Friday, October 9, 2020

Covington's Archaeological Dig

 On May 12, 1971, an article in a local newspaper told the story of Covington's own archaeological dig. Here's the article, as well as the photograph that accompanied it.  

Archaeologists Probe Local Indian Mounds

St. Tammany Parish, long known to be rich in Indian lore has again given up traces of her treasure. Members of the St. Tammany archaeological group have been aware of the existence of an Indian burial ground within the city limits of Covington for about a year and suspected it for a much longer time.

Recently the owners of the property, Mr. and Mrs. He Hezzie Mclntrye, told the archaeological group that the old mound would have to be removed.

The group, headed by Mrs. Paula Johnson, emphasized that they do not advocate wholesale digging and now do so only as a last resort to save as much of the history of the mound as they can manage. An attempt was made to get an expert to do the digging but time and lack of funds makes that impossible.

The group has spent the last few weekends digging tunnels into the mound at Fourth and Adam streets and carefully documenting their finds. To date traces of fossilized bone, arrowheads, poverty point blades, various bits of stone and tools, bits of charcoal raising the possibility of cremations, and the most exciting find of all, pottery shards which can be dated back to the Marksville period have been found at the site.

Mrs. Johnson took her findings to Tulane University where they were identified as being from the Marksville period that dates from A.D. 100 to A.D. 500.

An earlier examination of the mound in June of last year confirmed the belief of the group that this was indeed an Indian burial mound. Robert Neuman, an archaeologist, made that evaluation.

It is possible that the finding of a poverty point blade could mean that the mound is from an even earlier era. Further examination will be required to definitely establish this as fact.

Frank Young, a member of the group and chief digger, has lived in the area for many years and collected many artifacts over a period of years. His family at one time owned the site of the mound, and he told Mrs. Johnson about the mound. Miss Tessy Polk of Covington, a teacher of Folsom, became interested in the mound and tried to interest the community in it.

Mr. and Mrs. McIntyre acquired the land about a year ago and became aware of the significance of the mound when workmen building their home found several arrowheads in and around the mound.

The Marksville period mound is defined as being the type of mound found in Avoyelles Parish, having mounds within and outside of an encircling ditch and ridge. Marksville pottery types are present and the whole complex is closely allied to Hopewellian manifestations.

Known sites are found throughout the alluvial valley. Surface collections, however, suggest a sparse distribution up the Red River and as far west as the Sabine where excavations revealed Marksville traces.

There is only one earthworks site, the Marksville type site. All other representations are recognized from pottery distribution. Marksville mounds have not been found in this immediate area till now.

In digging in the mound the group is looking for tell-tale characteristics of that period such as non-ceramic projectile points, stone ornaments, effigies, bone fish hooks, awls, shell beads, copper ornaments, basketry and matting in addition to the characteristic pottery of the period.

Burial mounds had primary burials in log-covered pits with primary and secondary burials scattered elsewhere in the mound fill. Dog burials also were present.

Mrs. Johnson hopes to preserve as much of the history of the surrounding area as possible. One of her fond hopes is the creation 'of an Indian museum in downtown Covington.

 Participating in the mound exploration were Mr: and Mrs. Clide Pittman and son James; B. A. Wilkie; Frank Young; Philip Burns; Leonard Starbard; Shirley Rester;
Mrs. Paula Johnson; Mrs. Cleo McIntyre; Hezzie McIntyre; Thelma Tarolton, and David Goodyear.

Click on the images to make them larger and more readable.

The above newspaper clipping was found in the papers of the late Mrs. Bertha Neff, who at one time was archivist for the St. Tammany Parish Clerk of Court's Office.

Paula Johnson

Paula Ann Patecek Johnson was well-known in archaeology circles and was named as a "key figure in female Louisiana archaeologists" in a book focusing on women in archaeology. She was the daughter of Frank and Irma Blackwell Patecek of Covington and followed in her maternal grandfather's field of interest in archaeology and Native Americans.

He would travel to distant locations to collect artifacts, and these provoked her curiosity enough to convince her to get the proper training and volunteer in the field. Mrs. Johnson was particularly interested in Egyptian archaeology.

After receiving a B.A. Degree in Education from LSU in 1962, she took courses in anthropology at the University of Chicago in 1963 and gradually developed an interest in the Mayan civilization. She traveled to the Yucatan peninsula that same year to visit some of the archaeological digs there.

After marrying in 1965, she focused her attention on archaeological efforts in the southeast, visiting sites of interest and recording information and making collections of artifacts she discovered in Washington and St. Tammany parishes.

Her work in coordinating the dig at a Native American mound in Covington conducted by the "St. Tammany Parish Archaeology Society" in 1971 helped paved the way for heightened interest in early St. Tammany history. The archaeology society met regularly to discuss their finds and plans, as well as hear speakers of interest. In January of 1971, the group met at the Doby residence in Lewisburg to hear Judge Steve Ellis talk about the recent geological history of the Pontchartrain basin.

In the 1970's, Paula took courses at UNO and LSU in the field of archaeology, seeking to earn a master's degree in anthropology. Her work in the field continued for years, according to Susan J. Wurtzburg in her book "Women in Archaeology."

"She was a member of the Louisiana Archaeological Society for many years," Ms. Wurtzburg wrote. Paula published two historical articles, one being an oral history interview with Lawrence Flot, and the other on the early history of Abita Springs.

"In addition, she has been involved in a number of historical preservation surveys and efforts, including the placement of the Abita Springs tourist park pavilion on the National Register of Historic Structures in 1975," Ms. Wurtzberg said.

Paula Johnson of Abita Springs was recognized for her accomplishments by the St. Tammany Historical Society
at the society's annual banquet held at Tchefuncta Country Club in 1977. Ron Barthet, society president, presents her with a check to help her continue her work in historic preservation and archaeological research.

See also:

Choctaw Artifact Mounds in Mandeville

Tchefuncte Culture Mounds in Fontainebleau

The St. Tammany Historical Society