Identifying & Reporting Mississippi's Archaeological Heritage

Archaeology reveals the details about people who often left little or no written record of their lives. Historical documents may be incomplete or inaccurate, but archaeological research can fill in the missing details.

Archaeological sites are nonrenewable resources — once damaged or destroyed, any information the site may yield is lost, and an irreplaceable piece of our heritage is gone forever.

In Mississippi, archaeological sites are being destroyed at increasing rates through human actions, natural disasters, and other natural processes.

Everyone can play a part in preserving our rich heritage.

What Is Archaeology?
Archaeology is the study of objects that were made and modified by humans. We can find these objects exposed on the surface or buried. Ruins and landscape alterations are also part of the human record. Artifacts can be fragments of stone or metal tools, ceramics, animal bones, glass bottles, and even bits of leather or cloth.

The age of an artifact is not always the most critical factor — equally important is what the artifact or archaeological site reveals about our history. A pile of food cans, broken plates, or glass chlorine bleach bottles dating to the 1930s may be more important than a single spear point from a plowed field. Conversely, a scatter of chert flakes (a byproduct of prehistoric tool making) might be as important as a scatter of Colonial Period ceramics and nails.

The importance of identification, assessment, and preservation of artifacts has led to the development of many new analytical techniques. The decision between preserving a site or performing a more intensive investigation requires the skills of a professional archaeologist, who is trained to balance the needs of site preservation with other needs of our society.

Reporting Archaeological Sites
If you see evidence of archeological remains, leave it undisturbed and make a note of the precise location. Briefly list the objects or conditions that may be archaeological, such as:
  • A scatter of chert in an area otherwise devoid of stone
  • Scatters of shell, brick rubble, or building foundations
  • A pile of bottles or tin cans

Notify the staff of Mississippi Department of Archives and History for assistance in determining the significance of the find. A broader and more complete picture of Mississippi’s cultural heritage can be created through your help in identifying, reporting, and protecting archaeological sites.

Evidence of Archaeological Sites
Have you ever noticed evidence of past human activity? If so, you may have found potentially important archaeological remains.

Scattered trash on the ground surface or emerging from the ground or a stream bank
  • Shellfish remains
  • Ceramic or glass shards
  • Flakes of stone, often in association with worked or broken stone tools or pottery

Buildings ruins
  • Foundations
  • Piles of brick, lumber, and other building materials

Modified landscapes
  • Depressions, possibly with associated building materials
  • Berms or mounds related to military, railroad, or dam activity, or potentially representing prehistoric human activities
  • Squared, leveled areas, often associated with household or architectural debris

Marked changes in soil color or texture
  • Dark brown to black soils, darker than surrounding soils, sometimes having a greasy feel — possibly a prehistoric Indian encampment
  • Soils redder than surrounding soils — possibly the location of a campfire or an early brick kiln or burned building
  • Confined areas where soils are notably rocky — possibly remains of a past structure or area of Native activities such as stone toolmaking or food roasting

Contact

Mississippi Department of Archives and History
Historic Preservation Division
http://mdah.state.ms.us/hpres/index.php
archaeology@mdah.state.ms.us
Tel: 601-576-6940
Fax: 601-576-6955

Visiting:
100 South State Street
Jackson, MS 39201

Mailing:
P.O. Box 571
Jackson, MS 39205-0571