Uncovering the prehistoric past in the Kisatchie National Forest

An excavation is underway in the Kisatchie National Forest of artifacts potentially dating all the way back to the Ice Age.
Published: Jun. 7, 2023 at 5:29 PM CDT|Updated: Jun. 7, 2023 at 7:40 PM CDT
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VERNON PARISH, La. (KALB) - An excavation is underway in the Kisatchie National Forest of artifacts potentially dating all the way back to the Ice Age.

“This particular site looks like it dates all the way from the Ice Age, so some of the earliest peoples of Louisiana, all the way through the mound building cultures to the present day,” said Matt Helmer, forest archaeologist for Kisatchie National Forest.

The excavation is a partnership between the Kisatchie National Forest Service and the University of Louisiana at Lafayette’s (ULL) archaeology department.

“For me to have this opportunity to be here, to be able to help discover things that are kind of blowing our minds and kind of uncovering the history of different areas, it’s very inspiring for me,” said Gray Tarry, an archaeologist field tech for ULL.

The project is being made possible by federal funding provided in the recovery of Vernon Parish following Hurricane Laura. When the storm uprooted trees on the land, they had already recognized it as an archaeological site, and the service knew they needed to preserve the area.

While Kisatchie National Forest carries out excavation projects around the state, they have never been on this large of a scale.

“This was really a unique opportunity for us, in fact, one of the first types of projects like this that we’ve ever had in Kisatchie National Forest,” explained Helmer.

So far, they have found quite a few artifacts, one that is helping them to better understand human migration in Louisiana.

“We found the first evidence of a permanent structure anywhere in the forest, and they’ve explored over 4,000 sites, between the base at Ft. Polk and the forest, there’s been a lot of work done here,” said Erlend Johnson, project director and an instructor at ULL. “There’s way more work done here than most of the rest of Louisiana, generally.”

The project will continue for another few weeks before archaeologists begin the lengthy process of analyzing what they have uncovered. Studying the artifacts will hopefully tell them more about pre-historic life, exactly how far back the site goes and maybe even connect the area to Native American tribes in Louisiana, something Johnson said is very hard to do.

“You can’t figure out a language somebody spoke based on the type of arrowhead or projectile point that they created. Nobody can do that. We can’t talk to it and figure that out,” explained Johnson. “But sometimes we can look at things, and we can start making connections.”

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