The shell middens, forts, and shipwrecks of the Gulf area are treasures that represent a wide swath of history—a veritable gumbo of cultural treasures. Dr. Meredith Hardy, an archeologist with the National Park Service’s Southeast Archeological Center (SEAC), explains the importance of these cultural resources and how they are being protected.
Hi, I’m Dr. Meredith Hardy. I’m an archeologist with the National Park Service at the Southeast Archeological Center.
My role in this response is as the 106 team leader. I represent the Historic Properties Specialist here at the Mobile Unified Command Center. I’ll be leading a team of experts for the 106 consultation for the historic properties that could be impacted by this oil spill. This team includes representatives from the state historic preservation offices from Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida; a tribal liaison; a cultural ethnographer; and a data manager who will be responsible for documenting the 106 process.
Section 106 is part of the national historic preservation act of 1966 which requires all federal agencies to consider the impacts of their activities on historic properties that could be eligible for the national register of historic places. What this normally means is that prior to any activity which is paid for by federal dollars or conducted by a federal agency, someone must inventory all lands and areas that could be impacted and make sure that there are no cultural properties or historic properties that would be negatively impacted.
The National Park Service acts as stewards for many different kinds of cultural resources. These include shell middens that could be thousands of years old that even include human remains from ancient Native Americans to Civil War brick forts like Fort Massachusetts on Ship Island. They also include shipwrecks which could be buried under a sand dune on the beach or under the water.
National Park Service archeologists go out there, go out in the field and locate all of these archeological sites. We also go and revisit them every few years just to make sure that they are in good condition. We maintain a national database which we are using as part of this oil response. By referencing this national database, we will be able to keep track of the conditions of these sites prior to the oil spill and hopefully long afterwards.
How do you clean the oil off of an archeological site? How do you clean oil off of a shell midden, or a brick fort, or a shipwreck? The National Park Service conservation experts who are located all across this country are working hard to develop protocols and actually conducting experiments right as we speak on the effects of oil on these resources and what is the best way to, uh, to remove the oil.
All of these resources, these pieces of history, are part of our cultural heritage. They’re part of, they’re part of identify, they identify, um, who we are as Americans. They identify all the variety of cultural backgrounds, of histories, and of experiences. Especially here on the Gulf Coast which you could almost call a gumbo, a true melting pot. You’ve got Native Americans; and you’ve got, um, colonial French, and colonial Spanish, and colonial English; you’ve got antebellum and civil war going right up through World War II. You’ve got all phases of US history right here on the Gulf Coast that needs to be preserved. That’s what we’re working to do here.