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The Caddo City of the Dead at Ozan Creek, Washington, Hempstead County, Arkansas

Pottery found in one of the burial mounds near present-day Washington, Arkansas. Note the vessles with the lines (LOC).

Ozan Creek has several branches; this Hempstead County waterway, now a trickle, once fed directly into the Little River, along which the Caddo built a City of the Dead almost a millennium ago. Evidence of the Caddo City of the Dead along Ozan Creek at Washington, Hempstead County, Arkansas has been almost entirely eliminated due to modern agricultural activities, and it is astonishing and shocking that such an important place has been lost to memory.

"Three miles northeast of the little town of Washington" along South Ozan Creek stand eleven mounds, one of which included "a very large and impressive example of the platform type." Platform mounds had a level top, where ceremonial structures housed the ritual fires and the Caddi, the tribe's spiritual (and political) leaders.

One of the pottery bottles found in the mound (photo above) is shown in its original color (LOC).

Inside one of the mounds were impressive burials, with human remains and pottery vessels found in several layers, some very deep and some in higher strata. Harrington, the archeologist, noted that the people had been laid in their graves haphazardly, i.e. not in any one direction, and many of the graves contained pottery, painted green and red and made to look like animal effigies as well as crystal, copper amulets, and jasper earrings and earplugs: "as a rule, the deeper the grave the richer it proved to be." Basketry, leather, and other natural elements that had been buried with the dead were long gone by this time, as the graves were (like along North Ozan Creek) at least 800 to 1,000 years old.

The historians surmised that the burial mound had been used continuously, with some of the dead meriting more consideration than others, and when a body was buried in the mound and another body was found, the vessels and bones form the older corpse were moved into the newer grave or scattered about.

Bodies found in one of the burial mound's layers were thrown about haphazardly, perhaps indicating that a latter burial simply displaced the corpses (LOC).

The archeologists found that the other mounds once were the sites of earth lodges, about 20 feet in diameter, "with a burned spot in the middle marking the fireplace." These may have been the gathering places, and in the case of the largest mound's structure, "a great assembly house." Beneath at few of these lodges, all deliberately burned at one point, the expedition found human remains and funerary artifacts. Harrington concluded that the "site was a ceremonial one, with only a small permanent population, but serving as a camping ground for numerous families gathered from many miles around to take part in the great ceremonies held in the large ceremonial house on the largest mound."

This city must have been similar in function to other aboriginal sites in the Mississippi watershed: Marksville, Poverty Point, Spiro,and Cahokia, among many others. Considering its age, the Ozan Creek site most likely saw use after the other, larger ceremonial sites had been abandoned in the 1300s and 1400s. Other, smaller ceremonial sites appeared along the Red River, like Ozan, Belcher, and Battle Mound.

Other sites in the area include a Mineral Springs and Hot Springs Complex, both sites with similar mounds. I'll be exploring them in a future post, and also share my searches on "what the heck happened to these artifacts, as I'm very sure that none of them were repatriated to the Caddo nation."


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