It saddens me that the city of Oxford, in particular Mayor Leon Smith, again seems to have little or no regard for Oxford's rich heritage and varied past. I realize commercial development is vital and necessary to the growth of Oxford and the surrounding area, but occasionally one must realize that by preserving small portions of Oxford's past will in no way stop development or create job loss throughout the area.
Oxford's past and heritage are rapidly being destroyed in the name of progress. Future generations will be hard-pressed to find any tangible examples of Oxford's significant architectural or historical past. As for Smith's statement in The Star concerning the stone mound — "first of all, it's not a burial ground. It ain't never been a burial ground. It was for (smoke) signals" — is incorrect.
For more than 25 years, the Archaeological Resource Laboratory at Jacksonville State University has been conducting research on stone structure sites throughout northeast Alabama. The ARL, and numerous other archaeologists, have documented that these loose stone mounds are ceremonial Native American structures built during the prehistoric Woodland and Mississippian periods (1000 B.C. to A.D. 1600). There is substantial ethnographic and archaeological evidence from similar stone mound sites throughout the eastern United States that these stone mounds, walls and effigies atop mountains, ridges and plateaus were built to commemorate deceased loved ones and important events and bury sacred offerings.
The University of Alabama has investigated numerous similar stone mound sites in northeast Alabama and has likewise concluded they were prehistoric ceremonial sites. That is not to say that Indians may have lit signal fires from atop the hill, but the main purpose of that stone mound is religious in nature.
In April 2009, the city of Oxford hired University of Alabama archaeologists to conduct a test excavation upon the mound. The archaeologist found several Woodland Native American artifacts in the subfloor of the mound. This structure was obviously constructed by prehistoric Indians, not for signal fires, but for their own religious purposes.
Archaeological sites are a finite resource, and with the destruction of each site there is one less resource across the landscape. This may be just a pile of rocks to some individuals, but to the Native Americans and many others, this destructive action by the city of Oxford will result in the loss of another valuable piece of Alabama Indian heritage.
Harry Holstein is a professor of archaeology and anthropology at Jacksonville State University.