Thursday, June 11, 2009

So, Who Did the Archaeological Survey at the May Town Center Site?

Posted By on Thu, Jun 11, 2009 at 7:00 PM

America, I was raised to be a fretter and I was university-trained to read too much into things. I
click to enlarge Much Like Bell's Bend, The Tennessee Coneflower is Unique to Our Area
  • Much Like Bell's Bend, The Tennessee Coneflower is Unique to Our Area
feel like I should say that, right up front.

So, when Joe Hall, of Hall Strategies, one of the public relations firms working for the May Town Center folks contacted me to voice his displeasure about my first post about the archaeological sites in Bell's Bend, the way he worded his emails to me made me curious.

Join me after the jump to see what piqued my curiosity.
The first email went (in part) like this:

There is in fact a significant - and serious - plan to deal with the three identified arch sites on the 1,500 MTC property.   In fact, archaeological process is an issue addressed in the SP Zoning application filed with Metro. All of these sites, including the Cleese's Ferry site, have been left undisturbed.   In addition, an archaeological survey will be completed on those portions of the site that will be developed before final SP plans are approved.   

The first of any proposed site plans for new development will include a plan for protecting significant archaeological finds for that and all subsequent excavations. The project is easy to reach.  We would have appreciated a phone call before being characterized as indifferent. We are going to work on a statement for you that we would appreciate being presented publicly - both fairly and accurately.

In response, I asked him if it was his position that Michael Moore was mistaken about not being contacted by anyone from the MTC project.

He replied:

Betsy, My position -- our position -- is exactly as I wrote. An extensive study has been conducted, sites identified and a plan installed as a specific feature in the SP Zoning application.
That's the thing that made me curious. Why word it like that?  "An extensive study has been conducted, sites identified and a plan installed." 

By whom?  Who conducted the survey and identified the sites, if not the State Archaeologist or someone from his office?

He replies:

There is in fact a significant plan to protect the three identified archaeological sites on the 1,500 MTC property.   This process is addressed in the SP Zoning application filed with Metro.  All of these sites, including the Cleese's Ferry site, have been left undisturbed.   In addition, an archaeological survey will be completed on those portions of the site that will be developed before final SP plans are approved.   

The first of any proposed site plans for new development will include a plan for protecting significant archaeological finds for that and all subsequent excavations. The project's engineering firm has talked with the State to gather information.  At the appropriate time, as required by the SP Zoning, the project will conduct a comprehensive survey and take the right steps to protect these sites.

I won't bore you with the rest.  Suffice to say, I went to the SP Zoning application where all my questions would be answered.  And here's what I read:

An Archaeological Inventory Report has been done for this site.  Three sites have been identified as possible prehistoric burial grounds.  All of these sites, including the Cleese's Ferry Site (DV14), have been left undisturbed.

I reported my findings to Mr. Hall--that the zoning application is worded in the same passive voice as many of his emails to me and so I was not actually able to discern from it who did the archaeological survey.  I have not yet received a reply.

For the non-nerdy among us, let's reiterate what's at stake here.  The State says that there are at least 60 known archaeological sites in the Bend.  The location of those sites is kept secret by the State to prevent looting.  Therefore, you cannot know the locations of those sites without contacting the State (usually.  See below.).

Michael Moore says, "The current developers have not contacted our office for information."

Also, Moore says, "There have been several prior archaeological investigations within Bells Bend, although the Bend has not been comprehensively surveyed."

This means that there could be many more archaeological sites in the May Town Center area that the developers might not know about because not only haven't they contacted the state archaeologist, even if they had, some sites could still be unknown, even to the state archaeologist until they can get out there and do some extensive studies.

So, what is this "comprehensive survey" and who conducted it?

After spending all evening looking at the maps on the May Town Center website and the maps in the Scottsboro/Bells Bend detailed design plan done by the city, I have a theory.

Keep in mind that the only time the state archaeologist must be called in is when bodies are found and keep in mind that bodies are usually found only when earth is being moved.

Now, we can look at the Scottsboro/Bells Bend design plan and see that, at the time of the plan, the part of the Bend that is now slated to be exactly underneath the May Town Center, was called "Bells Bend Farm" and considered to be worthy of preservation (p 3) and all of the land from the lane that goes to the cemetery to the river was not.

If you go out to the Bend now, you'll see that what you can see from the road between the river and the lane is very flat sod farm.  And it appears from Google Maps to be the case all the way up the river hugging the May Town Center core.

It is in this area, that is now being sod farmed (and which has been gifted to TSU), where the three currently preserved archaeological sites are (on a side note, just a word to the MTC people, like I said, these sites are kept secret to prevent looters and yet any fool with your map and Google maps pulled up can see the exact locations of these sites and how they're situated in the landscape. If you want to convince people that you're serious about conservation, drawing a treasure map for thieves works against that.).

It seems very unlikely to me that that land could be as flat as it is naturally.  So, I suspect that whoever originally converted that to sod farm had an archaeological study done and preserved those spots at that time.  When the land was acquired by the May Town Center folks, they might have acquired with it the survey of those sites.

This would make part of what they've said to me true--that there has been an archaeological survey done, on the land along the river, but not actually on the whole 1500 acre site. After all, the need for a survey would not have come up on historic farm land, since the chances of there being a lot of major construction projects on a historic farm are pretty slim.  And what Michael Moore says is then true, too.  The state archaeologist has not been contacted by the current developer.  That doesn't mean that archaeologists haven't been out to the flood plain, ever.

So, my guess is that any incomplete survey that the developers have was actually done by the State, for previous owners of part of what is now the MTC land.

It'd be nice to know for certain, but I never could figure out who the engineers were and my email to the person in charge of civic/site design went unanswered. I asked Hall point blank numerous times who did the archaeological survey at the May Town Center site, but he didn't give me a name.

Which seems strange, when you think about it.  If a survey really has been done, someone should know who did it.

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