During the regular meeting of the Oxford City Council Tuesday Robert Clouse, director of the Office of Archaeological Research at the University of Alabama and the director of the University of Alabama Museums, tried to answer questions about the mound behind the Oxford Exchange and the apparent removal of another mound at the historic Davis Farm site nearby.
At the council meeting, Clouse said the stone mound behind the Oxford Exchange was likely created by erosion and other natural forces. Clouse signed and presented to the City of Oxford last year a report based on an excavation of the stone mound by UA archaeologists. The report was written to give the city an indication of the potential archaeological significance of the stone mound behind the Oxford Exchange.
The report states the mound is definitively cultural and said the chance a stone mound of that size being created by random natural phenomena is unlikely. In addition, Kelly Gregg, a geology professor at Jacksonville State University, has said there is no way nature made the structure on top of the hill. Gregg has visited the site. JSU archaeology and anthropology professor Harry Holstein also disagrees with Clouse's remarks at Tuesday's meeting.
Attempts to reach Clouse after the City Council meeting to comment on the discrepancy between his report and his comments were unsuccessful. Protests erupted last year when the city, through its Commercial Development Authority, tried to remove the hill underneath the mound to use as fill dirt for the construction of a Sam's Club nearby.
Clouse has overseen UA archaeologists hired to observe the construction of a sports complex site near the Davis Farm. Tuesday night he refuted claims by Holstein that the mound at the site was recently destroyed.
"The mound is still there," Clouse said of the Davis Farm site.
That statement contradicts recent claims by Holstein, who conducted digs there in the 1990s. He visited the site last week and said the 3-foot high mound had been removed since he last saw it during the summer.
"No, it is not there," Holstein said during a phone interview Tuesday. "(Clouse) has never been there, I guarantee that. I say he is wrong."
City officials have also stated the mound is still intact.
"I don't want to be on any burial mounds," said Mayor Leon Smith, who noted he was half American Indian.
Since Holstein's visit to the Davis Farm site last week, other archaeologists have visited the site, including retired archaeologist Cary Oakley, who held Clouse's position at UA from 1972 to 2000.
Oakley, who visited the site Friday, said it had changed considerably since he last visited it a few years ago during an archaeological dig.
"Apparently it has been removed," Oakley said. "It looked pretty flat to me."
Oakley added he was a principal investigator of several stone mounds during his career and said it was highly unlikely the one behind the Oxford Exchange was caused by natural forces.
Robert Perry of Pell City, who works as a consulting archaeologist for various governments and companies, also visited the Davis Farm site Friday and could not find the mound.
"I saw no evidence of the Davis Farm truncated mound," said Perry, who visited the site a few years ago on a dig. "I know where the mound was at and looking out in the field … I can't see where it was present."
In regards to Clouse's comments about the stone mound, Perry said he should present a certified geologist's opinion on the matter.
No such opinion was presented during the City Council meeting.
One thing Clouse did not dispute was the recent discovery of apparently American Indian remains recently found at the sports center construction site. He said the city followed all procedures and the remains were reburied and would not be disturbed again.
In other business the council approved an $82,021.54 change order to the Taylor Corporation's contract for construction of the sports complex at the Davis Farm site.
Council President Chris Spurlin said the order was required since the changes were outside the scope of the city's contract with the corporation.
Included in the change order were three bills from UA archaeologists overseeing the site's construction. Two other bills were for the removal of dirt not fit to build upon and one bill was to replace a storm drain pipe.
The council also entered into a contract with UA for archaeological observation at the sports complex site. Previously, the archaeologists were hired through the Taylor Corporation.
Spurlin said by doing the contract directly with the university, the city would save money since it would not have to pay the company's 15 percent overhead for the archaeologists.
Contact Patrick McCreless at 256-235-3561.