2020 Training Program in Southwest Arkansas

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Going Further into the Native History of the Caddo in Western Arkansas: The 2020 Training Program

Carl Drexler – Arkansas Archeological Survey, Magnolia

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Getting started at Mound E during the 2019 Training Program. Photo by Rachel Tebbetts.

Let me start off by saying that I am absolutely blown away by the work you all completed last summer. The Society volunteers analyzed just shy of 100,000 artifacts from the 1985 and 1986 Society Digs at Holman Springs (3SV29). Together, they weigh 1,669.2 pounds. That’s equivalent to the weight of an adult male bison! You took two old Society projects that had languished unprocessed on shelves for nearly 40 years and moved them very close to completion. Meanwhile, the excavations at Lockes-burg Mounds (3SV48) generated the first profiles in this important site, recovered useful information about two of the mounds, and gave us a basis for get-ting the first true dates for the site’s occupation. Our understanding of this significant but woefully under-appreciated site took a huge leap forward, and I am very grateful to all the Society members who came out and participated.
Over the past six months, I have been developing plans for a second round of work on these projects this coming summer, which the Society’s executive committee has agreed to participate in. I’m pleased to say that we’re going back to Sevier County again, and we’ve got another great program in the works. I hope to see you all back in De Queen. Let’s look at what this summer is shaping up to involve!

In the Field

Our field component is going to be back at Lockes-burg Mounds. This is one of the largest mound cen-ters in the Little River Region (only Mineral Springs, 3HO1, approximates it). Despite its size, we know very little about it (though a great deal more than we did before last summer). This is in part because of the repeated rounds of relic hunting that did extensive dam-age to the site in the 1930s and 1980s. We are salvaging information from the place in the wake of the destruc-tion others have wrought, and it is very important for our understanding of Caddo history in the region.
We have tentative plans developed in consultation with the Caddo Nation of Oklahoma, and we’re glad to have their input and involvement again this time. Last year, we excavated a long profile on the side of Mound A and held Basic Excavation at Mound E. We will be working those two places again, but doing dif-ferent things at each.

The Training Program

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Basic Excavation students at Mound E in 2019. Photo by Rachel Tebbetts.

Mound A, the big platform mound in the  center of the site, was heavily damaged by  the backhoe used by relic hunters back in the  1980s. Those folks left their pits open with ad-joining backdirt piles heaped up nearby. One  dig team will be placed in some of those old  relic hunter pits, cutting profiles and looking  for strata associated with structures that may  have stood in the center of the mound. The effort at Mound E will have different  aims. Last year, the Basic Excavation class and  Week 2 volunteers uncovered the center of a house that had been sliced in two by that same backhoe. This year, we will be looking for the edges of that house, hopefully finding and mapping post holes and other features that will indicate the shape of the structure and other construction details. Basic Excavation will be there again.

We will have a third excavation area as well. This is slated to be Mound I, a mound that is not visible on the landscape, but its footprint shows up clear as day in gradiometer data the ARAS-SAU station staff collected in 2018. I hedge by saying “is slated to be” because between now and the Training Program I will be going out to the site to collect some more gradiom-eter data in a few other areas, and if we find something evocative in that data, we may shift that third dig team.

In the Lab

Last year, the Caddo Ceramics class students and laboratory volunteers accomplished a massive feat of science by processing 92,709 artifacts. That is 82% of the total Holman Springs collection, meaning there’s another 18% to go. We are going to bring the remain-der of the collection and get those earlier Society projects ready to be written up into a report. I don’t expect that will take up the full time of the Training Program, so I would like to ask your assistance with another project.

Back in the 1960s, Frank Schambach excavated at a site outside of Arkadelphia known as Bayou Sel (3CL27). This was, like Holman Springs, a major Caddo salt-making site, with an important history within archeology. It was excavated in the 1930s by Philip Phillips of Harvard University, one of the more prominent archeologists of that era. But the story goes even farther back. It is one of the sites Cyrus Thomas excavated in the 1890s. Thomas used data from Bayou Sel and many, many other sites in his report to the Smithsonian that deflated the Moundbuilder myth and helped establish that Native Americans construct-ed the mounds found across the continent. That was an important point in the history of archeology in this country, and it’s rare to get to work on a site linked to that crucial moment.

Though Bayou Sel has been excavated repeatedly, mostly those results have not been reported. Thomas wrote about the site’s stratigraphy but not about arti-facts. Phillips’ collections are at Harvard, unprocessed. Schambach’s, however, are in Magnolia, and I plan to send them to De Queen for analysis. This will offer a further opportunity for Training Program participants to hone the skills they learn from working on the Hol-man Springs ceramics.

While the focus on Holman Springs has everything to do with good, ethical archeology—we should fin-ish what we start, and this means Society projects of yesteryear—I think we can all agree that Society vol-unteers are well equipped to contribute to processing important datasets that are beyond the responsibility of past Training Programs. Indeed, this is demonstrat-ed by volunteerism at ARAS research stations during Lab Days and field projects throughout the year. I have no doubt the specialized training in Caddo ceramics last year and this year will bring good results to the Bayou Sel project.

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Sorting Holman Springs sherds in the lab during 2019, with Mary Beth Trubitt giving instruction. Photo by Rachel Tebbetts.


Sorting Holman Springs sherds in the lab during 2019, with Mary Beth Trubitt giving instruction. Photo by Rachel Tebbetts.

Classes

As per usual, we will be offering several different classes for people who wish to concentrate a bit more time on learning important skills. Of course, we will have Basic Excavation and Basic Laboratory, but this year they will be offered both weeks, so there will be a little more flexibility for those who are working tight schedules.

The Advanced Laboratory class, focused on teach-ing Caddo ceramics, will be back with Dr. Mary Beth Trubitt, who will serve as Lab Director this year, again in charge. I’m really excited to have this offered again, and it will be during Week 1.

Dr. Bob Scott will be teaching Site Survey during Week 2, working on land near Lockesburg Mounds. It’s been a year since we offered this, so I’m glad to see it come back.

I’m also very pleased to announce that Dr. Julie Morrow will be teaching Lithics during the first week. Dr. Morrow has been developing a new worksheet for documenting projectile points that will teach people to look very closely at these artifacts and identify lots of detailed and fascinating information. This class will be focused on introducing that recording process and helping raise the quality of information we collect statewide.

What’s Going to be Different

Obviously there are some different aims this year as compared to last, but there are a few other things I  want to point out. First, no orange shirts. I know some people didn’t love them, but I thought they were a great nod to the 1985 and 1986 dig shirts from Hol-man Springs. The 1985 one was bright orange and the design we used last year was drawn from the 1986 one. Frankly, I love the eye-melt you get from last year’s shirt, but it’s now been done. This year, I don’t know, but I’m leaning towards forest green.

Second, the area supervisors will be a mix of Society and Survey staff, one per excavation area. I have the Survey staff identified, and some of the Society folks, but Marilyn Knapp will be compiling a list of potential area supervisors as registrations come in, so if you are interested, please indicate that to her and we’ll figure this out.

Third, though the profiling work at Mound A last year gave everyone a chance to hone their alpinist skills, we will not be repeating that work this time, meaning there will be a LOT less climbing, and the excavations will be more like the open-block excava-tions we are more familiar with. This should also mean that Dan Sharp’s quip that Mound A was “all facts, no artifacts” won’t apply. Note the “should” in that sen-tence—you never know until you actually dig it.

Finally, we will be bringing in Chase KahWinHut Earles, a Caddo ceramic artist who has earned a na-tional reputation for his work that draws on ancestral designs like those you will see in the artifacts uncov-ered at Lockesburg Mounds, Holman Springs, and Bayou Sel. Mr. Earles will give a one-day workshop on his work and on pottery-making in general for Train-ing Program attendees. We are working at final sched-uling, and will get the word out as soon as we have it nailed down.

To Wrap Up

So that’s the plan. I am truly grateful for all the work you contributed last year in moving forward old, unfinished Society projects and making great head-way on important new research. I look forward to this coming summer and all that we can add to what we know about these sites. In both existing and new data-sets, you are uncovering very important information about the region’s past and, in the case of Lockesburg Mounds, showing what careful, scientific work can do to salvage information in the wake of the hard hand of the relic hunter. I hope to see you all in De Queen!

Further Reading

Drexler, Carl
2019 –
2019 Training Program in Southwest Arkansas, Come
Make an Impact this Summer! Field Notes 407:3–5.
2019 –
The June 2019 Training Program in Southwest
Arkansas, a Summary. https://archeology.uark. edu/2019trainingprogramsummary/