UA-WRI Research Station - Historical Archeology
Historical archeology is the study of people in the past by combining the techniques and insights of field archeology with the analytical techniques used to draw data from documents, photographs, oral history, and any other data source available. Because it is inherently multidisciplinary in perspective, historical archeology can be a very powerful enterprise.
The goal is not to contrast the information derived from each source, but to use each source to complement the others. Archeology, historiography, informant interview, document analysis, and interpretation of photographs each produce data on somewhat different aspects of the human experience. Often the information overlaps, confirms, concurs, but sometimes it does not. This does not mean any particular data source is invalid, only that there are different circumstances for the entry of information to any particular source and the subsequent preservation of that information through the years. Documents such as land records, tax records, and newspapers, for example, are notorious for retaining information on the prominent and the powerful, persons or events, but documents seriously neglect the ordinary, the routine, and those with less political or economic influence. Archeological data depend on the happenstances of deposit, preservation, and decay. We may learn exactly what dishes were used in the house at a particular period, but an informant probably doesn't remember exactly where those dishes were bought, what they cost, and why that pattern was chosen over another.
For its part, photographs of a house now gone contain an extraordinary amount of information, but that information is limited by the boundaries of the frame, the capabilities of the medium onto which the image was captured, and the precise instant the image was exposed. It is frustrating of course to have a portion of a house blocked by the proud family who is standing in front the structure, and for whom the photo was taken. It is also frustrating that frequently someone actually in the photograph might remember little about the event 75 years later. And we cannot know from the photograph exactly when a visible structure or element was created, nor if that structure or element continued in existence for even five minutes after the photograph was completed.
Historical archeology has been used to great effect all over the State of Arkansas, beginning with excavations at the current location of Arkansas Post, Arkansas Post National Memorial (click here for a map of early French, Spanish, and Anglo-American settlements in Arkansas). Fieldwork has been carried out at a wide variety of sites in Arkansas, from French and Spanish colonial periods and sites associated with emigrant Native Americans, to pioneer homesteads and early extinct towns, to Civil War battlefields and cemeteries, to rural planter and tenant farmsteads, to urban sites including one of the most prominent, the Old State House in Little Rock. The bibliography at the end of this introduction suggests the range of work. Much of the work has been conducted as part of environmental impact statement assessments, and thus unfortunately is available only in limited distribution reports.
Since 1977 the Arkansas Archeological Survey has had a Station Archeologist whose specialty has been historical archeology statewide. From 1977-1988 he was based at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff Station. Since 1989 he has been based at Arkansas Tech University. Working closely with Arkansas State Parks and other state agencies, Survey colleagues, historical societies, and especially with volunteers from the Arkansas Archeological Society, a wide variety of projects have been carried out. These projects and demands have often been a distraction from the other responsibilities of Station work, since many lie out side the immediate Station territory.
Buchner, C. Andrew
Buchner, C. Andrew,
and Mitchell Childress
Phase II and III Archeological
Investigations on Historic Rural
Birds of Passage: Subsistence
Farming in the Ouachita Mountains;
Davis, Hester A.
Dollar, Clyde D.
1966b Preliminary Site Report: Spadra Bluff Indian Trading Factory, Arkansas. Submitted to National Park Service, Richmond, VA. (limited distribution report)
An Archaeological Assessment
of Historic Davidsonville. Arkansas
and Historical Documentation in the
and Roger E. Coleman
L., and Mary L. Kwas
Hilliard, Jerry, and
George Sabo, III
House, John H.
Regional Data in Historic Archeology: Examples from Environmental
Klinger, Timothy C.
C., Roy Cochran Jr., and Clyde D. Dollar
Kwas, Mary L., and
Randall L. Guendling
Martin, Patrick E.
Moore, Jackson W.
The Archeology of Fort Smith
I. The Arkansas Archeologist
Morse, Phyllis A.
The Forgotten Pioneers. In
Excavation, Data Interpretation, and
Rose, Jerome C., Editor
Log House Society: Archeology
and Transitions in Nineteenth
1982 Results of a Data Recovery Program at a Late-Nineteenth to Twentieth Century Log House: Site 3RA83 in Basin Structure 19, the Fourche Creek Watershed, Randolph County, Arkansas. Arkansas Archaeological Survey, Fayetteville, AR. Submitted to Soil Conservation Service, Little Rock, AR. (limited distribution report)
G., William A. Martin, and E. Thomas Hemmings
G., and Carol S. Spears
G., Carol S. Spears, Annie L. Moerbe, Kirsten L. Hoffman, and James E.
G., Carol S. Spears, and D. Chenault
R.H. Lafferty III, H. Wagner, J.T. Toney, L.G. Santeford, M.T. Oates,
and W.J. Bennett Jr.
Smith, Samuel D.
Arkansas Kiln Sites. Field
Notes Arkansas Archaeological Society
A Survey and Assessment
of the Archaeological Resources of Cadron Settlement. Arkansas Archaeological
Survey Research Report No. 1,
1978 Davidsonville Bricks. The Arkansas Archeologist 19:31-35.
Smith, Samuel D. and
William V. Davidson
1982a "Help! 3.5 billion possible two meter square excavation units in Arkansas, or, a consideration of state-wide research design in historical archeology", Conference on Historic Sites Archeology Papers 1979, pp. 71-86.
1982b "The other four and a half centuries: historical archeology and the Arkansas Archeological Survey", in Neal L. Trubowitz and Marvin D. Jeter, editors, Arkansas Archeology in Review, Arkansas Archeological Survey Research Series No. 15, pp. 301-309.
1982 Society Historical Excavations: Block-Catts Kitchen Ell
Final Evaluation Report,
the Sawdust Hill Community: Graphic
The Black Community at Sawdust
Hill: Further History of the Parkin
There are No Vacant Lots:
Historical Archeology and Historic
1983 "Old Davidsonville on the Arkansas Frontier: reconnaissance at a townsite for the parks and the past, for the public and the present", in Forgotten places and things: select papers from the 1980 Society for Historical Archeology meetings, Albert E. Ward, editor, Center for Anthropological Albuquerque. pp. 141-147.
1991 "African-American Archaeology in Arkansas: An Update". African-American Archaeology Newsletter 5:2-4., published by the African-American Archaeology Network.
1998 "A Reply to 'Concerning Cutoff Dates for State Archaeological Inventories' by Jack Elliott, Historic Preservation Division, Mississippi Department of Archives and History." Newsletter of the Mississippi Archeological Association, 33(4, September):6-11.
1999 "From Famous Forts to Forgotten Farmsteads: Historical Archaeology in the Mid-South". as Chapter 11 in On Beyond Zebree, Papers in Honor of Dan and Phyllis Morse, Robert Mainfort, Editor, University of Arkansas Press, Fayetteville, AR. pp.225-244 (with extensive references in "References Cited).
Leslie C., and Beverly S. Watkins
1975 Investigations at Arkansas Post, Nation Memorial, Arkansas. Archeology Research Program, Southern Methodist University, Dallas, TX. Submitted to National Park Service, Southwest Division, Santa Fe, NM. (limited distribution report)
1976 Archaeological Assessment of Arkansas Post. Archeology Research Program Report No. 96. Southern Methodist University, Dallas, TX. (limited distribution report)
©2001, Arkansas Archeological Survey, Revised -Summer 2007