Memphis Downtowner May 2009 : Page 9

“Chucalissa has gone through a tremen- dous evolution,” he says. “Archaeologists have to be accountable to the sites they’re excavating. We don’t just go out and excavate because we want to. We do it in consultation with the people at these sites we’re working with — for example, the American Indians here. That’s been a real shift in archaeology over the past 20 or so years, and it has very definitely had an impact here. We’re not doing any current excavations, and we don’t have any immediate plans to go out and do field excavations.” So with no reconstructed homes and no excavations, the site was in need of a new identity. That identity centers on preservation and education. About one third of the visitors each year are students. But in addition to school groups, the museum caters programs to churches and civic groups — and businesses looking for lessons on diversity. Inside the museum, displays of Native American life in and around the Midsouth include a number of artifacts recovered during the site’s initial excavation, begin- ning in the 1950s. Guided tours are given twice a day, and an audio guide is available at all times. There is a bookstore and theater, which saw an overflow crowd in the fall — mostly from the surrounding Southwest Memphis community — that came to watch Black Indians, a James Earl Jones film that examines the relationship between African-American and American Indian communities. Then there’s the one aspect of the museum that truly allows visitors to get their hands dirty while learning about the site: the hands-on archaeology laboratory, where young and old alike are invited to handle the very materials archaeologists analyze when interpreting prehistoric sites. And outside, of course, there is the group of mounds and plaza of what once was a village that saw as many as 1,000 people live in the area. There is also the Chickasaw Bluff Interpretive Trail and the Arboretum, which labels 30 trees along the path. The Arboretum, created by the Southwind Garden Club, was certified this past year by the Tennessee Urban Forestry Council. MEMPHISDOWNTOWNER.COM But what about the burial exhibit that many remember seeing as a child? “It has been covered over and taken down,” says Connolly. “It was one of these bygone-era things. When folks come up and ask about it, my response is simply, ‘Would you want people gawking at your grandmother for the next 500 years?’” So the question is: What will Chucalissa become? “Areal important aspect of our existence here is the uniqueness of Chucalissa,” says Connolly. “For the past 50 years, we have been the public face for American Indians. Oftentimes it has not necessarily been the face theywanted to present. It was more, ‘Be actors on the stage, and do this, that, and the other thing.’ What we’re really shifting on is having the American Indians be the directors and producers here at Chucalissa. TheBar-B-QShop Home of the Dancing Pigs Bar-B-Que sauce and seasoning One of the new components at Chucalissa is the hands-on archaeology laboratory, where young and old alike can handle the very materials archaeologists analyze when interpreting prehistoric sites. 1782 Madison in Midtown · 272-1277 dancingpigs.com MAY 2009 MEMPHIS DOWNTOWNER 9

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