Archaeologists search Bayou Teche for early Acadian roots

Fieldwork could begin as early as June on an archaeology project to find some of the earliest settlements of the Acadian exiles who made their way to Louisiana.

The current focus is along Bayou Teche near Loreauville in Iberia Parish, where Cajun folk hero Joseph “Beausoleil” Broussard helped lead a group in 1765 after unsuccessfully battling British efforts to remove the French Acadians from what is now Nova Scotia.

More than 30 of them died within months of their arrival, likely from disease, leaving few clues about where or how they lived or even where they were buried.

“Very little is known about them. We don’t know what kind of material culture they brought with them,” said Mark Rees, a University of Louisiana at Lafayette archaeologist and anthropologist.

A fundraising effort began this year to raise money for the research effort, dubbed The New Acadia Project.

The project got a boost this month with a $25,000 donation from the Gustaf Westfeldt McIlhenny Family Foundation of New Orleans, which comes on top of about $10,000 in other donations, said Cheryl Broussard Perret, a descendant of the early Broussard settlers who is helping to seek private funds for the research.

She said the goal is to raise at least $90,000 through donations — money that could be used to match additional funding being sought from other sources, including a request for $290,000 from the Louisiana Board of Regents.

While the fundraising continues, Rees said preparations are being made for preliminary archaeology work in June.

“We have identified several places of interest. We have some leads,” he said.

The work planned for this summer is digging at promising sites to see if any objects can be found from the time period when the early Acadians arrived, such as bits of pottery or other ceramic items, Rees said.

Researchers might also use ground-penetrating radar and other sensing techniques to look for changes in the soil that might indicate an old chimney, a fire pit, post holes or a grave — indications of a settlement.

Rees said similar archaeology work has already been done on Acadian settlements in other areas, notably Nova Scotia and states along the eastern seaboard where some Acadians settled.

“A lot of research has been done on Acadians in other areas,” he said. “We haven’t done much here, but we are hoping to change that.”

Perret said the long-term goal, assuming the early settlements can be found, is to capitalize on the historical significance of the sites to boost cultural tourism in an area of the state where Cajun culture is already a big draw.

“This will be an asset to Acadiana,” she said.

For more information on the project, visit www.Acadian Museum.com/New_Acadia_Project.html.