Sacred ground

Alleged Indian burial site
remains unsubstantiated
without more study

Archaeologist's report near Austin is inconclusive

By Konnie McCollum
Staff Writer

AUSTIN, Ind. (April 2007) – A Louisville-based archaeologist last October conducted a preliminary investigation into allegations of an Indian burial site located just east of Austin, Ind., but her findings did not entirely support the existence of a Native American burial grounds.

Melissa Seavers

Melissa Seavers

Anne Bader of Corn Island Archaeology conducted a Phase I evaluation at the request of then-owners Jerry and Melissa Seaver. But in a February telephone interview, Bader said her visit involved only “a subsurface examination that included a few shovel probes.”
She did find some sparse evidence of prehistoric Native American tool making. “Our preliminary impression was that this site was a light lithic scatter.” She found some waste flakes from someone making stone tools.
She said she found no features of house patterns, fire pits, burials or any fire-cracked rock, which would indicate people were living there for long periods of time. “The existence of these things would suggest a substantial occupation, but we didn’t see any of this.”
Because her preliminary research was not extensive, she said another more extensive Phase I investigation or a phase II evaluation needed to be conducted to determine the significance of the site. However, she added, “After 30 years of viewing such sites, I would suggest this particular site has limited potential for historical significance.”
Bader said an Indiana Department of Natural Resource number for the site because additional research is needed to determine the significance of the preliminary findings. “The number is part of a screening process to determine any significance of the site.”
The site has been given the number 12S74. Twelve is the state identification number; S is the county designation; and 74 is the number of sites that have been identified in Scott County. Bader said there are thousands of known prehistoric Indian sites throughout southern Indiana.
The site number does give it some protection under Indiana law; technically, a developer has to consider what he is doing to this land and is required to do prior work before developing it.
She said a Phase II evaluation, which is costly and lengthy to complete, has to be conducted.
DNR officials, meanwhile, would not confirm that a registration number had been assigned to the site because of the controversy surrounding the ownership of the land.
Native Americans from a variety of tribes around the country gathered on Jan. 27 on the 145-acre farm near Austin to hold a sacred pipe ceremony to honor ancestors that may be buried on the grounds. The ceremony was part of a press conference called by the Seavers to discuss the effort to get at least four acres of the farm classified as an official archaeological site until more research can be done to determine if it is an Indian burial ground.
In May 2006, the farm was sold at a federal marshal’s foreclosure sale to Houser Lucas Development. The land has since been involved in a legal battle that has ended up in the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago as part of the foreclosure.
On Feb. 15, the Seavers were escorted off the property by federal marshals and told not to return. Melissa Seaver said she plans to continue her efforts to save the potential burial mounds.
John Houser of Houser Lucas Development said his company bought the land “free and clear with no liens and no restrictions. We bought the property in good faith without any knowledge of a possible Indian burial site.”
Houser said the company was given the legal deed to the land in December, but the developers are not sure what they will do with the land. They had initially hoped to develop it into a residential community.
Houser said his company will do “whatever is required” of it in the event it is established that the possible burial site indeed has historical and cultural significance. “We do not want to offend anyone.”

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