The Spiro Mound: A Photo Essay

reviewed by
Cliff Jackson,

written by Larry and Christopher Merriam

Warrenton North Carolina

photographs from the collection of Dr. Robert E. Bell
Merriam Station Books
8716 Old Brompton Rd., Oklahoma City, OK, 73132

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One of the turning points in North American archaeology has long been both reviled and loved by collectors and archaeologists alike -the Spiro Mounds of Oklahoma. This large ceremonial complex and the associated activities of the ancient Spiroans, plus the early destructive searches of modern man and the reactions of professionals of the time, all shaped the beginnings of archaeological law as we know it. The Pocola Mining Company dug out the Spiro Mounds for the relics, and in the process helped define legality, morality, property rights, and burial laws, definitions that continue to affect archaeological law even seventy years later. Ancient Spiro shaped early American archaeology.

Modern archaeologists and collectors alike can now look back at the prehistory of this fantastic ancient site, through the eyes of the Pocola diggers and through the fine photographs taken by Dr. Robert Bell of not only the site as it was dug, but also of the phenomenal ceremonial artifacts that were uncovered back in the 1930s. Dr. Bell was but a young man when he first viewed the Pocola “mines” and they struck a chord with him that drove his lifetime of learning as a professional archaeologist. He saw the tremendous wealth of information that was being lost by mining for relics, and that prompted him to record and photograph all he could of the site and the artifacts found there. The information lost and damage caused also prompted stronger laws in Oklahoma (and elsewhere) that today protect significant sites nationwide.

Chris and Larry Merriam have done a superb job of gathering the scattered information from Spiro, using eyewitness interviews, old photographs, and the amazing relics themselves to create a historical document that goes well beyond the average coffee-table relic book. Chapters include the prehistory of Spiro, the earliest history of excavations there, and the vast activities of the Pocola Mining Company during the Great Depression years. The authors continue on into the WPA excavations and the beginnings of the Oklahoma Archaeological Society, and include a fine bibliography of past publications on the Spiro Mounds.

Perhaps most impressive is the wealth of illustrations of the mounds and excavations, and over one hundred vintage photographs from Dr. Bell's albums, many never before published. Most of the finest artifacts found at Spiro, now in museums worldwide, are shown as they were being brought out for sale by the miners, laid on newspapers and blankets amidst the dust of the trenches.

This important historical reference book of this significant ceremonial center is one that collectors of ancient artifacts will want to have in their libraries. The information it contains is unique in that it details the mysterious prehistory as well as the turbulent history of modern man's activities there. Students of archaeology can discover in this book the beginnings of the discipline as it was in its educational infancy.

Most importantly, The Spiro Mound: A Photo Essay, shows professionals and collectors alike our common bond in the evolution of the science of archaeology - that human curiosity which drives our quest for knowledge about the unique artifacts and lifeways of the ceremonial people of the Spiro Mounds. This new book deserves a place on the shelves of all artifact collectors and archaeologists, as a prehistoric/historic document of the Southeastern Ceremonial Complex.