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A Salvage Dig in NE Arkansas

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NEW! Look here for a project update (May 2000).

Stripping the soilIn June of 1999, farmer James Meador and his son Jimmy were leveling some of their land in St. Francis County in northeast Arkansas. They planned to start growing rice on the property. As the leveling machine scraped part of a low ridge, the machine operator saw what appeared to be a human skeleton. Another one turned up shortly. Mr. Meador was concerned, and called the Sheriff's Office to make sure these were not murder victims.

Stone tools from the siteIt was determined that they were probably very old, and archeologists at nearby Parkin Archeological State Park were contacted. They were indeed able to identify the skeletons as Native Americans who lived there during what archeologists call the Baytown period. Pottery and other artifacts from the site indicate that it was occupied during the period of A.D. 300-800.

James Meador participating in a Quapaw Cedar Smoke ceremonyThe Meadors were concerned that the human remains be treated with respect, and they also wanted to comply with state law that prohibits desecration of human skeletal remains in unmarked cemeteries (Act 753 of 1991). Arkansas Archeological Survey archeologists contacted the Quapaw Tribe of Oklahoma to discuss how to proceed. The Quapaw Tribe is one of the Native American groups who used to live in Arkansas before they were forcibly removed to Oklahoma in the 1800s, and they have assumed responsibility for the remains of Native Americans unearthed from archeological sites in the northeast part of the state. After contacting the Meador family, three members of the Quapaw Tribe visited the site in June. They reached an agreement with the Meadors to allow excavations at the site by Arkansas Archeological Survey personnel, with plans to rebury the recovered human remains on a separate piece of property owned by the Meador family.

Parkin field school students lend a handExcavations lasted from June 18 through July 15, 1999. Under the overall direction of Parkin Research Station Archeologist Dr. Jeffrey M. Mitchem, volunteers, University of Arkansas students, and Arkansas Archeological Survey personnel excavated hundreds of features at the 3-acre site. Included were several house floors, storage pits, fire hearths/cooking pits, and many trash-filled holes. The entire contents of many of the pits were collected, and these will be carefully investigated to find evidence of plants used by the Native American inhabitants. By careful removal of the uppermost soil layer, many human burials were located, and the archeologists were able to excavate all of them. The Meador site was a small village on a low ridge next to the St. Francis River (which flowed by the site at that time).

Tom GreenOn July 16, Quapaw Tribal Business Committee Chairman Ed Rodgers, Tribal Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act Representative Carrie V. Wilson, and Business Committee members Jesse McKibben and Kim Carrigan traveled to the site, where Mr. McKibben presided over the reburial of the human remains on another part of the Meador property. The private ceremony was attended by many members of the Meador family, representatives of the Arkansas Archeological Survey (Director Thomas J. Green, Parkin Station Archeologist Jeffrey M. Mitchem, and Parkin Research Assistant Timothy S. Mulvihill), and Roger Fisher (representing U.S. Representative Marion Berry). The burial was followed by a cedar smoke ceremony presided over by Jesse McKibben. The group then traveled to Parkin Archeological State Park where James and Jimmy Meador were honored by the Quapaw Tribe for their efforts to see that the human remains were treated with respect and reburied with dignity.

Excavating uncovered featuresThe Meador site project was a great success from all points of view. The Quapaw Tribe was able to see that the remains of their forebears were treated with respect and reburied properly. The Meador family was able to proceed leveling their land without any delay, while at the same time ensuring that both the human remains and the archeological deposits on the property were properly cared for. The archeologists were able to salvage irreplaceable information about a past culture that is little known in this part of Arkansas. All parties are hopeful that this positive project will serve as a model to landowners about how they can work with archeologists and Native Americans to help preserve Arkansas's past.

Dr. Jeff Mitchem
Parkin Archeological State Park

Project Update, May 2000


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