In the summers of 2007 and 2008, a team of professional archeologists, amateurs, and students excavated at the Jones Mill site in Hot Spring County, Arkansas. This location, on a terrace overlooking the Ouachita River, downstream from modern-day Hot Springs, has been a good place to live for at least 8000 years. The significance of this site — and its research potential — led to its listing on the National Register of Historic Places in 1988.
This project sheds light on several aspects of Arkansas archeology and American Indian history in this region. Novaculite quarried from the Ouachita Mountains was used as a raw material for chipped stone tools by Indians living at Jones Mill. Novaculite and other resources may have been traded beyond this area during the Archaic period.
Based on the styles of artifacts found, and radiocarbon dating of excavated organic samples, ancestors of the Caddo Indians lived and worked here between 6000 B .C. and A.D. 1450. From these excavations we are learning how the ways of life changed through time — from the Archaic period through the Mississippian.
By detailed analyses of fragments of plants and animals from ancient food refuse excavated at the Jones Mill site, we can reconstruct ancient foodways. How did the Indians who lived here find food from their environment? Click here for results of the “Ancient Foodways” project.
An archeological project like this takes many people working together. The excavations at this site in 2007 and 2008 were part of training programs coordinated by the Arkansas Archeological Society and the Arkansas Archeological Survey. Through the annual Society/Survey Training Programs, people interested in archeology can become involved with professionals in archeological research.
The Jones Mill site is on the Ouachita River near the fall line between the Ouachita Mountains and Coastal Plain physiographic provinces in southwest Arkansas. People living here would be well-situated to use resources from the Ouachita Mountains — such as novaculite — and may have exchanged some to neighbors living in stone-poor areas further south. Artifacts of novaculite, magnetite and hematite, igneous rock, quartz crystal, and slate have been found on Archaic period sites in Mississippi and Louisiana. Did people come to Jones Mill to get their own raw materials, or did local residents make extra to trade? This is a key question investigated with this research project.
Our research focuses on the use of novaculite by Indians living at Jones Mill. Novaculite was made into tools — dart points, knives, scrapers, drill bits — by Indians in this region. But it was also transported to sites in what are now Louisiana and Mississippi, as early as 6000 B.C., during what archeologists term the Middle Archaic period. We are interested in learning whether Indians living at the site were making stone tools out of novaculite for trade down the Ouachita River.
A 2011 poster presentation at the Southeastern Archaeological Conference by Mary Beth Trubitt and Vanessa Hanvey explored the novaculite reduction sequence at Jones Mill. In this poster, we used analyses of three datasets (debitage, biface fragments, and projectile points) from the Jones Mill site to reconstruct the novaculite reduction sequence. We looked at what stages of biface reduction were done at the site, when in the sequence the novaculite was heat treated, and whether there were changes between the Tom’s Brook and Crystal Mountain components (ca. 6000 - 4300 B.C.). Using a combination of mass analysis and attribute analysis of individual flakes, we compared sites where different stages of reduction took place. Larger/heavier pieces of debitage as well as higher proportions of shatter and cortex characterize quarry sites and workshops located next to quarries, as compared to habitation sites on the Ouachita River such as Jones Mill (3HS28). Here, residents brought novaculite in as stage 2 cores and bifaces, but most of the pieces discarded at the site were broken stage 3 bifaces. An analysis of fracture patterns indicates that material flaws and heat-related breaks were common on stage 2 cores and bifaces. Apparently stage 2 bifaces were heat treated, and in the subsequent flaking some were broken either along cracks and flaws or because of overheating. There is a slight increase in differential luster on flakes and bifaces in upper levels of Stratum III, suggesting heat treatment was more common later in the Middle Archaic sequence, a pattern for further investigation.
In a poster presented at the annual meeting of the Arkansas Archeological Society in 2018, Mary Beth Trubitt illustrated all 336 projectile points excavated during the 2007-2008 project at Jones Mill. Analysis shows that over 90% of the points were made from novaculite, with other cherts in the minority. The tools show a range of styles from Early Archaic period Dalton and San Patrice points to Mississippian period arrow points. Upper deposits across the site had a mixture of arrow and dart points in Mississippian, Woodland, and Archaic styles, while only Archaic period types were found in lower deposits. Middle Archaic types (Johnson and White River Side Notched or Big Sandy) made up the majority of the points in Stratum III in the West Trenches. These two types were not neatly separated into different strata at the site but both occurred throughout Stratum III. Many of the points were broken from use, reinforcing the interpretation that the residents were replacing and refurbishing their tools at the site.
In 2007 and 2008 we hand-excavated five trenches, uncovering an area of about 775 square feet (72 square meters). Detailed records were made on the contexts of the finds. Excavations in Trenches 2, 3, and 4 uncovered “stratified” or layered deposits of soil and artifacts to a depth of about 5’ (1.5 meters). Below the more recent strata deposited during the Mississippian and Woodland periods we found a thick layer with Middle Archaic styles of dart points and notched pebble net weights.
Several scatters of fire-cracked rock left behind from cooking areas were found in the Middle Archaic period Stratum III. In addition to rock from earth ovens or hearths, and artifacts like novaculite tools and chipping debris, these features had fragments of burned hickory nut shell. With grant funding from the Arkansas Archeological Society’s Archeological Research Fund, two of these features have been dated to 6000 B.C. and to 4300 B.C.
Soil stains uncovered in Trench 5 show where wooden posts once stood — part of a small house or storage building left by the Caddo Indians. Hickory nut shell fragments from one of the post features were dated to A.D. 1450. Maize (corn) was found in this feature as well. Fragments of pottery show us the styles and technologies that Caddo potters were using at this time to make their ceramics.
One critical part of this research is to figure out whether people established year-round base camps at Jones Mill during the Archaic period or, alternatively, lived at several locations in a seasonal rotation. We can learn about food-getting activities and season of site use from the tools and constructions left at a site, and from the plants and animals collected for food. With a grant from the Arkansas Humanities Council, we have been able to get specialized analyses of plant and animals remains from the 2008 Jones Mill excavations to help reconstruct ancient foodways. Archeobotanist Kathryn Parker and zooarcheologist Dr. Lucretia Kelly were able to contrast Archaic and Caddo foodways by examining the Middle Archaic “Stratum III” excavated in Trenches 3-4, and the Mississippian building and associated trash deposit in Trench 5. Find out more on the “Reconstructing Ancient Foodways” web page.
Thanks to all the students, volunteers, and professional colleagues who worked in the field and lab over the last several years to make this project possible! This project has been supported by grants from the Arkansas Humanities Council and the Department of Arkansas Heritage, and from the Arkansas Archeological Society’s Archeological Research Fund. Thanks to Entergy Arkansas, Inc., to Henderson State University, and to the Arkansas Archeological Survey, a unit of the University of Arkansas System. Little Rock graphic artist Sherrie Shepherd designed our “Archaic Arkansas” project logo.
To read more on this project…
Etchieson, Meeks and Mary Beth Trubitt (2013) “Taking it to the River: Arkansas Novaculite Quarrying and Archaic Period Tool Production.” North American Archaeologist 34(4):387-407.
Trubitt, Mary Beth D., Anne S. Dowd, and Meeks Etchieson (2013) “Multiscalar Analysis of Quarries.” The Quarry (e-newsletter of the Society for American Archaeology’s Prehistoric Quarries & Early Mines Interest Group) 10 (October, 2013):30-43.
Trubitt, Mary Beth, Kathryn Parker, and Lucretia Kelly (2011) “Reconstructing Ancient Foodways at the Jones Mill Site (3HS28), Hot Spring County, Arkansas.” Caddo Archeology Journal 21:43-70.
Trubitt, Mary Beth (2011) “Ancient Indian Foodways: A View from the Jones Mill Archeological Site.” The Record (Journal of the Garland County Historical Society) 52:127-137.
Trubitt, Mary Beth (2011) “Another Archaic Period Date from Jones Mill.” Field Notes (Newsletter of the Arkansas Archeological Society) 358:5-6.
Trubitt, Mary Beth (2009) “Putting an Age on the Archaic at Jones Mill.” Field Notes (Newsletter of the Arkansas Archeological Society) 349: 3-7.
Trubitt, Mary Beth (2009) “Investigating Middle Archaic at the Jones Mill Site.” The Arkansas Archeologist (Journal of the Arkansas Archeological Society) 48:71-84.