Was it American Indians or Union Soldiers?
Archaeological work on lots 7, 8, and 9 of Block 86 of the Urquhart Addition in Jefferson, Texas, during the spring, summer, and fall of 2017 has revealed evidence of almost continuous human occupation of the Union Missionary Baptist Church site over the last several thousand years. “This hilltop site would have provided a perfect perch for overlooking Big Cypress Bayou and accessing its resources. The higher elevation would have also presented more wind and thus the location would have fewer mosquitoes and other flying insect infestations and the sandy soil would have rapidly drained the heaviest rains. All this would have been advantageous to hunter-gatherers at this location,” stated Project Director Gary Endsley.
One of the problems with analysis of finds is that local collectors have been removing artifacts from the site for several years prior to this work. A local informant recently indicated that “Indian arrowheads” and various artifacts from the federal occupation during Reconstruction have been
removed and some are in his possession. Unfortunately, by removing artifacts from their primary context (or their original location) in the soil, we lose information that can be obtained from the sedimentary layers.
In archaeology, the Laws of Stratigraphy and Superposition are used to determine relative chronologic age and the time sequence of vertically excavated finds. Basically, the older artifacts will be buried deeper and the younger layers are above the older layers. The deeper an excavation gets, the farther back in time it goes. Artifacts found in the same stratigraphic layer are of approximately the same age and are said to be in context with each other. It is from this contextual relationship that cultural analysis emerges. When relics are removed from this context, all that information is lost. It is like trying to read a book with important pages missing.
Figure 1 is a photo of the bottom of Excavation Unit 6 at the 30 cm level (almost 1 ft). About 15 cm down, a dense charcoal lens is present indicating the remains of burned material which is likely the church built in 1847 and burned during Reconstruction by the Knights of the Rising Sun. In this dark band are charcoal chunks and a piece of orange brick that was probably part of a pier to the first structure. At bottom right of Figure 1 on the floor of Excavation Unit 6, Level 3, is a charcoal circle that extends downward some 30 cm and may be post mold from a Caddoan house. It could also be post mold from a Union soldier’s lean to shelter as they were stationed on the hill top for 2.5 years, December 1868 until May 1871. As Anthropologist Kari Dickson explains “the presence of post molds indicates that at some point in the sedimentary history, an external force drove the top layer of the soil into lower layers. Or, in this case an individual likely drove a post into the soil, leaving the top soil at the base of the post.” When the post decays, it leaves post hole mold in place.
Figure 2 and Figure 3 are from Excavation Unit 8, 2 m SSE of Excavation Unit 6. At the 30 cm level, 4 possible post holes are observable in Figure 2. At 50 cm in figure 3, only the two outermost markings are still present extending slightly into level 6 where they disappear.
The conundrum is this. We have artifacts showing the presence of Union soldiers and we know they arrived less than three months after the burning of the first church built on this site. We also have 127 Native American artifacts from our recent work. All but one of these are chert (flint) flakes and pieces. There is one sherd of Caddoan pottery. Most of the chert and the small pottery sherd were found in context with the first church above 30 cm from the surface.
A few other flakes and pieces of chert along with chunks of ocher were found 50-70 cm down indicating an archaic cultural presence several thousand years ago.
It is hoped that the stolen cultural materials will be returned to become part of the assemblage of artifacts that tell a complete and accurate story as part of the heritage center’s interpretive displays. Looting of archaeological sites disrupts proper scientific examination which better preserves our fascinating heritage.