Bluff Shelter News

5th Grade Archeology Curriculum

Because bluff shelters do a remarkable job of preserving plant remains, they are an amazing repository of information about Native American foodways in the past. The authors of Gathering, Gardening, and Agriculture use food, a basic human need, as an entry point to teach students about pre-Columbian Arkansas and the people who lived here. This 5th grade social studies curriculum aligns with the Arkansas Department of Education’s social studies framework and includes materials that fit with common Core State Standards for English language learning. Materials and background for this week-long series of lesson plans are available on the Gathering, Gardening, and Agriculture website. If you are a 5th grade teacher, or know one who might be interested, check this out!

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The Arkansas Archeological Survey has a Facebook page and you should follow it! Get updates on our research, links to archeology related news stories, and opportunities to get involved as a volunteer. While you’re at it you also should look for the Facebook page of your local survey research station. If you’re in Fayetteville that would be the Arkansas Archeological Survey-UAF Research Station. Follow us today!

Rock Art in Arkansas

Rock art often appears in Ozark bluff shelters, but it also occurs in other locations in the state. Want to learn more about rock art in Arkansas? Check out the Arkansas Archeological Survey’s rock art web site. This site includes a searchable database of rock art in the state as well as in depth interpretations of the most fascinating examples. For those looking to learn more, the site includes full length articles that put rock art in context in. It’s is a great resource for teachers and includes lesson plans designed to be used with the photos and information on the site.

AAS Annual Meeting

The Arkansas Archeological Society is holding it’s annual statewide meeting September 27th-29th 2019 in Hot Springs, Arkansas. Come learn more about Arkansas archeology and hear professional and avocational archeologists give papers about their research. There will be a Friday evening reception, and a Saturday evening banquet with a key-note address by Arkansas historian Judge Morris “Buzz” Arnold. The conference takes place at the historic Arlington Hotel and Spa. For more information or to register visit:

We Won an Award

We are excited to announce that the Bluff Shelters of the Arkansas Ozarks website has won an award for Outstanding Achievement in Preservation Education as a part of the 2017 Arkansas Preservation Awards.  Congratulations to our principle author, Lydia Rees, and the whole team that helped put this website together.

Congratulations also go out to our sister website Gathering, Gardening and Agriculture: Plant-based Foodways in the Southeastern United States for receiving an award for “Excellence in Heritage Preservation.”

The 2017 Arkansas Preservation Awards will be held on January 19, 2018 at the Albert Pike Masonic Temple, located at 712 Scott Street in downtown Little Rock.

Bluff Shelter Symposium at SEAC 2017

For the first time ever, the Southeastern Archaeology Conference will be in Tulsa, Oklahoma on November 8-11 at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Downtown Tulsa. Its so close, this might be your opportunity to attend the premier regional archeology meeting for the southeastern United States.  Modern Tulsa is within the boundaries of the Creek, Osage, and Cherokee Nations but is surrounded by many of the Nations of the Southeastern Tribes and we are hoping for a greater attendance from those communities.

The Arkansas Archeological Survey will be well represented at this year’s conference. Two symposia have been organized–one honoring the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Survey and one about bluff shelter research in the Arkansas Ozarks. Not to mention Survey staff giving talks in many other symposia.

We are excited about our bluff shelter symposium entitled “Bluff Shelters: Past Present and Future Research.”  Ozark bluff shelters are an incredible archeological resource providing both deep, stratified deposits and often the preservation of perishable materials.  As we are rapidly heading toward 100 years of archeology in Ozark bluff shelters, it is time to take stock of this class of site and attempt to summarize the history of investigations, discuss current work and to contemplate the directions that future archeological inquiry may take.

The symposium will include large overviews of the archeology (Brandon & Rees) and paleoethnobotany (Fritz and Horton) in bluff shelters as well as looks at future directions in research (Mueller & Kistler) and case studies of current bluff shelter research (Rees, Petigrew & Pebworth, Kay & Hilliard, Andrews, and Rees, Pebworth & Brandon).  Dr. George Sabo, Survey Director and author of Arkansas Rock Art will be our discussant.

We hope to turn this symposium into a addition to the Arkansas Archeological Survey’s Research Series next year.

For more information, check out the SEAC website:

Walker Shelter Hike & Program, October 7th

Join us Oct. 7 starting at 2pm for a hike and program about Ozark bluff shelters along the Back 40 trail system in Bella Vista.

Jamie Brandon and Lydia Rees will lead a hike along the Back 40 trail to Walker Shelter, a site we have recently recorded while conducting salvage excavations on looter disturbances there. Upon arrival at the shelter, they will provide an overview of past and more recent archeological work that complicates the picture of the prehistoric Arkansas Ozarks and offers possible future directions for research that can further refine our understanding of Ozark bluff shelters.

The hike will take place on the Back 40 Loop trail south of Lake Ann, starting at the Buckingham trailhead heading east to the bluffs and back, approximately 2 miles. Expect intermediate terrain. Please wear appropriate shoes and clothing, and bring water and insect repellent. This family friendly hike is also open to friendly dogs on a leash.

Limited parking is available at the trailhead. You may park in the right of way along Buckingham Drive, as long as emergency vehicles can still get through. Please DO NOT park in the right of way along Trafalgar Road.

Arkansas Historical Quarterly Article

Check out the Summer issue of the Arkansas Historical Quarterly published by the Arkansas Historical Association. Lydia Rees and Jamie Brandon have an article in this issue entitled “Beyond the Bluff Dweller: Excavating the History of an Ozark Myth” which seeks to educate our historian colleagues about the historiography of the problematic “bluff dweller” concept founded by the 1920-1930s work of M.R. Harrington and Samuel Dellinger.

Fall 2017 Bluff Shelter Talks

We will busy this fall with more talk about the importance of bluff shelter sites in the Arkansas Ozarks.  If you are in the area, check out one of these talks, or schedule one for your organization by contacting Dr. Jamie Brandon.

09/7/2017: Spring River Gem & Mineral Club in Cherokee Village, AR.

  • Where: Omaha Center in Cherokee Village
  • When: 10am

09/12/2017: Kadohadacho Chapter of the Arkansas Archeological Society, Magnolia AR.

  • Where: Magnolia Room of the Reynolds Center at Southern Arkansas University
  • When: 7pm

09/19/2017: Mind Stretchers Meeting, Van Buren, AR.

  • Where: Ruth Skinner Building on 6th Street across from St. John’s in Van Buren.
  • When: 6pm

10/07/2017: Walker Shelter Hike, Bella Vista, AR.

  • Where: Back 40 trail, Bella Vista, AR
  • When: 9am
  • Dr. Brandon will lead a 2 mile hike along the Back 40 Loop in Bella Vista to the Walker Shelter.  Upon arrival he will give a brief talk about the regional importance of these sites.

11/1/2017: Butler Center “Legacies & Lunch.”

  • Where: CALS Main Library Darragh Center, 100 Rock St., Little Rock
  • When: 12 noon

11/08-11/2017: Southeastern Archeological Conference.

  • At this year’s SEAC in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Dr. Jamie Brandon and Lydia Rees have organized a session on the importance of Ozark bluff shelters entitled “Ozark Bluff Shelters: Past, Present and Future Research.”  This session will include George Sabo, Gayle Fritz, Elizabeth Horton, Marvin Kay, James Rees, Devon Pettigrew, Natlie Muller and Logan Kistler, Brian Andrews, Jared Pebworth, Jamie Brandon and Lydia Rees.  A publication on this symposium (to appear in the Arkansas Archeological Survey’s Research series)  is planned.



Saltpeter Cave

Excavations underway at Saltpeter Cave, 1970.

Check out the new page about Saltpeter Cave in Newton County.  As a part of an Arkansas Natural and Cultural Resources Council grant, we have been busy working on the collections from Saltpeter Cave. The Arkansas Archeological Survey (ARAS) conducted excavations at Saltpeter Cave  in 1969 and 1970—the very early years of the organization.  Ken Cole, the first Research Station Archeologist stationed at Arkansas Tech (then Arkansas Polytechnic College) conducted two seasons of excavation into this shelter that had been previously visited by the University of Arkansas Museum in 1934.  Cole excavated nine test units, the deepest of which contained almost 14 feet (4.11 meters) of archeological deposits representing at least 9,000 years of Arkansas history.  This deep, stratified deposit is all the more important to researchers as it is one of the few Arkansas bluff shelters investigated using modern excavation techniques.  Thus, unlike the materials from the Dellinger excavations of the 1930s, researchers have detailed stratigraphic records, along with approximately 450 diagnostic hafted bifaces, and 42 radiocarbon samples.  Unfortunately, Cole left the Arkansas Archeological Survey shortly following these excavations, leaving this collection curated, but largely untouched for 47 years.

Jared Pebworth working with the stone tool artifacts from Saltpeter Cave (Newton County).

We have worked to preserve and interpret the material and records from the 1969 and 1970 Saltpeter Cave excavations. This site holds great potential for adding to our understanding of prehistory in the Ozarks. This project has made the Saltpeter Cave materials and records more useful for further work and has preserved the data for future researchers in Arkansas archeology.

The first outlined goal was to rehabilitate, reorganize, and inventory the records and artifacts from the 1969 and 1970 excavations at Saltpeter Cave.  The records associated with the excavations have been preserved for future research through a combination of scanning and transcription.  Goal two of the project was to photograph and analyze a select portion of the collection in order to interpret the site and its importance to the general public of Arkansas and beyond.  The deepest excavation unit, Unit E, was selected as the best candidate for analysis and interpretation for this project.  The diagnostic stone tools from this test unit have been identified and typed.  This information has been entered into a database to aide further analysis, and these tools have been photographed by excavation level.  This work has allowed us to identify carbon samples associated with the diagnostic tools.  Samples with the best association and most research value have been selected to submit for radiocarbon dating using funds from the Arkansas Archeological Society‘s Archeological Research Fund (ARF) and other sources.

Lydia Rees and Jared Pebworth documenting the stone tools recovered from Saltpeter Cave.

In addition to the stone tool analysis, all ceramic artifacts from the site have been analyzed. A list of attributes including temper, decoration, and vessel form were recorded for each piece of pottery in the collection.  Photographs of a selection of sherds were taken and will be available in addition to the database containing the ceramic data.   This ceramic analysis became the pilot project for a region-wide examination of prehistoric ceramics that will be the subject of Lydia’s Rees graduate research.

The final goal was to create a on-line exhibit about the Saltpeter Cave site and its unique archeological materials.  You can now see the first step in this exhibit–a brief page housed under the “Examples” section of the current bluff shelter website. This page includes the history of excavations at the site and information about what the artifacts can tell us about Ozark prehistory, but much more information will be added as we explore this important collection.  The next step of this exploration will be understanding the chronology of Saltpeter Cave by analyzing a suite of 6 or more radiocarbon dates that we are currently selecting.  Stay posted for more information!

Check out the first phase of the Saltpeter Cave webpage here under the Examples Section.