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— Although several of our state parks focus on historical figures and events, there are three that specifically preserve archeological collections and sites that commemorate those who inhabited this land many, many centuries before us.

One of these is Hampson Archeological Museum, located in Wilson, a small town in northeast Arkansas.

The museum displays an extensive collection of artifacts gathered from a nearby ceremonial complex and village called the Nodena Site, believed to have been inhibited from 1400 to 1650 A.D. Dr. James Hampson and his family discovered the artifacts during excavations on his family's plantation near the Mississippi River. It is considered to be one of the premier collections of late Mississippian era artifacts in the nation.

Dr. Hampson, along his wife and children began excavations in 1927. They painstakingly documented their excavations and discoveries, which included houses, family cemeteries, a game-playing field, and many artifacts providing a great amount of information about the lifestyles of those who lived there.

The Hampson family's impressive record keeping ledto national recognition and further excavations. Upon Dr.

Hampson's death in 1956, the artifacts were donated to the state.

Parkin Archeological State Park is also in eastern Arkansas. This park is located on the actual site where a Mississippi Period American Indian village existed from 1000 to 1550 A.D. Based on expedition accounts, it is believed that Parkin was visited by the party of Hernando de Soto in 1541.

One large flat-top mound remains on this 17-acre site on the St. Francis River. Although now empty of water, the moat channel around the village can still be seen.

The park offers a visitor center, which includes interesting exhibits that shed light on the lives of the ancient tribe. Visitors can also take a self-guided walking tour of the grounds. The park is considered a research site, so at times visitors have the unique opportunity to watch how excavations are conducted and how the findings are analyzed to learn even more about these people.

The third archeological state park is Toltec Mounds, located a little closer to home in the town of Scott, near Little Rock. This site consists of several mound locations built by ancestors of North American Indians (not affiliated with the Toltec tribes of Mexico as the name indicates). The site includes the tallest mound in the state, at 49-feet high.

The people who inhabited this site have been given the name Plum Bayou Culture. It is believed that Plum Bayou served as a religious and social center for people living in the surrounding area. The Toltec site itself was probablyinhabited by political and religious leaders - as few as fifty people - from 600 to 1150 A.D.

The mounds were at one time surrounded by a high, protective dirt wall, but most of that is now gone. Visitors can explore the grounds on self-guided tours, as well as view exhibits or watch a short video in the visitor center to learn more about this ancient site.

Visits to these three state parks leave me impressed that researchers can know so much about people who lived so long ago.

Viewing artifacts and reading what archeologist have to say about these early inhabitants got me thinking back to the little clay pots my siblings and I made when we were kids. We dug clay out of the embankment along the dirt road where we lived and used it to form small bowl-like vessels. Most, if not all, cracked as they sat on a board in the sun to dry, but I wonder if any of the pieces are preserved somewhere in the yard, hidden under layers of leaves and dirt, waiting to be rediscovered again someday. If so, maybe in a few hundred years they will be excavated and studied.

What would researchers conclude about us? Our style, no doubt, would be considered crude and non-artistic. Would researchers understand that our clay pots had no function other than to give a family of country kids a creative outlet? Would they mistakenly assume that our tribe was nomadic since our pottery making only lasted a short time?

Would they discover how hard Mom worked to get the red mud stains out of our clothing after a day spent playing in the clay? That might be a big clue as to why our days of making pottery were cut so short.

Opinion, Pages 5 on 09/16/2009

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