Archeological surprises uncovered after BP oil spill

Here and Now

Photo of the Gulf Coast after the BP oil spill (Image by Wikimedia user FinneJager (cc:by-sa))

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Archaeologists who have been required to go along with BP cleanup workers have come across important finds in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon disaster. "They've been finding native American artifacts, fragments of clay pots, animal bones, bone tools," Chip McGimsey, Louisiana State Archaeologist and Director of the state’s Division of Archaeology, told Here and Now. Archaeologists are now exploring historic American sites, ship wreck material, a plantation site that used to exist along the coast, and even a US military fort in the 1830s.

Some of the most exciting finds have concern the so-called Gulf Coast mound people. "Everybody tends to think of tribes as just being in their own little area," McGimsey says. What these recent finds suggest, however, is that "along the coast there must have been boats, basically dugout canoes, going east and west through the costal marshes for hundreds if not thousands of years."

There are some complications in these finds. "Most of the sites actually lie on private land, so don't really come under the regular protection of federal or state laws," McGimsey explains. "One of the goals of our office is to work with local land owners to try to protect these sites."

On one hand, archaeologists want this information to get out to as many people as possible. On the other hand, they're also trying to protect the sites and the potential wealth of information held inside.

Through some of these finds, McGimsey says "we're getting a much bigger picture of who these people were and the world in which they lived in." He explains:

As archaeologists, we're just really beginning to understand what a wealth of knowledge Native people had about the landscape and how to make a living. And they were very successful in doing so.

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