Gopher Nation - Passport in Time

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Gopher Nation Path, 22FO1027

De Soto National Forest, Mississippi, 2004
by Robert Reams, FS Archaeologist

PIT volunteers are not only talented and hardworking, thankfully, they are also very flexible. The main focus of the October 2004 PIT project was supposed to be Swamp Child, an NRHP-eligible prehistoric site. But that work could be wrapped up in two weeks, and the PIT project was three weeks long, so what to do? There was another site, Gopher Nation Path, that needed to be tested, so that seemed like the perfect solution, even though the volunteers didn’t know there would be a second site. But further circumstances intervened. I tore my Achilles tendon shortly before the start of the PIT sessions and knew that I would not be able to handle the terrain around Swamp Child, so the alternative site, Gopher Nation Path, in flatter terrain, became the primary focus of all three weeks of the project.

Over the three weeks, the volunteers excavated 67 m (1.5% of the total site) while I sat in a chair and hobbled around on crutches. Artifacts recovered include 11,407 flakes, 202 bone fragments, 853 sherds, 59 cores, 54 points, 33 tools, 62 bifaces, 13 ground stone fragments, 2 burnt nutshells, and 2 crystal fragments. The first important discovery was that the site appeared to have a relatively undisturbed stratigraphy, with the following time periods represented: a.d. 600–950 (Late Woodland); 200 b.c.–a.d. 550 (Middle Woodland); 300–1000 b.c. (Late Gulf Formational); 1000–2500 b.c. (Late Archaic); 3000–6000 b.c. (Middle Archaic); and 6500–8000 b.c. (Early Archaic).

The second important discovery was the diversity of activities through time. The earlier users of the site were bringing rocks in from a local gravel source and knapping them down for tools that were most likely used for working deer hides. In addition, there were several drill bits found indicating possible bead manufacturing, but unfortunately, no beads were found.

Later occupants also refined the tools and finished points for hunting and gathering the local food resources. This was when the site had the densest occupation. There was also some indication of trade with distant groups indicated by the presence of crystal fragments and the steatite sherd. Still later, people stopped using the nearby rock source, but brought in their tools and points. These last visitors to the site tended to stay for weeks, maybe at certain times of the year when different foods were available. A large number of bone fragments discovered at the site were associated with the activities of these latest visitors.

With the upcoming lab in February and March of 2006, and further studies of the artifacts, we will be able to get a clearer picture of this site’s history. I would like to thank everybody for coming to Mississippi. Y’all were a BIG help.

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