Archaeology dig an exciting exploration

Published 10:21 am Wednesday, May 29, 2024

By Steve Stricker



On May 20, 2024, friend Scott Coopwood posted on Facebook some artifacts he found on private property near his Cleveland, Mississippi home – cord marked pottery and crude arrow heads typical of the Woodland Period of indigenous people, 1000 BC, 1000 AD, along with a couple of marbles from a long ago house built on the same site – very cool.

The summer between my junior and senior year in high school, and four summers at SEMO, I was extremely fortunate to work with the University of Missouri’s renown Archaeological Department headed by famous Dr. Carl Chapman who I met many times in my home area of southern Missouri while excavating indigenous sites and humbly those who came before me from the Archaic Period (8,000-2000 years ago); Woodland Period (1,000 BC, 1,000 AD) and Mississippian Period (300-800 years ago).

That first summer in my hometown of Charleston, excavated the Mississippian Period site located on the grounds of our then Governor of Missouri, Warren Hearnes just outside the city limits.  So many artifacts were found, especially skeletal remains, pottery, and an intact hooded water bottle uncovered by me.

A professor from the esteemed Archaeology Department of the University of Missouri led each summer’s dig which so differed from the “pot hunter” by being extremely professionally organized and executed.  

A 5 or 10’ square was laid out with string, dirt was taken down a level at a time, (shovel blade depth), until the soil color was the same, bottom “skimmed” flat to reveal any soil that varied in color indicating something had been removed, backfilled with dirt (a burial), decomposed wooden post outlining a structure, photos taken of each level, and everything found placed in a paper sack and marked where it came from.   On rainy days we spent the entire day washing each and every artifact clean of dirt and marking with ink where it came from.  All artifacts, especially Skeletal remains found were immensely respected.  

I was one of the very first to excavate Beckwith Fort, Towosahgy State Historic Site a former fortified village and civic-ceremonial center for the Mississippian peoples who lived in southern Missouri between A.D. 1000 and A.D. 1400 a few miles from my home in southern Missouri and spent another entire summer excavating southern Missouri sites working with a Mizzou crew and living in an abandoned service station….

Before and after the formal academic processing of these sites, I loved after a rain taking my trusty cane pole to flip stuff over and walk with permission the rich farmland near my home, focusing on the ground for hours these rich artifacts to include arrow heads, scrapers, pipes, ax heads, pottery sherds, marbles, and even lead bullets.

In our flat southern Missouri Bootheel, shaped by the Mississippi River, indigenous people built their house sites on the highest ground possible to avoid Spring swollen floods of the mighty river and our relatives did the same which is why we find marbles and other home debris on these sites.

I will forever remember the moment  that summer day just outside of  Charleston on relatives farmland, casually flipping over a stone only to bend down and reveal a 6’ perfect spear point, and another time a perfect sandstone pipe, and each time before removing, stopped to stare at the object potentially thousands of years old, while humbly thinking of the individual who had crafted the object, saying a prayer for them, before removing it.

Decades removed from all this, note that “All artifacts found on public lands are protected by state and federal laws. It is illegal and unethical to collect artifacts on public lands. Artifacts include anything made or used by humans including arrowheads and flakes, pottery, basketry, rock art, bottles, coins, metal pieces, and even old cans.”

Thank you all who came before me and humbly taught me how to live a complicated life, simply….

Steve is an Oxford resident, worked on the Ole Miss Campus, and received his Ph.D. in Educational Psychology (Counseling) from The  University of Mississippi.