Destruction of the Oxford Indian Stone Mound
by Richard Kilborn
The State of Alabama has a rich pre-historic past that in some locations is evidenced by the presence of Indian Mounds. These mounds were frequently the ceremonial center for local villages and surrounding regional settlements at which the Native American Indians practiced their social and religious beliefs. Many of the mounds had burials interred within them. Most mounds were constructed of earth carried in baskets from adjacent land but on rare occasions they were made by stacking up stones. Either way, a tremendous amount of time and effort was expended in their construction and is a testament to the importance of these sites to their builders.
Archaeologists and other professionals in interrelated fields have studied some of these sites using a very meticulous and disciplined scientific method of excavation and documenting what was observed in extremely detailed records. This enabled them to gain insights into the state of civilization for the American Indians in a time before the arrival of Europeans. These excavations have helped fill in many blank areas in our knowledge of this landís prehistoric past but much remains to be learned.
The largest stone mound in the Choccolocco Valley was constructed on the top of a steep 200 foot hill in Oxford Alabama and measures 96 feet long by 48 feet wide with the stones stacked almost 6 feet high. Harry Holstein, Jacksonville State University professor of anthropology and archaeology recorded the site designated as 1Ca636 in 2003 although it had been known of decades earlier. Inhabitants of a major prehistoric Woodland and Mississippian town only hundreds of meters away on the bank of the Choccolocco Creek most likely built this sacred site between 500 to 2,500 years ago.
A minimal Phase II investigation of the mound was performed by the University of Alabama Office of Archaeological Research during 14 days in March and April, 2009 during which 13.8 cubic meters of stones were moved and 3 cubic meters of subsoil were excavated. During this testing only 1 stone chip and 6 pottery fragments were recovered from the very limited areas disturbed. The report on this investigation issued on 30 April 2009 concluded the function and affiliation of the site are open ended and further testing would not yield significant data. These investigators stated they thought the site did not meet the eligibility criteria for the National Register of Historic Places.
Both prior to and after the Phase II testing of the site, the Alabama Deputy State Historic Preservation Officer issued letters stating the importance of this site as a non-renewable cultural resource and their desire to preserve it. They determined the stone mound to be eligible for the National Register of Historic Places under 3 separate criteria: association with a broad pattern of history in that time, for architecture embodying distinctive characteristics of a type, period and method of construction and for the information it might yield.
At the time of this writing, the Oxford Indian Stone Mound is in the process of being destroyed. Its destruction will not be at the hands of looters that frequently illegally dig into such sites seeking artifacts for sale on the black market while destroying the context and cultural affiliation in which they were found. And the destruction is not limited to simple looterís holes. The entire hill top and stone mound is being completely removed by the elected officials of the city of Oxford in order to use the material as fill and grading for the construction site of a major retail outlet. They further hope to later build a Hotel or restaurant on top of the truncated hill because of the commanding view this location would provide.
As the landowner, the city appears to be within its legal rights to destroy the Mound. Should human burials be encountered, additional legal requirements would come to bear, but the city could still remove the mound. Under controlled archaeological excavations, human burials have been detected in over half the stone mounds investigated in surrounding regions. In such cases, Native Americans with cultural affiliation to the site are notified and recovered remains are often reinterred at a different location. Detection of human remains that have deteriorated from being buried in the ground for hundreds to thousands of years is difficult under the best of conditions during painstaking excavations by trained professionals and next to impossible during bulldozer removal of the soil.
It is the authorís opinion that the State of Alabama needs additional laws to afford some degree of protection, preservation or complete controlled excavation when dealing with rare sites of such cultural significance as the Oxford Indian Stone Mound.