Day Trip to the University of Arkansas Museum
Fairfield Bay Community Education Center
October 17, 2019
On October 17 a group of Fairfield Bay residents took a day trip to visit with Laurel Lamb, Curator of Collections at The University of Arkansas Museum in Fayetteville. The group was also privileged to be given a presentation by renowned archeologist Dr. George Sabo (photo 1) about archeological materials and images from the Edgemont Shelter (Indian Rock Cave) and the surrounding areas of Van Buren County. Over the last 100 years some of the leading archeologists who have visited Arkansas bluff shelters (and the Edgemont Shelter/Indian Rock Cave) include the following noted explorers and authors; Harrington (1922), Dellinger (1931), Walker (1932), McGimsey (1950), Hardison (1955), Waters (1966), Fritz and Ray (1979), Hilliard (1989), Abernathy (1993), Sabo and Brandon (many visits, 2016). Most recently, Dr. Kaelin Groom’s published doctoral dissertation on the topic of Rock Art Management and Landscapes, is study that compares the petroglyphs of the Edgemont Shelter to the famed carved rock art of Petra in Jordan and Grenada in the West Indies.
Notes collected and archived with the Fairfield Bay Historic Preservation Commission indicate that artifacts were removed from the Edgemont Shelter, “In 1932 a group of students were allowed to dig in several of the mounds inside the cave. They were, however, under the supervision of a geologist. However, several hundred artifacts were removed and are in universities in Arkansas”, (information compiled from Indian Rock House Fairfield Bay brochure, Indian Rock House Questers group, 1978, and The Arkansas Democrat, 1960). In addition, damage to the artifacts in the shelter intensified when 10 feet of dirt on the floor of the cave was removed and discarded during the building of the Indian Hills Golf Course in 1971.
Our historical records also indicate that photographs of the petroglyphs in the cave were taken in 1931, again in 1959, and some 150 photos from the Stewart-Abernathy visit in 1973. Dr. Groom’s publication used some of the petroglyph photos from the 1930 collection to compare with current photos of the petroglyphs to assess the damage caused by natural decay and decomposition. There are 11 petroglyph images from the Edgemont Shelter on the national rock art database. So it was with the intent to see what materials were retained in the museum collection at the University of Arkansas that we traveled to meet with the staff of the Arkansas Archeology Survey.
Dr. Sabo’s presentation also included projected photographs of rock art carvings found in other bluff shelters in the surrounding areas of Van Buren County. The featured image of a Native American human figure holding a decapitated head was enlightening. He related the story of human creation based on the oldest of indigenous culture – one where a hero father passes into the afterlife but his son returns to earth with parts of his father in hopes of recreating his earthly body, therefore retaining him. The father’s message is that he must return to the spiritual world, but his influence will pass from father to son in each generation (photo 2). Also discussed was the petroglyph of a single image made from concentric circles. This too represented the connection to the spiritual realm from earth (photo 3).
While these two images are not from the Edgemont Shelter in Fairfield Bay they are located on protected private property in Van Buren County. Experts conclude that many bluff shelters were used for ceremony and sanctuary, and often were places with high spiritual significance. The images carved into the walls of the Edgemont Shelter are said to have been carved by Cherokees seeking refuge from an ice storm in the winter of 1776. This testimony by a native American guide was recorded in the late 1890’s by Samuel Leith, the president of the Eureka Springs Chamber of Commerce.
Many of the petroglyphs in the Edgemont Shelter are no longer distinguishable due to natural decomposition. The professional archeologists’ recommendations are not to try to uncover them as this would cause more damage, but to create better public education materials that reflect and describe the shapes and images. The story of what they are and how they got there are up to interpretation and deliberation. We can only hear from second hand sources what the original artist was recording with this rock art, because the original artist can’t tell us in his own words.
Following the presentation, museum curator Laurel Lamb brought over a dozen pierce points recovered from Indian Rock Cave. Anthropologist don’t refer to the pierce points as “arrow heads”, simply because the common known “bow and arrow” was not introduced until about the year 600 AD. Each was cataloged with serial numbers and visible through their protective bags. She laid them on the table in chronological order, with the oldest being dated to the Archaic age, some 8,000 years ago, up to the more present Mississippi age, about 900 AD (photo 4). According to Dr. Sabo, human inhabitants of the Ozarks date back about 9,500 years ago during the Paleo-Indian culture when nomadic hunter-gatherers wandered into present day Arkansas.
Ms. Lamb then took the group on an escorted tour of the “vault” where hundreds of museum artifacts are kept under climatized protection. Most prevalent were the beautiful and well preserved examples of pottery on display. Almost all samples were excavated from sites in Arkansas and were beautiful representatives of Native American craftsmanship, most especially the Caddo Culture of southwest Arkansas (photos 5, 6, 7).
Finally the group gathered for a farewell picture before returning home to Fairfield Bay (photo 8). As the Fairfield Bay Education Center Director and the Historic Preservation Officer I hope to continue our celebration of our Native American culture within the Heritage Center with more events, lectures and field trips.
About the FFB Community Education Center.
The Education Center is located in the Village Mall, next to the Mayor’s office, and is open from 9a.m. to 4p.m. on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. Our classes and events can be found on our Facebook page: FFB Community Education Center. An annual registration fee of $35 is required after attending your first class and is valid for 12 months. Our resort guests are not required to pay the annual registration fee.
We hope to see you at the Fairfield Bay Community Education Center!
Dr. Catherine Swift, Community Education Center Director