On April 30, 2016, we had the honor of helping out our National Park Service colleagues with a hike and archeological tour of Indian Rockhouse Cave on Panther Creek in the Buffalo National River. We were asked to help after the park received a flood of interest in the event via advertising on social media. There was some concern that the numbers would overwhelm the staff. It was a great opportunity to talk about the archeology of bluff shelters in a spectacular setting. Dr. Jamie Brandon talked about the chronology of bluff shelter occupation and showed off some replicas of the kind of technology used by the native Americans who used these shelters in prehistory. Despite the damp weather the hike was a success and we look forward to giving more presentations in the Buffalo National River in the future.
The Arkansas Ozark bluff shelter project was represented at the 75th annual conference of the Arkansas Historical Association in Little Rock. Dr. Jamie Brandon and Lydia Rees co-presented their paper which explored the construction of the “Bluff-dweller Culture” in the 1920s-30s and how, because of intellectual traditional and historical trajectories, this has led to misconceptions of the nature of Ozark prehistory throughout the twentieth century.
When early archeologists, like M. R. Harrington and Samuel Dellinger, deployed the “Bluff-dweller Culture” concept, they were collapsing 9,000 years of history into one cultural entity. The modern timeline of southeastern prehistory had yet to be written when they were working in the 1920s and 1930s so this error is understandable. The problem is that it has taken decades to shed the perceptions set up by this older model. It has led to the idea of a backwards and isolated Ozark prehistory that is not supported by current research. The paper presented at the conference, and which has been submitted for publication aims to counter this older narrative with newer information.
On March 18 & 19 we visited Marshall, Arkansas. Dr. Brandon gave an evening talk at the Searcy County Historical Society about bluff shelter archeology on Friday night, and the talk was well received with a great turnout. The following day, Brandon and Rees visited several sites in the area—including Snowball or Slay Cave.
Many archeologists who work in the mid-content are familiar with the distinctive Calf Creek point, a Early and/or Middle Archaic stone projectile point with deep, narrow basal notches. Those points, and presumably the Archaic culture that produced them were originally defined by Don Dickson in 1968 based on his excavations at “Calf Creek Cave.”
“Calf Creek Cave” is only one of the many names given to what locals call “Snowball Cave”—named after the nearby community of Snowball, Arkansas—or “Slay Cave” named after an early landowner.
In the 1940s there are reports of a “7-foot-tall Indian Woman” being excavated from the cave, but you can check out our discussion of myths and misconceptions about Ozark bluff shelters to see why this is not the case.
Unfortunately for contemporary researchers, this cave—although spectacular—has been extensively disturbed by looting. Even by 1968, our site records say “forget about Snowball Cave.” It is very doubtful that intact deposits remain. This is one more example of important archeological data destroyed by looting.