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NAGPRA is in effect

Often times, things aren’t what they appear to be.

When it comes to archeology, experts aren’t new to this but I sure am.

I was convinced that technology has changed the field for the better but, though in most cases it has, the projections from the remote sensing equipment can be interpreted differently.

Day three started out fine.

I spent some time in what was projected to be a reverie.

As a couple of archeologists and I cleaned it up for its photo shoot and documentation, one of the guys came across a couple of objects.

The first was a portion of a whitetail deer antler.

Larry Porter, assistant station archeologist at the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute, found the antler and was quick to interpret the significance.

"It was probably the byproduct of a butchering of an animal for food and also used there to make tools, this ones pretty deteriorated so you can’t tell if it’s been cut yet,” Porter said.

In a nearby area, in the same ravine, Porter scooped up a small rim piece of pottery with consistent designs on it.

Just feet away an entire area continued to be excavated where remote sensor equipment indicated a house layout would be discovered.

George Sabo, the Arkansas Research Station Archaeologist and Professor of Anthropology at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, said most of the findings so far parallel what the remote readings indicated.

He said in one of the sites the remote sensor equipment indicated that a ravine was located next to the house and after much digging, it turned out to be so.

“When we dug a trench across it we were able to see in profile the shape of that ravine, sure enough that’s what it is, it’s a ravine,” he said  “That people threw their trash in, people didn’t have to dig a trash because there was a ravine right next to their house.”

In another unit feet away from the said-to-be housing layout was a semi-circular area of dark dirt. According to the remote sensing it should have been half of a trash pit.

But after nearly a day of digging archeologists didn’t find the pit and instead found a deep, dark v-shaped soil that suggested a tree once stood there, next to the house.

Though it wasn’t what archeologists thought, they weren’t exactly wrong.

Sabo said the remote sensor indicated a feature of some sort in the unit and they assumed it was a trash pit. And even though it wasn’t, it wasn’t necessarily uninformative.

“When we excavate these various features we look at how they’re related in space,” he said. “It gives us some ideas that there was a house there, a trash pit over there, a ravine filled with trash and it gives us an idea of how people that were living here were using their surroundings.”

Some of the items found so far like, pottery shards, bones of various sorts, logs and chips of rocks used for weapons and utensils, were expected by archeologists.

But years ago archeologists found numerous burial sites.

Leslie Stuart Abernathy, Arkansas Tech Survey Station archeologist, said he remembers a time over a decade ago when he and a team discovered a burial site nearby and how word caught on quick.

“We never told anybody that day that we found a burial, the next morning there was like 30 people out there,” he said. “Something about a burial gets people excited.”

But not archeologists, Abernathy said.

“We are not interested in skeleton remains, the burial,” he added.

And for good reason.

Thanks to new laws that protect native burial sites like the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act or NAGPRA, burial sites are tightly protected from destruction or scientific study unless a tribe gives the OK.

Sabo said before the excavation projects started archeologists and tribal officials agreed that if archeologists came across burial sites or features based on a remote sensor that excavation on the particular site would be left alone.

He said most burial sites have oblong features and they do consider the possibility of the feature turning out to be something else but they would rather be safe.

“If we identify a feature that could possible be a burial we would document the location to show we would know where it is, we could document what we could see at the moment, and we could be able to determine whether it was a burial site and we could say why we think it’s a burial site,” he said. “Then we would close off that excavation and not excavate in the immediate vicinity, to do everything possible to leave human remains undisturbed.”