Spiro Mounds (USA): Archaeological Dig Underway
Rachel Rodemann Times Record Scott Hammerstedt, research faculty at the Oklahoma Archaeological Survey investigates potential prehistoric post holes at an excavation site at the Spiro Mounds Archaeological Center in Spiro -
One of the nation’s greatest prehistoric Native American archaeological sites is being excavated for the first time since the 1980s, in hopes of learning new information about a great city of the past.
The Spiro Mounds Archaeological Center, seven miles outside of Spiro, is the only prehistoric Native American archaeological site in Oklahoma open to the public.
The people of Spiro operated the intellectual hub of the national confederation of the Mississippian tribes, explained Dennis Peterson, manager of the center, which consisted of more than 60 tribes — some with over 6 million members, and well over 30 languages.
“You’re dealing with the equivalent of Washington D.C. when you’re dealing with Spiro.” said Peterson. “They controlled most of the United States for well over 300 years, and yet we really haven’t done that much research here.”
For the last two years the University of Oklahoma and the University of Arkansas worked jointly to look at the Spiro site with remote sensing, said Peterson, gesturing to a large map of the findings, prominently displayed in the center.
“We’ve done a geophysical survey over the entire site with magnetometers and other devices that, for lack of a better word, see under the ground, and we’ve identified a number of anomalies that look like they’re prehistoric structures,” explained Scott Hammerstedt, research faculty at the Oklahoma Archaeological Survey, University of Oklahoma.
“We’re interested in understanding the nature and extent of the non-mound habitation in Spiro,” he continued. “We think we know a lot about what was in the mounds, but we don’t know what’s elsewhere.”
“Of the total site, mound and non-mound areas, less than 15 percent has ever been tested,” added Peterson.
Rachel Rodemann Times Record Dennis Peterson, manager of the Spiro Mounds Archaeological Center in Spiro, explains how excavations will take place at the sites of digitally mapped anomolies.
Through the month of October, Hammerstedt and his team of researchers and volunteers will be digging plots to expose what hopefully matches their geological data.
The plots chose for this month’s excavations are located precariously close to a man-made creek that puts them at risk of erosion and disruption.
“It’s intersecting a couple of these potential strictures so we’re excavating them before they get destroyed,” said Hammerstedt, “and working with the Army Corps of Engineers, the state historic preservation office, the Caddo nation and the Wichita affiliated tribe, we’ve gotten permission to work on four (potential structures.)”
As the archaeologists dug, sifted screened and measured the plots, few artifacts were uncovered. The structure data, though, proved incredibly interesting.
“It’s matching up really nicely,” said Hammerstedt happily. “With the geophysical survey you never really can tell until you excavate if what you think is there is really there.
“This is the first work that’s been done here since the early 80s, and we’re happy to have it matching up as well as it appears to be,” he added.
Throughout the plots, small, dark ovals in the ground marked the likely position of roof posts, indicating to the researchers that homes were likely positioned all along the non-mound areas of the site.
The excavation is funded partially by a small enrichment grant through the University of Oklahoma and partially through in-house funding by the Oklahoma Archaeological Survey.
“We’re hoping this will turn into a much bigger project where we’re getting funding from external sources,” explained Hammerstedt. “We wanted to make sure that … the geophysics matched up with reality.”