If just one more shovel of earth had been removed, the curious figurine of a kneeling woman carved about 900 years ago might have ended up in a 19th century curio shop.
Or lost forever.
Instead, archaeology graduate student Steve Boles found the rare, 6-inch-high artifact this spring at a massive archaeological dig now under way at the old National Stock Yards to make way for construction of a new $670 million Mississippi River bridge. The figurine and the whole excavation have caused great excitement among archaeology professionals and students.
The sheer size of the dig and the discovery of a buried city dating to around 1050 A.D. — the same time that mound and city building also took off at nearby Cahokia Mounds — has raised hope that an old archaeological puzzle may finally be solved: Where did the Mississippians — a non-nomadic, warrior-based agricultural society — come from and why did they build on such a grand scale?
Site manager and archaeologist Jeff Kruchten said that since last fall, 137 dwelling sites have been dug up or are being excavated. Another 500 to 650 are thought to exist, pushing the estimate of the city’s peak population to at least 4,000.