St. James mounds tested

Published 12:00 am Saturday, March 10, 2001


PHOTO: READING THE EARTH, Therman Allen uses his truck to drive a rod into the ground and sees the different soil levels as history. The samples changes texture and color, displaying the different changes in the earth over the years. (Staff Photo by Daniel Tyler Gooden) CONVENT – Officials from the Louisiana Department of Archeology collected core samples from around the base of the Indian mounds in St. James Parish Tuesday, making the mounds the first official archeology site in the parish. The mounds are three separate hills between Convent and Paulina. The tallest mound is 33 feet high, while two surrounding hills are much smaller. The tallest mound is built of yellow clay. The clay is not to be found in St. James Parish but can be found around Gonzales. “They had to have carried the clay down or ship it down the river,” said Charlie Duhe of the St. James Parish Historical Society. The core samples were taken so the archaeology department could narrow down the age of the mounds. Rachel Watson, Louisiana staff archeologist, said there has been no real age estimate done so far. A previous core sampling was done in a low point around the mound, and it turned out to be the remnants of an old drainage ditch, which revealed no solid evidence. “Since there have been no artifacts recovered, we think it may date back to pre-ceramic history,” said Watson. Other groups have also explored the mounds. According to Joe Samrow Sr. of the St. James Parish Historical Society, around 1920 a group, complete with tents and equipment, appeared around the mounds. Evidently the group excavated the top of the mound, possibly using dynamite, and now there is a large 6-foot deep crater in the center. The group appeared one day and vanished another, never explaining their findings, said Samrow. The most recent samples were collected by Therman Allen of the National Resources Society, one of the leading soil scientists in Louisiana. Allen used a hydraulic press mounted on the side of his truck to force hollow rods into the ground. The rod were open on one side, allowing Allen to examine the earth once pulled back up. He collected three samples from each location he picked. Adding an extension to the rods as he went, Allen sampled roughly 9 or 10 feet below the surface. On his second sample, 15 feet away from the edge of the mound, Allen found what seemed to be the original surface of the mound 5 feet, 4 inches down. Flooding and other environmental changes have raised the level of the land, making the mound look shorter than it may have been after construction. Erosion also may have shortened the mound. Joe Saunders, a regional archeologist, also inspected the mounds. He was on loan to look at the site, he said. “Jones and Saunders really put soil science and archeology together. What they collect doesn’t give all the info, but it gives us much more than we had,” said archeologist Dennis Jones. Taking the core samples are all the state intends to do at the mounds right now. If more was intended they would return and sample the above-ground portion of the mounds, and if anything was discovered there excavation would be the next step. The state has no plans to return at this time, however. We’re not out here for gold and silver,” said Allen. There’s nothing in the mounds but information gleaned from the dirt.” The mounds are located on private property, and the state received permission from the owners before sampling the mounds. Though the site is now an official archeology site in the eyes of the state, no protection is awarded since it is on private property. The owners have taken care to keep them preserved and intend to make sure the site sticks around for some time, said Samrow.