Hard Work and Sweat

September 14, 2011

Imagine a group of Indians sitting quietly under the shade of a tree, wiping sweat from their brow and calculating how many more trips they must make with their baskets to complete their newest mound.  They have made countless trips already and their efforts are almost complete.  Hard work and sweat were some of the tools used recently to preserve a piece of Arkansas’ history.  Recently, the staff at Toltec Mounds Archeological State Park worked side by side with the Arkansas Archeological Survey, volunteers from the Arkansas Archeological Society, and the Arkansas Game and Fish Commissions “Stream Team” to stop the erosion of one of the mound slopes at the park.  A sense of accomplishment was the end result, knowing that we had done our part to preserve this piece of the past.  Here is our story.

Artifacts

Artifacts

One fall afternoon, the park staff was picking up trash along the lake bank and discovered several artifacts that had surfaced on Mound P.  The fluctuating water levels of the lake had partly caused the erosion of the back side of this mound.  The survey archeologist at the time was Dr. Jane Anne Blakney-Bailey.  Under her direction, we surface collected the artifacts and started making plans to stabilize the slope.  The picture to the right shows some of the artifacts that were collected.

Bone disc

Bone disc

One of the first things that needed to be done was to excavate a portion of the mound.  This area of the site was uncharted territory for professional archeologist so this was an exciting opportunity to explore the mound.  The Arkansas Archeological Society and the Arkansas Archeological Survey held the annual training dig at Toltec Mounds during the summer of 2010.  Under the direction of Dr. Blakney-Bailey, Mound P was selected as a dig location.  There were six units opened up and a wide variety of artifacts and features were discovered at this location during excavation.  The picture shows a one of the artifacts  that was found as a result of this excavation.

Once the excavation was complete, further plans were made to stabilize the mound so that more artifacts were not lost to erosion.  Park Superintendent Stewart Carlton worked to find the best possible methods to get the job done.  He enlisted the advice and help of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission’s Stream Team” and the current resident archeologist Dr. Elizabeth Horton.  They worked together to develop a preservation plan.  The plan was carried out on August 31st, 2011.  The loose vegetation was cleared away and coconut matting was placed directly on the mound surface and held in place with wooden stakes.  Large tree trunks were then laid down and secured at the base of the mound with metal cables.  The final step was to plant and encourage vegetation to grow on the mound slope.  Sometimes pictures are worth a thousand words…

This long vanished culture (archeologists call them the Plum Bayou Culture) can speak to us only through artifacts and features like the mounds.  Archeologists get one chance to read the true story of the Plum Bayou Culture.  If erosion, animal burrows or looting get in the way, accurate information is lost forever.  Preserving archeological features allows archeologists a chance to see features of the site undisturbed.  Saving these 1,200 year old features provides priceless information for future generations.

Robin Gabe, Park Interpreter

Robin Gabe, Park Interpreter

Robin Gabe has been a park interpreter at Toltec Mounds Archeological State Park for eight years. She began her career with Arkansas State Park system as a seasonal interpreter at Lake Poinsett State Park. She grew up in Caldwell, Arkansas and received her Bachelor’s of Science in Education from Arkansas State University in Jonesboro in 1997.


What? No Dinosaurs?

September 22, 2010

As an interpreter at an archeological park, I have my work cut out for me.  I do not have the geology or the beauty of Lake Ouachita, nor do I have Mt. Magazine’s View to draw visitors to my door.  What I do have, is a fabulous resource- an incomparable resource- that never ceases to amaze and astound me.  But, admittedly, it is a resource that only a fraction of a percent of people know and care about.

Parkin Archeological State Park is the location where, in 1541, Hernando de Soto held the first Catholic mass west of the Mississippi.  We are the home of Casqui- the toughest, most feared chief of his time and the chief that de Soto himself mentions about above all others encountered on his 4 year hike though the American southeast.  Pretty cool, huh?  Yeah, maybe if you’re an archeologist or a park interpreter with a few anthropology courses under her belt.

Who doesn't like some good pottery?

Who doesn't like some good pottery?

Then there’s everybody else. I have to work pretty hard to make people interested in this resource.  They are people who are, if truth be told, truly on their way somewhere else but thought this might be a great place to stop and stretch their legs.  I cannot tell you how many people see the “Archeological park” sign on I-40 and exit because they think we’ve got dinosaurs.  When a 9 year old boy thinks he is coming inside to see t-rex only to find that what I have is pottery… that is supreme disappointment.  But what an interpretive opportunity!

Be a Conquistador for a day!

Be a Conquistador for a day!

Here at Parkin, we have an entire collection of Spanish conquistador clothing, armor and weapons. When kids dress like a conquistador, they forget they wanted to see dinosaurs at all.  They put on that helmet and pow! Instantly, they assume the Conquistador pose (you know the one- with one boot clad foot on the mound, hands on hips, hair blowing in the breeze underneath their helmet- don’t act like you’ve never struck this pose before) and from there, they are hooked on Parkin.  Add the conquistador gear to the collection of replica Native American spears, arrows, and atl atls, and we are the coolest thing kids of any age have seen in a while.

Somebody likes history...

Somebody likes history...

We do have other types of visitors besides the interstate exit crowd- visitors who actually know we are about Indian mounds, but are under the impression that they can dig here.  That is another interpretive opportunity completely.  You see, what we have is a finite resource- they just aren’t making Indian mounds anymore.  We cannot let you dig in our mound and expect to have anything left for people to see next week.  What we try and do, diplomatically, firmly, yet with a smile on our face, is tell them about the Federal laws which prohibit such activities and then hand them a Park Informational Brochure about the digging opportunities at Crater of Diamonds State Park.

Then there are the immutable types of visitors.  The rockhounds.  The Aztec enthusiasts.  The people who want to establish a connection between our site, the pyramids of Egypt, and possibly even aliens.  These guys are hard sells.  I had a man last week who was disappointed that we did not have more arrowheads on display.  I tried to explain to him that our pottery in the museum is world renowned, and that is what we choose to focus on.  He just would not let it go.  “Well, Cahokia has points everywhere,” he said.  I tried explaining for 20 minutes that I had visited Cahokia and that I was surprised by their lack of pottery on display (with the exception of pieces that were credited as coming from Arkansas) but this did not seem to phase him.  Education did not work with this guy.  He was disinterested in de Soto.  He could care less about headpots.  He told me he wanted to come back, and fully expected us to “make our museum just like everybody else’s.” Well, in the end all I could wonder was if the Interpreters at the Grand Canyon have problems with people wanting a beach.  Probably not.

A little "hands on" history!

A little "hands on" history!

I do welcome the challenge of educating people like him, and the beauty of the job is that very next person to walk in the door could be a visitor like me.  The “one half of one percent” visitors who love de Soto, are familiar with his trek through Arkansas, and who are yearning for me to tell them more.  I love to share the stories de Soto left with us- how Parkin’s Chief Casqui was the most feared chief in Arkansas, and how rich the culture was here in Arkansas.  I love to show our artifacts and leave people pleasantly surprised about our Arkansas history and heritage.

In short, we get all kinds of visitors here.  I like the people who dress like de Soto.  I look for the chance to educate potential collectors about NAGPRA legislation (Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act) and why it’s important.  I even relish the opportunity to hear an interesting new twist on the Stargate series and how it applies to Parkin.  But as for the man who wants us to make out museum just like everybody else’s… there’s an old adage that gets me through those experiences with sanity and a smile.  “Never try and teach a pig to sing- it wastes your time and just annoys the pig.”

(Note to reader: Ms. Parker in no way is relating visitors to pigs, though she thinks pigs are wonderful and admirable animals.  The adage was meant to be a funny tagline to an exhaustive experience she recently had with a visitor.)

Mary Anne Parker, Park Interpreter

Mary Anne Parker, Park Interpreter

~Mary Anne Parker has been with Arkansas State Parks since 2005, and as Interpreter at Parkin Archeological State Park since 2006.  Mary Anne’s primary focus at Parkin has been on the African American Experience in the Delta, and she is extremely proud of the growth in community support the park has experienced with the renovation and opening of the Northern Ohio School in 2006. Her other interests and activities include running the Parker Homestead, which she owns and operated with her husband and his parents, and writing grants to further educational opportunities for students attending Arkansas Delta public schools.