But a grass-covered, centuries-old manmade mound does indeed exist at Davis Farm in Oxford – its slope plainly visible by anyone standing at the site looking south.
It and other American Indian artifacts on the property have withstood the test of time, and though Oxford is trying to build a multi-million dollar sports complex nearby, the city is ensuring that history will be preserved.
During its last meeting, the Oxford City Council hired engineering firm Goodwyn, Mills and Cawood to negotiate a mitigation plan with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Alabama Historic Preservation Office to restart construction of the sports complex.
Robert Perry, archaeologist with Goodwyn, Mills and Cawood, has said a plan could be formalized possibly as early as mid-January.
“We want to help chart out a path forward where we can resolve the Corps’ concerns, the (Historic Preservation Office’s) concerns and fully take into account the known sites and unknown sites … so (the city) can move forward again,” said Jim Noles, attorney for Goodwyn, Mills and Cawood. “The sites will continue to be protected through these developments … and we’ll ensure if any other human remains or artifacts are encountered, they will be handled appropriately.”
The corps ordered the city in February to cease work on the project when ancient human remains of possible American Indian origin were discovered. Oxford has a wetlands permit from the corps for the project, which states the agency must be notified if any remains or artifacts are discovered.
Since the cease and desist order, the corps has been in consultation with various Indian tribes about what to do with the remains.
The next step toward restarting the project includes the creation of a mitigation plan to protect the remains, the mound and any other American Indian artifacts found at the site. Once the plan is made, all parties involved will sign a legal contract to abide by the plans’ rules.
Details on what the plan would entail were not available as of Monday.
“But there will be a burial treatment plan in place and it will specify exactly what will take place from the time it is discovered,” said Perry said.
The mound was one site marked out of bounds for the city several years ago. It and another nearby site, which some archaeologists suspect was once the location of an ancient village, were fenced off by the city when the sports complex project began.
One of those archaeologists, Harry Holstein, professor of archaeology at Jacksonville State University, claimed in January that someone had destroyed the mound.
After revisiting the site Monday with Goodwyn, Mills and Cawood representatives and a representative from the Historic Preservation Office, Holstein recanted his previous claim and said he was confident the city would protect it and other Indian sites.
“I’m positive it’s there and they are going to save it,” Holstein said.
The human remains were found by construction crews outside the fenced in areas of both protected sites.
State archaeologist Stacye Hathorn, who was also at Davis Farms Monday, was also confident that all artifacts would be protected.
“I think we’re finally moving forward,” Hathorn said.
Contact staff writer Patrick McCreless at 256-235-3561.