Human remains found on the bank of the drought-shrunken Mississippi River were Native Americans buried by a flood centuries ago, and the remains were probably those of tribes that disappeared for more than a century, according to an archaeological team led by a UC Davis School of Medicine researcher.
Led by the University of Southern Mississippi’s archaeologist Michael Carley, researchers found evidence that the group of tribes were submerged by a massive flood that took place around the time of the European invasion. The remains of the tribes were recovered between 1930 and the 1940s and were identified through genetic analysis.
The findings are published in the journal Nature Communications.
“The finding that some of these tribes disappeared and were completely submerged by a massive flood about a century ago is pretty exciting, because historically we just did not know whether [drought-shrunken] riverbanks in this region were inhabited,” said Carley, a postdoctoral fellow who works with the university’s Health Sciences Center and the Health Data Science Center.
“There’s a lot to be learned from these findings, some of which will shed light on how communities survived these long droughts,” he said. “And that’s part of our project”—the Waterfowl and Waterfowl Management Projects (WWMP), which is dedicated to the study of waterfowl and their management in Southern Mississippi.
The WWMP team is currently expanding the study of the area to include archaeology, archaeobotany, cultural resource management, waterfowl management and cultural resource management in the South. (In its infancy, the project will include researchers from the universities of Alabama, Louisiana State, the University of Georgia, the University of Arkansas and the University of Tennessee.)
“We’re really trying to understand how we can best restore these riverbanks to their original condition—the kind of riverbank that existed before the last two or three centuries when they probably were not a thriving community of waterfowl. We have a lot of questions to answer,” said Carley.
The team found that Native Americans buried by the flood were likely members of a tribe known as the Red Lake Band, which were located on the river’s west bank, and had made their home along the Mississippi River Valley for centuries. Their remains were uncovered in 1940 by work crews who were building the U.S. Army Corps