LOREAUVILLE — While taking a break from artifact digging Thursday morning, New Acadia Project Director Mark Rees and archaeologist Donny Bourgeois briefly chatted about further sites that have potential.
“We need to be further up north,” Bourgeois said.
To emphasize his point, Bourgeois took a nearby stick and drew an impromptu map in the mud of the Bayou Teche and its surrounding areas, showing areas like Spanish Lake and Daspit Road.
“We should take a picture of this, this will be important,” Rees said with a laugh.
The two New Acadia Project archaeologists aren’t just looking at physical geography. In trying to locate the very first settlement of the Acadians a little more than 250 years ago, they have to use the few records, property deeds and written complaints about the first Cajuns and other historical sources to make an educated guess as to exactly where it could be.
For years now, the best theory among leading scholars is that it was close to modern day Loreauville, but there was no physical evidence. The New Acadia Project is trying to find that evidence.
The project has been years in the making, with the organization funded by private donations and local groups like the Acadian Museum in Erath who have a vested interest in determining where those first settlers set up shop once they reached the place now called Acadiana.
Summer fieldwork for the New Acadia Project recently began. The location Rees, Bourgeois and two student workers picked to mine for artifacts Thursday morning was a large field that was chosen for convenience as well as practicality.
“They were working further up along the Teche, but this field having been plowed represents a good opportunity to get a lot of information without having to do as much work,” Rees said. “You can walk across the field and spot artifacts rather than excavate shovel tests.”
The work itself amounted to Bourgeois, UL Lafayette junior Ryan LeBlanc and sophomore MacKenzie Colvin walking up and down the freshly plowed field. If a possible artifact is spotted, a flag is placed in the area and the artifact is recorded. The researchers are looking for artifacts like ceramic and pottery that could date to the same time as the Acadians were known to first settle in the area. Among the numerous artifacts found, only a handful have coincided with the right date.
The method used in most cases is called shovel testing, where a series of test holes are dug with a shovel and the dirt is sifted through wire to determine if any artifacts are present. However, the group simply walked in the mud and blazing heat Thursday, looking for objects that might be on the surface after the recent plowing.
Last December, the New Acadia Project began working on at the Bayard Cemetery, an area in Loreauville thought by the organization to be very promising. The site was an old cemetery near the Bayou Teche, and magnetic testing revealed there to be something underneath the graves.
The hypothesis was that unmarked graves were beneath the marked ones, and using the idea that communities tend to bury each other in the same area, those graves could have possibly been settlers of Nouvelle-Acadie, or New Acadia.
Rees said the magnetic anomalies turned out to be iron deposits, not graves.
“I’m not going to say there aren’t unmarked graves there, we just couldn’t find them,” Rees said. “We have to recalibrate the instrument or get different instruments if we ever go back to look at it a different way.”
“It’s not what we thought, but the kids had an interesting time.”
Now, the project is moving on to other promising sites. Bourgeois said about seven have been mapped out for the summer, and the group is trying to get to as many possible during the six-week period. Rees said based on conversations, it looks like they’ll be heading farther up the bayou from where they have been looking.
Covering such a wide area with so few researchers is time consuming, and Rees said earlier this year one of the worries was that funding would run out.
However, The Acadian Memorial in St. Martinville’s recent $1,000 donation to extend the project has helped things move along. Although funding is secure for the near future, Rees said he would like to be able to plan long-term for the project.