When Scholarship and Tribal Heritage Face Off Against Commerce
OXFORD, Ala. — Overlooking the Interstate and an outdoor shopping mall here stands a sad little hill, bald but for four bare trees and a scattering of stones.
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Bob Farley for The New York Times
Harry O. Holstein, the archaeology professor who tried to protect the stone mound.
That the stones are there is beyond argument. But everything else about them — whether somebody put them there, how long they have been there and what should be done with them — became a matter of fierce debate last summer and has continued to yield surprising twists into recent weeks.
The latest episode in the very long history of the Oxford stones began last June, when an excavator showed up on the hill. The city was planning for the construction of a Sam’s Club nearby and intended to use dirt from the hill for the area where the store would sit.
Then a local archaeology professor began making phone calls.
The professor, Harry O. Holstein of nearby Jacksonville State University, had concluded that a stone mound at the top of the hill was constructed by American Indians more than a thousand years ago, and in 2003 he recorded it in a state archaeological registry. The possibility of its being destroyed, Dr. Holstein said, made him sick.
“I’m not against development,” he said. “But some things should just be saved.”