Stabilization project to shore up bank at Poverty Point|[07/09/07]

Published 12:00 am Monday, July 9, 2007

EPPS, La. – Preparations are under way for a construction project aimed at preserving two structures on a Louisiana historic site, which would otherwise be up a creek. Literally.

Preliminaries include excavations being conducted at Poverty Point State Historic Park by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The archaeological work will be followed by stream bank stabilization.

John Peukert, a Corps archeologist, said the stabilization will prevent further erosion along the banks of the Harlon Bayou Creek, which poses a threat to two of the site’s structures, Mound B and the site’s research dormitory. Both sit just 40 feet to 50 feet from the steep bank of the creek.

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Mound B, which dates to 1390 B.C., stands about 20 feet in height and about 180 feet in diameter. The purpose it served for Native Americans thousands of years ago, like many of the features at Poverty Point, remains unclear.

The archeological work is taking place between Mound B and the creek. It began on June 14 and four spots have been excavated along the bank.

Peukert said the excavations are necessary to save artifacts that might be moved during construction, as well as artifacts that could be lost in the creek if the bank continues to recede.

&#8220This bank has lost about 8 feet in just the last two years,” Peukert said. &#8220At that rate, significant damage could be done to the mound in only six years.”

The mound was built in four stages, with the third stage being done with fully loaded baskets, based on imprints found in the soil.

In 1955, before its first excavation, the mound stood 21.5 feet high. Its original height 3,340 years ago is estimated to have been 35 to 40 feet.

Peukert said the number of artifacts found in the soil near Mound B were minimal, consisting mostly of debris used for making tools and a certain of kind of stone that was used for cooking.

&#8220This is a good thing,” Peukert said. &#8220This way we know that we’re going to be dealing with a very minimal loss of artifacts along the bank during the construction.”

Joining Mound B, the site’s research dormitory is also in danger of the bank’s erosion. Dennis Labatt, the site’s manager, said the creek’s bank near the dormitory has receded about 10 feet in recent years, and expects it would only be five more years before the erosion would start taking a toll on the structure.

&#8220This building is vital to the research that takes place at this site,” Labatt said. &#8220It’s very important we do what we can to keep it in good condition.”

Peukert said the construction process will consist of paving parts of the creek with rock, and then tying in dikes to help sturdy the banks.

That work is set to begin later this month.

&#8220This is all a good example of the difficulties in land preservation,” Labatt said. &#8220Everyone wants us just to freeze the landscape and leave it as it is to preserve it. But they have to realize this site has a living and breathing landscape.”

The Poverty Point State Historic Site, which was given National Landmark Site status in 1962, is the largest site and center of the Poverty Point Culture, believed to have been present in the area from 1750 B.C. to 700 B.C. The site contains some of the largest earthworks and mounds built by Indians in the Americas.