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Don't Tread on Me: University Takes Steps to Preserve LSU Mounds

The iconic LSU Mounds are in danger due to their popularity. The high traffic of home football games is detrimental to the structural integrity of these archaeological treasures.

Louisianans know a thing or two about preservation. History, heritage, culture – when these things are threatened, people generally band together and take a stand to save important elements of the state's unique composition. Archaeological concerns may not be as traditionally ingrained, but are no less important.

LSU researchers are hoping to cultivate the public's preservationist instincts to save one of the most iconic attributes of the university's campus – the LSU Mounds, which will no longer be accessible during home game days.

The LSU Mounds, which date back approximately 6,000 years to the Archaic period, are some of the oldest Native American mounds found in Louisiana, and have long been in danger due to their popularity and also from natural processes. To preserve them and minimize irrevocable damage, the LSU Mounds will have restricted access on heavy traffic days, namely home football games.

"This isn't meant to spoil anyone's fun or dampen traditions," said Rob Mann, southeast regional archaeologist for Louisiana, assistant professor-research of Geography and Anthropology and resident expert on the mounds. "The fact of the matter is that these are nationally significant archaeological resources that science still doesn't fully understand, and we need to preserve that history as part of Louisiana's legacy. One or two people don't cause the damage … It's the weight and presence of hundreds of people over the course of a game day that's the true threat to these valuable links to the past."

The LSU Mounds, which date back approximately 6,000 years to the Archaic period, are some of the oldest Native American mounds found in Louisiana.

Beginning on the first home game of the season, which will be held on Sept.18, the mounds will be barricaded to avoid people climbing and sliding on them. Representatives from the LSU Department of Geography and Anthropology, the LSU Student Geography and Anthropology Society, the Louisiana Division of Archaeology and several other groups will be on hand to distribute educational materials and answer any questions people might have about the LSU Mounds, their history or any other related issue.

"The mounds are Louisiana – and LSU – treasures," said Brooks Ellwood, Robey H. Clark Distinguished Professor in Geology and Geophysics. "The problem is that heavy usage, such as what the mounds experience during a typical home football game, is causing damage to the structures, both internally and externally. On the outside, you can see scarring, but on the inside, the whole thing is basically collapsing. It's like a glacier calving – huge chunks of its support system are chipping off from undue pressure." Ellwood has done considerable research relating to the mounds in recent years.

In recognition of the special place the mounds hold in Louisiana and LSU, the upcoming LSU Press publication, "Treasures of LSU," features a section highlighting the importance of the mounds written by Rebecca Saunders, curator of anthropology at the LSU Museum of Natural Science, and Sophie Warny, curator of education at the museum.

"We are just now developing the scientific tools and methods – for instance, those used by Dr. Ellwood – that allow us to investigate the mounds with minimal disturbance to the structures," said Saunders. "If the mounds collapse, we will never have a good understanding of how and why the mounds were built."

As one of the earliest archaeological sites in Louisiana, the LSU Mounds have a central place in many of the cultural activities of both the university community and visitors to campus. Archaeologists want only to discourage activities that are damaging to the mounds. In order to fully understand their cultural significance to current generations of the LSU community, university researchers will be available on game days to listen to stories from the past involving the LSU Mounds.

"It's important to remember that the mounds are one of the things that makes this campus so unique. The fact that they're recognized by the National Register of Historical Sites and Places just cements their status," said Heather McKillop, LSU archaeologist and chair of the Louisiana Archaeological Survey and Antiquities Commission. "But they're also an active research ground, so we need to find ways to enjoy them in a non-destructive manner."

Future events are scheduled to share the uniqueness of the mounds and offer the public a first-hand view at science in the works. October is Louisiana's Archaeology Month, and while events are scheduled all over the state, plans are in progress to have hands-on displays at the mounds during tailgating at LSU home football games. For details and updates, visit http://www.crt.state.la.us/archaeology/archaeologymonth.aspx.

Also, Mann and other LSU and state archaeologists are planning an excavation in Mound A, the northern mound, in early spring 2011, which will be open to public viewing. More details will be announced as the event draws near.

"This offers a chance for the public to see archaeology in action," said Mann. "We're hoping the LSU community will support our efforts to keep the mounds around for generations of Tigers to enjoy."