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Pre-European Native American archeology exhibit given to Old Court House Museum



Arkansas Native American Collection at OCHM
Arkansas Native American Collection at OCHM (Old Court House Museum)
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In a recent donation to the Old Court House Museum, local resident Ron White, owner of Grey Oaks Plantation here in Warren County, has given a collection of Native American artifacts that were discovered by him and his parents, Patsy and Ed White, during archeological excavations they participated in around the southeast Arkansas area from 1967 – 1970.

The items come from two locations known as the Gee’s Landing and the Clark Site, consisting of ornate pottery, stone and bone tools, and accompanying research material. Ranging from the Woodland (3,000 BCE – 1000 CE) to Mississippian Period (1000 CE – 1520 CE), these artifacts predate European contact. Their proximity to the Mississippi River and the age of the artifacts recovered give us insight into the neighboring groups of Natives. One of the jars, an effigy of a fawn, tells us that they most likely had contact with the Yazoo Natives, whom were known for using effigy artwork, that had settled here in the Walnut Hills area. The collection is fascinating, and will require more research on our part to better understand its significance.

Patsy and Ed White’s work in archeology has made lifelong advancements in the study of the Arkansas Native regions. Although their resumes are well tenured, their beginnings are quite humble. Their interest in archeology began with their son. When Ron was a Boy Scout, he and his father, Ed, found several arrow points and other stone tools while hiking and camping in the area. Patsy became interested in their finds, and the three of them began surface hunts for artifacts laying on the ground. The more they found the more their interest in the subject grew, and eventually they began considering the idea of doing an academic excavation. They reached out to the University of Arkansas seeking materials and instructions on how to properly conduct a dig, but found that there were little resources available. Instead they received materials from other archeology projects conducted by the Works Progress Administration projects from the 1930s, and Patsy used these materials as a basis for how they would document their discoveries. The reports they received provided them with the knowledge to begin work. Field experience was all they lacked, but that would soon change when they began their first dig at Gee’s Landing.

Gee’s Landing was worked by the Whites from 1967 – 1968, mostly done on the weekends in their spare time, and with Ron doing most of the digging in the summer and fall of ’67. The site was a Native cemetery in which they discovered 34 burials, several of which contained vessels and other tools. The graves were shallow, some being less than 12-24 inches in depth. Gee’s Landing was located in a field that was actively tilled and planted, which would have been completely destroyed had the Whites not investigated the property. Most of the pieces recovered date from 600 CE – 1200 CE, but some artifacts discovered along the surface date back to the Archaic Period (8000 BCE – 3000 BCE), nearly 10,000 years ago. Experts connect the material to the Caddo Tribes whom settled west of the Mississippi River, but there is still much debate among scholars about their connection to neighboring cultures.

With the experience of Gee’s Landing, the Whites wanted to become more involved in the State’s programs. In 1968, they joined the Arkansas Archeological Society, which they were incredibly active in during their lives. Another organization within the State, the Arkansas Archeological Survey, grouped with the Society in order to implement a program that would train and certify amateurs for professional excavations. This program was put into effect in 1972, in which the Whites were among the first to become certified through the program. Patsy and Ed became two of the most advanced students in the program earning certificates for certified crew members and lab technicians. Not only were they digging artifacts, they now had the expertise to accurately identify what was coming into the lab from all across the State. During their time in the Society, Patsy served as the Librarian for four years, two terms as Vice-President, and became the first woman elected President.

The collection now on display in the Pioneer Room at the Old Court House Museum is one of immense historical significance, but also one of deep personal and emotional importance to Ron. Without Ron’s interest in looking for artifacts as a child, his parents might never have journeyed down the path they took in life. His family’s collection will remain a permanent exhibit here at the Museum dedicated to his parents, and their extensive research materials will be made available to the public upon request here in the McCardle Library.

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