Last summer Oxford Exchange, through its Commercial Development Authority, began tearing down a large stone mound which some experts, including those with the Alabama Historical Commission, say is a mound built by American Indians centuries ago. The dirt underneath was to be used as fill dirt for a planned Sam’s Club nearby.
The city later stopped demolishing the hill, which is situated behind the Oxford Exchange shopping center. Though suspected to be a burial site, to date, no human remains have been found at the mound.
A new Alabama law providing more protection for American Indian burial and ceremonial sites might have prevented much of the destruction of an ancient pile of stones behind the Oxford Exchange, according to a tribal cultural official.
Under the bill, which Gov. Bob Riley signed into law April 30, American Indian burial and funerary objects are now protected to the same extent as those of all other ethnic groups. The law closes a loophole in previous state law that exempted property owners who knowingly disturbed Native American burials or funerary objects located on their land.
A violation of the new law could result in a Class C felony conviction, punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a $15,000 fine.
Robert Thrower, cultural director for the Poarch Band of Creek Indians in Atmore, said the new law would have allowed him and representatives from other American Indian tribes to legally challenge the mound’s destruction.
“The mound situation was horrible,” Thrower said. “We looked for quite some time for some legal hook with the Oxford mound. The really frustrating thing there was there was nothing we could leverage legally.”
Stacye Hathorn, state archaeologist with the Historical Commission, noted there are other stone mounds in the Oxford area that will benefit from the added protection.
“There are mounds on several of the adjacent mountaintops,” she said. “The one that was demolished was just the largest mound of a complex in the Choccolocco Creek area.”
“If anything good came out of that Oxford mess it was that bill,” said Harry Holstein, professor of archaeology and anthropology at Jacksonville State University and a longtime examiner of Indian sites in and around Oxford. “It’s a big step forward.”