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July 8, 2014

BEAM: A lasting crusade

“We do not follow maps to buried treasure and X never, ever marks the spot.”- Indiana Jones to his archeology students in “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.”

Rebecca Van Sessen doesn’t wear a brown fedora, nor does she carry a bullwhip in case she gets into a little trouble with a brainwashed Maharajah.

Most certainly, the 1999 Floyd Central graduate hasn’t been chased by a booby-trapped boulder or captured by Nazis looking for a biblical relic.

But what Van Sessen does have in common with a certain well-known movie icon is a love of archeology and Indiana, not as a name but as a home. (Although Indiana Van Sessen does have a nice ring to it.)

In the past year, the Floyd Knobs native has returned to her roots, and the roots of settlers long past, by starting an archeological project in Floyd County that looks to document the history of both the land and its people.  

“Growing up here, I just want to know what it was like for people before me,” Van Sessen said. “I always brought what we were learning in class back to this county because it’s my home. We realized that there’s not a lot [documented] and so we wanted to fix that.”

Included in the “we” is Van Sessen’s former professor now turned colleague Dr. Chris Moore of the University of Indianapolis, who also is the lead investigator of the archeological survey. This fall, the pair will apply for an up to $50,000 grant through a Historic Preservation Fund offered by the state of Indiana to conduct a countywide archeological survey. Sites of all types and ages will be studied, from the earliest settlements 5,000 years ago to remnants of turn-of-the-century houses and industrial buildings.

“The purpose of this project is to identify any resources before they are destroyed and get them recorded by the state. That way, even if two years down the road a housing addition goes in, those sites will be recorded before they are lost,” Moore said. “Ultimately, what this type of survey can do is identify any resources that are maybe worth protecting.”

Unlike surrounding counties — which have thousands of archeological sites identified — Floyd has less than 200 recorded locations. Reasons for this date back as far as some of the first surveys of the area. In the 1930s, E.Y. Guernsey began an in-depth analysis of surrounding Falls of the Ohio counties, only to find his effort cut short before his travels took him to Floyd.

In another strange stroke of luck, Clark County has had more federally funded projects than Floyd, resulting in a greater number of government mandated archeological surveys. In an effort to correct the imbalance, the state of Indiana has designated Floyd a “priority county,” which should help Van Sessen and Moore in their search for funding their upcoming work.

But what exactly does that work encompass? The pair will lead an effort to survey and record land throughout the county. While locations containing evidence of past cultures are always in demand, any and all land types need to be surveyed so Floyd County’s different typographies can be understood.

And this is where the community can help. The project relies on landowners to give access to their property for surveying. While much of the labor can be done by just walking the area, some digging may be required.

Don’t worry, though. All land will be put back into its original state by the archeologists. Also, any artifacts found on the property belong to the homeowner.

“The important thing to point out is that there’s not any situation where an archeological resource will resort with them getting their land taken away from them,” Moore said. “The only time there is any type of restriction is if you have a cemetery on your property.”

While you might not find a lost ark, you definitely will help contribute to learning more about the history of Floyd County if you take part in this adventure.

For those interested in learning more or to submit a property for surveying, check out the project’s website at floydcountyarcheology.com or email Van Sessen and Moore at team@floydcountyarcheology.com

— Amanda Beam is a Floyd County resident and Jeffersonville native. Contact her by email at adbeam47@aol.com

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