Archeology at HSU:

The Jones Mill Archeological Project

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 Indian history. 

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.    

uncovering history in Hot Spring County

 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 page.  

 

dart points from 3HS28
excavation at 3HS28

 An archeological project like this takes many people working together.    

The excavations at Jones Mill in 2007 and 2008 were part of training programs coordinated by the Arkansas Archeological Survey and the Arkansas Archeological Society.  Through the Survey/Society Training Digs, people interested in archeology can become involved with professionals in archeological research.  

 

Field excavations and on-going work in the Archeology Lab has involved students from both Henderson State University and the University of Arkansas-Fayetteville.  The experience of working with their professor and a research team is useful for careers in anthropology and other fields.  

 

 Novaculite Production and Exchange  

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 Trubitt and Hanvey explores the novaculite reduction sequence at Jones Mill.  Click here to view the poster.

Arkansas Novaculite

 Arkansas Novaculite outcrops in the Ouachita Mountains around Hot Springs.  Now used for whetstones, this fine-grained hard stone was chipped into a variety of sharp-edged tools by Indians in this region.  Quarrying novaculite for whetstone rock was an important Hot Springs industry in the 19th-20th centuries.  Several companies continue to mine novaculite and cut whetstones for modern markets.  

   

Ancient novaculite quarry sites are still preserved on lands of the Ouachita National Forest, Hot Springs National Park, and Lake Catherine State Park. 

 

novaculite outcrops in the Ouachita Mountains
region map southwest Arkansas

 

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?  

 

The Excavations   

 

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.    

 

Trench 3 profile showing stratified deposits.
excavating Caddo building in Trench 5

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. 

Archaic Arkansas project logo

Interested in learning about and participating in archeological research in Arkansas?  Contact Dr. Mary Beth Trubitt at the Arkansas Archeological Survey's HSU Research Station. 

  

 

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.  Sherrie Shepherd designed the project logo.

 

 

 

The Jones Mill Archeological Project.
© 2011, Mary Beth Trubitt
 Web page last updated 12 February 2013.  Web page contact:  M. B. Trubitt, trubitm@hsu.edu. 

 
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