Monday, July 18, 2011

A Brief History of the Development of Southeastern Archaeology

Archaeology's earliest roots in the United States is evident in the writings of Thomas Jefferson who systematically excavated an Indian mound on his property at Monticello. Jefferson dug a trench through the mound and noticed that this mound had various strata of differing soil colors and consistency. He also uncovered several burials and through this evidence, he surmized that that the mound had been created with the placement of the burials and then capped over with soil and that this process had been repeated a number of times throughout the years until the mound reached its final height of 12 ft.

Jefferson's work on the mound was ahead of its day in three respects. First, he was one of the first people on this continent to excavate at all. Second, his excavations were done with such care that they enabled him to clearly view the stratigraphy of his trench. This was remarkable considering that it wasn't until the 1930s that archaeologists began paying attention to stratigraphy.

And third, Jefferson was seeking an answer to a question that he posed, then, through his experimental procedures, he was able to draw conclusions. In essence, he used what we are taught in school today is the scientific method. Thomas Jefferson wasn't simply interested in gathering artifacts, he was interested in learning about the people who inhabited this land before him through the only means at his disposal, those things which they left behind with their burials.

Clarence B. Moore

Although Jefferson took copious notes and published the methods of his research along with his results, his practices were not followed by archaeologists in the years to follow. While many surveys were conducted throughout the eastern United States in order to locate and document early Native American sites, perhaps the archaeologist leaving the greatest legacy in Alabama was Clarence B. Moore.

C. B. Moore was a wealthy man born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and educated at Harvard University. At the age of 40, Moore puchased a flat bottomed steamship, named the Gopher, and navigated the Florida rivers during the summer. Concentrating on the shell middens and sand burial mounds along the rivers of Florida, year after year, C.B. Moore carefully excavated sites along the waterways. While Moore reserved the warmer months for traveling along the southeastern waterways and excavationg sites, the winter months were spent analyzing his findings and writing reports that were published by the Journal of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia.

In 1899, Moore ventured into Alabama traveling up the Alabama River. Then, in 1905, Moore traveled up the Black Warrior River where he spent most of his time excavating two mounds and surveying Moundville, a Native American center with over 20 mounds. Impressed by the size of the site and by the elaborate artifacts Moore uncovered, he returned the following summer to continue archaeology excavations. Moore was one of the first archaeologists to explore Moundville and document his findings, and, although his methods were not as sound as Jefferson's, he nevertheless provided modern archaeologists with a wealth of information that might otherwise have been lost.

For more interesting topics related to archaeology, visit archaeology excavations.

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