knowledge.

After an exhilerating day of hiking and canoeing, we will camp out for the night, where we will sit and relax by the blazing campfire, and hear spooky Indian ghost stories under the stars.

For just $75.00, you can enjoy an amazing opportunity to learn about Spanish Fort’s great history. The expedition will be held April 10th and 11th. Fresh Air Family will be meeting at 9:00 AM, at upper Bryant Landing. Don’t let this chance pass you by.

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