Artifacts found near Bayou St. John

WASHINGTON A federally funded preservation program has uncovered pottery shards, pieces of clay tobacco pipes and animal bones near Bayou St. John in New Orleans that date to roughly 300 A.D.

The items date to the Marksville culture of American Indians and were discovered by a team of archaeologists under contract with the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s environmental and historic preservation program.

Andre Cadogan, deputy director of programs at the FEMA Louisiana Recovery Office, said it was a “bit of a surprise” to find the pottery pieces and other artifacts.

“The pottery was nice, easily dateable and much earlier than we expected,” Cadogan said in the announcement. “This is exciting news for historians and tribal communities as it represents some of the only intact prehistoric remains of its kind south of Lake Pontchartrain.”

State Archaeologist Chip McGimsey said Thursday the items were found at Fort St. John, also known as Old Spanish Fort, near where Lake Pontchartrain enters Bayou St. John.

McGimsey said American Indians settled at the site for fishing and eating clams almost 1,700 years before the colonial-era fort was built. The artifacts were found among the old shell pilings on top of which the fort was first built.

“The older parts of the shell pile are still preserved beneath the fort,” McGimsey said. “So that’s kind of cool.”

The pottery had intricate designs, he said, which date the fragments to about 300 to 400 A.D., he said, but carbon-dating testing is still needed to affirm those beliefs. Similar pieces of pottery and other fragments from that time period have been found among the Big Oak and Little Oak Islands in New Orleans and some other locations, he added.

Fort St. John location holds prominence in New Orleans’ history having served as a location for American Indians, the original French fort, an expanded Spanish fort, an American fort, a resort hotel and then an amusement park.

FEMA’s work near Bayou St. John is part of an agreement with the State Historic Preservation Office, American Indian tribes and the state to perform archaeological surveys of parks and public lands in New Orleans. FEMA’s environmental and historic preservation program evaluates historical and environmental concerns that may arise from projects funded by federal dollars.

“The surveys not only offset potential destruction of archaeological resources on private property from the home mitigations but also give us a leg up on any future storms,” Cadogan added. “We are helping the state of Louisiana learn about its history as well as provide information that leads to preparedness for the next event.”

Once the field studies are completed and all of the artifacts are analyzed and recorded, the State Historic Preservation Office will become stewards of the information.