About 1,400 years ago, a society of people spent what may have been years, painstakingly clearing a portion of forest on Fort Morgan with nothing more than fire and rudimentary tools crafted from stones.
Once the trees were removed, they then dug an 8 foot deep, 30 feet wide, half-mile long canal across the island, connecting Little Lagoon and Oyster Bay, completely by hand.
Even though those people and their ancestors are long gone, their literal impression on the landscape remains. Today, 1,400 years later, residents know about the canal. Their grandparents knew about the canal. Knowledge of its existence has been passed through stories told by generations of residents.
It wasn’t until last year when a novice archeologist began asking questions and digging that the rest of the world also learned about the canal. Turns out, it is one of the most well preserved ancient sites of its kind in North America. And currently, it’s just sitting by the side of Fort Morgan Road, unobvious to the untrained eye and unprotected from nature and man alike.
While our planet’s ancient history surrounds us, in most cases it is also very hard to see. Baldwin County has the unique opportunity to be home to this rich early history and also have the chance to preserve the physical locality of it for generations to come.
When you visit the site of the canal with the experts who have sampled, mapped and dug it, they can point out the places where these ancient people worked; prepared the fish they caught and even tied up their canoes, and what they’ve left behind: beautiful shards of pottery, fish bones, and broken tools.
There have been murmurs among city leaders that the ancient site should be preserved as an eco-tourism location. Kiosks and signage could provide visitors with an understanding of those who claimed Baldwin County as home long before any European settlers set foot on the land.
These murmurs should be turned into action. The site is so exciting to the scientific community that the Alabama Archaeological Society held its January meeting in Gulf Shores and bused every attendee to the site.
Academics, adventurers and the merely curious would make the region a stop on their map simply to see the site where ancient people lived day-to-day. It would be just one more wonderful reason to make Baldwin County a must see destination.
Perhaps larger and more importantly, we should feel a duty to protect this site and its ancient history. It is easy to forget that ancient, early human history didn’t only unfold in far flung locations, but also right here in our very backyards. Our woods and seashores were full of families living, working and surviving. Their history is our history. We need to protect, preserve and remember it.