Tuesday, June 8, 2010
little rock's big piles
6/2 Toltec Mounds
After an uneventful motel night in Little Rock we were up early to beat the heat. We planned to do the walking tour of the misnamed Toltec Mounds archaeological site just south-east of the city. It's unfortunate that the park doesn't open earlier this time of year because when we got there at 7:45 the air was already becoming a bit heavy. Waiting for the doors of the visitor center to open we took advantage of a picnic bench near the parking lot for a little breakfast. The purple martins and robins kept up a steady chatter to keep us company until the park staff got their business together.
A bit after 8 the doors opened and we were those annoying people walking in before the guy at the desk cold get the sleep out of his eyes. He was super helpful, told us all about the place, and ushered us into the small theater for the short introductory video. The narrator told us all the basics of what is known of the Plum Bayou Culture, not much, but they have nothing to do with the Toltecs of what is now central Mexico. The place got its name from European goofs who thought any pyramid-like mound must be related to other pyramids on the continent, or it was wishful thinking on the part of treasure hunters.
The local ants find that the heavy flood plain mud is easy to mound up into rather durable structures. The Plum Bayou folks did much the same and their mounds survived many floods and forest trees before the Europeans moved in and started plowing.
mrs. a-go-go started our walking tour looking for the little things.
It turns out that the mounds, platforms, and berms of the site did not contain burials as treasure hunters hoped. It seems that the complex was a solar calendar and the alignment of mounds could be used to mark the solstices and equinox. This would have been helpful as these folks needed to be able to predict seasonal flooding to successfully plant a variety of crops in the flood plain.
The walking tour took us to a board walk at the edge of the oxbow lake that has been here since the time of the mounds construction. The birds were having a riot here, but the day was quickly getting heavy hot even at 9am so we headed for cover after a rest at a shaded bench.
Little of the outer berm and ditch that surrounded the site and of the smaller mounds and platforms remain visible. There were once 18 mounds, but only the three largest survive. Archaeological evidence shows that the large flat topped mounds had small wood structures on top, had smooth squared off sides, and do not contain any burial remains. The best guess is that Toltec was a special gathering place but that few people lived in the mound complex. There are many other sites like Toltec all over the huge area drained by the Mississippi and the rivers that feed it. Toltec is one of three just in Arkansas. The visitor center displays were a nice introduction to a part of history that we don't see much of in California. The things we want to spend more time exploring just keep stacking up. The many other sites will have to wait for another trip.