A 1,500-year-old sacred Indian mound in Oxford, Ala. has apparently been destroyed to make way for a new municipal sports complex. The site in question is near another Indian mound in Oxford that was threatened last year by construction of a Sam's Club warehouse store.
Harry Holstein, a professor of archaeology and anthropology at Alabama's Jacksonville State University who specializes in prehistoric stone structure sites, told the Anniston Star newspaper that the ruined site -- which contained remnants of an Indian village and the base of a temple mound that may have held human remains -- has vanished:
When Holstein visited the site last summer, it was still intact.
But when he returned to the area Monday, he could find no sign of the mound or the village remnants.
The land is now flat, with tire tread marks clearly visible in the dirt.
"It's been flattened like a pancake," Holstein said. "There is just grass over it now."
Holstein was part of a team of JSU researchers who prepared a report for the city before construction began that found the property slated for development contained some of the most significant archaeological sites in northeast Alabama. The report called for their preservation, which city leaders agreed to.
Holstein believes the structures that were at the destroyed site were related to the stone mound on a hill behind an Oxford shopping center. Last year, contractors hired by the city's Commercial Development Authority were using dirt from that mound as fill for construction of a Sam's Club, part of a chain operated by Arkansas-based Walmart. Following public outcry, the contractors halted that work and switched to fill dirt provided by a private landowner.
The sites are among several ancient stone and earthen mounds located throughout Alabama's Choccolocco Valley.
Fred Denney, the Oxford official in charge of managing the sports complex development project, denied that the city had any role in destroying the Indian site:
"No, we're not touching the mound out there," Denney said Monday. "We did have some ribbon and stakes of where to go ... to show we're not going any further than this."
Denney said the same thing when interviewed about the site in August. No markers were visible when a reporter visited the site on Monday.
After Holstein surveyed the area, he said he could not find any stakes or markers or any signs of the American Indian site.
There is a long history of sacred American Indian sites being destroyed for commercial developments including Walmart stores and sports facilities. In the late 1990s, for example, an Indian burial site along the Cumberland River in Nashville, Tenn. was disturbed by construction of a stadium for the Tennessee Titans National Football League team.
The Woodland and Mississippian cultures that inhabited the Southeast and Midwest before Europeans settled in the Americas constructed the mounds for rituals, including burials. Native Americans consider the structures "prayer in stone."