MSU Students Dig up Dirt on Ozarks Prehistoric Past

Published 06/16 2014 07:32PM

Updated 06/16 2014 07:45PM

CHRISTIAN COUNTY, Mo. -- Missouri State University students are getting their hands dirty in the name of uncovering the historic and the prehistoric.

Under the guidance of Assistant Professor of Archaeology Jack Ray, the students have already spent days digging in Smallin Cave.

Ray's team has uncovered artifacts thousands of years old and gave us a peek into the prehistoric ozarks. The Smallin Cave is beautiful to visit on a hot summer day but it has undoubtedly served as life saving shelter in the past.

Spend enough time with Jack Ray, you will feel like you have stepped into a book. A mystery with history.

"This is a Smith Point that dates about 4,000 years old," says Ray, holding a large spear point in his hand. "This particular artifact is, perhaps, more interesting than the rest of them because it is made of a stone, a rock that is completely foreign to the Ozarks. This rock is called novaculite, comes out of the Ouachita Mountains of Southwest, Central Arkansas."

Where we might see moss, dirt and stone, ray sees the pages of history and peels them back.

"It's like pages in a book, turning pages in a book so you want to excavate in a very controlled manner," says Ray. "We're excavating in 10-centimeter or 4-inch levels at a time. So we'll do just that level, sift it, recover those artifacts and then do the next level below that." 

If the layers of soil are pages. The artifacts; arrow tips, spear points, pieces of pottery are the written words.

"So yeah, it's telling a story it's telling the story of who were here and what time period they were here," says Ray.

For archaeology student Matt Davidson this story is a page turner.

"We found a bullet, we found a bunch of projectile points so it is really fulfilling," he says. "And especially the prehistoric past because it's unrecorded so it's a big mystery so if you find a little piece of the prehistoric past it kind of fills in a little gap of history." .

Ray said the authors of the story of Smallin Cave left many clues.Ray points to a layer of dirt where a small silver sliver is sticking out.

"Because there is literally aluminum foil," he says. "So aluminum foil came into existence shortly after World War 2. So you know everything from here above is since 1950 something."

It is the job of this archaeological team to riddle those clues out, revealing some of the history of this cave.

"That's what we're trying to figure out. Where is the historic layer and the prehistoric layer," says Ray.

You can see these archaeologists in action if you take a tour of Smallin Cave between now and June 26.

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