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Archaeology group: Work on property endangering artifacts

December 27, 2018

NATCHEZ, Miss. (AP) — A non-profit that identifies, acquires and preserves archaeological sites in the United States has raised concerns that dirt and construction work on county-owned land in Mississippi endangers artifacts connected to what could be the birthplace of slavery in a region.

Jessica Crawford with The Archaeological Conservancy wrote to Adams County Board of Supervisors attorney Scott Slover last week. She expressed concerns that work associated with the construction of a power substation and switching station for the former International Paper Company property is destroying what remains of a 1720s French plantation, the Natchez Democrat reported .

Crawford had previously requested that the county donate the 4-acre (1.6-hectare) tract of land that she said is considered historically important. The land bordering St. Catherine Creek was part of a farm inhabited by French settlers and their slaves.

“It is part of a plantation where the first African slaves were brought to the region,” Crawford said. “It is a really important French Colonial site.”

Adams County Board of Supervisors attorney Scott Slover said the county cannot legally donate the property according to state law and the board would have to be paid a fair market value for the land. Even if the county decided to sell the property, Slover said, the board is skeptical of the specific archaeological significance of the site. He noted that most properties in the county could probably be deemed historically significant.

However, Crawford said the site is ground zero for the slave economy in the Natchez area. “There are still archaeological remains there,” Crawford said. “But it is not very deep. It doesn’t take much to disturb it.”

“I’m concerned that even minimal soil disturbance there can be destructive,” Crawford said.

Natchez Inc. Executive Director Chandler Russ said he believes the group is trying to put the brakes on a project that has great economic potential.

Russ said the Mississippi Electric Power Association and Cooperative Energy has been constructing an electric transmission substation and a switching station in the area. A utility right-of-way that has been in place when the property was used by International Paper is being used to connect the substation and switching station with power lines, he said.

As an identified archaeological site on public property, Deputy State Historic Preservation Officer Jim Woodrick said the site is by law a Mississippi landmark. As such, any work on the property would need a permit from the state Department of Archives and History.

Woodrick said he has contacted the board multiple times and “expressed our concern about work (at the site).” According to Woodrick, “They have said they are not doing any work.”

Woodrick said he has arranged a trip to the site next month. “We are certainly interested in protecting this very important site,” Woodrick said.

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Information from: The Natchez Democrat, http://www.natchezdemocrat.com/

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