Walmart and the Mound Builders
By Heather Pringle
Scholars hotly debated the issue, and eventually the Smithsonian Institution established its own Division of Mound Exploration, hoping to crack the mystery. After years of meticulous study, Cyrus Thomas, head of the Division, announced in 1894 that “the links directly connecting the Indians and the mound-builders are so numerous and well established, that archaeologists are justified in accepting the theory that they are one and the same people.”
Since then, I am sorry to say, the intense public interest in prehistoric mounds has largely dissipated. Indeed as archaeologists learn more and more about the rich variety of mound-building cultures, from the Poverty Point people to the Hopewell, fewer and fewer people take any notice. We seem, somehow, to have misplaced our sense of awe and wonder. And perhaps this is why politicians in Oxford, Alabama, recently gave a private contractor the right to level a major prehistoric mound for fill dirt for the foundation of a new big box store—Sam’s Club, owned by Walmart.
Local archaeologists and Native Americans are up in arms about this. As Jacksonville State University archaeologist Harry Holstein pointed out in one article, “There is substantial ethnographic and archaeological evidence from similar stone mound sites throughout the eastern United States that these stone mounds, walls and effigies atop mountains, ridges and plateaus were built to commemorate deceased loved ones and important events and bury sacred offerings.”
But when the opponents voiced their deep concerns about the destruction of the mound, Oxford’s mayor and city project manager apparently shrugged them off. According to a report in a local paper, The Anniston Star, Mayor Leon Smith claimed the mound was used for little more than sending smoke signals. I find this a bizarre and belittling claim, one that flies in the face of scientific evidence on mound-building cultures and the ceremonial way in which they often raised these impressive earthen edifices.
The Archaeological Resource Laboratory of Jacksonville State University conducted a Phase I survey on some property that was going to be (now is) developed by the City of Oxford in 2006. Recorded 14 multicomponent sites and revisited 13 previously recorded ones along Choccolocco Creek just south of Oxford. Recommended preservation on several including, 1Ca196, a Mississippian earthen temple mound. Oh , by the way this ceremonial site may be the 16th Century De Soto Expedition Spanish contact site of Ulibahali. Leon Smith, Mayor of Oxford was not happy with our recommendations. We also at the time informed them (Oxford officials) about the large (42 feet x 18 feet x 6 feet) stone mound atop the hill behind the new Sam’s Club and of its prehistoric importance. The City said it would not touch the stone mound. So much for words!!! The bad news is there are several other multicomponent sites, slave house sites, and a NRHP 1850s Plantation house across the street from the hill and development and Oxford has its eyes on it next for development. I have suggested this area be turned into a welcome center, museum and rest area for I-20 (which lies within sight of Indiana I Farm House). Suggestion again has fallen on deaf ears by the City of Oxford! I too wish those in power would have more insight to preserve rather than destroy the past!!!
Harry Holstein, PH. D.
Carolyn Chambliss (Italy) wrote:
Yes the Mayor and the city council was not only dishonest but broke their promises to the The Archaeological Resource Laboratory of Jacksonville State University who gave an excellent argument for not only preserving the site, but expanding it to include a possible museum. Culture in exchange for crushing Big Box capitalism. It's really appalling how the Mayor and the City council, just ignored all this and went ahead anyway in pure Andrew Jackson style. The good news is that old ethno-centric way of doing things totally failed. In the age of social media activism--they can't get away with colonialism style ignorance. Big Brands like Walmart can't afford to have a media feeding frenzy either.
This is something that all native groups are fighting, two years ago we had a gravel crushing company come onto our reserve...no one even knew about it, the disrupted the trees and people offerings. We took chances and blocked the road, others did the same until they left. These are our sites and we need to protect them. The mainstream media isn't going to pick up on this so make some noise people! Send messages to the city council and mayor, send stuff to the media in the area, take lots of photos and document what you can. If they know that this is a bigger issue it will make them think twice.
Mark Davis (Birmingham, AL) wrote:
I am responsible for the protest in Oxford, Alabama, to save this mound. It took from June 24 to today to get the machines off the mound and stop what they doing. This took a lot out of people and a lot of time, but as of today, the contractor has ordered ALL men and machines off the mound and they cannot remove any more "fill dirt" from it. I myself have gotten 20 hours of sleep since this started. We will be moving our attention on another piece of land, 320 acres that contains a temple Mound, this area also was the largest Indian Town in the southeast.
Alabama American Indian Movement
These days, AIM is doing a lot of work protesting Native stereotypes and preserving Native sites. I wonder what AIM's critics would say about that.
As with the artifact looting in Utah, there's no excuse for this kind of destruction. Preserving our past should have priority over developing and building, especially something as ephemeral as a Sam's Club.
P.S. For those who haven't learned how to spell, punctuate, or capitalize correctly, I made minor changes to the comments.
For more on the subject, see No Time for Indian Monuments and US Ignores Indian Sites at Risk.