Welspun Land May Be Home to Ancient Burial Grounds

by Arkansas Business Staff  on Monday, Nov. 19, 2007 12:00 am  

The land near the Little Rock Port to be occupied by the new $100 million Welspun steel pipe plant once may have been a Native American settlement and is now being examined by state archeologists.

John House, station archeologist with the Arkansas Archeological Survey, who is based at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, said that the property may contain Native American graves.

"We are in some haste to learn more about that area before it is developed and sites before they have been destroyed. ... The ideal thing would be if we had enough lead time to do some studies before anything happens," he said.

House declined to identify the owners of the land, but Rajesh Chokhani, a Welspun representative, acknowledged that there was an archeological site on "a small portion" of Welspun's approximately 800 acres adjacent to the port. Chokhani said the site was not where the plant is being built, "so it's not becoming a road block for the project."

"That general area is one of great archeological interest," House said. "It goes back to the 1880s. There was an archeologist from the Smithsonian named Edward Palmer, and he visited a farm owner named Thibault. Mr. Thibault showed him some little mounds on his farm that he'd been digging in, and these apparently had been Indian houses that had been burned and some graves had been dug either before or after the burning."

Thibault gave the Smithsonian pots and other objects that had been dug from the ground, including some blue glass beads, indicating the Native Americans had had contact with Europeans, House said, adding that the settlement probably dates from the 1500s or 1600s.

House said archeologists have been doing some "shovel testing" and that more than one landowner was involved. "We're prepared to undertake excavations if the findings warrant it and the landowners are willing."

"We'd really like to move into more intensive work in the coming months if we're able to," he said.Chokhani said Welspun, headquartered in Mumbai, India, had received a "survey report" from the Arkansas Archeological Survey and "we have not taken a decision" about letting a full-scale excavation proceed. "They saw three or four places where they feel there could be some things. I'm waiting for another report from them."




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