What is in this article?:
- Mississippi Delta farmland has produced some of the finest examples of Native American stonework and pottery yet found in the United States. Terry Smith has spent the last 20 years amassing an astounding, museum-quality collection of Delta Indian artifacts.
Terry Smith, Smith & Weiland, Clarksdale, Miss., holds a fine example of an Indian celt made from green stone. He often surveys and does engineering work for Delta farmers, and has spent the last 20 years amassing a museum-quality collection of Delta Indian artifacts.
Losing Indian sites forever
For all of Smith’s enthusiasm, there is a shade of regret. “I don’t cover the ground that I used to, mainly because the prime ground for covering is gone.” Smith is referencing the landscape changes brought about by modern farm machinery. As he explains, in the 1950s and 1960s, field conditions were near perfect for finding Indian artifacts. There was a convergence of farming technology and circumstance; cheap fuel and unprecedented tractor power transformed the strength of modern agricultural implements. Producers were able to reach down and turn the sub-level of their farming bed up. While they were flipping ground and pulling nutrients to the top — farmers were also bringing up Indian items that hadn’t seen light for thousands of years.
“A lot of the material found today is just stuff that’s being reflipped after the initial turnover during the 1950s. Now it’s just not feasible to spend that kind of money on fuel, or to flip the dirt that many times or as deep. No-till, reshaping rows, planting on top — you’re getting a mix of the same items that have been there for a good while,” says Smith.
(For photos of Smith's collection, see Delta farmland reveals secrets of Indian history)
Smith is driven to get to as much Indian material as possible — before the big machinery does. “Heavy equipment chops Indian artifacts to pieces. It’s a matter of either pick it up now, or just lose it forever. Land forming is great for farming — both yield and production, but it still annihilates Indian sites. Most of the time it takes a concentrated site and scatters it over acres and acres, destroying what it hits — even the stone a lot of the time. So that’s part of what makes me anxious to get as much as possible out of these sites while we can.”
(For more on land forming, see Land forming with a Delta maverick — Robert Precht)