Thursday, April 03, 2014

Sulphur Dell area was once an important "production workshop" in a "major prehistoric metropolis"

One of the only external expectations that Mayor Karl Dean agreed to when it came to his fast-tracked construction of a new ballpark/mixed-use development at Sulphur Dell near Jefferson Street was an archeological survey of the site for sensitive historical artifacts before construction began.

Sulphur Dell is not just an important place in baseball and civil rights history. It is an important place in the history of Nashville's founding (Timothy Demonbreun's cabin was located nearby at Sulphur Spring Bottom). It is also an important place for in the history of ancient tribal cultures.

While a careful community-based planning process was a casualty of Hizzoner's rush to build and of the team owner's allergies to engaging the community townhall-style, we can be thankful that Mayor Dean at least felt compelled by something or someone to slow up enough to preserve some important finds:

Archaeologists made an important discovery over the weekend in the area that will become left field, including artifacts that could even hint at ancient human burials.

The state believes the artifacts could be 800 years old, and experts are excavating the area now.

In an email obtained by Channel 4 News an archaeologist working on the project says he found pottery, animal bone and pieces of ceramic vessels.

And he raises another issue, writing, "given the high artifact density, there is a heightened possibility of human burials."

There are revised details at the archeologists' Facebook page. Kevin E. Smith writes that in March they uncovered a "relatively intact land surface" representing what he believes to be a terrace that held "a giant prehistoric salt production workshop area" rather than a place for human burials:

The enormous saline spring located to the southwest of the [ballpark] project area was one of the largest gushing wells of mineral water in the interior south -- filling Lick Branch with a mineral resource valuable to both prehistoric and historic peoples until the branch was buried in a brick-lined conduit .... The vast majority of features exposed and investigated thus far reflect a large and overlapping series of fire pits -- almost all probably related to the evaporation of water from the adjacent branch to produce the valuable commodity of salt.

According to Mr. Smith Metro Nashville was under no legal obligation to allow this important study to proceed, and he digresses to gush about the new ballpark giving them this opportunity. Then again, most of the area was covered with surface parking lots and there is no reason--given the broadly acknowledged importance of the Sulphur Dell area to history and prehistory--that this study could not have occurred if and when these state lots gave way to anything else.

Mayor Karl Dean was under no legal obligation to allow this survey, but it should have been a moral imperative to be discreet in developing such an important place as "swampy" Sulphur Springs Bottoms. It was more than just good fortune. It was the right thing to do. As was including the local community in the planning process, which Mayor Dean failed to do.

Otherwise, this is exciting and important news for our end of Nashville. It should be a source of pride to local residents, thanks to the hard work of the archeologists. Check out their photos and further descriptions at the Facebook page.

1 comment:

  1. Welcome back Mike. We have really missed your writing. You are the only Nashvillian who tells it like it really is.

    As for the historic find, I have read before that there was actually a mound builders community there. The large mound burial site was destroyed long ago. I am really surprised that they stopped excavation long enough to explore a little. I thought that it was required by law to stop if they found an archeological site. Who knows what all they really found? We will never really know for sure.