Trowel ‘n’ Transit

Public Archeology in Rural Arkansas

Rurality has been popping up in a few different places in my life recently. I have been talking with a colleague about building some course materials on rural anthropology and sociology, my

Arkansas Archeological Survey station territories with urban areas overlain. SAU territory in yellow

recently-submitted platform for the upcoming Society for Historical Archaeology’s Board of Directors elections emphasized outreach with rural communities, and I live in and work in south Arkansas… look out the window… it’s rural.

But, if I am going to talk about working in rural areas, I wanted to know how rural territory is, and, because I am curious, how rural my station territory is in comparison with the other stations in the Arkansas Archeological Survey system. Because I am me, I threw some GIS at it.

I downloaded a shapefile of urban areas from the U.S. Census Bureau, who define such things, and did some simple statistics in ArcMap.

Station Total Area (sq mi) Urban Area (sq mi) Percent Urban Area
ASU 11,503 182 1.6%
HSU 6,423 354 5.5%
SAU 7,348 75 1.0%
UAF 8,238 311 3.8%
UAM 4,967 36 0.7%
UAPB 5,957 581 9.8%
WRI 7,631 95 1.2%

So, we’re the fourth largest territory, but the second most rural behind UAM. Of course, this is just land mass, which was the easiest to calculate with the given files at hand. I pulled populations for the SAU territory, and we’re 58% rural, well above the 42% that is the state average and 19.3% that is the national average. I don’t have specifics for the rest of the state, as that was going to be a bigger data mining operation.

Why does this matter? Comparing the SAU territory to others is pretty much a just-so story, but in the larger scope, all of our stations work with primarily rural territories in a state that has a rural population twice the national average. That creates a different working context than our colleagues on the coasts (East, West, and Gulf). Somewhere, Robert Earl Keen’s “Out Here in the Middle” is playing in the background…

Summer research abroad… Well, at least in a different corner of Arkansas

It’s mid-June, and my summer’s research and field schedule is in full swing. I’m on the road this month, whiling away the hours in a different corner of Arkansas than my usual.

I am currently assisting my old boss and current colleague at the UAF Station, Dr. Jamie Brandon, with the 2017 University of Arkansas Field School at Pea Ridge National Military Park, near Pea Ridge, Arkansas. We are working with 10 students from the UofA, as well as Jerry Hilliard, Jared Pebworth, and Lydia Rees to figure out the exact footprint, size, orientation, and antiquity of the village of Leetown, which figured prominently in the battle (probably the most important one fought west of the Mississippi River).

As we are operating out of Fayetteville, I am taking time on weekends to delve into the prodigious stacks at the University of Arkansas’s Mullins Library to advance some writing projects. I owe the Encyclopedia of Arkansas Online and the Pulaski County Historical Review each an article on the Little Rock Picric Acid Plant (LRPAP). The LRPAP was a munitions factory that, during World War I, produced a high explosive for the U.S. military. It’s also feeding into a longer work on World War I production that will be presented at the Old Statehouse Museum this fall. On top of all that, I have been doing some additional groundwork for expanding out a recent SHA paper into a book chapter for an edited volume on place and historical archaeology in the West, focusing on the construction of place through archaeology and history associated with the Camden Expedition of 1864. That’s got an October due date, though, so it’s not feeling the front-burner flames as keenly as the other things.

Being alone in the evenings is also great for productivity, and I’ve finished two books that I have wanted to polish off for some time. Ian Hope’s A Scientific Way of War: Antebellum Military Science, West Point, and the Origins of American Military Thought and Gary Pinkerton’s Trammel’s Trace: The First Road to Texas from the North, which I am reviewing for the Journal of Southern History (the other [for myself and other historical archaeologists] SHA). There’s some work for the Society for Historical Archaeology (the real [for myself and other historical archaeologists] SHA) that needs doing, too.

Stay out of academia, kids, or else this is what your “holidays” will start to look like…

New Horizons and Old Haunts

It’s been some time since I put a post up here. It’s been a busy time, factoring in the demands of classes and research. I guess it beats being bored (though boredom looks kind of nice from time to time). We’ve had some new things going on around the Station and Southwest Arkansas, and I’m spending some times going back to my historical archaeological roots, as well.

First, the new things. At this past Caddo Conference, held in Natchitoches, Louisiana, I and Fiona Taylor (the new research assistant in the Station) gave our first paper on Caddo archaeology. We have been doing some work on the Holman Springs site (3SV29) and the Society Digs that were held there back in the 1980s. It is a start towards moving that project closer to completion. In addition to giving a paper on it (which was mostly background to the project), we have started to do rough sorts and inventories of the boxes of material. This is both a needed step towards finer analyses, and it is the genesis of an inventory system that will be used for all of the 4,000+ boxes of artifacts in the Station collections area. That bit will take years to implement, but it is massively satisfying to have that in progress.

Stepping back to an earlier time, I am now up in Fayetteville, assisting the UAF Station (Dr. Jamie Brandon) and the Computer Services Program (Dr. Jamie Lockhart) with some remote sensing and mapping at Pea Ridge National Military Park as part of a CESU research program concluded with the park (Superintendent Kevin Eads) and the NPS’s Midwest Archeological Center (Dr. Steve DeVore). We are working on the site of the village of Leetown, which factored significantly into the battle, and was explored back in the 1960s by Rex Wilson. This is all gearing up towards the UofA Field School that will be held there this summer.

Other things continue apace. We did a booth at the Jonquil Festival in Historic Washington last weekend, and have the Art Walk in El Dorado on Saturday. There are lots of cemetery projects popping up, which will keep the Station occupied for a good chunk of the coming months, as well.

New things in archaeology and historic ordance

So, the Society for Historical Archaeology meetings are next week in Fort Worth. One of the workshops this year is hosted by Tom Gersbeck, of the Center for Improvised Explosives at Oklahoma State University, and offers some training in safety and identification of unexploded ordnance in archeological contexts.

This morning, the Charleston Post and Courier put out this article, detailing some concerns about the handling of cannonballs found after a recent hurricane. I get quoted in it, and it came out well. Give it a look, and if you want to chat at the SHAs, come find me.

Disposessing Duwali on Lost Prairie

My doctoral dissertation focused on Dooley’s Ferry, a crossing on the Red River that was part of the mid-19th century landscape of cotton production in southwest Arkansas. Dooley’s Ferry, as a community of some coherence, is very much a 1840s-1890s phenomenon. It was not, however, the first kind of community in its location, nor was it the last. The Caddo maintained a presence there many centuries ago, and one of the earliest communities in the American period was a group of immigrant Cherokees, who arrived in 1819.

Though I never really focused on it in my doctoral research, as I had other priorities, the presence of a Cherokee community was fascinating, though it was short-lived. We know, from several historical sources (e.g. Sabo 1992) that the Cherokee settlement on the Red River, in an area known as “Lost Prairie,” only lasted one winter, and was violently broken up by neighboring whites in 1820. Claude McCrocklin, an avocational archeologist who used to work in the Red River Valley, believed he found some of the footprint of the settlement in the 1990s (McCrocklin 1990). Still, we do not have a good handle on what, outside of racist, exclusionist concepts of civilization, progress, and property rights common to the early 19th century, drove the events that forced the Cherokees away.

I spent a little time researching it this morning, looking through old Arkansas Gazette stories. What follows is far from the last word on the subject, and is limited by working with the period white accounts, but it does illuminate the period a bit.

Background: The Bowl on the Red River

Some of the first stages of Removal pushed tribes like the Cherokee out of Georgia, North Carolina, and Tennessee, and into the Arkansas Territory. The first land allotted the Cherokee was up on the Arkansas River Valley, in the vicinity of modern-day Dardanelle. Within a few short years, however, the U.S. government sought new treaties that would change those land allocations.

The Treaty of 1817 called for the Cherokees to give up land south of the Arkansas River, a condition that many went along with. Many, but not all. Duwali, also known as “The Bowl,” “Chief Bowles,” or “John Bowles,” objected, as he and his closest associates had established homes along the Petit Jean River, south of the Arkansas. Rather than move north, putting them in close contact with tribal members with whom they had significant political differences, Duwali’s followers instead relocated to the Red River, establishing a small community along what would become the Miller County side of Dooley’s Ferry, an area known as “Lost Prairie.”

The area around Lost Prairie was thinly-settled by Americans in 1819. The first stages of migration from the eastern seaboard, which would bring both European and enslaved African Americans to the Red River Valley, was just beginning. A few farms and plantations were in operation, and these mostly centered along rivers, which were the main arteries of commerce and communication with the wider world (Goodspeed 1890).

There were not many white residents, somewhere around 2,250 for all of southwest Arkansas. These were people who were both trying to make a new home for themselves and trying to keep their families safe. For them, part of those processes involved establishing law and order over growing Southern communities. This was a social system where whites were in power, blacks were enslaved, and Indians had no real place. Indians posed a particular problem within this worldview, as they were “a fierce and savage enemy” (Arkansas Gazette, 7 Oct 1820) who should be “removed to the lands allotted to them in [Oklahoma]” (Arkansas Gazette 15 July 1820) and were unlikely to do so amicably, as their “resentment has already been raised to the highest pitch, and who… calculates on glutting his vengeance… for unjuries [sic] which he has sustained in his native country” (Arkansas Gazette 7 Oct 1820).

We see from these period accounts that there was no concept of making a place for Indian communities within white-dominated society, and that Indians were fierce, merciless, and already-provoked by injustices done to them back east. It is an image of angry, violent Indians, not of Indians as families, communities, or cultures. It is in this template that Duwali’s followers were trying to find a place.

The Red River Valley, 1820

They did not find a hospitable set of neighbors. A letter to Governor James Miller noted the event by calling it “to the great annoyance of the inhabitants of Hempstead county” (Arkansas Gazette, 15 Jul 1820). Soon, allegations of horse-stealing and “other depredations” were being lodged against the Cherokees and some remaining Caddos, referred to as “these faithless savages” (Arkansas Gazette, 26 Feb 1820).

Fanning the flames of anti-Indian outrage, the Arkansas Gazette, in February 1820, printed a laundry list of actions committed by Indians against white settlers, and includes a reference to an 1819 incident in which a party of 10-12 Caddos stole thirteen horses from Pecan Point on the Red River. They were pursued by Captain Nathaniel Robbins and a small party of whites, but when the Caddos stood to give a fight, Robbins and his men decided they did not have the numbers to win, so returned home (Arkansas Gazette, 26 Feb 1820). The other incidents listed in the long enumeration printed by the Gazette could have done little more than offer a laundry list of grievances meant to heighten anti-Native sentiment.

That sentiment would have been added to by incidents in May of the following year. On the 22nd, another raid on Pecan Point resulted in another theft of horses. Again, Captain Robbins and a small party set out after the robbers, pursuing them 100 miles before overtaking them. Apparently, they were able to capture one Cherokee, whose name they record as “Hog in a Pen,” who identified himself as one of Duwali’s followers. Robbins’ party set off towards home with Hog in a Pen, but were waylaid by a party of 40 Cherokees and Caddos, who set Hog in a Pen free “by force of arms” (Arkansas Gazette, 15 Jul 1820).

The Expulsion(?)

The following month, the Gazette ran a copy of a letter to Governor Miller stating that the Cherokees on Red River reported “a difference” that took place between them and local whites, which resulted in the death of one of their number and that “the balance, or nearly so, are in confinement” (Arkansas Gazette, 18 Jun 1820). It is unclear from context what the difference was, though it would not be surprising if some kind of retribution for the events of the preceding month took place, and whether the “confinement” mentioned was indication that the Lost Prairie Cherokee community was rounded up in preparation for expulsion from the territory.


So, this is a brief retelling, but it adds some detail to an under-studied event. Also, I find it fascinating that there are clear indications of Caddo-Cherokee collaboration during this period, a subject to be further investigated. The Red River Valley during what Goodspeed (1890) refers to as the “Squatter Period” (1804-1840) definitely deserves a lot more research.


Goodspeed Company
1890  Biographical and Historical Memoirs of Southern Arkansas. Goodspeed Publishing Company, Chicago, Nashville, and St. Louis.

McCrocklin, Claude
1990  Three Historic Sites on Red River. The Arkansas Archeologist: Bulletin of the Arkansas Archeological Society 31: 31–41.

Sabo, George
1992  Paths of Our Children: Historic Indians of Arkansas. Arkansas Archeological Survey, Fayetteville.

AHA 2017: Laboring on the Plains of Factoria

The Arkansas Historical Association meetings in 2017 will be way up in Pocahontas. I’m going, in part because I’m on the AHA’s Board of Trustees, plus they’re a fun group to be around, and as a historical archaeologist, I work closely with both historians of Arkansas and the documentary record. The call for papers is out, and the deadline is this week, so this morning, I sent off my title and abstract. They are:

Laboring on the Plains of Factoria: War, Work, Migration, and Industry at the Little Rock Picric Acid Plant during World War I

The Great War brought great changes to many parts of Arkansas and, individually, to many Arkansans’ lives. One great change to the face of Little Rock was the construction in 1918 of a plant for the making of picric acid, a chemical used in munitions. Though a short-lived facility, the Little Rock Picric Acid created a series of conflicts and collaborations between laborers, on the one hand, and plant administrators, local authorities, and federal officials, on the other. This paper delves into those interactions, and shows how the development of war industries in central Arkansas placed demands on the state and people that both united and divided, and built connections between Arkansas and the wider, modern world of the 1910s.

The conference theme is “Great War, Great Changes,” so a World War I-themed paper was most apt. I’ve been doing some work on the Picric Acid Plant, and this seemed like the most interesting writing project at hand. It’s got everything from work stoppages and strikes to arrests for violation of the Sedition Act to importation of Puerto Rican laborers and on and on and on.

Perhaps at some archeological conference I’ll do a paper on the actual, physical location of the plant, itself (now thoroughly developed over).

The Folly Island Cannonballs and the Value of Context

Hurricane Matthew wended its way up the Eastern Seaboard this week, wreaking havoc and taking lives. One of the few, well, not exactly happy, but perhaps “huh” stories to come out of the storm’s aftermath is the discovery of a number of cannonballs on the beach at Folly Island, South Carolina, south of Charleston.

I’m absolutely not going to second-guess the decisions made to destroy or curate the items, as it seems that some were exploded in place while others were carried back to an unspecified U.S. Navy facility for destruction. Bomb squads do what they need and are trained to do.

What I do fine somewhat troubling is the news coverage and the lack of context for what Folly Island meant during the war, and why exactly Civil War cannonballs would be showing up there. Those that gave any context noted only that “The first shots of the Civil War were fired at nearby Fort Sumter in 1861.” The only source to really do better was Hudson Hongo, writing for Gizmodo, who offered that “During the Civil War, Folly Island served as a key staging area for Union troops attacking nearby Fort Morris. Since then, remnants of the occupation have periodically been discovered in the area, including a black regimental cemetery found during a construction project in 1987 and military artifacts uncovered by Hurricane Hugo in 1989.”

Folly Island was a major piece of the U.S. Army’s attempt to take Charleston from the seaward side, coming overland from the mouth of the Stono River and working through the coastal swamps toward the city. This is the area where Fort Wagner, on adjacent Morris Island, stood (yes, THAT Fort Wagner, from the movie Glory). The cannonballs that washed out of the sand yesterday were a part of a major, complex, combined-arms effort by the U.S. military, and their location and recovery should not be taken as some surprising, improbable discovery. Our “iron harvest” pales in comparison to what France and the Low Countries deal with from World War I, but it is, nonetheless, an ongoing hazardous legacy of conflict.

Total credit to Mr. Hongo for tracking down the previous work on Folly Island (you can download the text of the report here). That mentioned “black regimental cemetery” was an excavation project by James Legg and Steven Smith that recovered the remains of 19 U.S. soldiers from the 55th Massachusetts Infantry, 2nd U.S. Colored Infantry (organized in the District of Columbia), and 1st North Carolina Colored Infantry regiments. Their presence is more than just a component of the U.S. Army’s contingent in the area. They were laying the groundwork for the 14th and 15th Amendments and the first round of African-American voting rights. The campaign for Charleston, involving black and white regiments, was about more than military strategy, and that should not be lost in the shifting sands of the beaches of Folly Island. Cannonballs are interesting, but the people that put them there, the movements and campaigns (in multiple senses) that they were engaged in, and their place in our heritage is what really matters. That’s the context. Context matters. Ask any archeologist.

On Trigger Warnings and Conflict Archaeology

My Twitter feed is blowing up with stories trolling University College-London students who are taking Gabe Moshenka’s modern conflict archaeology class. Apparently, consistent with UCL policy, students were told if they were feeling overwhelmed by the material, they could step out of class without penalty. Much of the backlash has been laced with derision assuming that students are basically coddled softies that can’t cope with reading books and journal articles. Too whatever extent that caricature reflects reality… okay. But, here’s the thing. People seem to be assuming that all students are of the same demographic with similarly sheltered upbringings.

And that’s where I think they lost some perspective.

See, we’ve got these wars going on, which means we have a new generation of veterans coming back and transitioning to civilian life. Some of them are going to college, and some of them are going to college. If you’re a veteran in a class on modern conflict studies, and the course material is dealing with subject matter that brings out something you’re still dealing with from Iraq or Afghanistan (or the various other conflicts we’re embroiled in that don’t rise to the level of a declared war), then I would much prefer you be able to step out without penalty than feel like you have to sit there and have your situation get worse.

Also, if your childhood involved enduring genocide or political terror in Bosnia, Rwanda, Sudan, or You-Name-It-Because-It-Happens-Too-Much-These-Days, and the class starts talking about excavating mass graves of people you knew as a child, please God step out if you need to. The people who seem to be gleefully castigating students who might need to step out from class assume that no one’s life has actually involved the modern conflict that these classes focus on.

Check. that. privilege.

EDIT: Alix at The People’s Republic of Mortimer took more time with this, thinking along the same lines. Give her a read.

Why I’m (Absolutely) Voting “Yes” on the SAA Ethical Principle #9

So, the Society for American Archaeology rolled out a new addition to its Statement on Ethics, putting before the membership for a vote. It “focuses on members’ obligations to ensure safe and supportive instructional, workplace, and collegial environments for archaeological work” (quote from e-mail to membership 09/19/2016). Specifically, it reads:

Principle No. 9: Safe Educational and Workplace Environments: Archaeologists in all work, educational, and other professional settings, including fieldwork and conferences, are responsible for training the next generation of archaeologists. Part of these responsibilities involves fostering a supportive and safe environment for students and trainees. This includes knowing the laws and policies of their home nation and institutional workplace that pertain to harassment and assault based upon sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, ethnicity, disability, national origin, religion, or marital status. SAA members will abide by these laws and ensure that the work and educational settings in which they have responsible roles as supervisors are conducted so as to avoid violations of these laws and act to maintain safe and respectful work and learning environments. (Text from letter to membership, 09/19/2016)

As the SAA states in its cover letter, this is an ethical principle that is not focused on artifacts and sites, but that “archaeological work is quintessentially social and collaborative,” and this proposed addition to the Statement on Ethics reflects that.

I’m definitely voting for it. Here’s why:

  1. Recent efforts to document sexual harassment by the Southeastern Archaeological Conference (Barreis and Henry 2015; Meyers et al. 2015) show that this is a massive, if tremendously under-appreciated, problem for the discipline, and it’s something we need to take steps to rectify. This is a start, but it also opens the door for more progress down the line by providing an institutional and professional directive to fix this problem. With the directive comes justification for organizations across the discipline to focus on this more clearly and take steps particular to their situation to improve.
  2. What objections there are out there (looking at you, Michael E. Smith, from Publishing Archaeology), suggest that this is not an “archaeological” matter, as though we can separate artifacts from the process of research. The “ology” part of “archaeology” points to the process of study, not the subjects of that study (the things/artifacts), so matters that pertain to the conditions under which findings are developed are ABSOLUTELY archaeological. Who is party to that, their voice in the process, and the power relations that govern the production of knowledge, of course, affect how the process progresses, and discriminatory or harassing relationships can only make archaeology less than it otherwise would be.
  3. Matters of science aside, what kind of person would object to a professional statement censuring people treating colleagues in such manner?
  4. Smith also objects to Principle #9 on the grounds that it does not have the force of law, and that the SAA has no regulatory teeth. Sure, technically, he’s right. The SAA isn’t going to be locking anyone up, but that’s not the point of ethics statements. Ethics statements guide behavior among practitioners, and can censure things that are otherwise considered illegal. If my side business was trafficking in battlefield artifacts that I looted from privately-owned battlefields off the clock and with my own equipment, I would be acting within the bounds of the law, but outside the bounds of archaeological ethics, and could reasonably expect to be kicked out of the SAA or SHA for doing so. I wouldn’t go to jail, but I would rightfully face the destruction of my professional esteem and risk my employment. An ethical statement on sexual harassment gives some foundation for tangible and visible censure for those who egregiously transgress them.

So, I’m voting yes, and I’m doing so for the above reasons. I’m also writing this post to give support to those who worked to bring together the ethical statement and those who have been looking at the breadth of this problem and bringing attention to it. I’m a straight, white, able-bodied, American male, and I strongly support this measure. I have the privilege to work with now, and to have worked with over the years, many people who fall into the categories that this principle seeks to provide some support and protection to. I will be thinking about all of them, and thanking them for being part of my life and career, when I click “yes.”


Baires, Sarah E. and Edward R. Henry
2015     Gender Roles and Archaeologists in the Southeast: Working Toward Equality. Horizon & Tradition: The Newsletter of the Southeastern Archaeological Conference 57(1):14-18.

Meyers, Maureen, Tony Boudreaux, Stephen Carmody, Victoria Dekle, Elizabeth Horton, and Alice Wright
2015     Preliminary Results of the SEAC Sexual Harassment Survey. Horizon & Tradition: The Newsletter of the Southeastern Archaeological Conference 57(1):19-35.

Archaeology is Anthropology or It is Nothing

Gordon Willey and Philip Phillips (1958) memorably wrote that “archaeology is anthropology or it is nothing,” and thereby laid the groundwork for a generation or more of archeological work. I am reminded today that this maxim has great force, but not always in the way it was intended. The Survey (by which I mean half a dozen or more of us, current and former, from stations around the state) has been working with the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program, Arkansas Archeological Society, Delta Cultural Center, and dozens of people in Helena-West Helena, Poplar Bluff, and many other towns around east Arkansas, plus people in Chicago, Atlanta, and elsewhere to locate a small battlefield lost to official history. We’re spiraling in on the site, and today was yet one more step closer to it, thanks to a great lunch meeting. That’s not why I’m taking this moment to reflect, though.

Willey and Phillips said that archaeology is anthropology or it is nothing because they felt that the aims of archaeology should be anthropological, and geared towards answering questions about humans, culture, and society. We should do archaeology to do [cultural] anthropology on the past. Working in historical archaeology, though, particularly on recent(ish) sites, often happens because we bring the interviewing techniques of the cultural anthropologist to the table. Without the connections to the living community (without anthropology), our work proceeds at a snail’s pace, if at all. Without these connections to the community, work simply does not progress. Without anthropology, archaeology is nothing… as it never gets anywhere fast.

Of course, Phillips knew this well, as his foundational work Archaeological Survey in the Lower Mississippi Alluvial Valley, 1940-1947 relied heavily on talking with local farmers and others about where they were finding artifacts and where they saw mounds. As was the case then, so it is today that we progress in consultation with non-archaeologists. Arkansas has always been great for this. Let’s hope Arkansans remain so willing to be a part of the process.


Phillips, Philip, James A. Ford, and James B. Griffin. 1951. Archaeological Survey in the Lower Mississippi Alluvial Valley, 1940-1947. Peabody Museum Papers, vol. 25. Harvard University, Cambridge

Willey, Gordon and Philip Phillips (1958) Method and Theory in American Archeology. University of Chicago Press, Chicago.