• Rifle Regiment arriving at Belle Point, 1817. Artwork by Michael Haynes

    Fort Smith

    National Historic Site AR,OK

Archaic Period

 

Archaic Period 8000-500 BC

The Archaic Period refers to the time between 8000 and 500 BC in the Native American history of Arkansas. As was the case in other regions in North America, Arkansas' Archaic Period was a long span of cultural development and innovation that transformed small-scale Paleoindian groups into the larger and more complex societies seen during the Woodland and Mississippian periods. Within the Archaic Period, archaeologists have identified more specific regional cultures, such as the Dalton, San Patrice, Tom's Brook, Big Creek, and Poverty Point cultures. These do not correspond directly to the tribes that lived in Arkansas during the Archaic period, but do show that Native American societies were adapting to different environments and to each other across Arkansas in new and distinct ways.

During the thousands of years after the last Ice Age, human populations increased and settled into a range of environments across Arkansas. For the most part, Indians in the Archaic Period lived in hunter-gatherer communities that hunted, fished, and collected wild animal and plant resources for food. But it is too simplistic to view these people as roving bands of hunters or as primitive cave dwellers foraging a meager subsistence from the wilderness. It was during the Archaic Period that people first domesticated plants that later became the staple grain crops of farmers. In some areas, communites became stable and sedentary, and ritual or sacred locations were marked with mounds and earthworks. Instead of moving across the landscape to use natural resources directly, some groups traded raw materials and craft objects across wide areas.

Mound Building

Construction of mounds and earthworks, once seen as a Woodland Period deveolopment, is now known to have taken place first in the Archaic Period. Unlike later in history, Archaic mounds were not used mainly for burial or as platforms for buildings, but instead marked important sacred places and designated public community space. One of the most famous mound sites in the area lies near Spiro, Oklahoma (which is a mere 22 miles from the Fort Smith National Historic Site). However, it has been proven that these mounds were actually constructed in the Mississippian period. One of the most famous mound sites in the region is Poverty Point in northeast Louisiana, and is known for its concentric semicircular earthworks, embankment, and mounds that date to several centuries around 1300 BC. Arkansas' candidate for the oldest mount site, Lake Enterprise, is conteporaneous with Poverty Point, according to current research.

 

Did You Know?

Interior of jail cell with box for prisoners to visit with their lawyers

The conditions at the federal jail at Fort Smith were so horrible that it received the nickname "Hell on the Border." Up to 50 men were crowded into one large cell with limited ventilation and poor sanitary conditions.