Archeology in the Ouachita Mountains

The Ouachita Mountains are still poorly known archeologically. Only a few of the thousands of recorded sites with apparent Caddo components have been carefully studied. Caddo sites are found along major rivers in larger intermontane valleys, as well as in narrow stream valleys, in hollows, and in the rolling uplands. Flat-topped mounds and conical mound groups were built along both major and minor streams, and there are small domestic settlements in all settings. The largest mound site in the northern Ouachitas is in the Fourche La Fave River valley, and others existed along the Poteau, the Petit Jean, the Ouachita, the Caddo, the Saline, and the Little Missouri Rivers. Most sites seem to date to the Middle and Late Caddo periods, but Early Caddo sites exist as well, showing that the Caddo tradition was present by A.D. 1100-1200. There are, however, no historic period Caddo sites known in the Ouachita Mountains, suggesting that this part of the Caddo Homeland was abandoned before A.D. 1700.

The investigated archeological sites in the Ouachita River drainage show that Caddo living in the central and southern Ouachita uplands had architectural traditions, burial customs and religious practices, and material culture traditions that were similar to Caddo settlements elsewhere. These similarities extend to the Arkansas River Valley near Fort Smith and Spiro north of the uplands, and to the Great Bend and Middle Ouachita regions to the south. Buildings were both square and rectangular with interior support posts, like those commonly found along the Arkansas River, and circular like the common dwelling found further south and southwest. Pottery vessel shapes and decorative techniques are generally similar to ceramics found elsewhere in the Caddo Heartland, although some details of vessel shape and design are unique to the uplands. Despite the limited amount of rich, easily tillable farming soils, Caddo living in the Ouachita Mountains were farmers as well as foragers, and they used the same suite of domestic and wild foods that their neighbors in the lowlands favored.

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