Saturday Art: Preserving Archaeological Finds, Spiro Mounds, OK
The Spiro Mounds in Oklahoma are a treasure that I’ve had the great good fortune to visit a few times. There, ceremonial mounds that provide burial sites were left by the peoples now known as Wichita, Caddo and a few other modern names, and form what we now call the Southern Cult of native tribes.
The treasures there have an unfortunate past, as the site was despoiled and artifacts sold off to various collectors. In museums across the world, now, Spiro Mounds treasure resides, while little of it is left for visitors there to see.
While the culture in Eastern Oklahoma died off – as far as is known, due to a devastating drought – the fortunate results of this cataclysm for the native peoples is that for the most part, archaeological studies can concentrate on retrieval of the treasures left at the various mounds that still dot the region.
The site, occupied from AD 850 to 1450, was home to powerful leaders who directed the building of the nine platform and burial mounds on the 80 acre site. These leaders governed farmers in outlying villages who probably provided labor for mound-building.
“OLD INDIAN BURIAL MOUNDS DESPOILED TO SUPPLY DEMANDS OF CURIO SEEKERS”
This headline brought the Spiro Mounds to national attention in the 1930’s when a group of treasure hunters set off a charge of black powder in the largest mound after losing their “mining” lease. The men sold artifacts from the mounds to collectors all over the world. Fragile items like cotton cloth and feather robes were tossed aside and crushed underfoot.
After the treasure hunters lost their lease, archeologists from the University of Oklahoma led WPA workers on a controlled excavation of the site in 1936 to salvage as much knowledge as possible about this unique site.
Fund cutbacks have almost left out archaeological expeditions to find the remaining evidences of the past civilization. Modern developments in studies of the earth have revealed many promising areas of cultivation that show promise for finds that will improve our knowledge of the civilization that was there long before we came upon it.