Prehistoric excavations delay modern ones
By Lee Weyhrich
The building of Trussville’s proposed new stadium has been held up because it seems someone else built there first. The new stadium is set to be built near the Trussville Civic Center on Clay-Trussville Road. Due to the project’s location on the Cahaba River, the government requires archaeological surveys to be conducted before any project can begin.
According to Matthew Gage, Director of The University of Alabama’s Office of Archaeological Research, two new areas were explored and an older site was re-explored. That earlier dig has resulted in concern for the stadium project as it is located directly beneath one of the proposed end-zones. While no effort was made to preserve the site at the time of discovery, a recommendation was made to preserve the find as much as possible and avoid it for construction until such a time as it could be fully explored.
“When it was identified in 1992, the site was recommended as potentially eligible [for historical registration] and that it should be avoided,” Gage stated in an e-mail. “But, as with so many archaeological sites and historic standing structures, avoidance was not an option.”
According to Gage, the dig in question actually contained two distinct temporary settlements. The settlements were found at different elevations and correspond to the ever-changing ebb and flow of the Cahaba River through the ages. The site is described as a “light to moderate dense artifact scatter composed of lithic and ceramic material.” This means items from the site date from stone made tools and implements to man-made pottery. The findings or “features” of these excavations place the time period of settlement to be not only considered pre-European exploration, but before the founding of known tribes in the region.
“The results from the testing indicated… a date range extending from the Late Gulf Formational/Early Woodland period (500 to 100 B.C.) through the Late Woodland period (ca. A.D. 600-1000),” the official Phase II testing summary states. “This chronological assignment is based on the recovery of diagnostic projectile points and ceramic.”
The older of the two sites in question is at a higher elevation to the northeast of the site from a time when the area was likely flooded by the river. The lower site to the south was from a time when the banks of the river were much lower. According to Gage, the area seems to be one that was used from time to time to gather resources in a time when groups of people were generally nomadic hunter-gatherers and vegetables and fruit were gathered rather than planted. As such the camp saw occasional seasonal settlement as a base camp.
“A lot of times a specific resource such as a food staple item pre-cultivation period was sought as agriculture had not yet been developed,” Gage said. “Things like starchy tubers were found in what was like a patch of weeds; as you travel you would begin to know where resources were going to grow such as gourds and other wild food items and you would plan your journey accordingly.”
Gage believes this is one of the earliest sites in the area. Debitage, or the discarded remains left over from the production of stone tools or rejected implements, is limited or moderate meaning that there was very little on-site manufacturing of tools. The nature of the debitage shows that the initial manufacturing of tools must have been done off-site. The use of locally found Knox chert points to a nearby processing area. However archaeologists have found cast-off implements and debitage manufactured from Tuscaloosa Gravel and Tallahatta Sandstone which point to travel, or at least, trade with areas as far to the west as the Black Warrior drainage and as far southwest as the Tombigbee and Alabama River drainages.
Two artifacts, one Flint Creek point – a large finely serrated spear point or dart – and one piece of Alexander Incised pottery – a piece of pottery featuring rectangular designs generally found in the Tombigbee region – were found at the older of the two sites. An oven and a living surface – possibly a dwelling floor were also found at the excavation. Inside the stone oven a Nolichucky, or triangular finely serrated, Tennessee valley-style projectile point/knife was found made from the non-local Tallahatta stone as well as a Coosa Stemmed or triangular convex based projectile point/knife and some shards of plain pottery. These items date back from 500 B.C. to 100 B.C.
“Sites like these are few and far between because these items were made at a time when great changes were taking place,” Gage said. “This is so far before European contact and before any information we have to identify what these might have been used for we have very few points of reference. It is right at the cusp of another transitional phase in America when there was a large influx of contact from the west, what we call the West Jefferson phase.”
The Army Corps of Engineers, the government office that has oversight of the project, has delayed the stadium project due to these findings until the excavation can be properly secured as an archaeological site or the site can be properly cataloged and all possible data gathered. Shawn Nutting, Trussville’s Director of Technology and Facilities, who supervises the stadium project estimates this could cost upwards of $150,000. The city is looking for a way to change the existing design of the structure so as to avoid or preserve the site and bypass that cost.
According to Gage, the current stadium design would damage the excavation site.
“It will not work the way that it is designed,” Gage said .
The city is trying to find a way to bridge the area rather than enclose it or disturb it. Moving the site would be out of the question due to the shape of the property and the direction a field must face to avoid one team facing into the sun at times. New drawings are being made up to be submitted to the ACOE for approval.
Gage hopes the site can be left undisturbed, but understands that progress has its demands. His hope is that the site could remain in tact until further study can be concluded. Barring that, however, he hopes that the city and perhaps the students of Hewitt-Trussville can mitigate the damage by collecting data and artifacts by excavation and analysis relating to the prehistory of the area. He also recommends an informative display to be built as part of the stadium so that people would understand and appreciate the people who built there before.
“Our primary concern is protecting this site, if there is a way we can preserve it that would be optimal,” Gage said. “Or secondary concern is the preservation of these artifacts. If there is a way to preserve the site without affecting the stadium project it is great to do both.”