A New Deal for Southeastern Archaeology

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Experience digging in Louisiana heat as an undergraduate and working in the LSU museum washing pottery, typing site records, and repackaging part of the WPA collection from its original shoe boxes into more modern containers convinced me that archaeology was not for me. My experience was similar to that of the ethnologist John R. Swan-ton, who in the s did archaeology long enough to enjoy the sound of noon whistles and appreciate the taste of cold spring water and then went into ethnology.

My dissertation, completed in , was an effort of a historian with a background in anthropology and archaeology but suffering from many deficiencies. I am grateful to the historians on my dissertation committee for supporting my work in an area foreign to them. Only Haag understood the archaeology, but he did not get to read it until much later.

It was an ideal committee. Late in my job as historian for the U. Army Corps of Engineers in the New Orleans District was abolished, and I took a position as an archaeologist working in cultural resources management CRM and historic preservation.

A New Deal for Western Archaeology

This experience has been crucial in creating the book in this form. While always working toward my goal never to get mud on my boots, I now know firsthand the difficulties of survey, the expense of data recovery, and the problems of report preparation. I have struggled with a bureaucracy not very different from the federal agencies of the depression. This experience has enabled me to understand more clearly the problems of archaeologists in the s. I now understand what William Webb, an important WPA and TVA archaeologist, meant when he wrote about New Deal archaeology: Regulations, constraints, limitations, difficulties innumerable all conspired to make this work what it was.

It was never possible to do what was best to do at the most propitious time or in a way most satisfactory to science. It was always the case of working in a hurry, under adverse conditions, in the face of many limitations and restrictions. My daily contacts with federal, contract, and academic archaeologists and involvement in a number of archaeological projects has made clear to me that New Deal archaeology in the Southeast was a major formative experience in the development of professional archaeology in the post-World War II period.

At the same time I also understand how different the archaeology of the depression was from what we do now. Archaeologists now devote much more attention to minute examinations of more limited areas of smaller sites than did New Deal archaeologists. It is still difficult for me to grasp the size and scale of some of the relief, salvage, and preservation projects of the depression.

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The large numbers of laborers available at some of the major New Deal sites allowed much more extensive excavation than would be possible today in our CRM data recovery projects. As a result major New Deal excavations were vastly larger than many of our contemporary projects. At Hiwassee Island, for example, a salvage project in the Chickamauga Basin in eastern Tennessee, excavation of a village and substructure mounds uncovered an area of more than 33, square feet. In addition, small midden areas and conoidal burial mounds were excavated.

Entire mounds were completely excavated at many sites. At the Wright Mounds in Kentucky forty men removed more than 13, cubic yards of earth in nineteen months. Trenching is another impressive component of New Deal projects. Huge trenches were run for incredible distances. At the Greenhouse site in Louisiana archaeologists excavated a 5-foot-wide trench in 3-inch levels for feet.

It proved so successful that they dug four other trenches through the site. I hope that both archaeologists and historians will read this book. The archaeologist will approach the book in a very different way than the historian.

A New Deal for Southeastern Archaeology

Archaeologists use the data produced by New Deal archaeologists, they have heard stories told by the archaeologists, and they have formed definite opinions about New Deal archaeology. They will learn about previously buried archaeological projects and the overall structure and context of New Deal archaeology. For historians the book may be useful in another way. A number of studies of the WPA arts program have made historians aware of the art, music, theatre, writers, and historical records surveys.

But these projects are not completely representative of the great variety of WPA projects. This book would not have been possible without the help of many archaeologists, historians, and archivists. During my years as a federal archaeologist I have learned a great deal from a number of my colleagues. Michael Stout, in particular, helped me learn enough to survive in CRM. Over the many years I have worked on this book I have been assisted by archivists, librarians, and archaeologists serving as custodians of the documentation of New Deal archaeology in the Southeast.

A number of archaeologists and historians have read chapters of this book, among them James B. Bill Haag and an anonymous reviewer for the University of Alabama Press read the entire manuscript and offered many useful suggestions. Judith Knight pushed me for many years to complete the manuscript and provided more help than an author has any right to expect from an editor. Anders Thompson copyedited the manuscript.

The New Deal in Three Minutes

All readers should be as grateful to him as I am. I thank all for their help. Today the site is a state park, the Marksville State Commemorative Area, with a museum that opened in As I walked through the park trying to understand the mounds, the embankment around the site, and its relationship to Old River at the rear of the park, I thought about the site in Excavation at this site was the beginning of New Deal archaeology sixty years ago. In Marksville was very different. The Smithsonian Institution had been interested in archaeology in Louisiana for some time.

Edward F. Neild, an architect in Shreveport, corresponded with Smithsonian archaeologists about Hopewell sites in Louisiana. Alexander Wetmore of the Smithsonian planned for Frank Setzler to visit sites in Louisiana after a Texas trip when Neild was to show him Hopewell sites in north Louisiana.

It may be that in your vicinity we shall yet find the information to solve the problem of this unknown, but brilliant, people whose remains in Ohio have prompted so many unanswerable questions. As local amateurs began to be interested in restoration of the mounds, Setzler and Judd began to worry that the site would be destroyed by its restorers. Judd recommended to Neild that restoration should follow careful examination of what now remains and in no case should it be left to the imagination of one unfamiliar with Indian mounds and especially those at Marksville.

The town of Marksville purchased the site and planned to convert it into a park and recreation center using Federal Emergency Relief Administration funds. Work had started on a swimming pool before local people interested in archaeology persuaded the authorities in charge of the project to allow excavation and restoration under the direction of the Smithsonian.

Setzler, assistant curator of archaeology at the United States National Museum of the Smithsonian Institution, arrived in late August of and remained until November. Setzler had studied at Ohio State University from to while he worked as an assistant field director at the Ohio State Museum. He later was a graduate student in anthropology at the University of Chicago and worked as an Indiana state archaeologist. Ford, aided in the excavation while Setzler was at the site and took charge for the month of November after Setzler left.

Ford had graduated from high school in Clinton, Mississippi, in and went to work for the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, where he worked with Moreau B. Chambers digging mounds. According to Gordon Willey, Ford and Chambers spent three summers at this task of officially sponsored 'pothunting,' traveling from site to site by team and wagon. Collins, Jr. Ford returned to Alaska for eighteen months beginning in the summer of In he received a grant from the National Research Council for archaeological investigations in Mississippi and Louisiana.

It was a new experience for Setzler and Ford to supervise a crew of more than one hundred laborers in the excavation of three mounds and village areas. Near the museum building is Mound 4, a conical burial mound 20 feet high dug into by Gerard Fowke of the Smithsonian in Fowke had only disturbed part of the mound, and Setzler returned to it in Setzler and Ford dug into Mound 5, which was about 3 feet high and 40 feet in diameter, but few records survive.

Mound 6, a truncated mound about 13 feet high, was the site of extensive digging but the work is documented today only by a few photographs. Setzler and Ford also placed at least five trenches through the village area. In addition to a number of burials in Mound 4 they recovered artifacts including Marksville pottery, pipes, projectile points, and stone knives.

A final report on the project was never published—a common occurrence in many of the later New Deal archaeological projects.

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Few records of the project survive. Setzler finished the excavation with a new awareness that the Hopewell culture extended into the Southeast. At first, he resisted the heretical idea that a variant of Hopewell existed in the Southeast. According to Henry Collins, it took Setzler's experience in Louisiana to convince him of the importance of the Hopewell-south-eastern relationship. This project would demonstrate to skeptical archaeologists that archaeology was possible using large crews of relief laborers. The large Civil Works Administration relief archaeology projects during the winter of emerged directly from this experience.

Within anthropology, ethnology was the dominant force before the s. Archaeology as it was practiced in the early twentieth century was of little value to many anthropologists. A few archaeologists had done good work, but the typical archaeologist, in the words of J.

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  • Alden Mason, was a congenital antiquarian, attracted to the ancient, the rare, the spectacular. Archaeology had little to offer at that time to anthropologists interested in understanding the history of Native Americans. As Alfred Kroeber pointed out, Incredible as it may now seem, by so little time perspective had been achieved in archaeology that Wissler and I, in trying to reconstruct the native American past, could then actually infer more from the distributions and typology of ethnographic data than from the archaeologists' determinations.

    Our inferences were not too exact, but they were broader than those from excavations. Failure to recognize time depth in eastern North America led to a short prehistoric chronology with changes occurring rapidly as the result of movement of population or spread of cultural traits by diffusion.

    This domination of archaeology by ethnology benefited archaeology by expanding archaeologists' interests in broader anthropological questions but also limited the development of the field. Boas and his followers opposed any role for cultural evolutionism in anthropology leading to emphasis on cultural relativism and historical particularism. This opposition to cultural evolutionism effectively prevented concern with broader issues of change in Native American cultures.

    Lack of time perspective led to reliance on space rather than time as the primary interpretative approach of ethnologists and archaeologists. As late as Kroeber noted that one of the major characteristics of the native cultures of the New World was that they have come to us virtually in momentary cross section, flat and without perspective.

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