- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 24, 2015

FLORENCE, Ala. (AP) - Hunter Johnson picks a small piece of flinty stone from the sifted dirt he has dug next to the Florence Indian Mound Museum and holds it in the palm of his hand.

The fragment, along with bits of broken pottery, is evidence of habitation around the ancient mound on the north bank of the Tennessee River, he said, probably as far back as the time of the Roman Empire in Europe.

“The pottery helps us tell the period people were here,” he said. “The clay was mixed with something that kept the pottery from exploding when it was fired. That material tells us when it was made.”

Johnson and Travis Rael have been excavating around the now-closed museum in anticipation of a new facility being built later this year. They work for Tennessee Valley Archaeological Research, which is under contract with the city to perform the work.

Later, when the existing museum structure is demolished, they will excavate beneath the foundation’s footprint.

The mound is from the Native American Woodland period, Johnson said, which dated from 1,000 B.C. to 250 A.D. The Florence mound is believed to be from the Middle Woodland period, he said, with radio carbon dating at the top of the mound showing it in use about 250 A.D., leading to the conclusion lower portions of the mound are older.

The archaeologists are digging carefully mapped pits that resemble graves. The deeper they dig, the further they go into the past. The layers of sedimentation are easy to see as the color of the dirt changes. In one of the pits, Rael came across a fragment of a brick wall that he estimates dates from the late 19th century, well after the Native Americans had been forced out of the South by the federal government.

The artifacts they uncover will be used to help design the interpretive displays in the new museum.

The city has earmarked $1.25 million to build a new museum to replace the existing building, which was acquired in the late 1960s. It had earlier been a radio station. Exhibit and archaeological experts have been retained to help interpret the story of the local native people in a more secure setting.

“We’re moving as fast as we can possibly move with this,” Mayor Mickey Haddock said. “We hope to have a ground-breaking later this year.”

The work was delayed last year when officials discovered part of the museum encroached on the neighboring Lauderdale County Farmers’ Co-op. Those issues were resolved, and now officials are awaiting the result of the archaeological excavations.

“We have not found any artifacts that would prevent us from using that site,” Haddock said.


Information from: TimesDaily, https://www.timesdaily.com/

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