Phillip Tutor: Moundville's lesson for Oxford
Jul 10, 2009 | 3266 views |  8 comments | 41 41 recommendations | email to a friend | print
For 1,500 years, the mound that has become Alabama's most controversial Native American site has sat on a hill in the Choccolocco Valley. It's not the archeological equivalent of new growth.

It's 1,500 years old, for goodness' sake.

It's been explored, studied and probed. University professors and unauthorized relic hunters have poked around on the hill, occasionally finding things of cultural and historical value. Official reports have been commissioned, written and squirreled away in top-secret files as mysterious as the hill's contents.

And now, 1,500 years after Native Americans deemed that hill sacred land, it's become the most valuable, most talked-about, most desirous property in Oxford — and that's saying something, considering the price of real estate in Calhoun County's southernmost locale.

It's the first time in a long time people have talked about dirt in Calhoun County and not worried if it was contaminated by PCBs left behind by Monsanto or unexploded war toys left behind by the U.S. Army.

Let's be clear: The preservation of the hill and its stone mound shouldn't be an option; it's a necessity. (It's also a lost cause, I'm afraid.) And the consistent opposition to Oxford's obtuse decision to turn sacred land into fill dirt has been a stunning display of community involvement.

What started as a few sporadic complaints has snowballed into a full-fledged protest. Go get 'em, guys. Might as well try.

Still, you can't help but wonder: Why didn't more people campaign for the preservation of this hill and its Native American artifacts before Oxford appraised the value of nearby, accessible fill dirt higher than respect for a hill dripping with historical, cultural and religious significance?

Sure, academics have long said that the site should be conserved, much in the same way the Snake Effigy at McClellan needs to be kept safe from that property's future commercial development. Too many Native American mounds have been lost in the Southeast in the last two centuries to willingly destroy another. And, sure, issues of land ownership, seed money, construction costs and site oversight and management would have been thorny — if not insurmountable — problems.

Nothing's free or easy.

Nevertheless, I wish that many of the people who today are foaming about Oxford's insensitivity to Native American culture and near-religious fanaticism toward retail growth would have created a viable, grassroots campaign for this stone mound before its death was seemingly sealed.

Like the mound itself, the preservation idea is not a new concept. Some have long believed in that model — though not enough. Once Oxford's Commercial Development Authority began worshipping at the Sam's Club altar, it was too late.

Granted, Oxford's hill was never going to be northeast Alabama's version of Moundville. What's more, the Moundville that today is one of the state's top tourist attractions and historical sites had several inherent benefits Oxford's site wouldn't enjoy.

At one point, Moundville was the largest known city in North America; Native American sites have long dotted northeast Alabama maps, but Moundville in many ways remained unrivaled in size and significance. The Jones Archaelogical Museum at Moundville opened in 1939 thanks to the construction labor of the Civilian Conservation Corps — an FDR-provided luxury that Oxford could only wish for. And that Alabama's state university, with a whole fleet of academics interested in such projects, was just down the road didn't hurt matters, either.

It's too bad that human nature intervened in Oxford. Reactive activists have been easy to find — protesting at City Hall, communing in the Oxford Exchange parking lot, dropping off petitions with the mayor. Proactive activists needed more help, and apparently didn't get it. Sadly, a few college professors and Native Americans garbed in cultural dress are easy to dismiss as the vociferous few.

And, believe me, Oxford's dismissing them all.

It's doubtful that Oxford Mayor Leon Smith will welcome suggestions on how to emerge from this regrettable situation, but here goes:

The right thing to do would be to stop bulldozing the hill. Today.

The right thing to do would be to protect what's remaining of the stone mound, if anything's left.

The right thing to do would be to admit that the archaeologists and historians who say the hill wields religious and cultural value aren't eggheaded quacks who are sticking their noses in city business.

And, the right thing to do would be accept the idea of turning what's left of that desecrated hill into an educational site of which Oxford could be proud.

But, alas, the right thing isn't being done.

So, while we're waiting on the grand opening of our new Sam's Club, let's all take a weekend trip to Moundville.

They did things right there.
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