08/09/16- Rare find by MSU Archaeological Researchers Get International Attention
Contact: Karyn Brown
STARKVILE, Miss.—The account of a Mississippi State team’s discovery of a very-out-of-place freshwater mussel shell currently is being featured in a specialized scientific journal.
The university team members include Evan Peacock, a veteran anthropology professor, and Joseph A. Mitchell of Gautier, who soon graduates with a doctorate in earth and atmospheric sciences. Co-authoring the research article with them is Cliff Jenkins, a cultural resource specialist with the Jackson office of the Natural Resources Conservation Service, a unit of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Titled “Pre-Columbian Freshwater Mussel Assemblages from the Tallahatchie River in the Lower Mississippi Alluvial Basin, USA,” their report in the American Malacological Bulletin describes the find of a winged mapleleaf mussel shell at a well-preserved Leflore County archaeological site.
The journal is a publication of the American Malacological Society. With more than 600 members worldwide, the organization established in 1931 is devoted to the study of mollusks, the large animal group distinguished by soft bodies and no backbones that usually live in shells. For more, see www.malacological.org.
Peacock and Mitchell worked for the past five years at the Leflore County site believed to been used by Paleoamericans some 1,200 years ago. It was while examining a shell pile left by the ancient residents that Mitchell first detected what never before had been discovered in or around Mississippi waterways.
Today, the winged mapleleaf is considered an endangered species. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service website, a single population existed in the late 1990s along the Minnesota-Wisconsin border, but others since have been found in Arkansas, Oklahoma and Missouri. See www.fws.gov/midwest/endangered/clams/wima/winge_fc.html.
Peacock said knowing such a species “once existed in the meandering streams of Western Mississippi gives biologist valuable information on the types of habitats where the animals can thrive as watershed health is restored.
“Finding a species that never before has been reported from your state is a special feeling, not least because it provides one rationale for why archaeology is so important and should be supported,” he added.
After receiving a 1988 MSU anthropology degree, Peacock went on for graduate study at the University of Sheffield in England. His master’s there is in environmental archaeology and paleoeconomy; a doctorate, in archaeology.
“Archaeology usually is recognized by scholars for its scientific value and by the public for its historical or humanistic value,” he noted, adding that “it is exciting to achieve results with real-world applied value.”
Mitchell earned respective MSU bachelor’s and master’s degrees in political science and applied anthropology before beginning doctoral study. He leaves Starkville this fall to accept an academic position with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston.
“Very rewarding” were the words he used to describe the special archaeological find that helped conclude his terminal-degree quest.
“Archaeology allows us to apply what we know about the past to modern-day issues and problems such as endangered faunas, habitat restoration and species reintroduction,” Mitchell said, in expressing appreciation for Peacock’s impact on his future professional career path.
“I was very fortunate to study under Evan, since it was his training that really shaped by research interests,” he said.
Archaeology, anthropology, earth and atmospheric sciences and political sciences are among the many courses of study in MSU’s College of Arts and Sciences, the 138-year-old land-grant institution’s largest academic unit. For details on these and the others, visit www.cas.msstate.edu.
MSU is Mississippi’s leading university, available online at www.msstate.edu.
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