Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Public Archaeology and Community Outreach

The New Acadia Project (NAP) is a publicly funded, grass-roots effort combining archaeology, history, and applied anthropology in a multidisciplinary, collaborative investigation of eighteenth-century Acadian settlement of Louisiana. A cooperative agreement has been established between the University of Louisiana at Lafayette (UL Lafayette) and the NAP Steering Committee, which has led a widely successful fundraising effort to support this research. 
    In 1765 Joseph Beausoleil Broussard led a group of more than 200 Acadians to the Attakapas District in present-day Iberia and St. Martin parishes. These settlers were part of the forced expulsion of Acadians from Nova Scotia during the second half of the eighteenth century. More than 34 died in the months after their arrival, including Beausoleil and his brother, Alexandre. 
    The founders of New Acadia were buried at the places they settled, thought to be located somewhere along the Bayou Teche near present-day Loreauville. The burials were recorded by Father Jean-François de Civray as being located at premier camp d'en bas, dernier camp d'en bas, and camp Beausoleil. The gravesites and homesteads remain unmarked and unknown two and a half centuries later, in the heartland of Acadiana.

Goals and Objectives 
    There have been no previous archaeological investigations of New Acadia and very few studies of Acadian archaeology in Louisiana, despite the importance of Acadian heritage and culture. This is the first systematic effort to identify and study the initial home sites of New Acadia. The goals of the NAP are: 

  1. Advance existing knowledge of the history of Acadian settlement by locating and studying the original homesteads and associated unmarked burials.
  2. Delineate and understand the settlement patterns and households of New Acadia.
  3. Examine the changing relationships between history, identity, and landscape.
  4. Promote development of the cultural economy of Louisiana and the region through cultural resource management (CRM) planning and heritage conservation related to Acadian history and culture.
    The first three goals are related to the objectives of producing historical and cultural information on New Acadia through archaeology, oral history, and archival research (see illustration below). What did the first Acadians eat? What things did they bring with them? What kind of shelters did they build? Such new and unique information will be of great interest to archaeologists, historians, and scholars. 
    For many Louisiana residents there are other, more profound reasons for discovering and studying the New Acadia settlement: the rediscovery of heritage and cultural identity. New prospects for commemoration will produce previously-unrealized opportunities for development of the cultural economy. Besides cultural tourism, economic development can be promoted through businesses and heritage industries that capitalize on culture.

    The project goals and objectives will be accomplished through archaeological survey and site testing, historical and archival research, oral histories and genealogies, public outreach, and community engagement. Each line of investigation will be a collaborative effort in public archaeology, public history, applied anthropology, and CRM planning.
  1. Archaeological Survey, Geophysical Remote Sensing, and Site Testing.
  2. Historical and Archival Research.
  3. Oral Histories and Genealogies.
  4. Public Outreach and Community Engagement.
    The identification of old cemeteries through interviews and oral histories has been useful in selecting areas of high priority for archaeological survey. Geophysical remote sensing has been done at two locations, including one abandoned family cemetery. These sites are located on the Teche Ridge in the vicinity of Loreauville. The cemetery is thought to include the burials of descendants of Joseph Beausoleil Broussard, who was buried at one of the first home sites of New Acadia. While the immediate objectives do not involve excavation or disturbance of any human remains, the New Acadia settlement is known to be associated with unmarked graves. Family cemeteries dating from the nineteenth or twentieth centuries may also contain the unmarked graves of earlier ancestors, which may in turn lead investigators to the original 1765 homesteads of New Acadia.

Requirements for Success 
    The NAP will only be advanced through the cooperation and collaboration of property owners. All of the places of interest and sites being visited are located on privately-owned property for which trespassing is illegal. It is also a violation of State law to excavate or disturb human burials, whether in marked cemeteries or unmarked graves. This research is made possible only with the permission and generosity of the land owners.
    As a project being carried out in the public interest and reliant on public support, all those involved in this study are interested in community engagement and participation. As research progresses this might include visiting sites and viewing collections, partnerships with schools and cultural organizations, and opportunities for volunteers. Among the more immediate requirements for the project to succeed are:
  1. Permission from property owners in the Loreauville region to investigate land, especially along the Teche Ridge.
  2. Invitations to look at artifacts previously collected by local residents from gardens, backyards, and plowed fields.
  3. Input and involvement in understanding local history, land use, and genealogy.
  4. Resources and financial assistance.
What would it mean for the 1765 homesteads and graves of New Acadia to be found? What interests and concerns do people have in searching for these places? What plans might be made for investigation and future commemoration? Merely asking these questions raises issues of CRM planning and heritage conservation. If the stated goals are accomplished, what are the possibilities for economic development?

The New Acadia Project is made possible through public and private donations, including Iberia Parish and the McIlhenny Family Foundation. You can support the project by contacting the Acadian Heritage and Culture Foundation, Inc., at the Acadian Museum in Erath (337-233-5832; acadianmuseum.com) or the New Acadia Project Fund at the ULLafayette Foundation (337-482-0700; ullafayettefoundation.org). NAP is on Facebook and online at louisiana.edu and newacadiaproject.blogspot.com.

Questions and Concerns? Contact Mark A. Rees, PhD., NAP Principal Investigator at rees@louisiana.edu (337-482-6045) or Maegan Smith, NAP Graduate Assistant, at mas5855@louisiana.edu.