When I was visiting Arkansas last month, I took an afternoon and drove south to Parkin Archaeological State Park outside of the town of Parkin in Cross County. The park contains a prehistoric Mississippian archaeological site that covers about 20 acres and has an excellent small museum. I spent some money at their bookstore.
The site was occupied from around AD 1350 – 1600, and has one temple mound that you can see in the picture above.
It’s located on the east bank of the St. Francis River, near its confluence with the Tyronza River. The general plan of the site is D-shaped, and it is surrounded by a moat, connected with the river.
Around most of the site, the moat has been worn down by modern farming and earth-moving. This bridge crosses the moat to the museum on the east portion of the site.
At the north end of the site the moat is still largely intact and you can get an idea of its size here. The archaeologists who’ve worked here have found the remains of a palisade on the inside edge of the moat.
One of the interesting things about this site is the fact that it is almost certainly the town of Casqui, that was visited by Hernando de Soto, the Spanish conquistador, in 1541. Its location and appearance fit with the descriptions of the de Soto chroniclers. Also this copper bell and a glass trade bead were found at the site.
There is an additional piece of evidence. When de Soto and his party arrived at Casqui, the area was in the midst of a prolonged drought. The High Miko (or chief) of the town, greeted de Soto and told him that he had heard of the great power of the Spanish and their god. He asked de Soto if he could give the people of Casqui a sign of the Spanish god and perhaps that would help with the drought.
De Soto ordered his Genoese carpenter and shipwright to cut down a cypress tree and use it to build a large cross. This was then erected in front of the High Miko’s house on top of the mound. The Spanish and Indians held a solemn procession to the cross where the Spanish priests celebrated mass. According to the Spanish accounts, a big rainstorm broke that night.
When the top of the mound was excavated by archaeologists in the 1960s, they found a large cypress wood post in place in front of the remains of the structure. Radiocarbon assays on the charred wood date it to the 1540s, making a good case that this is the base of the cross.
Also, if you look closely at the upper right corner of the painting above, you will see animal skulls on the roof of the house. The de Soto chroniclers also said that the High Miko’s house was adorned with bison skulls. There were no bison in the area and the Indians had traded for them with people to their west. The Spanish never saw any bison, though they ventured as far west as East Texas. They were told all about them, however and were fed bison meat and given bison robes that circulated in trade.
The Spanish remarked that the Indians of Casqui and the surrounding region had the finest material culture and best and most sophisticated architecture they had seen on their multi-year trip overland from Florida. Most ceramics in the prehistoric Southeast were brown wares, and this region is one of the few to have polychrome pottery as you can see in this picture from the museum.
Another common style is effigy pots that depict animals and people. The museum had quite a few of these like this frog effigy pot.
Here’s a goose effigy – very appropriate for their location on the Mississippi Flyway. Duck effigy pots (especially Wood Ducks) are also common, but I didn’t see a good one in this collection. Crested woodpeckers (Ivory-billed and Pileated) were also a favorite.
Here is a double-headed turtle effigy.
Also effigies of humans, like these heads. These people took trophy heads in warfare and these might be related to that practice.
Finally, I saw this comedic piece. You will probably want to click on this picture to “embiggen” it. On the left side of the pot is a rabbit and on the right side is a hunter, bow in hand. They are staring across the pot at each other, mouths agape in surprise.