Archaeology study begins at Forks site

Published 9:20 am Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Archaeologist Warren Carruth has been on easier archaeological digs.

Squinting up from seven feet below inside a cistern he is excavating, Carruth said the Forks of the Road work was particularly difficult.

“The nature of the soil is problematic,” Carruth said. “It has the consistency of play dough and is hard to work through a screen for sifting.”

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This week Carruth and two fellow archaeologists from Panamerican Consultants. Inc., are excavating a portion of the site of the Forks of the Road enslavement market as part of the boundary study funded by the National Park Service and contracted by the City of Natchez.

Based in Tuscaloosa, Ala., Panamerican has been subcontracted by the Mangi Environmental Group of McLean, Va., to perform the site assessment.

The City of Natchez contracted with the Mangi Group last year to perform a boundary survey of the Forks of the Road, and to conduct a feasibility study outlining possible management scenarios for the future of the site.

A grant from the U.S. Congress is funding the study. The project is limited to a cost of $147,916.

“We are looking at the site to see if there are any intact archaeologic deposits possibly related to the Forks of the Road,” Carruth said. “So far all I’ve come across in this cistern is a few pieces of white ware, some drab olive glass, a plastic ice bag, and a pair of panty hose.”

City Grants Coordinator Brett Brinegar, a former professional archaeologist, said it is common for excavated cisterns to be filled with all manner of recent trash.

“The likelihood of finding any major remaining artifacts at the site is low,” Brinegar said. “But since there are cisterns on the property, there is more of a chance that some items of significance could be recovered.”

Even if few artifacts are actually recovered, the survey is no less important, she said.

“Any time there is a project of this magnitude and historical importance, it is to our benefit to have an archaeological survey performed,” she said. “We are glad that an archaeological component has been included in the feasibility study.”

From approximately 1830 to 1863, the Forks of the Road enslavement market operated at the junction of St. Catherine Street and Liberty Road. Natchez is believed to have been the second largest market for the sale of enslaved persons in the South. Only the New Orleans market sold more bondsmen into enslavement.

California State University, Northridge history professor Ronald L.F. Davis said in its entirety the Natchez slave market essentially stretched from Under-the-Hill, along the length of Main Street, and extended to the Forks of the Road.

In the 30-plus years that the Forks of the Road operated as a mercantile site for the buying and selling of humans, thousands of African Americans passed through its pens and into the system of compulsory plantation labor that enriched Natchez and the lower South.