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History beneath our feet

Photo by Christy Porter
Participants in the week-long archaeological survey training began to gather on Sunday, June 6. Pictured from left are Dean Belshe; Karla Frey; Helen Arnhold; John McCarty; local landowners Brad and Amber Hooper; Dustin Walburn; Caden Walburn; Mike Walburn; Liz McCarty; Dustin Thompson, Project Supervisor; Alyse Strohmeyer; David Cain, Field Director; and Sarah Reid, MSU-Springfield and MAS-Ozarks Chapter. Not pictured: Scott Bushaw, U.S. Forest Service; Jack Ray, MSU-Springfield; Matt Cruise; Carol Currier; Matthew Mohler; Debbie Mantonya; Audrey Helmuth; Abby Ahern and Claire Blodgett.


By Christy Porter, Managing Editor

Archeology is the study of prehistory and human history, done through the excavation of sites and the analysis of artifacts and physical remains through scientific techniques.

The Missouri Archaeological Society (MAS) held a weeklong archaeological-survey program with professional and avocational (amateur) archaeologists training and working with members of the interested public, June 6 through June 11, at the Piney River Narrows Natural Area in Texas County. MAS, in partnership with the L-A-D Foundation and the Mark Twain National Forest, offered the hands-on free program to all registered participants.

Ozarkians have been finding artifacts such as arrowheads for generations. While perhaps the artifacts are not so obvious now as long ago, the professional archeologist and avocational archeologists can still spot an artifact, unseen by the uninitiated, while walking a dirt path through a wooded area. They are also proficient at locating artifacts that, to the untrained eye, appear to be just another rock.

“Humans have been using the same living spaces from age to age, with the same motivation for food (both meat and cultivated plants), water (consumption and transportation), shelter and (compatible) climate,” says David Cain.

The Piney River Narrows session included instructional activities such as time period designations, historic artifact attributes and identification, artifact terminology, laws and collecting ethics, topographic map reading, site forms and information on archaeological societies; field surveys held in situ (on location); demonstrations and hands-on tryouts; laboratory analysis; and recording of identified prehistoric, historic, and rock art archaeological resources. Instruction and supervision during the program was provided by Dustin Thompson, Project Supervisor, Center for Archaeological Research, Missouri State University; David Cain, Field Director, U.S. Forest Service Zone Archeologist Mark Twain National Forest; Sarah Reid, Center for Archaeological Research, Missouri State University and MAS-Ozarks Chapter; Neal Lopinot, Director, Center for Archaeological Research, Missouri State University and Secretary of the MAS; and Michael Fuller, Professor Emeritus, Meramec Community College.

Photos by Michael Walburn

Many area residents participated in the Narrows training program.

Dean Belshe has been a member of MAS since the 1960s and an MAS Trustee since the 1990s. “I really have always enjoyed doing it (avocational archeology),” said Belshe. “I strongly promote MAS and am willing to help identify any items that may be found by hobbyists, landowners or amateur archeologists in this area.”

John and Liz McCarty, from Houston, also joined the training program, as did Don and Karla Frey. Other MAS members and volunteers came from further afield.

Many of the tools and artifacts found from pre-modern times in Missouri are made of Chert, although artifacts made of Flint and Obsidian were presented in discussion.

Professional archaeologists conduct excavations, pedestrian (walk over) field surveys, rock art surveys and other such site reconnaissance methods to find sensitive archaeological sites. They are also on the lookout for bands of rock such as Chert when conducting a survey.

Photos by Christy Porter

Many things are taken into account when working at a site; not only arrowheads are found but also such things as carbon dating, soil content and chemistry, and even the geographic context help archaeologists learn about ancient people and cultures. Hence they ask that people not “dig” for artifacts, especially in sensitive areas such as caves, without professional guidance. They strongly recommend doing only surface field surveys on private land and recording information about their finds and the sites they collect on. Always be conscientious of not trespassing on another’s land or on federal lands where federal law protects these resources. Once an archeological site is destroyed, intentional or not, it’s gone forever.

Artifacts will oftentimes erode naturally out of gravel bars or in plowed fields where artifacts can be found closer to the surface. These types of finds are often not intact sites and retain less of their original context.

Some artifacts may be found deeper, but archaeologists urge collectors to avoid disturbing these layers of site soils due to the increased probability of destroying something of critical importance to the archaeology site.

In support of many industries, professional archaeologists also conduct surveys including industrial, urbanization, as well as historical settlements.

Participants in the program camped on the beautiful Ozark property of Brad and Amber Hooper and provided their own meals for the course of the week. Participants came prepared for the outdoors with work boots, repellent, hats, backpacks, cameras and camping equipment.

Organizers and volunteers give a special shout out of thanks to the Hoopers for the use of their property, which was in close proximity to the site and greatly reduced travel time.

The Narrows training session was considered successful. “We now know more about the area, the soils and the resources available, with or without the finds. Teaching, training and recording occurred and learning more of the heritage of people, long ago and today, happened and that is the goal,” said Cain.

One goal of the Missouri Archaeological Society is alerting the public on how best to collect artifacts and to make them aware of the possible importance of those artifacts and the site from which they are collected. They are happy to help identify objects that may be found, with the artifacts remaining your property.

MAS has been providing training sessions around the state since 2010 in partnership with state and/or government entities. Training moves around the state to allow more access to all interested parties. All activities are led on a pre-determined piece of land. Sometimes the sites are Euro-American. MAS promotes the cooperation among professional and amateur archaeologists in the disciplined study, investigation and interpretation of archaeological sites and remains, then assists with the records and preservation of the artifacts and knowledge acquired. Sites can be registered with the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO), with site locations remaining confidential.

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