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26 May 2006

Holstein Races Against Time to Save Historic Site

Thomas Carver built the site's stately farmhouse in 1850 near a beautiful natural boiling spring in Oxford, which is how the area acquired the name Boiling Springs.

By Eddie Burkhalter
JSU News Bureau

Jacksonville State University archaeologist Harry Holstein is racing against time to complete research at some of the most important archaeological sites in Calhoun County.

After conducting archaeological investigations for more than 25 years at Davis Farm in Oxford, Holstein said he may be on the verge of making important discoveries -- but fears time is running out because portions of the property is likely to be commercially developed.

Jacksonville State's Archaeological Resource Laboratory archaeologists have recorded 14 prehistoric and historic archaeological sites on the Davis Farm property. Data from these sites reveal Native Americans have occupied the property from about 9,000 B.C. up to the 16th Century.

"The first were the Paleoindians at the end of the Ice Age. By the time you get to the eighth or ninth century, all of those 14 sites were part of a prehistoric community called a Mississippian ceremonial center. It was a mini-Moundville," said Holstein.

According to the professor, possibly the site's most important archaeological treasures may still be hidden under the soil. "We think the property is part of the prehistoric 16th Century town called Ulabahali," said Holstein.

Based on his previous research, Holstein believes in 1540 A.D. Hernando de Soto's Spanish explorers visited the Davis farm site. This would make the property a 16th century Spanish contact site, which is important in terms of history and preservation because of the rarity of such unique contact sites in the southeastern United States.

To validate the land as a Spanish contact site, Holstein needs to find what is known as late Mississippian artifacts and diagnostic 16th century Spanish artifacts of that time period. And this means he needs more time.

"At Ulabahali (Davis Farm), we have already recovered the late Mississippian Indian artifacts, but we haven't been able to do enough excavations to find the rarer16th Century Spanish artifacts," said Holstein.

During the 16th century the Davis Farm property would have been a regional religious and political center.

The main ceremonial and political structure at the site was an earthen flat-topped mound nearly 40 feet tall, and it was first recorded by an explorer in 1890 passing through the Boiling Springs area. Presently, all that is left of the mound structure is its base. Now standing at only five feet high in what is presently the Hudgins sod farm property, Holstein believes the base of the mound contains buried Mississippian and possibly the elusive 16th Century Spanish artifacts.

"It was the focal point of the community, and the largest structure in Calhoun County until the 19th century," said Holstein. JSU operated a field school at the mound in 1991. The excavators were able to document the mound's location. The City of Oxford recently purchased the Hudgins sod farm containing the mound site, and plans are under way to build a park at the location.

Holstein said he has been meeting with Oxford's city officials to give further details about the importance of the area. Holstein said he hopes Oxford will eventually help preserve the mound.

On the northern portion of the Davis Farm property, preservation of the archaeological sites appears to be in peril. The historic Davis Farm house and farm buildings site are located adjacent to the highly developed I-20 Golden Springs interchange.

Thomas Carver built the site's stately farmhouse in 1850 near a beautiful natural boiling spring in Oxford, which is how the area acquired the name Boiling Springs. The house is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

"Mr. Carver by the 1860's developed the property into a successful upland plantation with over 1800 acres of farmland. He built a mercantile store and one of the county's first post offices on the property. By 1862, 32 slaves lived in eight cabins on the property," Holstein said.

"Because it's right on Interstate 20, you can get to it from both the east or westbound lanes. It's got a beautiful park-like setting with hardwoods and the boiling spring.The farmhouse and out buildings would make a great infrastructure for a rest area and welcome center," he said.

Holstein also believes the site would be ideal for a museum documenting the prehistoric and colorful historic past of the property. "We have a lot of artifacts from our excavations [that could be displayed there], and many private collectors have found some amazing ceremonial artifacts in and around the mound."

The home site is located in the only undeveloped spot in the vicinity. Holstein hopes preservation-minded people will remove the property from the market.

"We need to get people interested in this, and we need money [to purchase the land]," Holstein said, who believes the land could serve the area well as a rest area and information center.

The question is, will preservation efforts move fast enough.

For Holstein, the race against time continues.

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