Update SE: An Arkansas Site Visit Filled With New Discoveries

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The remaining mound at Richards Bridge.
The remaining mound at Richards Bridge.

It goes without saying that not every visit to a site results in an acquisition, but the visits themselves are always interesting. Not long ago, a good friend and long time Conservancy supporter, Dr. Jeffrey Mitchem, with the Arkansas Archaeological Survey, invited me to visit the Richards Bridge site in northwest Arkansas. Richards Bridge is a Mississippian period site with one of two original mounds remaining. The site also has a recently restored historic dog trot house on it. The owners, two local farmers, had graciously offered to allow the Survey to hold its annual Arkansas Archaeological Training Program there.

This is an event in which professionals and amateurs come together for two weeks in June to conduct excavations on an Arkansas archaeological site. Participants take part in both field work and lab work. Jeff suggested I visit because one of the owners had mentioned his interest in seeing that the site was permanently preserved, and Jeff took that opportunity to tell him about The Conservancy and our work.

The historic dog trot house at Richards Bridge
The historic dog trot house at Richards Bridge.

So I headed over to take a look at the site and meet the owners. When I met Jeff at Richards Bridge, he and other archaeologists with the Survey were preparing for the upcoming dig by doing some preliminary archaeo-geophysics at the site. The Survey has several archaeologists who are experienced with various geophysical remote sensing instruments, and when I arrived, they were well into their third day of work.

They were using ground penetrating radar, resistivity meter and conductivity meters in hopes of pinpointing the location of Mississippian period houses that could be excavated during the Survey dig. Because Jeff is the Station Archaeologist at Parkin Archaeological State Park, which is a large Mississippian mound site, he was looking forward to learning what the houses at this smaller mound site from the same time period. He especially hopes the excavations will reveal a doorway of a house–something he has never located when excavating houses at Parkin. Technology has made it so much easier to located burned Mississippian houses that are not visible from the surface.

Jami Lockhart (left) and Tim Mulvihill (right) with the Arkansas Archaeological Survey using a zig round penetrating radar and conductivity meter.
Jami Lockhart (left) and Tim Mulvihill (right) with the Arkansas Archaeological Survey using a zig round penetrating radar and conductivity meter.

I happened to drive up to the site the same time one of the owners did. I introduced myself and since I live on the same kind of row crop farm right across the Mississippi River, he and I hit it off immediately. We’d both been experiencing the same frustration with spring weather and delayed planting. As with most land owners, he said he definitely wanted to ensure the site’s preservation, but also felt a need to consult with other members of his family. That’s not unusual, and I made sure he had my contact information and several of our magazines.

Then I spent some time in the field with Jeff watching archaeologists, Dr. Jami Lockhart and Tim Mulvihill pace along the grid with the GPR and conductivity meter. Jeff shared some of the preliminary results with me and this technology never ceases to amaze me. The whole field is full of little squares representing houses. Gone are the days of hit and miss units-at least if you have these guys. There’s no doubt that Richards Bridge would be a great Conservancy preserve, if that’s the route the owners choose to go. As always, I learned something from my friends in the field and not far from there I even got to see where my favorite Blues musician and fellow Mississippian, the late BB King named his guitar. Never a dull day with The Conservancy!

Located near the Richards Bridge site in northeast Arkansas is also the place where BB King named his famous guitar!
Located near the Richards Bridge site in northeast Arkansas is also the place where BB King named his famous guitar!

1 COMMENT

  1. Glad to see technology move into the field. I wonder when the satellite survey ( Seismic less the explosions) used by the oil companies. I know the technology exists but no idea the cost. If NASA could count the stitches on a baseball from space in 1965 who knows what is known today but still held “Top Secret”.

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