Big Creek High School Archaeological Site

McDowell County, WV

A controversy has developed in the archaeological community concerning a prehistoric site in McDowell County. Four flood-prone schools are being replaced with new schools built on higher ground. A new PreK-8 school is slated for construction on the Big Creek High School football field. The new school will be built over a 1,000 year-old archaeological site with uncommon attributes.What the Council thinks may be an important archaeological site will be lost without an understanding of its significance or its contents. The total cost of this project is $63,000,000.

The Council for West Virginia Archaeology believes the site has promise for shedding light on the Late Woodland period, a poorly understood period of prehistory when maize agriculture first became important in the diet of the indigenous peoples of the upper Ohio Valley area.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is the lead agency for environmental issues in the building program. The other agencies involved are the WV Department of Education, the WV School Building Authority, and the McDowell County Board of Education. The proponents are set on building the school as soon as possible, and without further expenditures to salvage the site. The State Historic Preservation Office has executed an agreement that allows construction to begin without further investigation of the archaeological site.

The advocates originally acknowledged that the site has potential and proposed to preserve the site by burying it deeply before building the school on it. To compensate, they proposed multi-year financial support to an educational project the Council is developing, and funding an addition to the County curriculum addressing McDowell County prehistory and history. The advocates asked the Council to accede to building the school on the site without excavation. The Council did not agree with building the school without excavating the site, and declined the offer.

In its final action, the Corps declared the archaeological site is not significant and there will be no further work on the site.

The documents by the parties are linked here:

The Council's take on the controversy
(still in editing, should be online by November 10th)
Notes by Council representatives of the initial meeting of the principles (August 18, 2005).
Letter from the Council to the Corps of Engineers, objecting to destroying the site without excavation (September 23 2005)
The Corps of Engineers' response, announcing they no longer consider the site significant or worthy of "preservation in place," and refusing further work (October 28, 2005).
Letter from the Council to the Corps of Engineers' second response, disputing the office review of fieldwork and their reinterpretation of the data. (February 14, 2006).
The Corps of Engineers' response of March 13, 2006, reiterating why it disagrees with the Council about the potential significance of the Woodland site -- this is an Adobe .pdf file (157 KB).
The Corps' critique of fieldwork contracted to evaluate the site's significance, overturning its conclusions.

© 2005
Council for West Virginia Archaeology (CWVA) unless otherwise noted.