3 parks preserve artifacts, history of state's first inhabitants

Posted: May 18, 2017 at 1:57 a.m.

The artifacts at Hampson Archeological Museum State Park in Wilson include portrayals of turtles and other animals as well as humans.

There are no American Indian reservations in Arkansas. And less than 1 percent of our state's population has Native American ancestry.

But three state parks -- Toltec Mounds, Parkin and Hampson -- are devoted to Arkansas' prehistory. And the splendid Museum of Native American History in Bentonville highlights the Indian heritage of Arkansas as part of its continentwide exhibits.

Toltec Mounds Archeological State Park, a dozen miles southeast of Little Rock off U.S. 165, was mistakenly named in the 19th century by a landowner who thought the builders had been ancient Mexicans. The site is jointly managed, as is Parkin, by Arkansas State Parks and the Arkansas Archeological Survey.

Visitors can walk a trail on a self-guided tour to see the state's tallest American Indian mounds, three of which survive from the original 18. Surrounded by parts of an earth embankment, they evidently were built as a governmental and ceremonial center and inhabited from A.D. 650-1050 during the late Woodland through early Mississippian periods.

Parkin Archeological State Park, in Cross County, occupies a location on the St. Francis River where a 17-acre Mississippi Period village sat from about A.D. 1000-1600.

Some scholars believe this was the village of Casqui that Hernando de Soto's expedition visited in 1541 and was mentioned in his chronicles. A large platform mound can still be seen along the riverbank. There were once numerous prehistoric sites like Parkin in northeast Arkansas, but almost all were lost to farming and erosion in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

The state park also contains the Northern Ohio School, a one-room structure built around 1910 for children of black employees of the Northern Ohio Lumber and Cooperage Co. A visit gives a sense of the challenges facing black families in what was then known as the Sawdust Hill community.

Hampson Archeological Museum State Park, in the Mississippi County town of Wilson, displays a spectacular collection of pottery vessels, many showing human or animal images. They were made by farming-based Indians who lived on a meander bend of the Mississippi River from A.D. 1400-1650.

Now known as the Upper Nodena Cultural Site, the 15-acre village was protected by a palisade and housed as many as 1,600 people. There were three ceremonial mounds. South of the central plaza was a field possibly used for playing a game called chunkey.

The pottery was crafted from local back-swamp clays. Archaeological evidence shows that the Nodena, like other Mississippian people, imported stone for weapons and tools from the north, while trading for shells from the Gulf of Mexico.

Visitors intrigued by one or more of the archaeological state parks can have their appreciation deepened at the Museum of Native American History in Bentonville. While its clearly explained exhibits cover all of North America, the galleries devoted to Arkansas prehistory are especially pertinent to our state's audience.

Toltec Mounds, Parkin and Hampson archaeological state parks are open 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday and 1-5 p.m. Sunday, as well as 8 a.m.-5 p.m. on holiday Mondays. Visitor center admission is free, with charges for some escorted tours at Toltec Mounds and Hampson.

Information on the three parks is available at arkansasstateparks.com. Toltec Mounds' telephone number is (501) 961-9442. Parkin's is (870) 755-2500. Hampson's is (870) 655-8622.

The Museum of Native American History, 202 SW O St., Bentonville, is open 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Saturday. Admission is free. For information, visit monah.us or call (479) 273-2456.

Weekend on 05/18/2017