Entries - Time Period: Pre-European Exploration (Prehistory - 1540)

Archaic Period

The Archaic Period refers to the time between 9500 and 650 BC in the Native American history of Arkansas. As was the case in other regions in North America, Arkansas’s Archaic Period was a long span of cultural development and innovation that transformed small-scale Paleoindian groups into the larger and more complex societies seen during the Woodland and Mississippian periods. Within the Archaic Period, archaeologists have identified more specific regional cultures, such as the Dalton, San Patrice, Tom’s Brook, Big Creek, and Poverty Point cultures. These do not correspond directly to the tribes that lived in Arkansas during the Archaic period but do show that Native American societies were adapting to different environments and to each other across Arkansas in …

Battle Mound Site

The Battle Mound site is a Caddo site located along the Red River in Lafayette County. The Red River landscape is an ecologically diverse region with numerous channel scars, oxbow lakes, and back swamps. With agriculturally productive soil deposits and a web of linked navigable waterways, the region has numerous prehistoric and historic archaeological sites, many being sites left by the ancestors of the Caddo Indians who lived in this area from at least as early as circa AD 900 and as late as the early nineteenth century. The most prominent feature at Battle Mound is a large north-south-aligned earthen mound with at least three platforms. The mound is the largest in the Caddo area and one of the largest …

Caddo Indian Memorial

The Caddo Indian Memorial is located on the site of a Native-American burial ground on the outskirts of Norman (Montgomery County) on Arkansas Highway 8 East. Open year round and free to the public, it contains the Elmo Clark Honor Path, which runs a quarter of a mile along the perimeter. This allows visitors easy access to the twenty-one signs that explain the culture and history of the Caddo Indians. The path runs parallel to the Caddo River and its tributary, Huddleston Creek, which form the southwestern and northwestern boundaries. In October 1988, the city of Norman had begun excavation at this site for construction of a sewage treatment plant, but digging was stopped abruptly when bones and artifacts were …

Carden Bottom

Carden Bottom (also known as Carden’s Bottom or Carden Bottoms) is a rich alluvial flood plain in northeastern Yell County created by the Arkansas River and internationally known for its rich archaeological heritage. Named for the James Carden family who settled there in the early 1800s, it is bounded by the Petit Jean River and Petit Jean Mountain, Holla Bend National Wildlife Refuge, and the Arkansas River. The area’s farmers produce large crops of sorghum, soybeans, corn, winter wheat, and hay. Archaeological investigations from the early 1990s indicate that some of these acres were also farmed from 500 to 1,500 years ago by Native Americans (Woodland through Mississippian cultures). A foraging lifeway extended as far back as 11,500 years ago …

Crenshaw Site

The Crenshaw Site was a large village and ceremonial center occupied from about AD 700 to 1400 along the Red River in Miller County in southwestern Arkansas; the site is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The large size of the site (estimated at approximately eighty acres), along with limited archaeological investigations, hampers reconstruction of the site’s cultural history. The prevailing archaeological interpretation of the site is that it was first occupied by the Fourche Maline culture (AD 700–900) and developed into a significant village. Numerous earthworks were constructed, including at least four (and perhaps six) mounds and a raised causeway that connected two of the larger mounds. Evidence for a sizeable population includes a midden deposit (soil …

Dalton Period

The Dalton Period extends from 10,500 to 9,900 radiocarbon years ago (circa 8500 to 7900 BC), during which there existed a culture of ancient Native American hunter-gatherers (referred to as the Dalton people) who made a distinctive set of stone tools that are today found at sites across the middle of the United States. The name “Dalton” was first used in 1948 to refer to a style of chipped stone projectile point/knife. The Dalton point was named after Judge Sidna Poage Dalton, who had found numerous Dalton sites in central Missouri. Evidence of the Dalton culture has been found throughout the Mississippi River Valley. As Dalton points were found in different regions of the mid-continent, they were given different names, …

Eaker Site

The Eaker Site is a large, prehistoric archaeological site located near Blytheville (Mississippi County) on land that was formerly Eaker Air Force Base. The site is named after the base. The Eaker Site is considered the largest and most intact Late Mississippian Nodena site in the Central Mississippi Valley. The site was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1996 and is on the National Register of Historic Places. Archaeologists use the term “Nodena” to describe the Native American way of life along the Mississippi River that the Eaker Site represents. The site is believed to have been a Nodena-Phase town, with sturdy permanent houses, a defensive wall and ditch, and a mound. Native Americans built the structures at the Eaker …

Extinct Animals [Prehistoric Period]

Fossils and sedimentary rock layers contribute to current knowledge of the animals that lived in Arkansas in the geologic past. A careful examination of these layers and the types of fossils contained in them reveals clues about the age of the rock and the different environments of the past. In the older deposits, evidence indicates that all of Arkansas was covered by the ocean at various times; fossils of marine animals are found as well as sequences of rock that display patterns only found in marine sedimentary deposits. In some of the most recent deposits, the remains of land animals that walked the earth just a few thousand years ago have been found. All but the most recent of the …

Fossils

Fossils are the remains of animals and plants that have been preserved in the earth’s crust. They can consist of the remains of invertebrates (animals without a backbone) or vertebrates (animals with a backbone). The majority of fossils in the fossil record, and from Arkansas, are invertebrate remains. Fossils are found mostly in sedimentary rocks, as compared to igneous and metamorphic rocks, and can form in a variety of ways. Animals living in the water column in the ocean die, and their shells or hard parts sink to the bottom of the seafloor and become preserved in sediments that later may lithify, or change to rock. Other animals crawl on the seafloor through sand and silt or burrow into the …

Hampson Archeological Museum State Park

Hampson Archeological Museum State Park houses and exhibits the archaeological collection from a Mississippian era ceremonial complex and village known as the Nodena Site, located in Wilson (Mississippi County) and originally uncovered by Dr. James K. Hampson. This remarkable collection is accompanied by graphics and written material describing the lifestyles of the artistic people who lived here from AD 1400 to 1650. As a boy, Hampson (1877–1956) was fascinated by arrowheads. His interest in archaeology was rekindled in the early 1920s, when he returned to the family plantation, Nodena, to set up a successful medical practice. In 1927, he began a painstaking study of the physical remains of the people who inhabited the Nodena Site. Hampson, his wife, and his …

Head Pots

Head pots are a very rare and unique form of pre-historic Native American pottery found almost exclusively in northeast Arkansas and the adjacent bootheel region of Missouri. They are distinguished from other native North American pottery in that the entire vessel is molded into the general shape of a human head, as opposed to facial features such as eyes, nose, and mouth simply being applied to the surface of a bottle or jar form. Artistically, head pots vary from crude to remarkably lifelike representations. Most are somewhat smaller than the head of a normal adult, averaging about five to six inches in height. Head pots are associated with the Late Mississippian Period to the time of European contact, dating about …

Indian Mounds

Indian Mounds were constructed by deliberately heaping soil, rock, or other materials (such as ash, shell, and the remains of burned buildings) onto natural land surfaces. In Arkansas and elsewhere in eastern North America, Native Americans built earthen mounds for ritual or burial purposes or as the location for important structures, but mound-building ceased shortly after European contact due to changes in religious and other cultural practices. Mississippian people in eastern Arkansas were using mounds when Spanish explorers arrived in 1541, and the Caddo in the Red River valley were still using mounds during the winter of 1691–92, when explorers from Mexico visited them. Most of the thousands of mounds built in Arkansas have been destroyed by modern development and …

Menard-Hodges Site

The Menard-Hodges Site, located in Arkansas County near Lake Dumond, is part of the Arkansas Post National Memorial. It has been widely considered to be the first location of Arkansas Post and also a location of the Quapaw village of Osotouy. Recent research indicates that the site is part of the historic eighteenth century landscape, but the precise location of the village and post have yet to be pinpointed. Archaeological research of the site has yielded many artifacts from both prehistoric and historic settlement of the region. Two large mounds and several smaller house mounds are still evident at the site, as are the locations of nineteenth-century French family farms. The location was strategically placed to take advantage of the …

Mississippian Period

The Mississippian Period is one of several broad categories (including Paleoindian, Archaic, and Woodland) that archaeologists use to subdivide the American Indian past of the Southeast and Midwest. Between AD 900 and about AD 1600, Mississippian people farmed maize extensively; lived in societies known as chiefdoms led by hereditary rulers; conducted long-distance trade in copper, marine shell, and other valuables; resided in towns, villages, and farmsteads; built monumental architecture in the form of earthen, flat-topped mounds; conducted warfare, often fortifying their towns with stockades; and shared religious and iconographic traditions. When the first Europeans (the Hernando de Soto expedition) arrived in Arkansas in 1541, the people they encountered were Mississippians. The Rise of Agriculture Perhaps fueled by a climate shift …

Nashville Sauropod Trackway

The Nashville sauropod trackway, which may be the largest dinosaur trackway in the world, was located near Nashville (Howard County). The most unusual thing about the Nashville trackway is its size, but it also represented, for over twenty-five years, the only evidence of sauropods in Arkansas other than bone fragments found nearby. This discovery has greatly informed the scientific study of sauropods and other dinosaur trackways. A trackway is a path of preserved footprints left by dinosaurs. There are between 5,000 and 10,000 assorted tracks on the Nashville trackway, most of which have been identified as having been made by sauropods. Some species of sauropods are the diplodocus and the titansaur. Sauropods had long necks and long tails and walked on all …

Native American Pottery

Indians in Arkansas began making pottery containers about 2,500 years ago, during the Woodland Period, and they continued this craft until their handmade containers were replaced by industrial counterparts made in metal, glass, and clay in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Broken pieces of Indian pottery, called sherds or potsherds, are among the most common artifacts remaining at abandoned settlements, and they provide a wide range of information today about the cultural traditions of the people who made them. Complete pottery vessels display both sophisticated craftsmanship and the complex aesthetics of their makers. Southeastern Indian pottery-making began in the area of eastern Georgia, South Carolina, and Florida about 4,000 years ago and spread gradually from there to cultures across eastern …

Nodena Site

The Nodena Site in Mississippi County is an archaeological site representing Native American life in Arkansas during the centuries before European contact. The twelve-to-fifteen-acre pallisaded village was inhabited from approximately AD 1400 to 1650. The name Nodena comes from a later plantation that encompassed the area, while the names Upper Nodena and Middle Nodena represent separate archaeological sites, as well as separate sectors of the later Nodena plantation. The Upper Nodena Site, the larger of the two, is on the National Register of Historic Places and has been listed as a National Historic Landmark. A vast collection of Nodena materials are held at the University of Alabama Museum and its regional repository, the Arkansas Archeological Survey, as well as at …

Official State Dinosaur

aka: Arkansas Dinosaur
aka: Arkansaurus fridayi
In August 1972, Joe B. Friday discovered the remains of the right hind foot of a dinosaur in a shallow pit on his land in Lockesburg (Sevier County). He found the bones in rocks belonging to the Lower Cretaceous Trinity Group, which consists of deposits of clay, sand, gravel, limestone, and the evaporite minerals gypsum and celestite. Friday donated the bones to the University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville, where they are kept in the University Museum Collections at the Arkansas Archeological Survey. UA professor James Harrison Quinn gave the bones the informal name “Arkansaurus fridayi” in 1973. He cleaned and assembled the bones and compared them to the feet of two similar-appearing dinosaurs previously described in the scientific literature. He …

Paleoindian Period

The term “Paleoindian” refers to a time 13,500 years ago (11,500 BC) at the end of the last ice age when the first traces of humans appeared in the archaeological record in North America. One of the first groups to enter the New World was the Clovis culture. They encountered many species of now extinct, large terrestrial animals and hunted them with spears tipped with stone points; these animals, dubbed “megafauna” because of their larger size when compared to modern forms, included the mastodon, mammoth, horse, tapir, ground sloth, giant bison, giant beaver, giant tortoise, American lion, short-faced bear, and saber-toothed tiger. The fossilized remains of many of these now extinct animals have been found in Arkansas. Early Paleoindian stone …

Parkin Historic Site

The Parkin Historic Site is a seventeen-acre Native American village site along the St. Francis River in Cross County. Archaeological and geographical information indicates that it is probably the location of the town of Casqui mentioned in the narratives of the Hernando de Soto expedition, which passed through northeast Arkansas in the summer of 1541. In recognition of its national significance, the Parkin site was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1964 and has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1966. The site is at the north end of Parkin and is the main focus of Parkin Archeological State Park. The Arkansas Archeological Survey established a research station at the site in 1990, and research on the …

Peeler Bend Canoe

The Peeler Bend Canoe is an extremely rare and well-preserved relic of Arkansas’s Native American heritage. Found by chance in 1999, the canoe is believed to have been made by members of the Caddo tribe. Radiocarbon dating places the canoe’s creation sometime between AD 1160 and 1300. After spending several years at the Historic Arkansas Museum (HAM) in Little Rock (Pulaski County), the Peeler Bend Canoe was placed on display in Riverside Park in Benton (Saline County). The canoe has been loaned to the City of Benton by the Department of Arkansas Heritage for exhibition until March 15, 2020. In August 1999, Benton resident Charles Greene was fishing in the Saline River near the Peeler Bend access located just outside …

Petit Jean Rock Art Sites

Petit Jean Mountain in west-central Arkansas boasts a large concentration of ancient Native American rock art that includes, as of late 2018, seventy known individual sites with more than 700 pictographs (rock paintings) executed in red or black pigments, as well as petroglyphs (rock engravings). The study of this cultural resource began in 1914 when the wife and son of Dr. T. W. Hardison, the founder of the Arkansas state park system, found rock paintings in a cave near their home on the mountain. The pictographs received national attention after 1923 with the establishment of Petit Jean State Park. Discoveries continue to this day, as most of the paintings have been documented just since 2006 with the advent of new …

Plum Bayou Culture

Plum Bayou culture was a people who built religious centers with a formal arrangement of earthen platforms or mounds that bordered a rectangular open area used for religious and social activities. The Toltec Mounds site in central Arkansas was the primary center. Plum Bayou culture, dating about AD 650 to 1050, was one of the first cultures to have such centers in Arkansas. Most of the Plum Bayou people lived in small villages and hunted, fished, gathered wild plant foods, and farmed. Villages were present primarily on the floodplains of the Arkansas and White rivers, but they were also in the adjacent uplands. Plum Bayou developed out of the earlier (300 BC to AD 650) Baytown culture, in which people …

Pre-European Exploration, Prehistory through 1540

The pre-European history of Arkansas begins 13,500 years ago in the Pleistocene epoch, when cold weather prevailed over most of North America. Our understanding of life in Arkansas since then will never be complete because many archaeological sites have been lost through erosion, human development, and vandalism, and most ancient fragile and perishable objects have decomposed over the centuries. It is possible, however, to describe the general characteristics of life in Arkansas over the last 12,000 years based on discoveries made here, similar finds made elsewhere in North America, and lifestyles of modern nonindustrial hunters who lived in remote areas of the earth in recent times. Archeologists divide this time into five periods, each having distinctive lifestyles, cultural practices, and …

Prehistoric Caddo

aka: Caddo, Prehistoric
Prehistoric Caddo culture developed as a regional variant of the Mississippian tradition in southwest Arkansas and in parts of Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Texas between AD 800 and 1100. The characteristics that archaeologists use to identify this prehistoric culture include pottery containers with new shapes and decorations, flat-topped mounds used as platforms for buildings, conical mounds erected over dismantled buildings that occasionally were used as burial sites, new burial practices, new settlement practices, and new subsistence practices. Parallels between some of these features and European descriptions of the historic Caddo who lived in the same large region in the 1600s and 1700s indicate that the prehistoric Caddo were ancestors of the modern Caddo Nation. In Arkansas, Caddo culture developed among local …

Rock Art, Native American

Rock art is a term archaeologists use to describe images on rock surfaces created both prehistorically and historically. Arkansas has one of the richest concentrations of rock art in eastern North America, primarily in the Ozark and Ouachita mountain areas of the state, with a concentration in the central Arkansas River Valley. Rock art has also been discovered along the Mississippi River escarpment toward the eastern part of the state. Most rock art is found in bluff shelters, but it also occurs on exposed boulders, bedrock outcrops, and in caves. Along with the other archaeological resources in the state, rock art is important to understanding the lives of Native Americans living within the region during the pre-colonial era. Rock art …

Salt Making

Salt making was an enterprise carried out in Arkansas for more than 600 years, first by the prehistoric Native Americans, who began to make salt around AD 1400, during the time in which they adopted a diet rich in corn and other domesticated plants. Salt was desirable for flavoring stews and other corn dishes, and it was an important nutrient for people living in a hot climate. It may have had a number of other uses, including for rituals, but it was not commonly used by Indians then to salt meat in much the same fashion that Europeans were accustomed to. European explorers and American settlers made salt for their own uses and for sale, until good quality, commercially available …

Sloan Site

The Sloan site is located on an ice age sand dune in the lowlands of Greene County. People of the Dalton culture buried their dead in ceremonial fashion here about 10,500 years ago. Dalton people were mobile foragers who made and used a distinctive suite of stone tools. These tools have been found at sites across the mid-continental United States. Their material culture that has survived consists primarily of tools made from chert—a highly resistant silica-rich stone that is abundant in the Ozark Mountains, west of the Sloan Site—and in the gravel deposits of Crowley’s Ridge, just east of the Sloan Site. The Sloan Site is one of the oldest, if not the oldest, documented cemeteries in the New World. …

Toltec Mounds Site

The 100-acre Toltec Mounds site in Lonoke County between Scott (Pulaski and Lonoke Counties) and Keo (Lonoke County) is one of the largest archaeological sites in Arkansas and in the lower Mississippi River Valley. It was designated a National Historic Landmark by the Heritage Conservation and Recreation Service of the United States Department of the Interior in 1978 in recognition of its significance in the history of America. It opened as a state park in 1980. Native Americans occupied the Toltec Mounds site and built the mounds between the years 650 and 1050 AD. Archaeologists use the name Plum Bayou Culture to refer to their way of life. This culture cannot be identified with any of the tribes living in …

Tom’s Brook Culture

People of the Tom’s Brook culture—the name comes from a tributary of the Arkansas River along which artifacts of this culture were first recognized—occupied most of western Arkansas, from the Arkansas River drainage south to the Red River valley, between 6,000 and 7,000 years ago. In terms of the six major “cultural periods” that archaeologists use to describe the prehistory of Arkansas and other southeastern states (Paleoindian, Early Archaic, Middle Archaic, Late Archaic, Woodland, and Mississippian), the Tom’s Brook people lived at the beginning of the Middle Archaic period, which began around 6000 BC and lasted until about 3000 BC. They seem to have been the first people in Arkansas, and possibly the first in the Southeast, to take up …

Woodland Period

The Woodland period is a label used by archaeologists to designate pre-Columbian Native American occupations dating between roughly 600 BC and AD 1000 in eastern North America. This time period traditionally is divided into Early, Middle, and Late subperiods, which refer to intervals characterized in very general terms by the first widespread use of pottery across the region, the rise and then decline of a vast exchange network throughout eastern North America,and finally, a period of increasing agricultural intensification and population growth in many areas. During the Woodland period, sedentism, population, and organizational complexity dramatically increased. Around 600 BC, Native Americans in Arkansas were probably living in small groups tied together by collective ritual, including burial that sometimes involved the …