Artifacts amaze me. It is a simple statement but every word is true. In certain cases, they are the only link that we have to past cultures. This is true at Toltec Mounds Archeological State Park. The American Indians that lived here are called the Plum Bayou Culture and they left clues to their way of life in the form of artifacts. They lived at this site around 1,200 years ago and were resourceful, innovative human beings that were not that much different from you and I. They probably got up in the morning with a mental “to do” list that may have included going hunting, making pottery or repairing a thatched hut. There is so much that we are still trying to learn about their way of life. We are learning more and more every day thanks to the artifacts and features that were left.
At first glance, stone artifacts are simply pieces of rock that have been shaped into something useful. But upon closer examination, stone artifacts tell a story. I grew up in the natural division of Arkansas known as the Delta. I played in the farm fields, explored wooded areas around my house and helped my parents plant a garden during my childhood. I never thought about it then but looking back, not one time did I ever find a rock in the ground. Toltec Mounds is in the delta and there are no rocks here, yet we find artifacts made of stone. That stone is not native to this natural division. Where did it come from? Some of it can be traced back to the Ouachita and Ozark Mountains as well as the Arkansas River Valley. Whatever the origin, it had to be brought in from a great distance.
Today, moving supplies over long distances is as simple as getting in the car, driving for a few hours, loading your supplies in the trunk and driving home. Now let yourself go back in time for a moment. Travel wasn’t as easy then as it is now. There were really only two modes of transportation at that time; walking or dugout canoes. If walking was the chosen way to travel, then following a foot path through the woods would have taken you to your destination. Fast, no. Imagine the return journey. Packing heavy loads of chert, novaculite or quartz would have certainly added to the burden. Dugout canoes might have lightened the load but only after you took the time to learn the art of making one strong enough to carry you and your treasure. Cutting/burning down a tree and using coals from a fire along with stone tools to hollow it out was no easy task. What a difference time has made.
When stone artifacts are found here at Toltec, they tell a tale. The material that the artifact is made out of tells where and how far people traveled to get the raw material. The shape and style of the projectile points can help to determine its age. What it was used for helps to reveal a little about the cultures lifestyle. The more artifacts that we find, the clearer the picture becomes.
Artifacts amaze me. They are the only voice of the Plum Bayou Culture. Something made so long ago can still speak to us if we know how to listen. Archeologists are still uncovering the stories of the past at Toltec. With every artifact that we find, we learn more about this long vanished culture. Toltec Mounds Archeological State Park is hosting the annual training dig June 5th through the 20th of 2010. This dig is coordinated by the Arkansas Archeological Society and they invite you to participate. If you would like more information about how to be involved in this dig, contact the park.
Robin Gabe is the Field Interpreter for Arkansas State Parks. She began her career with Arkansas State Parks as a seasonal interpreter at Lake Poinsett State Park and then spent 12 years at Toltec Mounds Archeological State Park. Her outdoor passions include fishing, hunting, golf, and exploring Arkansas State Parks with her family.