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17 October 2011

Toltec Mounds, Arkansas

The unassuming state of Arkansas boasts over 40,000 archaeological sites (AAS). The number of mounds in the state is staggering. And one of the largest mound sites in Arkansas is Toltec Mounds, so named because the Knapps, who once owned the land, thought Toltecs from Mexico surely most have built these elaborate platform mounds (TMS).


Built between 650 and 1050 CE, this ceremonial site sits near an oxbow lake separated from the Arkansas River centuries ago. Toltec served as a ceremonial center for adjacent farming communities; very few people actually lived on site. Of the 18 mounds at Toltec, the tallest stands at 39 feet. Certain mounds are positioned to correspond with sunrises and sunsets during both equinoxes and solstices. (TMS). The Toltec Mounds were abandoned abruptly in 1050, which is interestingly enough when Cahokia gained ascendency in a cultural "big bang," that many attribute in part to the explosion of a supernova on July 5, 1054 (Cahokia, Wilford).

The culture that built Toltec Mounds is called the Plum Bayou culture. Their descendants are unknown. Through NAGPRA, archaeologists legally have to consult with the Quapaw tribe about human remains and cultural patrimony of Toltec Mounds; however, the Quapaw only arrived in the region after the 13th century. Quapaw oral history says they migrated from the Ohio River Valley. The idea of a culture with no known descendants is somewhat haunting, but whether the Quapaw intermarried the Plum Bayou people or not, I'm glad that they have a tribe advocating on behalf of their burials and sacred items today.

Damon, Pythias, and a friend
The museum and grounds were well kept. A wooden structuretakes you out onto the lake among cypress looking back at the mounds. A couple of catfish resided in the audiovisual room. I asked what their names were and sure enough they did have names—Damon and Pythias.

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