Southeast Missouri State University student publication

Anthropology Department to reopen historic Mississippian digsite in Cape Girardeau County

Tuesday, September 14, 2021
A student explores a dig site in Cape Girardeau County to learn more about the Mississippian Tribe.
Submitted by Jennifer Bengston

Since the 1970s and ‘80s, anthropologists and archeologists have been working hard to uncover the mysteries of Mississippian Native culture to better understand who they were. Now, in 2021, the Department of Anthropology is looking to reopen their Cape Girardeau County site once more to continue the dig and unearth the mystery.

Associate professor of biological anthropology and archaeology Jennifer Bengston is the head of the effort to reopen this historical site. The goal of Bengston’s field study class is to unearth the history of the Mississippian tribe that lived in the area.

“Missippians were very widespread, and at the site we are digging at, we believe dating back to AD 1250. While there has been a lot of excavation done at this site, there hasn’t been a lot of problem-oriented work, using a systematic approach to the dig,” Bengston said.

With the help of students, those working the site look to unravel these questions and learn what life in the Mississippian Tribe was about. Bengston is hopeful that with COVID-19 restrictions lifting, they will be able to reopen the site for students this summer.

But what does that look like? What does working in archaeology and anthropology mean for those who choose this career path? For some, it may look like the hours in the hot sun, while others may see more lab work.

“For anyone who’s just starting anthropology and this is their first dig, you should bring a lot of water,” anthropology junior Dakota Black said. “A lot of the day was spent in the hot sun; it was a workout. I worked to take core samples from the dirt, so it was a lot of lifting.”

Black said though the work was hard, it was incredibly rewarding. Referring to the excavated items as “a piece to the whole puzzle,” Black painted a picture of discovery and mystery wrapped into one.

For others, the nature of anthropology may be different. After spending 20 days in both Japan and China, junior Sonny Collins said his travels influenced his decision to become an anthropologist.

“If you want to know what anthropology is, travel. And once you’re back, think about the aspects of what you experienced and the aspects of the culture you were in,” Collins said..

The dig site is looking to open in mid-May, and students of any major can join the dig to get hands-on experience with archaeology. The dig is only available for those enrolled in the Summer 2022 course AN313, archaeological fieldwork. For more information, visit their website or contact the faculty at the Department of History and Anthropology, located in Pacific Hall.