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By Kevin Ward

The recent suggestion of running a pipeline through the Principia campus has led to interesting findings about the local natural landscape.

In 2016, Spire Energy took an interest in Principia’s land as a potential spot for a natural gas pipeline. This prompted Principia’s archeology professor, Andrew Martin, to assess the proposed site for its archeological value. Martin found that the proposed valley where the pipeline would run is rich with Native American archeological remnants. 

This site was an ideal location for a village and was inhabited as far back as 12,000 years ago, which is significant, as human settlement in North America only dates back to about 16,000 years ago. The area surrounding the confluence of the Illinois, Missouri, and Mississippi rivers was the largest native American population center north of Mexico. 

Martin commented on a particularly unique aspect of this location: food was so plentiful in this area that sophisticated civilizations were able to develop without agriculture. This dynamic is very rare in human history, as most populations could not flourish without some agricultural development. Importantly, this area is a well-preserved site which has remained largely untouched since Principia purchased the land back in the 1930s.

The presence of such a potentially significant archeological site encouraged Spire Energy to agree to move its proposed pipeline to a different location. However, it still might be difficult to keep a pipeline off Principia’s property. Once a pipeline is approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, pipeline builders can employ eminent domain to build a pipeline through private property as long as they provide appropriate compensation to landowners. 

While some of the factors associated with having a natural gas pipeline on Principia property might be considered unfortunate, this project did serve as a catalyst for the college to explore the archeological value that its property holds. Andrew Martin has begun excavating small parts of this site, using his findings as teaching material for his archeology classes. As of now, only a fraction of the site has been excavated, meaning that the promise of mystery and discovery still rests below our feet.