Artifact Tales

March 25, 2010
More than a collection of rocks. How did they get here?

More than a collection of rocks. How did they get here?

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.

Each artifact tells a story.

Each artifact tells a story.

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.

Could this have once been a major commerce area?

Could this have once been a major commerce area?

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, 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.

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Volunteering “Warms You Twice”

January 18, 2010

Volunteer Lori Spencer reveals the wonders of Arkansas's mints.

Volunteer Lori Spencer reveals the wonders of Arkansas's mints.

Chop your own wood, it will warm you twice. – Henry Ford

We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give. – Winston Churchill

When you visit an Arkansas State Park, do you notice the condition of trails, campground, signs, exhibits, or roads? If it’s a weekend, do you notice people working who are not in uniform? Do you notice words like “interpretive volunteer” or “docent” on program schedules? If so, then you are experiencing the impact of the park’s volunteers, who are as valuable as the resources they assist in preserving and interpreting.

Just as “wood is the fuel that warms you twice,” the act of volunteering gives the individual so much more. For example, the volunteers of the Mount Magazine Action Group, a non-profit public charity, support Mount Magazine State Park’s conservation and education mission through trail maintenance, resource inventory, program assistance, funding, and other activities. Members of this group come from all walks of life and ages, and have two threads weaving them together: they love the park, and they enjoy volunteering.

Volunteer Beverly Duke leads a garden tour at the Visitor Center.

Volunteer Beverly Duke leads a garden tour at the Visitor Center.

“I joined the volunteer group in anticipation of retirement. A purely selfish reason because I knew that I would need something useful to do with my time after many years in the workforce. I have stayed in the group because I think what we do is important, making visitors feel welcome while they are at the park and assisting them in any way that we can,” states volunteer Beverly Duke, Mount Magazine Action Group secretary and Master Gardener.

As the director of the annual Mount Magazine Butterfly Festival, I remember the years when there were no volunteers, and I did most everything myself. What hard work that was! Now I have trained volunteers to help with every aspect, including front-line with the park visitors and behind the scenes. Some of these tasks include greeting and orienting visitors, collating festival schedules, and providing funding for kids’ activities, guest speakers, and concerts. The butterfly festival has grown in numbers with 50 percent more children participating since the organization began funding these activities.

Volunteer Carolyn Allen greets and orients visitors.

Volunteer Carolyn Allen greets and orients visitors.

According to volunteer Carolyn Morris, “Mount Magazine has fantastic facilities that very few places have, and I am so proud of it. This area has been very good to me, and I want to give back to my community whatever I can.”

Six people can do in three hours what it would take a single park interpreter several days to accomplish. But the experience is so much more rewarding than that.  A volunteer organization gives people both the opportunity to help the park and satisfy their social needs. During the 6-year existence of our group, we have become a tight-knit family. Work days are a family reunion as much as they are for clearing a trail or orienting visitors during an event. We also learn new skills from each other as we work.

The volunteers of Arkansas State Parks often include more people in addition to a “friends” group. Parks state-wide have benefited from trail work projects completed by eagle, cub, boy scouts and girl scouts, Master Gardener chapters, and more recently, the Arkansas Master Naturalist program. These volunteers are typically professionals themselves, and are trained by professionals so they are ready to assist in whatever way park staff needs. These talented people give freely of their time and talent, and donate thousands of hours each year.

Volunteers clean out Historic Buckman's Pool on the Will Apple's Road Trail.

Volunteers clean out Historic Buckman's Pool on the Will Apple's Road Trail.

When you talk to a volunteer in an Arkansas State Park, you are speaking to someone who knows the park’s resources and is genuinely happy to see you. Their enthusiasm is often contagious. They are passionate about what they do and excited to share their skills. They are the reflection of the resource itself.

Volunteering has always been a part of my life, beginning when I was a teenager volunteering at the public library in my hometown. When I became an entomologist, I began volunteering for the butterfly festival in response to the needs of the new park and for myself. My role as an interpretive volunteer for Mount Magazine State Park has shaped my life, and my confidence is boosted with each project completed, each program I present, and each visitor who visits the park on a regular basis.

If you would like to volunteer at a state park, you will be welcomed with open arms. Part of the beauty of volunteering is flexibility of hours and tasks. Most often, you will be working with the park interpreter. If you live near a state park without a “friends” group, perhaps you could start one! It is your park, after all!

What are your strengths and abilities? Ask yourself what new skills you would like to learn, then turn around and give back. If you have time on your hands, how much would you be willing to give? Time is probably the most precious possession we own, and it’s intangible. Consider your time a living legacy. Leave a legacy of good work and volunteer in a state park this year. It will warm you twice.

(editor’s note: In 2008 over 11,908 volunteers contributed over 128,645 hours of work and expertise to Arkansas State Parks. We appreciate every minute they gave us. Contact your favorite Arkansas State Park to learn about volunteer opportunities.)

Lori Spencer, Certified Heritage Interpreter

Lori Spencer, Certified Heritage Interpreter

Lori Spencer has been a volunteer at Mount Magazine State Park since 1997, and is chairman of the Mount Magazine Action Group. She holds a M.S. in entomology and is the author of Arkansas Butterflies and Moths.