FEMA archaeologists discover one of the oldest Native American artifacts south of Lake Pontchartrain
Pottery sherds, animal bones and pieces of clay tobacco pipes are among the items recently discovered by a team of archaeologists under contract to the Federal Emergency Management Agency surveying land near Bayou St. John in New Orleans.
"It was a bit of a surprise to find this," said FEMA Louisiana Recovery Office Deputy Director of Programs Andre Cadogan, referencing a small, broken pottery fragment. "We clearly discovered pottery from the late Marksville period, which dates to 300-400 A.D. The pottery was nice, easily dateable, and much earlier than we expected. This is exciting news for historians and Tribal communities as it represents some of the only intact prehistoric remains of its kind south of Lake Pontchartrain."
The Bayou St. John spot holds a prominence in New Orleans' history, throughout the years serving as the location of a Native American occupation, a French fort, a Spanish fort, an American fort, a resort hotel and then an amusement park. Through a series of shovel tests and methodological excavation, the archaeologists discovered evidence of the early Native Americans, the colonial period and the hotel.
"The historical record tells us that the shell midden (or mound) created by the Native American occupation was destroyed by the French when they built their fort here," said Cadogan. "However, we've discovered, through archaeology, that rather than destroy the midden, the French cut off the top of it and used it as a foundation for their fort."
FEMA's work near Bayou St. John is part of an agreement with the State Historic Preservation Office, Indian Tribes and the state to perform archaeological surveys of parks and public land in the city of New Orleans. It falls under FEMA's Environmental and Historic Preservation program, which evaluates historical and environmental concerns that may arise from projects funded by federal dollars.
FEMA hazard mitigation funding was used for thousands of home elevations and reconstructions throughout Louisiana. Rather than evaluate every property for archaeological remains-a nearly impossible task-FEMA, the State Historic Preservation Office and various consulting parties signed an agreement, which allowed FEMA to conduct alternate studies such as the archaeological surveys.
"The surveys not only offset potential destruction of archaeological resources on private property from the home mitigations but also give us a leg up on any future storms. We are helping the state of Louisiana learn about its history as well as provide information that leads to preparedness for the next event," said Cadogan.
FEMA, in coordination with the State Historic Preservation Office and Indian Tribes, identified the areas to be surveyed. Once the field studies are completed and all of the artifacts are analyzed and recorded, the State Historic Preservation Office will become stewards of the information.
The Louisiana State-Specific Programmatic Agreement can be found at www.fema.gov/pdf/hazard/hurricane/2005katrina/LA_HMGP%20PA.pdf.