Stallings Island stewardship is difficult, important

Submitted by Sammy Smith (sammy@thesga.org)

Archaeological sites contain irreplaceable information. Sites are nonrenewable and finite. They can only be excavated once. There is no second chance to recover the important information concealed in the soil. Our precious hidden heritage is vulnerable to erosion and deliberate destruction. Consider the following—Augusta Archaeological Society President John Arena writes with unfortunate news:

A few years ago the Archaeological Conservancy purchased Stallings Island, filled in looters pits, put goats and donkeys placed on the island to control the vegetation, and put a fence around the mound. The Archaeological Conservancy then approached the Augusta Archaeological Society and asked us if we would be site stewards for Stallings Island. Since then, we have periodically inspected the island to check on the animals and also check for looting. AAS member Bobby Brassell and I recently visited the island and found new evidence of looting. We found a couple of small holes inside the fence and a couple of larger holes outside the fence. This was the first evidence of looting we have found in approximately two years.

Looter pit documented by John Arena and Bobby Brassell in winter 2009/2010 on Stallings Island.

This looting, which is the deliberate destruction of archaeological deposits, is illegal. It is illegal because the private landowner has not given written permission for this ground-disturbing activity.

Private-public partnerships in archaeological stewardship are more common in the US Southwest, where there are vast expanses of public lands, many archaeological sites, and few staff members to oversee the land.

Without doubt, our hidden heritage is difficult to protect. Places that are isolated are particularly at risk to disturbance and destruction. The AAS’s stewardship of Stallings Island is an important undertaking.

Can you think of other practical methods archaeological site stewards can use to discourage looters and be more effective caretakers of our hidden past?

Click here to take a look at Resources at Risk: Defending Georgia’s Hidden Heritage, a special issue of Early Georgia published in May 2001, for more on archaeological stewardship and site destruction.