Caddo bone effigy pin found during excavations at the Battle Mound site in 1948.

Dr. Duncan P. McKinnon, Associate Professor, University of Central Arkansas
Director, Jamie C. Brandon Center for Archaeological Research
Artifact of the Month - November 2021

The November artifact of the month is a bird bone effigy pin (UA Museum, 48-1-160) found during mound excavations at the Battle Mound site in 1948 (McKinnon 2017:47-50). The Battle Mound (3LA1) site is a Middle and Late Caddo (ca. AD 1200-1680) mound site located along the Red River in Lafayette County, Arkansas, in a region known as the Great Bend. A single remaining multi-platform mound dominates the landscape and represents the largest extant mound in the Caddo area and one of the largest in the southeastern United States. The site and the surrounding region are significant to the Caddo people and represent a tangible piece of the landscape that serves to connect them with their ancestral heritage.
Throughout the summer of 1948, Lynn Howard, under the direction of Dr. Alex Krieger (University of Texas), began mound top excavations at several locations. Howard’s goals were to create a contour map and open several trenches to identify the submound surface and define a partial mound construction sequence (Howard 1948). A total of six trenches of varying size and depth were opened.
Found at the base of Trench 2 was a heavily compacted, six-inch, dark brown-black ash and soil layer interpreted as an occupational area. Within the ash layer was a mixture of ceramic sherds, lithic debris, burned and unburned animal bone fragments, and bits of daub. A recent analysis identifies the sherds as late Haley phase (ca. AD 1200-1400) to early Belcher phase (ca. AD 1400-1600) Pease Brushed-Incised and Haley Complicated-Incised ceramic types (McKinnon 2017; see also McKinnon et al. 2021).
Also found within the ash and soil layer was this unique bone effigy pin. The pin is 11.8 cm long and weighs 4.6 grams. It has a very smooth surface, suggesting it was a personal item that was used regularly. The pin tapers to a sharp point on one end with a stylized “top” in the form of an open bird beak. One side is broken and missing, but it likely was symmetrical in design with an opposing open beak. The artifact is interpreted as a personalized avian effigy pin – perhaps a hair pin - that was carefully carved from a bird bone and imbued with meaning and significance.
Throughout the Southeast, avian symbolism is well-represented in the form of material culture, stories, song, and dance (Dorsey 1905; Krech 2009). Examples of avian symbolism and iconography have been documented at numerous archaeological sites throughout the Caddo region. Several avian (turkey or crane) bone flageolets (flutes) have been found at Late Caddo sites in East Texas (Jelks 1965; Perttula 2016). Some were decorated with engraved triangle-hatching along the body of the flute. Avian symbolism is also present on a variety of Caddo ceramic vessels, such as representational imagery of birds’ heads organized in a repeating swirl design (Turner 1978: Figure 30) and abstract designs that have been interpreted as stylistic birds with connections to Upper World themes (Gadus 2013).
These examples demonstrate that “birds and their symbolic representations...were an important part of Caddo ritual and ceremony” (Gadus 2013:230), that were applied in a variety of material and symbolic forms. The multitude and variation of examples throughout the Caddo area highlight “the presence of broader traditional cultural narratives associated with a complex idea that is manifest regionally in distinct stylistic forms that are linked to Caddo beliefs” (McKinnon 2015:128-129).
And today, the Caddo regularly sing, drum, and dance the traditional Nuhkaoashun - the Turkey Dance - in which “Caddo women dance to the songs in a way that suggests the movements of a flock of turkeys” (Carter 1995:31). The Turkey Dance is a “celebration of the survival of the Caddo people” (Carter 1995:35) and serves as an important tradition that actively links the Caddo ancestors of the past with the Caddo in the present.

Carter, Cecile E.
1995 Caddo Turkey Dance. In Remaining Ourselves: Music and Tribal Memory: Traditional Music in Contemporary Communities, edited by Lee Dayna Bowker, pp. 31-36. State Arts Council of Oklahoma.
Dorsey, George A.
1905 Traditions of the Caddo. Publication No. 41. Carnegie Institution of Washington, Washington, D.C. Reprinted 1997 by University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln.
Gadus, Eloise Frances
2013 Twisted Serpents and Fierce Birds: Structural Variation in Caddo Engraved Ceramic Bottle Motifs. Bulletin of the Texas Archeological Society 84:213-245.
Howard, Lynn H.
1948 Battle Mound Daily Log Notes. Notes on file, Arkansas Archeological Survey, Fayetteville, Arkansas.
Jelks, Edward B.
1965 The Archeology of McGee Bend Reservoir, Texas. Ph.D. dissertation, Department of Anthropology, The University of Texas at Austin.
Krech, S. III
2009 Spirits of the Air: Birds and American Indians in the South. University of Georgia Press, Athens.
McKinnon, Duncan P.
2017  The Battle Mound Landscape: Exploring Space, Place, and History of a Red River Caddo Community in Southwest Arkansas. Research Series No. 68, Arkansas Archeological Survey, Fayetteville.
2015  Zoomorphic Effigy Pendants: An Examination of Style, Medium, and Distribution in the Caddo Area. Southeastern Archaeology 34(2):116-135.
McKinnon, Duncan P., Jeffrey S. Girard, and Timothy K. Perttula (editors)
2021  Ancestral Caddo Ceramic Traditions. Louisiana State University Press.
Perttula, Timothy
2016 Bird Bone Flageolet from the Walter Bell Site (41SB50) at Lake Sam Rayburn, Sabine County, Texas. Journal of Northeast Texas Archaeology 62:31-35.
Turner, Robert L.
1978  The Tuck Carpenter Site and Its Relations to Other Sites with the Titus Focus. Bulletin of the Texas Archeological Society 49:1-110.


Artifact of the Month Series

A first principle of archeology is that the significance of artifacts depends upon documented information about the context of their discovery. At what site was the artifact found? Can we figure out the age of the artifact? Where was it found in relation to site features (houses, trash deposits, activity areas, etc.) and the distribution of other artifacts? Only with knowledge of those facts can we assess further information about the manufacture and use of artifacts, and their role in other spheres of activity such as social organization, trade and exchange, and religious practice.
In this series, we feature select artifacts that are extraordinary both for the context of their discovery and for their unique qualities that contribute exceptionally important information about Arkansas culture and history. New artifacts will be added monthly. Find the list of artifacts here.