Ten Southeast Arkansas youth recently participated in a 3-day archeology dig at the Taylor House on the Hollywood Plantation in Drew County.
The dig was part of a pilot public education program developed by the Tunican Chapter of the Arkansas Archeological Society in conjunction with the Arkansas Archeological Survey, the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture-4H, and the University of Arkansas at Monticello to teach youth about archeology. The field-to-report youth archeology workshop was held on May 20-23 as part of Arkansas Heritage Month.
The program, which included the workshop and a guidebook, is an innovative and collaborative project that took youth through the process of archeology from fieldwork and lab to analysis and report writing.
The project was supported by a Department of Arkansas Heritage Arkansas Heritage Month grant. This year’s Heritage Month theme was “From the Delta to the Hills: Different Landscapes, a Common Heritage.”
The Taylor House, which is located on the Hollywood Plantation, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is currently being restored by the University of Arkansas at Monticello. The site provided a case study for teaching youth about archeology and landscape change, because the location, topography, and unique landscape encouraged the development of rich and varied cultures.
Hollywood Plantation was a considerably large plantation, built by Dr. John Taylor with the aid of enslaved laborers clearing the floodplains of Bayou Bartholomew to grow cotton and feed crops in the 1840s. Beginning over 10,000 years ago, numerous American Indian groups left evidence of their lives through stone tools, pottery and earthen mounds. With early exploration, frontier settlement and the establishment of small farms and plantations, there is a rich history of American Indian, European, and African lives at the site.
Archeology, the study of people through their material culture, is a hands-on endeavor that provides lessons in math, science, and history. It is an exciting adventure that promotes social interaction alongside scientific investigation. The workshop was a whirlwind tour of archeology in which participants learned to ask research questions about landscape change from prehistory to the present, looked at historic maps and aerial photographs, and learned to set up excavation units. They also learned about sampling strategies and how to excavate, map, and describe soil. On day three, they not only washed, sorted, and analyzed artifacts, they interpreted their findings and drafted text for a project report. The report will be published in an upcoming issue of the Arkansas Archeological Society’s newsletter, Field Notes. The results from the fieldwork will be used to revise the guidebook that will be published and distributed around the state.
Personnel were key to the success of this project. Arkansas Archeological Survey Station Archeologist, Dr. Jodi Barnes, Survey Research Assistants, Katy Gregory and Robert Scott, Tunican Chapter member, Dr. Don Bragg, and Desha County Extension Agent, Hope Bragg wrote the guidebook with contributions from Arkansas Archeological Survey staff, Dr. Jamie Brandon, Dr. Carol Colannino-Meeks, and Dr. Carl Carlson-Drexler. Arkansas Archeological Survey staff and Chapter volunteers taught the workshop, with the help of five undergraduate and graduate students from Arkansas and Mississippi. Jessica Howe (University of Arkansas Fayetteville), Sarah Hunt (University of Arkansas Fayetteville), Laura Whitehead (Pulaski Technical College), Timothy Harris (University of Mississippi), and Staci Gregory (University of Arkansas at Monticello) assisted in the process to insure quality education and that all participants received hands-on assistance and attention.
The Tunican Chapter is one of seven chapters of the Arkansas Archeological Society. The Society was formed in 1960 for the purpose of uniting all persons interested in the archeology of Arkansas. The goals of the Society are to recognize and preserve Arkansas cultural heritage and to foster and encourage the public’s interest in the preservation of the past. The Tunican Chapter solicits members from Ashley, Bradley, Chicot, Cleveland, Desha, Drew and Lincoln counties. The group works closely with the University of Arkansas at Monticello Research Station of the Arkansas Archeological Survey, a unit of the University of Arkansas system. Together the two organizations encourage the scientific investigation and interpretation of southeast Arkansas’s history and prehistory.
By teaching youth about the significance of Arkansas’ archeological sites, these resources have the potential to be better protected in the future, as they will be cared for by educated students and future leaders. As one participant wrote, “there is a lot more to archeology than just digging a hole”.