My mom and I went down to the Bells Bend Nature Center Tuesday night to hear the concluding lecture of the summer archaeological survey. David Anderson, a professor from UT Knoxville, spoke.
He reiterated what was said at the first lecture — that there are more early sites here than in any other place, and we have less information about those sites than we do from just about anywhere else.
The gist of the evening is that they were looking for sites in the Bend that would provide them with deeply stratified layers, where they could get a good context for the artifacts they might find and they think they have found them.
But the subtext of the evening was looting.
Anderson said that, in the five weeks they'd been specifically excavating at the site of Clee's Ferry, two different times they'd come to the site to find evidence of fresh looting.
At a site within the park, they found bones tossed out of their graves onto the river bank and the grave sites looted. In that case, they found a cigarette left by the remains, a symbolic attempt to appease the Native American spirits. Obviously, one hopes such appeasement fails and that those looters are tormented.
Anderson was obviously upset about the extent of the looting and the brazen nature of it.
I suspect this may have colored the talk he gave. I noticed that he apologized to one of the men present for not having time to go into more depth about what they had talked about earlier, but Anderson was not very specific about what things those might be and I suspect "not having time" was a politeness.
Because it dawned on me that Anderson had no way of knowing who in the room might be a looter or the friend or relative of a looter. If he gave too much specific information, anyone regularly on the river — who had seen where they'd been excavating — would know to start looking there for artifacts.
That really sucks.
They did a lot of work to document the sites and the extent of the looting, but the losses out there have been almost beyond measure. It's enough to make you heartsick.
On the other hand, hearing how the people of Bells Bend and Scottsboro stepped up to make sure that the archaeologists had food and access to local knowledge and help made me really proud of our city. And as mad as I am at Metro Parks about the little poison ivy incident, I am deeply pleased that they went above and beyond to make this survey possible. The whole thing is really cool.
Which only makes the looting that much greater a crime.