AEDC undertakes archeological investigation project

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Arnold Engineering Development Center's (AEDC) cultural resources team recently concluded a non-intrusive archeological investigation to help determine if four pre-historic sites on base property are eligible to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP).

"This [type of investigation] was a first at Arnold," said Shawn Chapman, AEDC's base archeologist, explaining that the company contracted to do the project used remote sensing non-invasive technology to look for possible cultural artifacts and evidence of habitation.

According to Chapman, the project was part of an ongoing process that was preceded by "government-to-government" meetings between AEDC and Native American tribal representatives, which began in 2004.

"We incorporate the tribes input and concerns into our management strategies that involve things like archaeological sites, as we try to be good stewards of the land," he said. "[The ongoing investigation is] part of complying with federal law and Air Force Instructions - one of the things that we're supposed to be doing here at Arnold Air Force Base and is required at bases anywhere [in the U.S.]."

Chapman said the goal is to identify what kind of archeological sites are on federal properties and then evaluate them to determine if they are eligible for the NRHP.

He said that some "anomalies," were located by gradiometer mapping in the four sites under investigation and the next step is to do a limited amount of excavation to "ground truth" the non-invasive findings.

The investigation has proceeded to the next stage, said Chapman, who is providing oversight of the investigative process.

He said the team is looking for possible evidence of Native American habitation and use, which might include charcoal, refuse pits, post molds, hearths and/or earth ovens, ceramics and projectile points.

"If we find house patterns and middens [refuse heaps] through field investigations, it could go a long way to determining if these sites meet the criteria for NRHP status," Chapman said.

Bryant J. Celestine, Historic Preservation Officer for the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas, was one of the tribal representatives who took part in a government-to-government meeting at AEDC last May.

"Arnold AFB is currently situated on the ancestral territory of many nations," Celestine said. "Some of those tribes are no longer with us; the remainder displaced. Yet, we still have a vested interest in those lands since our ancestors walked and lived there, some to the end of their lifetime.

"Today, remnants of our people in artifacts and human remains are still being found throughout this area, some intentionally and others inadvertently. The Alabama-Coushatta people believe these remnants possess sacredness, similar to that of a church."

Chapman acknowledged that if the team he is overseeing at AEDC were to find human remains during the investigative process, they would stop immediately and further evaluation would follow.

Celestine said AEDC and the tribe he represents are working together to strike a balance between what may be competing priorities. Native Americans prefer to leave these sacred remnants in place and undisturbed, while the Air Force may need to develop additional land for other missions or changes in Arnold's capabilities or core mission.

"Our people understand some progress cannot be withheld, either in this generation or those to come," Celestine said. "Our intentions are not to inhibit this progress but to ensure the longevity of our ancestry."