Native American Plants and Garden-based teaching,

This year I started a new class project. My co-teacher wanted to do a garden’s based project, so when I was at SEAC, I teamed up with Liz Horton and started talking to her about the Plum Bayou Garden in Arkansas, and all of the cool EAC plants she had going.  She shared a ton of seeds with me, and I started teaching my kiddos about indigenous forms of gathering, agriculture, and we made up a project where they planted seeds, tended gardens, and wrote both historically and creatively about their garden’s based work. Some students came up with music, dance, and sculpture about their garden.  Once the school year is over, I’ll try to write more up and share it, but in the meantime, enjoy these pics!

 

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Jan 23rd, Dulac, LA @ 4pm

Hi All,

I’m promoting a public lecture I’m giving in Dulac, LA at the Public Library, located at 200 Badou Road.

If you’re interested in hearing me talking about Louisiana’s cultural heritage, please feel free to come hear me talk!

 

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Volunteer Member Profile, Society for American Archaeology

I’ve pasted a picture below of my recent feature in the Archaeological Record.

See here for the whole issue, SAA Archaeological Record November 2016

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Resilience in the Ancient Gulf South (RAGS)

 

This past June, my colleague Elizabeth Chamberlain (Tulane Earth and Environmental Sciences) and I brought to a close our second season of field work in coastal Louisiana, and our first set of excavations at a large, Native American monumental town called Bayou Grand Caillou (BGC). The site is named after a bayou that flows right next to it and at several points in the past, a tributary of the Mississippi River flowed in the area, forming the land on which the mounds were built. In the image below, the location of BGC is intersected by deltaic lobes number 4, also known as Lafourche, and number 2, Teche, making for a fairly complicated geomorphic situation.

There are several primary objectives to our research, including understanding how the Mississippi River builds land and what it means for Native communities to build monumental infrastructure in a dynamic coastal environment – from an anthropological perspective, we are interested in evaluating the ways in which the construction of earthen mounds, plazas, villages, and towns along Louisiana’s ever-shifting landscape signifies resiliency and an adaptation to lifeways in an environmentally active region.

In and of itself, resilience is a complex term that means quite little – in short, it is the ability of a system to adapt to and weather change. But in the framework on indigenous settlement patterns along the coast, resilience signifies how native peoples developed systems, means, cultures, stories, and knowledge to purposefully live in a place that is fertile but susceptible to rapid change due to hurricanes, river-based flooding, tidal-influx, erosion, and subsidence, as well as intense extremes in temperature. Why is resilience important? As we continue to live and build in coastal regions, where most of the world’s populations are based, sea-level rise, erosion, and increasingly tremendous storms will make “resilient” buildings and “resilient” lifestyles more and more important, especially if we are to avoid the massive costs associated with consistently rebuilding after large-scale environmental disturbance. Here, we look to geology, geomorphology, and archaeology to develop science that can help inform policy initiatives and make policy recommendations.

As soon as we have a field-report ready, we’ll post one up here, but until then, feel free to look through the older posts on this website to see how the fieldwork went.

 

Elizabeth Chaberlain, Jaap Nienhaus, and David Yates

 

 

 

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Resilience in the Ancient Gulf South

It might be a few days before I can write up a post, so until then, enjoy the video!

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WEEK 1 – Resilience in the Ancient Gulf South (RAGs)

 

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The first week of excavations and coring are finished at Bayou Grand Caillou and we’ve had quite a week!  Although the heat and mosquitoes are difficult to manage, the site itself is in trees (and poison ivy), and working in the shade isn’t too bad. Our work is directed at understanding how the Mississippi River builds land and after that land forms, when do people come and live (and build villages and mounds) on these deltaic landscapes.

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The big mound at Bayou Grand Caillou, its about 6 meters tall and in really excellent condition.  Unlike many of the other mounds around coastal Louisiana, this one is really well preserved, many thanks to Westerfeldt Properties and the United Houma Nation!

This first week, we have opened up two excavation units on the big mound and made six bore holes (manually of course!) into the surrounding landscape (and one into the big mound). Many thanks for volunteers from Tulane and Macalester for helping with this research and work!

Our units are located on the mound summit and the mound flank and they are designed to help us understand more about mound construction and the relationship between the mound and the prehistoric land surface on which the mound was built.  As of right now, the unit on top of the mound has helped us to define how the last mound stage was built and the kinds of soil present on top of the penultimate mound stage – unfortunately for us, the penultimate mound stage is about a meter of clay, which we absolutely won’t be excavating into (because clay is hard to dig)!  The picture below shows (from right to left) a brown silty clay loam that is part of the very last mound building stage, and the soils to the left (the dark, smeared soil) is pretty much just clay. The Oakfield coring device is a great tool for taking a quick look at the underlying sediments in our summit unit – we also found the clay soils all over the mound summit through shovel testing, and decided that the clay stage must underlie the whole mound and really is a stage, rather than a thin cap.

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CLAY.  And lots of it.

So we also started excavating on the flank  of the mound, and I’ll post up some pictures later this week, but we went through final stage construction (mostly just slope wash), and found what might comprise the final mound stage, based on the clays present.  The soils on the slope below the surface are not nearly as clayey as on the summit, but perhaps they used different soils around the slopes.  We did find the remains of an ancient midden – I don’t have too many pictures of it right now, but we did find some cool Plaquemine pottery, including a L’Eau Noir Incised rim sherd (picture forthcoming), which generally dates to around AD 1200 to 1350 in the Natchez Bluffs  area but might be a later component this far south.

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Haley Holt Mehta taking a break from writing her dissertation to excavate, thank you!

The picture below shows Liz Chamberlain, co-principal investigator and doctoral student in Earth and Environment Sciences at Tulane University, and John Bridgeman, MA student at Tulane in the same department, auguring a 4 cm diameter core into part of the mound.  This is a minimally intrusive  way to study mound construction and the relationship between the mound and the natural surface (and environment) on which the mound was built.  Liz’ specialty in in deltaic environments and OSL and she’ll be working to identify the geomorphology of the specific landform and how we might date the landform/mound to get a better handle on the chronology of the site. While we are still working up results , we think that the big mound may have been constructed on an area that was forest (not marsh) and that was a relatively sheltered basin when Bayou Lafourche became active and sub-aerial prior to mound construction.

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Liz and John rocking the Dutch coring device – so many times better than an Oakfield.

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Seriously, the best soils ever!  Liz and John found this on the last day – it shows a clear break between mound fill (brown), preserved organic material from the forest floor before the mound was built, and then natural crevasse sediments underneath it.  The organic material likely preserved because the clays on top, which created an anoxic environment below the water line.

 

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Liz explaining coring and soils to visitors from Tulane and the Center for the Study of the Gulf South

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Talking rivers!

So we’ll keep at it this week, looking for pottery and deposits that will help us understand the people that lived at Bayou Grand Caillou and what the natural environment was life before and during settlement at the mound and in the region.

More to come !! And many many thanks to Rebecca Snedeker for coming to visit, and Arielle Pentes for taking such wonderful pictures! Thanks also to Rebecca and the Center for the Study of the Gulf at Tulane University for funding this project! And many thanks also to the landowners for supporting our work and letting us dig at the site.

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Resilience in the Ancient Gulf South (RAGs)

Next week, I start a new project (Carson has been my main project for the past few years and I plan to keep working there) –   its called RAGs and it stands for Resilience in the Ancient Gulf South. This is a collaborative project with my friend and colleague, Elizabeth Chamberlain (http://www2.tulane.edu/sse/eens/academics/current-students/chamberlain-liz.cfm), who has been studying delta formation in Louisiana and Bangladesh. Our work is supported by Tulane University, The New Orleans Center for the Gulf South (http://www2.tulane.edu/liberal-arts/NOCGS/), the New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts (NOCCA), and volunteers from Tulane’s Center for Archaeology and the Quaternary Research Group. Our work at the site would not be possible with the stewardship and support of the landowners  and we would like to thank them for allowing us to work on this important and endangered archaeological resource. We would also like to thank the United Houma Nation  (http://www.unitedhoumanation.org/) for talking with us about their history in southern Louisiana.

Our work focuses on the relationships between humans and the natural environment, in particular natural land-building processes in the Mississippi River delta, and compares and contrasts the pacing of sediment deposition with anthropogenic mound building. We are interested in learning more about when Native towns and mounds were built along the coast, and how soon these processes take place after wet, sub-aerial landforms break the water surface and stabilize. We can measure landform development through sediment coring, cross section development, and OSL dating, and we can study the development of archaeological sites through excavation and settlement pattern analysis. We are fortunate to have fairly high quality LiDAR and good site distribution maps, which makes finding potential sites and landforms easier to identify.

The map below shows just how close we are to the coast – all of the red dots mark prehistoric monumental sites and the numbered boxes mark land along tributaries that we’re interested in investigating. This whole system is part of the Lafourche distributary that was active between 1500 and 750 years ago – this was part of the Mississippi River before it switched over to the modern channel.

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Our work will date will entail excavations and sediment coring at the Bayou Grand Caillou mounds and it builds on previous pilot studies we conducted at a nearby mound site, the Ellesley Mound. We hope to uncover cultural deposits at Bayou Grand Caillou that we can use to date the occupation and define the archaeological culture that built the mounds (either Coles Creek, Plaquemine, or Mississippian,  or perhaps even historic?).  No work has been done out there and no surface collections exist.  Once we have an understanding of the cultural history, we’ll compare it to the geologic history that we are also developing.

What we hope to find is that indigenous communities of the coast built mounds on this landscape after the Lafourche system deposited mound bar sands (forming the coast), and crevasse sands (building higher elevation landforms).  Using OSL, we can date these two events, and we hope to find that pretty soon after the crevasse is deposited, the mounds are constructed.  Our primary objectives are to date the landforms and date the mounds, and to use these data to evaluate the resiliency of the Native occupations in the region.

2015-05-05 10.41.21.jpgTheoretically, our work invokes panarchy and resiliency theory, which provides aninterpretive framework for the archaeology and geomorphology of Native settlements in dynamic coastal environments. Panarchy describes the interrelated nature of complex systems and resilience is defined as the ability of systems to adapt to and withstand change. Despite experiencing hurricanes, flooding of land and wetlands, the formation of new landforms due to alluvial deposition, and changes in coastal geography and ecology related to sea level rise, Native Americans continued to occupy coastal regions for thousands of years. We claim that the construction of permanent monumental villages within the ever-shifting landscape of southeastern Louisiana signifies resiliency and an adaptation to life in a dynamic region. We expect that relatively soon after landforms stabilized, Native groups occupied them, and in many cases, built earthworks on them. We also expect they were occupied and reoccupied for long periods. If this holds true, then it will be reasonable to argue that by building monuments on newly formed land, Native peoples were creating markers of persistence that enhanced their connection to a particular place and to their social and environmental resilience.

In the long run, we hope this research will help to create models for sustainable development in coastal areas, including regions around New Orleans and the Gulf South.We think it is of the utmost importance that multi-disciplinary teams assemble and study how best humans can continue to live sustainably in coastal Louisiana. Oil exploration, subsidence, erosion, and river levees have all contributed to the steady disappearance of land in this state.

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