Day of Archaeology 2013: From One End of the State to the Other

Last year, I put together a piece on the contents of my desk. It was appropriate at the time, as we had just completed a really big dig, and I was working at restoring order to my office work environment.

This year, the big dig was (thankfully… it’s exhausting to manage) run by someone else, so I haven’t needed as much time to recuperate, though I’ve been no less busy. This Day of Archaeology post looks at my last week of work and how it covers a wide range of activities, all of which are within my duties as an archaeologist for the Arkansas Archeological Survey, the Natural State’s public and research archaeology agency. We’re one of the best (if not the best) such agencies in the country. My boss, Jamie Brandon, and I work at the Southern Arkansas University station, and handle archaeological research and outreach for 11 counties in southwest Arkansas (pretty much everything south of the Ouachita River, plus a few other counties thrown in to boot.

Mapping Baytown

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This was a rice field when Phillips, Ford, and Griffin visited. It’s a little harder to work in now.

Though assigned to southwest Arkansas, I frequently get called out to assist with projects elsewhere around the state. Being the station assistant, I get calls to help Jamie’s equivalents in other stations quite frequently. The bulk of this week was just one such example.

Dr. Elizabeth Horton, station archaeologist at Toltec Mounds State Park, focuses on furthering our understanding of the Toltec Mounds, located outside of Little Rock. To do this well, she needs to study contemporary sites to understand how Toltec fit into the social landscape of the time. In pursuit of that goal, she recently inaugurated a project focusing on the Baytown site in eastern Arkansas. Occupied during the same rough time period as Toltec (we believe this to be the case, but we need to make sure… that’s why we’re starting working there), Baytown was a set of mounds, perhaps as many as ten. It is also under threat from both looters (it’s on federal property, so anyone caught could get hit with an ARPA violation) and erosion, so this project is timely and necessary.

Baytown is well-known in archaeological circles. It was one of the sites documented during the Lower Mississippi Valley Survey in the 1940s by Phillip Phillips, James A. Ford, and James B. Griffin. They named the Baytown phase after it, along with two pottery types, Baytown Plain and Baytown Incised. Check out their Archaeological Survey in the Lower Mississippi Alluvial Valley, 1940-1947 and Martha Rolingson’s chapters in The Woodland Southeast for more about the site. Despite its importance, Baytown hasn’t had that much research done on it. It’s been mapped a few times, and there have been some limited excavations, but nothing in line with what one would expect for such a site.

To start fixing this shortfall, I helped Dr. Horton, Dr. John House (Survey station archaeologist at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff), Ms. Jessica Howe (station assistant at the University of Arkansas at Monticello) and two students start mapping the site and examining it for signs of disturbance, assessing threats to its integrity, and evaluating its potential for future work. Much of my responsibility circled around running the Trimble GeoXT global positioning system, which allowed us to map mounds and modern features, even in thick forest. This will allow us to register past sketch maps of the site to the modern landscape to assess landform change, document where previous work has taken place, and allow us to start planning future research.

We really lucked out with field conditions, I must add. Usually, Arkansas in July is really, really hot. Eastern Arkansas also tends towards the humid side. Luckily, we ended up with a humid high-80s/low-90s with very few ticks or chiggers. The poison ivy was a little crazy, but with liberal application of Tecnu, I think we held that in check (knock on wood). It was, all-in-all, a really good time, though exhausting (as fieldwork usually is).

Paperwork, Paperwork, Paperwork

Working within a statewide agency, there are forms to fill out and reports to file. I’ve got two travel claims to finish off this morning, and need to compile field notes and GIS data to send to Dr. Horton. But, being a researcher, I’ve got other, more engaging tasks to polish off.

I’m in the process of editing a volume of chapters on Arkansas historical archaeology for publication. It’s a long, peer-reviewed process, and I’ve got some work to do on that this morning. I’m hoping that the project will be both a handy example of the effectiveness of the various state, federal, and private agencies on this front as well as an interesting volume for Arkansans, or anyone interested in historical archaeology and regional history to thumb through.

Touring Dooley’s Ferry


Giving a Tour of Dooley’s Ferry, 2012

Baytown was the research end of my job. The other end, public outreach, came on Friday afternoon. Each year, Historic Washington State Park (think Colonial Williamsburg, but for the 19th century) puts on the Red River Heritage Symposium, a multi-day teaching workshop and public lecture session focusing on the history and heritage of the Ark-La-Tex.

In past years, I have given papers here on my research at Dooley’s Ferry and on the archaeology of Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield, a project I worked on while with the National Park Service. This year, I am giving a presentation on the archaeology of Dooley’s Ferry for the teaching workshop portion, showing a bit about what we have done, what we are going to do, and what archaeology can teach us about the past. I’ll probably throw in a bit about the Survey and how it functions in hopes of getting some opportunities to come and teach a bit about archaeology to regional schools.

That’s supposed to be a tour of the site, but given today’s forecast…