The overloaded steamboat Sultana on the Mississippi River the day before exploding and sinking, taking the lives of more than 1,100 Union soldiers. (Library of Congress photograph)
A landlocked state situated in the United States's interior, water covers about 1,000 square miles (or 2%) of Arkansas. State waters include over 600,000 acres of lakes and 9,700 miles of streams and rivers.
What is Arkansas' maritime history?
Throughout history, the state's waterways have served as irrigation for crops and transportation for people. During Spanish colonial times, people moved themselves and their cargo along the rivers on single log pirogues, flat-bottomed bateaux, and keelboats. From about the time of the Louisiana Purchase through the 1930s, steamboats carried settlers and their supplies to Arkansas. These ships also transported crops and goods to market in river cities and towns such as Memphis and New Orleans.
What sites are underwater?
Even though many rivers acted as major thoroughfares, traveling by river could be hazardous. Ships could strike submerged obstructions, suffer boiler explosions, or catch fire. We know the remains of at least 55 of these unfortunate vessels lie in the White River alone.
In 1865, the Union hospital ship Sultana suffered the worst maritime disaster in American history when it exploded and sank in the Mississippi River. More people died on the Sultana than on the Titanic in 1912. In 1982, the remains of the Sultana were discovered in an old filled-in river channel near Memphis on the Arkansas side.
Who takes care of Arkansas's underwater archeological sites?
The state reserves the right to conduct all archeology on underwater sites on state lands. However, the State Archeologist may cooperate or contract with others to excavate a site.
The Director of the Arkansas Archeological Survey and the State Archeologist consult with archeologists working under state and federal permits. In some cases, the Commissioner of State Lands is responsible for the bottomlands of lakes and rivers.
What laws are there about underwater archeology in Arkansas?
Statutes relating to the Archeological Survey are codified in Arkansas Code §§ 13-6-201, et seq., and statutes addressing submerged lands are codified in Arkansas Code §§ 22-5-403, et seq.
These laws declare that Arkansas's archeological heritage is an important economic and environmental asset to be included in the state's comprehensive program of historic preservation.