BATON ROUGE, La. – A seemingly nondescript corner lot in downtown Jonesville could provide an important look back into prehistoric life as captured in the Troyville Mounds.
A state Department of Transportation and Development (DOTD) archaeologist, the leader of an excavation team and six others will discuss the recent excavation work at Troyville and the Troyville Period during a mini-symposium set for 9-11 a.m. Sunday (March 5) at the Atrium, 2001 Louisville Ave., in Monroe.
The discussion, part of the 2006 Louisiana Archaeological Society Meeting, is free and open to the public.
Participants will include Elizabeth Davoli, a DOTD archaeologist; Aubra L. “Butch” Lee, vice president of Earth Search Inc., of New Orleans, the company that performed the excavation work last spring at Troyville; Joe Saunders, Jeff Girard and Chip McGimsey, who are northeast, northwest and southwest regional archaeologists respectively for the Louisiana Division of Archaeology; Marvin Jeter, station archaeologist for the Arkansas Archaeological Survey, University of Arkansas, Monticello; Jon Gibson, president of Carved Trowel Archaeology; and Pete Gregory, professor and coordinator of anthropology, Northwestern State University, Natchitoches.
A crew of archeologists from Earth Search conducted a four-month investigation last spring into the cultural remains of the American Indians who occupied the area now known as Jonesville between 300-700 A.D. The work was performed on behalf of DOTD as part of mitigation efforts prior to construction of a new bridge spanning the Black River.
Analysis of the findings are under way, with a formal final report expected by early fall. Earth Search will prepare a detailed report describing the excavations; cultural features (fire pits, postholes and
hearths); the artifacts; and what those cultural features and artifacts reveal about the American Indians’ lives at the Troyville site.
Sunday’s talk will include a preview of general findings to date along with a discussion of previous archaeological investigations, the Troyville site itself and how the recent investigations may change what is known about both the site and the culture in the lower Mississippi Valley.
“So far, we know the American Indians made artistic pottery with many types of designs. And they were also skilled engineers, building mounds and an earthen embankment without the benefit of modern machinery,” Davoli said. “Few studies have been done, so no one has discovered if this site was a ceremonial center or if Indians lived here year-round.
“We’ve only scratched the surface of the history of the Troyville Mounds site,” she added.
Unfortunately for history, such mitigation efforts weren’t a part of construction projects in the 1930s, when the Troyville site’s Great Mound, estimated to have been 82 feet high, was destroyed by a contractor with the landowners’ permission for use as fill for a bridge approach ramp. Before that final indignity, Civil War soldiers had already lopped off the top of the mound for a lookout and artillery site.
For the current project, Earth Search excavated a portion of the earthen embankment that once surrounded many of the mounds comprising the site. Two hand-excavated trenches, each 25 meters long, provide conclusive evidence that the lower portion of the earthen wall is intact despite continuous commercial development.
The trenches also revealed three midden deposits, the remains of two prehistoric structures or buildings, and artifacts such as large pottery shards and matted cane. Some of the pottery vessels have been partially reconstructed, Davoli said.
Smithsonian archaeologist Winslow Walker documented the site 70 years ago in his museum publication, The Troyville Mounds, Catahoula Parish, La. He said the town of Troyville (now Jonesville) was laid out in 1871 as 16 blocks filling the entire area inside the ancient American Indian embankment between Black River and Little River. At least nine mounds were built by the American Indians.
What remains today on the landscape are but slightly raised plateaus, or at the most, small hills used as modern-day cemeteries. So it’s fortunate, Davoli said, that some historical treasures remained untouched beneath the earth.
Davoli said, “The transportation improvement project in Jonesville has provided a rare opportunity to examine this important archaeological site.”
Two views of partially reconstructed pottery shards are shown.
Photos provided by the state Department of Transportation and Development