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story.lead_photo.caption An exhibit in Hampson Archeological Museum State Park’s new building shows a father and son playing an American Indian game known as “chunkey.”

WILSON -- A father is teaching his son a game played with spears and a disc-shaped stone. The game is called "chunkey."

The two American Indian figures form a family tableau from a community that lived along the Mississippi River half a millennium ago. The prehistoric scene is one of many captivating displays in Hampson Archeological Museum State Park's sleek new building.

Opened in late October, the 8,580-square-foot facility on Wilson's main square is five times larger than its demolished predecessor. The earlier layout mainly exhibited pottery and other artifacts in glass cases. Unearthing of these objects from the Late Mississippian Period was begun in the 1920s by Dr. James K. Hampson, an amateur archaeologist.

Now visitors can engage in a mix of hands-on activities that breathe life into the people who occupied the nearby Nodena Site from around A.D. 1400 to 1600. They left no written records, but excavations over the years by the University of Arkansas, Alabama Museum of Natural History and Arkansas Archeological Survey have fleshed out aspects of their culture.

A posting at Hampson's "chunkey" scene explains the game: "After one male competitor rolled a stone disk, he and his opponent threw spear-like sticks to where they thought it would stop. The closer stick earned points." The game "likely honed skills needed for hunting and warfare." It "drew spirited betting. Intricately worked playing stones were cherished."

One new interactive display, "Your Personal Pottery," shows the silhouette of a villager's face on a magnetic board along with an assortment of attachable designs. Visitors are invited to create their own facial patterns by fastening variously shaped pieces inspired by pottery from the Nodena Site.

Another hands-on exhibit, "Build-a-Being," explains that the village's residents envisioned a three-level universe with distinctive inhabitants. The Above World was for birds. People and land animals lived in the Middle World. Inhabiting the Below World were reptiles and river animals.

Fantasy creatures in this cosmos had elements from two or three levels, such as a winged serpent. Visitors are asked to "turn the blocks to create a creature that captures your imagination. Why did you select these elements? How would you expect your creature to behave?"

Some of the exquisite Nodena Red and White pottery from the previous building is now on show at the rear of the new museum. Although no longer front and center, the best of the pieces do deserve scrutiny. That is certainly true of one magnificent effigy-head vessel from the mid-16th century. Rather than the typical abstract image, it portrays an actual person, perhaps a figure of high local status.

As for the disappearance of the Nodena Site people in the 17th century, a posting speculates that "eventually, droughts hampered agriculture. And, like many other Mississippian communities, these people would suffer, directly or indirectly from encounters with Hernando de Soto's [1541-1542] Spanish expedition. The people who lived here soon vanished." European diseases may have done them in.

The new Hampson museum is another step in the revival of Wilson, which was founded in 1886 as a model company town with a main square largely rebuilt in the 1920s in English Tudor style. After the Lawrence Group bought the site in 2010 from Lee Wilson & Co., the ongoing rebirth began.

With a listed population of 903, Wilson can lay claim to having the best restaurant of any Arkansas community with fewer than 1,000 people. A recent dinner at Wilson Cafe included flavorful shrimp and grits, a tender 14-ounce rib-eye steak that looked even larger, and a bottle of sibilant Riesling from Germany's Mosel vineyards. Frugal feeders should be aware that it also may be the state's priciest small-town eatery. The tab for two totaled $89 with tax.

Hampson Archeological Museum State Park, 2 Lake Drive on Wilson's town square off U.S. 61, is open 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, 1-5 p.m. Sunday. Admission is free. Visit or call (870) 655-8622.

Wilson Cafe, 2 N. Jefferson St., Wilson, is open 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Monday-Saturday, 5-8:30 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday. Visit or call (870) 655-0222.

Weekend on 01/10/2019

Print Headline: Wilson rebirth includes new archaeological museum


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