Rewriting history American Indians may have arrived earlier tha

Sunday, July 21, 2002

STOCKTON, Mo. -- Archeologists are racing the Sac River to recover artifacts that could rewrite human history in the Ozarks.

If their hypothesis is correct, American Indians may have inhabited parts of Southwest Missouri more than 12,000 years ago -- 2,000 years earlier than current theory suggests.

The proof, if it exists, could lie buried in mud beside the Sac River at a site where a team led by faculty members from Southwest Missouri State University has been digging this summer.

Each year, the Sac washes away 4 feet of earth from the dig site, called the Big Eddy.

"We're here to find out as much as we can before the site is destroyed by the river," said Jack Ray, an archaeologist with the university's Center for Archaeological Research.

The laborious excavation consists of skimming the mud with a shovel a millimeter at a time, in hope of unearthing blades carved from cobblestones or flakes that someone chipped away while carving a rock.

"Extraordinary hypotheses require extraordinary evidence," said Burt Purrington, an anthropology professor supervising a team of 15 students.

Listening to the shovel

As the shovels skim the earth, the students listen for telltale sounds.

"A 'clink' is usually a flake and a 'crunch' is usually river gravel," said history major Kelly Corbin. "We're listening for 'clinks."'

Chantel White, a student at Beloit College in Wisconsin, was working at the site Saturday. At one point she found the early stage of a spear point -- what a lay person would call half an arrowhead.

"It's a lot cooler if it's whole," White said, downplaying her find. "If you find one with a full point, you get a gold star to put on your shovel."

Also at the site are workers hired to screen and sift thousands of buckets of dirt brought up from the pit where the digging goes on.

"One day I stopped counting at 80 buckets," said one of the workers, Jessica Zimmerman, as she scraped the screen with a wooden block. "Sometimes we find a little something. ... It's better than digging in the pit."

The finds in the pit are rare, Purrington said. But every level of earth tells a different story.

"What we've found is that the people who traveled through here were pretty mobile," he said. "We're learning something here we didn't know before. It's as important as history or literature."

Ray said he believes American Indians may have mingled at the site more than 10,000 years ago. He said some of the stones the workers are finding originate in the South, as far as Texas and Mississippi.

"We think they may have rendezvoused here with different groups and got together periodically to exchange items," he said.

Ray said the research, excavation and education are critical to history and research.

"If you don't investigate it, you lose it," Ray said. "It's like taking a whole family photo album and burning it."

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: