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Mound City of the Caddo in southwest Arkansas


Pottery
Artifacts discovered during the mound's excavation (LOC).

The Caddo structures were so numerous that Europeans who came to the Red River labeled southwest Arkansas "Mound City," but I call it a "City of the Dead" that should become a World Heritage Site.


Over the last two days, I posted about an archeological dig that occurred in the 1920s in the Red River Valley. The information came from a book, "Certain Caddo Sites," https://www.loc.gov/item/21007827/ , which included photos that I shared. The person who wrote the book and who was the Lead Investigator was Mark Raymond Harrington.


The dig focused on the numerous burial mounds left by the Caddos in southwestern Arkansas. Excavations occurred along Ozan Creek, in Howard County, near Hot Springs, and in Hempstead County. These mounds were part of the Battle Mound complex (Lafayette COunty), "one of the largest earthen mound in the southeastern United States... with dimensions of 656 feet, by 90 feet in width and a height of 31 feet." Three platforms were built on this mound at one point, with two borrow pits (pits to remove the soil from one location to the other). The mound also produced a number of artifacts and bones; the human remains were actually crushed from agricultural use, and the many "exquisite" examples of pottery, tool making, and adornments ended up in private collections.


The Caddo structures were so numerous that Europeans who came to the Red River in the early 19th century labeled southwestern Arkansas "Mound City," but even after they recognized the hills as artificial structures, they brought African people into the area to plant cotton. Many of the mounds were flattened, and the artifacts taken from them sold for pennies in flea markets.


I personally labeled this area "the City of the Dead" to help in understanding that over the centuries (1200 BC/BCE to 1800 AD/CE), the Caddos had created a complex very much like the peoples of Egypt and Mexico. We travel to these "exotic" places to marvel at the archeological remains, but we don't even recognize or respect what is literally in our backyards. And even if we know about these mounds, artifacts found become part of household decor or are sold to wealthy people because the United States, and individual states, do not enforce antiquities laws; do not recognize the mounds as part of a separate civilization worthy of preservation; keep the information about these places in secret; and do not fund archeological excavations to preserve the sites.


Some of you asked how this dig was "any different than grave robbing." It wasn't. This excavation was conducted in the 1920s prior to the professionalization and published standards of archeology. Back then, wealthy men and corporations funded expeditions to satiate their own curiosity and to retrieve artifacts for resale, many of which went into museums and became the cornerstones of collections. None of the digs occurred under the supervision, with the participation, or with the approval of the Caddos.


Today, standards have changed. Mound sites were places of ceremony and administration of ancient people, whose descendants are supposed to be consulted when a site is breached for study. The artifacts and knowledge retrieved are supposed to belong to them; this is why there is such controversy in places like the British Museum, where ancient artifacts of the Greeks, Egyptians, Indians, and Kenyans were looted and put on display (and are in private hands). The problem is that when an artifact no longer resides in its context, it becomes purely decorative and loses its meaning.


A concern was shared that the mounds were cemeteries and should not have been disturbed. This is a very valid observation. However, an archeologist could argue that the mounds no longer served their function when excavation occurred, and therefore were no longer active sites ... but an historian could argue that the Caddos had been literally hunted off their lands by the European colonizers and therefore, had to abandon their cemeteries not out of evolution, but via extermination policies.


The bottom line: if an artifact is retrieved from a mound by digging without a permit (NOT just by permission from the current "owner," as that then begs the question, "how was ownership derived?"), the act is considered looting. This is not the case along a waterway; if one finds arrowheads, tools, boats, or potsherds in a river, these are public discoveries... and the reason why a French corporation was able to mine the Titanic for artifacts.


Personally, I would LOVE to have these mounds recognized as a world heritage site that could bring heritage tourism and the acknowledgement that the Caddos of the Red River were one of the Americas' greatest civilizations.


If you read this far, I appreciate you very, very much.

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