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Summer solstice sets on Toltec Mounds event

By JACK SCHNEDLER SPECIAL TO THE DEMOCRAT-GAZETTE

This article was published June 19, 2014 at 2:01 a.m.

Visitors can mark the summer solstice Saturday evening at Toltec Mounds Archeological State Park.

TOLTEC MOUNDS ARCHEOLOGICAL STATE PARK -- There will be an avid audience just before 8:30 p.m. Saturday as the sun sets behind Mound B at the Arkansas state park mistakenly named for an ancient Mexican civilization.

Toltec Mounds Archeological State Park will keep unusual evening hours on Saturday so that visitors can observe the astronomical alignment mapped out by the vanished Plum Bayou Culture.

A millennium ago some 15 miles east of today's Little Rock, these American Indians somehow managed to mark the yearly position of the sun at the start of summer, autumn, winter and spring.

Because the Plum Bayou people left no written records, it remains a mystery just why they wanted to measure the arrival of each season. Also unknown is how they managed to calibrate accurately the passage of the sun.

What is known will be explained Saturday as a park ranger prepares to lead visitors to the grassy spot where a mound designated as "H" once stood. From that location, the sun on the year's longest day can be watched sinking below Mound B -- assuming there's a cloudless sky.

That viewing will be part of a special program starting at 5 p.m. Saturday, for which there's a fee of $4 ($3 for children 6-12, free for those younger).

Outdoor activities will include the making of a pinch pot, arrowhead necklace and other native-style crafts. There will be the chance to try primitive weapons and learn a game played by some American Indians.

Starting at 6 p.m., park staff will present a program about the alignment of the mounds for the summer solstice. Other mound alignments marked the start of spring, autumn and winter. A guided walking tour will end with the sunset view.

Toltec Mounds is operated by the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism in conjunction with the Arkansas Archeological Survey. The site was occupied prehistorically from about A.D. 650 to 1050, and the reason for its abandonment is another mystery.

The Plum Bayou Culture name is taken from a local stream. Mrs. Gilbert Knapp, who owned the land in the second half of the 19th century, erroneously thought the Toltec Indians of Mexico had built the mounds.

Archaeologists believe that some of the 18 mounds had a building such as a temple or chieftain's residence on top. It is estimated that only 50 or so people lived on the site, which may have been a ceremonial center for surrounding villages and farmsteads.

On the way to Saturday's program at Toltec Mounds, it's possible to enjoy another special event in nearby Scott. The Plantation Agriculture Museum will celebrate its 24th anniversary from 2-4 p.m. by serving free Dutch-oven desserts and homemade ice cream.

The museum details the history of cotton growing in Arkansas from the 1830s through World War II, before widespread mechanization replaced labor by humans, horses and mules.

Toltec Mounds Archeological State Park is open 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, 1-5 p.m. Sunday, 8 a.m.-5 p.m. on holiday Mondays. Saturday's hours for the solstice program are 5-8:30 p.m.

Admission to the visitor center and the self-guided walking tour of the site are free; an audio guide is $1. Guided walking tours are $4 ($3 for those 6-12, $10 per family). Guided tours by tram are $5 ($4 for those 6-12, $18 per family). For details, call (501) 961-9422 or visit arkansasstateparks.com.

For information on Plantation Agriculture Museum in Scott, call (501) 961-1409.

Weekend on 06/19/2014

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