Protecting America’s treasures
While visiting the White House, would you take a piece of silverware home for a keepsake? How about tearing off a piece of the Declaration of Independence? Or spray painting your name on the Statue of Liberty?
Similar actions sometimes take place in our national parks. Picking wildflowers, taking home stones or arrowheads as keepsakes, and defacing canyon walls with graffiti are all actions that degrade the parks for other visitors. In addition, it’s against the law.
When you visit any of the sites run by the National Park Service, you are viewing America’s treasures. These parks were created because they have special meaning to all Americans. The laws that created these special places for us to own and enjoy also mandate they be protected for the enjoyment of future generations of Americans as well.
Visiting any of our national parks is similar to visiting museums or art galleries. You certainly wouldn’t think of taking an artifact or painting home from such places. Removing anything from our national parks means other visitors will not be able to enjoy it. If each of the 275 million visitors took away a flower or a stone or anything from the parks they visit, they would leave behind empty landscapes nobody would enjoy.
Help protect America’s national park sites by leaving everything in its place and not defacing the natural resources. Other park visitors and future generations of Americans will thank you.
SOURCE: National Parks Service website/nps.org
Kevin Eads, superintendent of Pea Ridge National Military Park, stood speechless, surrounded by hundreds of tiny red flags.
These red flags -- the kind surveyors use to mark boundaries -- marked artifacts unearthed in an archaeological dig more than 150 years after a major Civil War battle raged across this field.
"Man, oh man," Eads said. "Just the amount of stuff."
"You could walk over the pasture and never know the stuff is there," said Jamie Brandon, state archaeologist based at the University of Arkansas and site director.
In a cooperative effort between the Arkansas Archeological Survey and the National Parks Service, staff of both and about 40 volunteers from the community spent a week of spring break in 2016 in Ruddick's Field, just northeast of the park's visitor center, sweeping 27 acres that saw just part of the battle.
Brandon shared the tally of the week: 530 new pieces related to the Civil War -- shell casings, shot, even a few bullets -- and 500 "post-bellum" pieces, mostly related to Ozark homestead farming.
Preparations for this spring's exploration of the battlefield began during the winter, when the AAS archaeologists utilized five types of technology to survey and map the field -- some in ways never used before.
Researchers walked back and forth and back and forth over the 27-acre field with gradiometers, ground penetrating radar and other technologies measuring earth resistance and magnetic susceptibility, said Jami Lockhart, director of the AAS computer services program. The night after a test, back at the AAS office, the geographic information system technology used in the field allowed the men to download the data and create high-resolution maps, showing anomalies in the ground because of the presence of metal.
"We may not know what it is," Lockhart said, "But we know it's there." The maps can reveal possible fence lines or even this site of a prehistoric home that burned: When earth is burned it turns to clay daub, which is highly magnetic, he explained.
"It's not new technology. We were using the equipment 10 to 15 years ago on prehistoric sites, but just not in this way. No one has ever used it on a battlefield. Twenty years ago, surveying and mapping 20 acres would have been pretty daunting," Lockhart said. "[During this operation], we want to explore and illustrate what technology can do in a broad area."
Using this data, project coordinators chose for closer survey four 20-foot-wide, parallel "lanes" which showed numerous anomalies in the ground. They marked 260 grids of 20 by 20 feet using GIS, allowing researchers to return months later to the same points and lay out wooden stakes and string to mark the grids for the spring project.
Then the volunteers descended on the field for a week with metal detectors, shovels and their hands.
Once the grids were dug, archaeologists regrouped and easily agreed to mark three lanes intersecting the original lanes, eliminating areas where the volunteers weren't finding artifacts.
"Even when we're not finding stuff, it's still telling us something," Brandon said.
"(The volunteers) are seeing things the magnetometer picked up," Lockhart said. "We are willing to go where the data takes us. If it concentrates, and it spreads, it's meaningful."
Archaeologists also were able to compare their data to 1940s aerial photographs of the field. Several outbuildings and a barn stood near Elkhorn Tavern, which remains standing north of Ruddick's Field behind trees that were not present in the 1940s photograph or during the battle, historians say. The structures are gone.
As artifacts were found, secured in plastic bags and marked with flags, Lockhart and Mike Evans, a survey research assistant, took a piece of equipment to the site of each individual flag and recorded the coordinates with GIS.
Connecting with 25 satellites, the technology had the capability of pinpointing a site within 4 centimeters -- although on this windy day, the accuracy was only ensured to 6 centimeters, Evans reported. At the AAS office that night, the data created high-resolution maps for the archaeologists to study.
"They will never lose these spots," Evans said. "Even after all the stakes are pulled up."
The artifacts themselves were returned each night to the AAS laboratory, where all eventually will be cleaned, cataloged and entered into a data base. The data base will be able to map each artifact by type -- for example, all the musket shots found, Brandon said. Compared to historical records, the kind and caliber of the ordnance might trace back to certain units. For example, the database will show how the position of the troops shooting musket rounds changed -- did they charge or retreat, he explained.
In three years, when the final report on this project in Ruddick's Field is completed, all artifacts found this week will be returned to the National Parks Service in Nebraska. Eventually, the Pea Ridge Park Visitor Center might feature some on display, said Troy Banzhoff, park historian for the Pea Ridge battlefield.
Some historians consider the Battle of Pea Ridge, fought March 7-8, 1862, the most important battle fought west of the Mississippi River. A victory by the Federal troops secured control of Missouri for the Union.
Further, Pea Ridge National Military Park has a reputation as one of the best-preserved Civil War battle sites in the nation. Its appearance today is hauntingly similar to how it looked on those days in March.
"Most think this is sacred ground," said Marty Galliardy, a regular park volunteer. "A lot of men made the ultimate sacrifice here. It was a fierce battle. It had to take courage to march side by side under fire from cannon and musket."
Battle reports, journals and letters, along with oral histories, tell the story to historians. But those stories many times give an altered view of details, based on faulty memories, limited perspective of the battle or even the biases of the generals writing the reports. "And the public likes their history to be correct," Brandon said.
Initial surveys by Doug Scott in the early 2000s found the remains of the Union's lines in Ruddick's field.
"We know that William Ruddick did own the field on March 7 and the Confederates did charge across," Banzhoff said. That early survey also revealed that the battle continued into Cox's field, lying to the south, across the park's tour road, which follows the path of the Huntsville Road that led through the region in 1862.
But Banzoff said he wanted to know exactly where the Confederate lines lay and how far they stretched. And he wanted to pinpoint the location of the federal artillery that delivered that barrage.
"We chose Ruddick's Field mainly because it was an area of intense fighting," Banzhoff said. "And it had never before been detected. It was an open slate."
Those early archeological explorations uncovered pieces of 24-pound shells, "but we didn't know that any unit here had a howitzer to fire the shells," Brandon said. "Research found one issued to a Missouri unit, but historians thought that unit was in Fort Smith on the day of the battle. So the account of the battle changed."
"That's the kind of thing about archaeologists," Brandon continued. "We get new bits of history from archaeology -- not everything makes it into the history books. It can help explain why a charge didn't work. Archaeology is about context -- just like a crime scene and where the gun is."Community on 06/13/2018
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