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Oklahoma digging for ancient Native American relics to resume

By Kristi Eaton

Associated Press

Published: Tuesday, April 8 2014 11:39 p.m. MDT

In this photo taken in October 2013, and provided by the Oklahoma Archaeological Survey, archaeologists work on excavating a prehistoric building structure at Spiro Mounds in eastern Oklahoma. Archaeologists have unearthed a prehistoric building structure during the first excavation work at the Native American site in eastern Oklahoma in more than 30 years and hope to uncover more in the coming months.

Oklahoma Archaeological Survey, Associated Press

OKLAHOMA CITY — Archaeologists will return to an ancient Native American site in eastern Oklahoma next month to resume excavation, after they discovered a prehistoric building there last October.

Few artifacts have been discovered near the formation — which measures just about 12 feet across — at Spiro Mounds making it difficult for researchers to determine the time period of the building, said Scott Hammerstedt, a researcher at the Oklahoma Archaeological Survey.

"It's a building. A prehistoric building, a fairly faint one — but one nonetheless," he said.

Researchers will head back to excavate a handful of other areas during five weeks of fieldwork in May and June, Hammerstedt said.

The formation was one of about 70 that researchers discovered using remote sensing technology. A creek is eroding a handful of them, so the archaeologists with the Oklahoma Archaeological Survey, the Arkansas Archaeological Survey and the University of Oklahoma's Department of Anthropology will excavate them. The researchers entered into an excavation agreement with the U.S. Corps of Engineers, which owns the site, the Oklahoma Historical Society, which manages it, and the Caddo Nation and Wichita and Affiliated Tribes, whose ancestors inhabited the site, for the excavation work. The Corps purchased most of the mound area in the 1960s to create a national archeological park, which never was created, according to the Oklahoma Historical Society.

"We're trying to get tribal members involved in the research team and have them come out and help excavate," Hammerstedt said. "We've been doing public presentations, things like that. That's what is exciting to us — some of the interaction and communication between archaeologists and the tribes, which isn't always the case."

Spiro Mounds is located about seven miles outside of Spiro. It became a permanent settlement around AD 800 and was used until about 1450, according to the Oklahoma Historical Society. In the 1930s, commercial and academic excavations revealed a large collection of Native American artifacts, many of which were looted from the site.

"Almost all of what we know about Spiro comes from excavation of the Craig Mound in the 1930s — both by looters and by professional archaeologists. And we know next to nothing about what's happening in other parts of the site and around it, and so we're just sort of shifting focus away from mounds into the rest," Hammerstedt said.

He said the current research work is the first excavation work at the site since 1982.

Gary McAdams, cultural program planner for the Wichita and Affiliated Tribes, said the formation uncovered is interesting because researchers didn't previously know anything was there.

McAdams said the tribe hopes some of its members will take part in the excavation work in May and June at the site.

Follow Kristi Eaton on Twitter at http://twitter.com/kristieaton.

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