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Digging up signs of early civilization in Tunica

An archaeologist is digging up 700-year-old pieces of Mississippi's history in Tunica this summer to discover clues about the area's earliest residents. 

Archaeological dig at Hollywood Mounds in Tunica, Mississippi [Credit: ABC 24]
Tulane archaeologist Bryan Haley is set up under a tent on some farm land, in a part of town known as the Hollywood Mounds. The Mounds were once home to Mississippi's most prominent Native American ancestors. 

Haley and a team of students are working to figure out what secrets are buried deep in Tunica's soil. 

"It's the ultimate kind of puzzle," Haley says, "to figure out what they were doing and understand who they were when there's no written record." 

The Mounds date back to the 1300's and 1400's, and Haley compares them to current big cities like New York and Boston. 

"The Mississippi Mounds were residences for chiefs and important political figures," Haley tells abc24.com.  "Back then this was the center of Mississippi culture." 

To learn more about that culture, he's spending several weeks in the early morning and afternoon hours digging and sifting through dirt. 

"I'm kind of filling in the pieces of what we don't know," he says. 

To do that, Haley's using the most modern technology to study one of Mississippi's oldest civilizations. 

"We can run sensors across a site and understand what's underground before we dig," says Haley. 

Using advanced computer technology, he can create a digital map, which lets him pinpoint exactly where to dig. So far, he's been very successful. One of the biggest discoveries to date is a house, complete with a trash pit that Haley says will hold several different clues. 

"We are finding structures," he says, "but also things like pottery shards and stone tools. Even deer bone remains of what they ate." 

Haley says the Mounds are full of undiscovered potential, and he's only scratching the surface this summer. 

"I'm not going to be able to answer all the questions I'd like to answer," he says. "I will be back at least a couple more summers, if not more than that." 

Haley's hoping what he finds at the Hollywood Mounds will help historians understand the social and political world of the early Mississippians.  

Author: Shelley Orman | Source: ABC 24 [July 15, 2011]
TANN

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