Wednesday, February 5, 2014

catahoula archaeology

A STRETCH OF LEVEE between Catahoula and Butte La Rose was slated to be enlarged in the mid-1980s, and the power line paralleling the levee needed to be moved.
    The Army Corps of Engineers wanted to re-route the power line through my family’s property, but since federal funds were being used, and since the proposed re-route would cross 16SM39 — a previously identified yet unexplored archaeological site also known as The Theriot Site — certain criteria had to be met before the project could proceed.
     So in 1986 SLEMCO hired an archaeologist to investigate the site and determine what impact, if any, the power lines might pose. On June 5th and June 13th of that year Dr. Jon Gibson visited Catahoula. This is what he reported:

The project area is located near Catahoula in southern St. Martin Parish, just north of Catahoula Lake, between Bayou Berard and Bayou Mercier. The precise project area follows the east side of a gravel road that transects property belonging to Jackie and Howard Theriot, and the actual area of impact is limited to the four spots where poles will be set across the archaeological site.
     The site lies along the edge of the Atchafalaya Basin on what appears to be a natural levee. A northwest-to-southeast-oriented knoll dominates the site and, according to the landowners, is the highest ground around, being one of the last emergent spots during floods.

The archaeological site was in a sugar cane field and closed land fill. Young cane was head-high but was not so full as to block ground visibility between rows and under the plants. A field turn-row ran adjacent to the gravel road that bisected the site.
     The excellent ground visibility was somewhat offset by the “cloddy” dust-coated condition of the soil which had been disked the day before. This problem was over come by making a slow methodical search of every field row across the site area, a search that often included scrutiny from a “hands and knees” level. Subsurface probes, made with a tube sampler, were made to irregular intervals.

The problem of alluviation and the limited number of archaeological investigations have combined to make the Atchafalaya Basin one of the poorest known areas prehistorically in the Lower Mississippi Valley. Even when sites are discovered, the competence level of the investigator often makes it impossible to tell the culture period of affiliation.
     There is no empirically-based culture history. What we know, or think we know, has been extrapolated to the great swamp from better known regions to the north. Although a number of investigations have been conducted in St. Martin Parish, very little work has actually transpired in the Catahoula vicinity.
     From about the latitude of Catahoula south to the gulf, the earliest known occupation down in the west swamp dates to the Issaquena period, around AD 150-450. However, just east of Catahoula on Lake LaRose is a site — The Lake LaRose Mounds — now nearly completely entombed with silt, which produced a stone bead that almost assuredly dates to before 500 BC. Further north in the better-drained sections of the basin, Late Archaic sites have been found along the western margin.

The Theriot Site is a Coles Creek cultural component, a member of the Bayou Cutler phase cluster, a period dominated by Pontchartrain Check Stamped pottery, and probably dates to around AD 850-900.
     The Theriot Site has in situ midden deposits and would provide useful information if excavated. The site would be a marginal candidate for nomination to the National Register of Historic Places. SLEMCO plans to install three poles across the site, and the only disturbance will be around these poles.
     Probes at the proposed pole locations confirm the presence of modern landfill and there is already a high-pressure gas line in the corridor where the poles are to be placed, so there is no compelling reason to deny plans for the area. The poles are to be set in a part of the site which has already been totally destroyed, and thus will have no adverse impact.