U.S. Water News Online
SHREVEPORT, La. -- Planned drawdowns of Lake Bistineau over
the next three years may be a cloud to shoreline property owners,
boaters and anglers. But they're a silver lining to historians and
archaeologists eager to learn more about regional history.
"It will give us the opportunity to look at portions along Bayou
Dorcheat we normally don't get to see," said Jeff Girard, the state
regional archaeologist who works out of Northwestern State
Dorcheat, which cuts a wide and wet swath through Webster Parish,
is the stream that largely feeds the lake and along which, for
perhaps thousands of years, people lived before historic times in
this region of the state.
"There is going to be everything from early prehistoric Indian
sites that date back 10,000 to 12,000 years, all the way up to
19th-century occupations," Girard said. "Because of the rafting of
the Red River, Lake Bistineau has been a lake quite some time."
Lake waters are being drained to control aquatic plants and
otherwise maintain the lake bed. That could expose up to 10,000 acres
of the 17,200-acre lake bottom. The last time the level fell enough
for scholarly studies to be made was 20 years ago. The most recent
study of the exposed salt works was published in 1902. That means
studies today should benefit from new technologies.
"We have several sites on the lake bed that are dots on a map. And
I'm not sure how accurate those dots are," Girard said.
With modern techniques, "we will be able to get much more precise
locations of where things were."
Girard will be assisted by the local Louisiana Archaeological
Society chapter, Caddo Nation officials and cartographer and
historian Gary Joiner, a nationally recognized expert on Civil War
history relating to Louisiana.
Prior to the Civil War, salt works were a viable industry on Lake
Bistineau. Salt pans from native Americans have been found, so it's
an ancient site.
Confederate defense maps also show that camps of various sizes
were sited near the lake, most likely to protect the salt works, a
strategic asset for the mineral-strapped Confederacy, Joiner said.
History unearthed from the muddy lake bottom and sites
rediscovered or confirmed with new technologies will add pieces to
the puzzle of local history and provide more for future scientists to
stitch into a historic fabric, Girard said.
Such sites now could be correlated to the Conly Site in Bienville
Parish, where human remains dating 6,000 years before the pyramids of
Egypt indicate a sizable group lived along the banks of Loggy Bayou,
which drains from Dorcheat and Bistineau into the Red River.
The Conly Site was only discovered a few years ago and so could
not aid research on Bistineau decades ago.
"This gives us the opportunity to look for occupations that might
have been contemporary with the Conly Site," Girard said. "It will
help us put the site in context. That would be very exciting."
Girard and Joiner planned to visit the north shore of the lake
this month to examine some of the first sites to be explored --
Tadpole Lake and Potter's Pond. These are historic salt works used
during the Civil War but which historians believe Indians used far
Also on hand will be regional representatives of the state
Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, who will help protect the
exposed lake bottom from relic hunters.
"There are a lot of people who like to do treasure hunting who
will go out on state property and will try to recover things by
digging," Girard said. "But there are state laws that protect any
cultural resources on state property. And under the lake bed, it is
Complicating the issue, however, is that some sites are on private
property. Some of the areas exposed by the receding lake may be
private property as well. Girard said people who find what they
believe could be artifacts should get in touch with him.
"We're not going to confiscate what people have found. But people
want to know what happened on their property," he said. "And when
they find something, they want to know how old it is and what it was
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