Historically and culturally significant sites throughout the Mississippi River Delta (MRD) are rapidly disappearing due to coastal erosion and subsidence, exacerbated by storm surges, anthropogenic climate change, sea-level rise, and human alterations of coastal landforms and hydrology. As formerly-terrestrial cultural deposits are increasingly submerged, eroded, re-deposited and removed from archaeological context, opportunities for conservation of the human environment and learning about the past are irretrievably lost. Among the most prominent and still-intact sites are the shell middens and earthen mounds constructed by indigenous peoples during the Woodland and Mississippi periods (2,800 to 300 years before present). These sites are culturally affiliated with modern-day Native American tribes and many are eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places.
The destruction of archaeological sites and traditional cultural places represents an unmitigated loss of unique sources of information on millennia of human habitation in the MRD. The processes of site obliteration are anthropogenic, brought about by the construction of pipelines, levees, canals and dredging, which have made coastal sites increasingly vulnerable to tidal action and storm surges. The goals of the Mississippi River Delta Archaeological Mitigation (MRDAM) project are to establish a comprehensive program of environmental impact assessment, advance scientific knowledge of long-term historical ecology, interaction and resilience in the MRD and north-central Gulf Coast, and provide for alternative mitigation of the effects of coastal erosion, subsidence and sea-level rise.
The MRDAM research group is comprised of investigators at the Louisiana Public Archaeology Lab, in partnership and collaboration with the Louisiana Office of Cultural Development, Division of Archaeology, National Center for Preservation Technology and Training, Cane River Creole National Historical Park, federal and state agencies, Native American tribes, and experts from the cultural resource management industry.
The goals and objectives of MRDAM are to:
(1) work with the Louisiana Division of Archaeology to identify interested parties and prepare consultation documents explaining the purpose of the study, including consultations with Native American tribes, culturally-affiliated groups and coastal communities concerning sites and traditional cultural places within the Mississippi River Delta Archaeological Mitigation (MRDAM) study area;
(2) develop a GIS database on endangered coastal sites, historic properties and traditional cultural places drawing upon the Louisiana Division of Archaeology GIS and site records, reports of previous investigations, digital versions of projected land loss maps, and historical maps of coastal areas;
(3) identify and georectify the locations of previously-unrecorded sites based on historical maps, including sites that may have been destroyed by coastal erosion;
(4) characterize archaeological sites, historic properties and traditional cultural places based on input from the interested parties, archaeological integrity, historical significance, components, cultural affiliation, landform, function, research potential, and projected land loss;
(5) prepare consultation report documents and consult with Native American tribes, culturally-affiliated groups and coastal communities concerning sites in the database, including which sites they regard as most culturally significant, and what they would like to see done (or not done) in terms of data collection and conservation practices;
(6) use the resulting GIS database and predictive model to produce a prioritized list of sites and traditional cultural places for proposed alternative mitigation based on archaeological integrity, historical significance, and projected land loss due to coastal erosion, subsidence and sea level rise.
Beginning in November of 2017, three student interns will work on the Mississippi River Delta Archaeological Mitigation project.
For more information on the MRDAM internships, contact:
NCPTT, Attention: Tad Britt
645 University Park way
Natchitoches, LA 71457
Or email Tad Britt@nps.gov
For more information on the MRDAM project, contact:
Dr. Mark A. Rees, Louisiana Public Archaeology Lab, 108 Mouton Hall, University of Louisiana at Lafayette, Lafayette, LA 70504.