MALVERN Eight thousand years ago, the ancestors of a Native American people who became known as the Caddo Nation settled along the Ouachita River in what is now Hot Spring County.
“These hunter-gatherers found this area along the river [between modern-day Malvern and Hot Springs] a good place to live, with ready resources for food and for stone tool making,” said Mary Beth Trubitt, Ph.D., archeologist for the Arkansas Archeological Survey’s Henderson State University Research Station in Arkadelphia.
The site was occupied almost continuously until as least A.D. 1450, and Trubitt said research has found that during that time, the inhabitants began to plant crops for food.
“This area of Arkansas is one of six to eight places in the world where agriculture was invented, independently of each other,” she said.
This information is the basis of a series of lectures being presented this month in Malvern, Hot Springs and Benton by Trubitt, who teaches anthropology at Henderson State. The first lecture was Monday night at the monthly meeting of the Hot Springs County Historical Society at the First United Methodist Church in Malvern.
“We usually talk about historical events from the last 200 years, like the Civil War, the Great Depression or World War II,” said Kinney Black, program chairman of the historical society. “This time we are looking much further back to pre-history. It is part of our heritage that we want to preserve.”
Titled “Uncovering Indian History at the Jones Mill Site,” Trubitt’s talk focused on what people were eating and how that changed during the long history of occupation at the location.
“The original excavation was in 2007 and 2008, and we have been working away in the laboratory ever since,” Trubitt said.
Research on the ancient hunting, farming and fishing activities were supported by a grant from the Arkansas Humanities Council and the Department of Arkansas Heritage.
“This grant made it possible to find out so much more,” the HSU professor said. “Instead of ‘guesstimating,’ we now have solid data.”
Trubitt said the researchers found evidence that the later settlements at the Jones Mill location grew corn, but she said it is a crop developed in Mexico that made its way north into Arkansas through trade.
“The Indians were planting crops more than 3,000 years before that,” she said.
Those early crops provided oils and starches to the diet of the inhabitants, but many of the plants were not those grown as food today in Arkansas.
Trubitt said the researchers found seeds of May grass, little barley and a plant now called knotweed.
“There were also things that are thought of as food crops nowadays,” she said. “That includes squash, but they used the seeds for oil.”
The Native Americans of the settlements also continued to fish and hunt. Trubitt said bones of deer and fish were found along with plant remains at the site.
Trubitt’s second lecture, “Ancient Foodways in Hot Spring County,” will be presented at the Ouachita Chapter of the Arkansas Archeological Society on Tuesday at the Arkansas School for Mathematics, Sciences and the Arts in Hot Springs.
Trubitt said the diet of the ancient residents is an important path to learning more about the lives of the people who settled the region thousands of years ago.
“With the foods, you get a much better picture of the people than just with studying stone tools,” she said.
However, stone tools did play a major role in the development of the settlement and was a reason for its location in Arkansas.
“One thrust of the research is the mining of novaculite in the Hot Springs area that was then sent downriver,” Trubitt said. “Tools and stone from the Magnet Cove area have also been found in Louisiana and Mississippi, dating from as early as 6000 B.C.”
Steve Perdue, head of the genealogy and local history department of the Saline County Library, said novaculite is a hard stone that can be chipped into sharp points and edges and is good for tool making.
The evidence of extensive trade of goods, such as corn from Mexico and novaculite tools from Arkansas, shows something about the mixing of ancient societies in America, Trubitt said.
“The findings show that these people didn’t stay in their own little bundle, but they were tied together with trade,” she said. “When the French and Spanish found they were able to trade with the Indians, they were not establishing anything new, but were joining with a trade network that was already set.”
Perdue has arranged for Trubitt’s third lecture to be held at the Herzfeld Memorial Library in Benton, as part of the celebration of 175 years of Saline County history. Titled “The Caddo Indians on the Saline River,” the lecture will discuss the transportation of novaculite from the Ouachita Mountains using the river, Trubitt said.
“People and resources moved along the Saline River, from the mountains to the Gulf Coast and the Delta,” Trubitt said.
The Saline County lecture will include some of the discoveries from excavations at Hughes Mound near Benton.
“They were mound building, and there was a village there,” Trubitt said. “It dates from the late 1400s to 1500. The Saline may have been the boundary river of the eastern end of the Caddo area.”
The program will also include information on the Saline Canoe, a very old dugout craft found by Charles Green while fishing in the river in 1999. The canoe was recovered with the help of Benton Mayor Rick Holland in 2001, Perdue said.
Trubitt said the canoe has been dated to around 1200 A.D., making the Caddo-built boat around 900 years old.
Perdue said the story of history is important for residents.
“It helps us understand where we come from,” he said. “My family came here in 1839, but newer residents don’t know about the history we have here. It is important to know what came before.”
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