Experts tell fossil hunters to exercise caution when examining newly exposed sites along the Mississippi River

JACKSON, Mississippi (WLBT) – With recently exposed sandbanks and shores, and the promise of finding everything from sunken boats to mammoth tusks, the retreating Mississippi River has suddenly become a hotbed for nature lovers, history buffs, and random archaeologists.

Experts urge visitors to the river to be cautious, saying that just because the water is lower doesn’t mean it is safe.

“The sands can collapse. There is clay similar to gumbo [and] mud that sucks you in … and you don’t come out alone, “said Anna Reginelli, president of the Delta Division of the Mississippi Archaeological Society. “If you are walking on a rock causeway, they will move – the rocks will move.”

Reginelli, a Bolivar resident who grew up by the river, said many archaeologists expressed interest in going to the river to hunt fossils, search for artifacts or learn about history, prompting her to post a list of safety tips for the association Facebook page .

“It’s okay to want to go and discover … The curtains on the Mississippi River are pulled back. It revealed a lot of very interesting things that have not been seen in decades, ”she said. “If you go out there, just be prepared … be careful.”

Reginelli posted these tips on Facebook:

  • Bring more water than you expect. Sip it on the gravel / sandbanks all the time.
  • If you see a speck of wet sand, test it before stepping on it.
  • Carry a gun – Wild pigs and other aggressive animals are on the bars and come down to drink from the river.
  • Make sure your family member or friend knows where you are and what you are wearing.
  • Carry a portable powerbank charger or external phone battery.
  • Wear appropriate clothing and a hat.

According to the US Army Corps of Engineers, the state of Mississippi has dropped to a historic or near-historic level, dropping over a meter in Vicksburg and over three meters in Greenville.

The decline seriously affected the ability to transport goods. But at the same time, it opened a window into history, revealing fossils, shells and other artifacts.

“Some really amazing things have been found recently,” said James Starnes, director of Surface Geology at the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality. “One of the things we found while we were on the river from the Museum of Natural Sciences and the US Fish and Wildlife, on our recent expedition, was a giant beaver … These are bear-sized beavers that lived during the Ice Age.”

During a recent fossil research program at the Mississippi Delta Museum, he said people were bringing in their latest finds, including mammoth and mastodon bones and evidence of the presence of saber-toothed tigers.

“There are a lot of Pleistocene bones and things to find there. But it’s not something I recommend if you are inexperienced, ”he said.

Like Reginelli, Starnes says people need to be careful where they go, test the ground to make sure it’s stable, and look for wild animals. Wild pigs and other aggressive animals are now more likely to go to the river in search of water because some of the smaller streams have dried up.

And although it’s cooler outside, Starnes and Reginelli agreed that guests had to pack plenty of drinking water to avoid dehydration.

“These rags reflect the sun. If you’ve ever been to the beach or something like that, as long as the sun is shining, you can become dehydrated quickly, ‘he said.

And while you may need a drink, Starnes said many of the newly discovered sandbanks only seem dry. “You can’t really tell by just looking, but we are dealing with an environment that was covered with lots of water and lots of moving water,” he said.

Starnes explained that the sediment was in constant motion as the river rose. Now that the waters have receded, the sand, clay, gravel, and silt had settled, but they didn’t have time to dry out or compact.

“That’s where the quicksand situation ends,” he said. – You’ll see mud cracks as the sun starts to bake these things and dry them a little. It doesn’t happen on very, very shallow ground. These can still be very unconsolidated. You can literally drop to the waist. ”

Vicksburg mayor George Flaggs says he saw the problem himself when the city tries to send crews to clean up the sediment at the boat launch at the end of Clay Street.

“We tried to put an excavator on it last week and we couldn’t get there,” he said. “We have to make a deal with someone who flies in from a barge equipped with backhoe loaders and remove some of the sediment.”

Meanwhile, he instructed the city’s police department to make additional patrols along the river to inform visitors of the potential dangers. “If they see people walking in an area that we think is dangerous, [we] let them know they are putting their lives in danger, ”he said. “It’s just curiosity, but it’s not safe.”

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