Archaeologists hope to learn more about American Indians in Ark. 6-4-07

HOT SPRINGS, Ark. (AP) - An archaeological group is digging into the past to find out whether American Indians traveled to the Ouachita Mountains to get novaculite, or traded with their contemporaries living in the area for tools made from the rock.

A team will begin excavation on a tool-making workshop site Monday at a site on the Ouachita River in Jones Mill to learn more about the people who lived and worked there 6,000 years ago.

“What I want to find out is whether the people that were there were local or visitors,” said Mary Beth Trubitt, director of 2007 excavations with the Arkansas Archaeological Society. “Did people ... from what is now Mississippi and Louisiana ... come up here directly to get their rocks for their tools, or did people living here make them and trade them?”

Trubitt spoke Wednesday at the Hot Springs National Park Rotary Club's weekly meeting.

She said the archaeologists will use the excavation to learn more about how American Indians made chipped stone tools, and whether they were traded or not, during the Archaic Period, particularly between 4000 and 1000 B.C.

Archaeologists have found tools made from Ouachita Mountain novaculite at excavation sites in the area and as far away as Mississippi and Louisiana, she said.

“This means that these people there, and here, are connected in ways that we usually don't think of,” she said.

American Indian tool making took place at different sites, she said giving examples of mine sites, quarry sites, village sites and workshop sites.

“From quarries we can learn how the rock was mined, when it was used (and) what part of the tool-making sequence took place at the quarries and what part took place elsewhere,” she said.

Trubitt said she hypothesized that part of the tool-making process took place at the quarry, because novaculite is typically found on top of ridges and it would have been difficult to bring large stones down to the valleys.

She said archaeologists can look and learn about novaculite tool making at the quarries, but they also need to look at other kinds sites to understand the full range of activities involved, like how it was transported.

“Tool making is reductive ... (and) because of this, the manufacturing waste is present,” she said, adding that archeologists look for novaculite waste to pinpoint sites, especially village and workshop sites.

She said the Jones Mill site looks like a workshop site, as well as a place where people lived. There are other places around Hot Springs similar to the Jones Mill site, she said.

Trubitt said some of the answers they hope to unearth are: “Who is responsible for these places? Who was sitting there making tools? Is it folks that were local to the area, who are making tools and trading them down the Ouachita River, or is it folks from further away ... who are coming up here and going directly to the quarries, getting raw material and working the materials into tools?”

An archaeologist working in the Hot Springs area about 100 years ago saw the Jones Mill site as a workshop site and suggested that American Indians from down the Ouachita River were coming to the quarries in Hot Springs and making tools at the Jones Mill site, she said.

Alternatively, Trubitt said she is looking at whether the people at the site were local, making more tools than they needed themselves and trading the excess down-river.

The excavation will last through June 24 and will also serve to train Archaeological Society volunteers.