Connecting to a Prehistoric People   

By: 
Amy Griffin
 Updated: 
Toltec Mounds Archeological State Park
Toltec Mounds Archeological State Park

Special note: At this time during the COVID-19 public health situation, Arkansas State Parks are not currently holding special events and interpretive programs, thus the Annual Summer Solstice Celebration will not take place at the park this year. The following article serves as a virtual celebration. We hope to see you at our future solstice and equinox celebrations when guidelines permit. We ARE open during the day, Tuesdays-Saturdays 8 a.m.-5 p.m. and Sundays 1-5 p.m., and you can enjoy self-guided tours of the site.  

Toltec Mounds Archeological State Park in Scott, Arkansas is a unique American Indian mound complex that was the cultural center of the Plum Bayou people, who interacted with their environment and each other much as we do today. The Plum Bayou people are a group of prehistoric American Indian mound builders who lived here between 650 – 1050 AD. They built one of the largest mound complexes in the United States. In this article, we’ll explore the Summer Solstice ceremony of the Plum Bayou people, revealing similarities to how we experience celebrations today.   

Three large mounds, Mounds A, C, and B, stand in an open grassy area with blue skies and puffy white clouds above. (L-R) Mounds A, C, and B  

Summertime in the South: the temperature is hot, cicadas are singing, and there is a scent of sunscreen, and bug spray in the air. During the Summer Solstice Celebration at Toltec Mounds Archeological State Park, crowds of people gather on Mound H. Some come early and bring food and drink with them. The savory smell of supper cooking fills us with hunger and brings back warm memories of shared meals. An almost essential list for every picnic basket includes a smoked turkey sandwich, fresh picked berries, and a long cool drink of cold water. Music plays and that influences moods and transforms experiences throughout various cultures. In the open area, children are playing. They don’t know each other, but once a game of tag ensues everyone becomes best friends. Overall, there is a jovial feel as we wait for the main event to happen. Most people sit talking to their loved ones, friends, or strangers. From all walks of life, we come together at this special time on this special date, to share this unique experience. We can feel the connection with these long-ago people as we walk where they walk and celebrate the continuity of the sun as they did on this evening. 

As the time gets near, it seems everyone pulls out a camera to capture the moment. Everything must happen at the right time, since we will not get another chance just like this one for another year. It is finally happening! The sun is setting directly over Mound B, one of the largest prehistoric American Indian mounds in Arkansas. This is one of the solar alignments of this unique mound site that honors and marks the summer solstice.  

On this night, it is easy to imagine ourselves as part of a Plum Bayou celebration over 1,000 years ago. What similarities would we find with these people? We believe they gathered at this mound complex with family, friends, and respected leaders for a celebration of the sun. Some of the things we do to honor and recognize the sun’s influence on our planet during the Summer Solstice are the same things they were doing here back then.  

Archeologists have found evidence here at the mounds--including bones from native animals like turkey and deer-- that the Plum Bayou people’s diet included meat. We also believe the Plum Bayou ate local plants such as pecans and blackberries. Imagine hearing drums with the upbeat rhythms and their low deep rumble, and you will know why the drum has caught the attention of generations. Their use has been documented through centuries as American Indians have used these instruments in ceremonies and entertainment. The mound builders’ children were like any other children. They surely cheered when games went their way, cried out of unfair play, told on their siblings, and probably disrupted ceremonial moments with fits of giggles.  

For this celebration of the longest day of the year, they had all gathered, sometimes from miles away, at this central mound complex to honor and celebrate their relationship with each other and the sun. We can feel the connection with these long-ago people as we are walking where they walked and celebrating the continuity of the sun as they did on this evening.   

Three large mounds, Mounds A, C, and B, stand in an open grassy area with blue skies and puffy white clouds above. Solar Alignment Site Map; Image courtesy of Arkansas Archeological Survey 

The sun is just as important to us today as it was to the Plum Bayou people. The sun brings warmth, grows plants, provides light, and helps us keep track of time. Like the Plum Bayou people, cultures around the world and across time have celebrated and honored the sun in different ways. We can feel a connection with these people as we participate in a celebration as they would: with food, music, and games. The summer solstice ceremony of the Plum Bayou people reveals similarities to how we experience celebrations today.   

A group of adults and children watching the sunset over Mound B from Mound H.  Summer Solstice Participants 

Make plans to celebrate and honor past cultures across time and space by observing this summer solstice on June 20th. You can do some of the things that the Plum Bayou people did long ago. Consider eating outside, listening to music, playing games, and observing the sunset.  

Here at Toltec Mounds Archeological State Park, we will capture this year’s summer solstice, weather permitting, with a Digital Discovery video to be shared on the Arkansas State Parks website at a later date. Please make sure to visit this site again so that you can experience the solar alignment at Arkansas’s largest mound complex. 

If you have any questions about the mounds, summer solstice, or other solar alignments, please contact us here at Toltec Mounds Archeological State Park by email at [email protected] or by phone (501) 961-9442.  

We look forward to seeing you soon and hearing about your solar alignment experiences! 

*To find out more about this archeological site check out the following resources:  

Rolingson, M. A. (2012). Toltec Mounds: Archeology of the Mound-and-Plaza Complex. Fayetteville, AR: Arkansas Archeological Survey 

Rolingson, M. A. (n.d.) Toltec Mounds. Retrieved from https://archeology.uark.edu/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/Toltec-Mounds-Site-and-State-Park.pdf