University of Mississippi Annex 112 was located on a two lane road surrounded with cotton fields and groves of trees. The rusty gate at the road identified it as a cotton test site. A mile long gravel road led to an average looking farm house with equally average looking barns and tractor sheds a few hundred yards away.
John had called ahead and a golf cart was waiting for them. A second year archaeology student waved to the two of them as he pulled up behind the car. Halfway into their four mile drive John looked across at their driver.
“So, why the golf cart?”
“Why the golf cart? Wouldn’t a Ford truck be a better choice.”
The kid grinned. “I was wondering how long it would take for you to mention it. A pickup would be faster but we can’t risk it.”
“Why not?”
“This whole area was an ancient complex. We‘ve got to protect the ruins.”
“You mean fifty feet down.”
“No, actually ten feet. There are amazing ruins just ten feet down. We’ve only uncovered an acre or two but every indication says there’s nearly a hundred.”
Kathy leaned forward. “What were they used for?”
He shrugged. “So far we don’t know. There are surprisingly few ritual facilities, quite a few dwellings. We think. Its hard to tell.”
John was interested. “And they’re in good shape?”
“Great. If we had intended to bury the site and dig it back up we couldn’t have done a better job. This place is going to change the history books.”
They finally arrived at the site. An immense low metal building covered what was evidently the pit. As they got out Kathy stared at it from behind sunglasses. She tried to mentally picture the mound fifty feet under there.
The site leader was actually an academic on loan from Harvard’s Archaeology Department. Salt and pepper hair was pulled back in a bun with a pink breast cancer t-shirt worn loose over jeans and sneakers. The woman pushed her glasses up on her nose as she shook their hands and introduced herself.
“Faye Arthyr, how can I help?”
John handed her a business card. “I’m John Parker. I wrote an article on the site about three years ago, it appeared in RV Weekly.”
Faye Arthyr’s face lit up. “Yes, I remember the article very well. You did a great job.” She grinned. “We still get visitors from the article.” She glanced pointedly at Kathy and John took the hint.
“This is my photographer.“ He smiled at Kathy. “Andrea Litz.”
The site leader smiled at ‘Andrea’ with her mouth only.
“Can I see some identification?”
The photographer dug out her ID and the woman was happy. John went on.
“I’m thinking about doing a second article about the site. What’s happened since I was here last?”
The woman beamed. “Now that we’ve got proper funding we can do so much more than before. This isn’t just a backwater site anymore, this is quickly becoming a premier archaeological destination.”
‘Andrea’ was impressed. “Its that important?”
The woman turned to the photographer. “Absolutely. This site is a sign of how advanced these the Mississippi civilizations were. The mound not only is newer than many of the others, but incorporates highly advanced construction and engineering techniques. This has changed everything about our perceptions of Native American culture.”
John interrupted. “So who’s funding the site now?”
The woman frowned at him. “We receive funding from many sources. The scope of operations and the size of many of the gifts preclude me memorizing the donor list.”
‘Andrea’ went on. “When will the site be open to the public?”
The woman shrugged. “That’s hard to say. We keep finding spots we’ve got to look into. I don’t mean to sound discouraging but we’re looking at around ten years, minimum. The site is that artifact rich.”
John pressed her for details. “What kind of artifacts have you found here?”
She frowned at him again. “We’ve found just about anything you could imagine. The completely unexpected variety makes this a site that we’ve got to take our time with.”
‘Andrea’ was looking at the low metal building. “Is there any way I could see it? I’ve heard a fair amount about it.”
“No, I’m sorry. We closed off the pit soon after discovering exactly how valuable the site was. We just can’t risk damage to it.”
Kathy nodded and John broke in again. “So have you found anything unusual? Say, something out of place? Stuff that isn’t supposed to be there?”
Faye Arthyr stared at him for a long moment then spoke. “Everything we’ve found is in line with our idea of Native Americans at the time. Although come to think of it I did think your article was far too sensational.” She glanced at her watch. “Regrettably I’ve got to get to work. Thank you for your interest. I’ll have a guard see you out.”
Soon they were back in the tractor shed where the Acura was waiting. The four armed guards who had escorted them from the site waited as they got in the car and left. John waited till they were back on the road to speak.
“They found something. Did you see what happened when I pressed her for details?”
Kathy nodded. “Yeah, but what did they find? Obviously there could be a number of possibilities. And even she admits the site will change history forever.”
“Then I made her nervous. Did you get what you need?”
The secret agent nodded. “We’ve got enough to merit a deeper look. I’ve got to do some digging then we’ll come back tonight.”