Caddo Native American Display

Kelly Stiles, Features Editor

A historical gem lies in wait for students to visit in the recently renovated Caddo building beside Womack Hall. A vast collection of over 38,000 Native American artifacts, most of which are presumably from the Caddo civilization, were found in Clark County and surrounding areas. In January, archeologist for the Arkansas Archeological Survey and sociology professor Dr. Mary Beth Trubbitt and graduate assistant Tommie Cotton opened the Caddo collection display for students and the community to enjoy.


A small display of artifacts was placed in Huie Library prior to the Caddo building display and still remains. There is another section of this collection on display at Southern Arkansas University.


“Most of what is in tact or reconstructed is out on display,” Trubitt said. “The bulk of the collection is in pieces which are not so great to look at.”


Thomas and Charlotte Hodges, married Caddo enthusiasts with little archeological experience, started this collection in the 1930s with help from several archeologists, including one from Harvard University. Most of the collection was found in Caddo gravesites. Since then, there have been laws put in place keeping people from excavating grave sites despite their age.


In 1977, Charlotte gave the collection to be put on display and further examined so that people may learn about the Caddo and other Native American civilizations.


The Caddo collection became popular in archaeological communities across America due in great part to the large size of the collection and the relatively small radius in which these artifacts were found. Pictures and information about this collection may be found in many pieces of archeological literature. Trubitt moved to Arkansas so that she could work with this impressive collection.


“The collection is important to Arkansas history, archeological history, as well as Caddo history,” Trubitt said.


The Arkansas Archeological Survey has a good relationship with Caddo descendants today. These descendants are often contacted to answer questions regarding the significance of different artifacts or for permissions to handle certain artifacts. Many of them now live in Oklahoma.


The Caddo collection consists largely of fired clay pottery and tools made of novaculite and animal bone. The pottery comes in many shapes and sizes and tools vary from axes to smoking pipes. Novaculite, also known as “Arkansas wet stone,” is a type of rock commonly found near the Ouachita mountains; most arrowheads in the collection are made of this rock. Since novaculite tools have been found in Mississippi and Louisiana. it suggests that the Caddo traded tools with other civilizations.


Since many artifacts were buried with the dead, this leads archaeologists to believe that the Caddo had religious beliefs about people needing objects on their journey to a final resting place after their soul leaves their body. They would bury vessels that once held food and drink so that the deceased’s soul could remain nourished on their journey. Occasionally a bowl would be found with animal bones and corn cobs in them.


The majority of the artifacts were found in Clark and Hot Springs counties, although there are some pieces that were found in Arkansas county. Most of the pottery in the collection ranges in age from 1200-1700 A.D. while the stone tools could be up to 10,000 years old. 


“The USA is about 200 years old, so compared to the ages of some of these artifacts, that is just a blip in time,” Trubitt said.


Pottery was typically made of clay mixed with broken pieces of other clay works, broken up bones, and broken up seashells. Designs were often carved on them or painted on with watered down clay called slip. The Caddo also carved wooden bowls and other tools, but they have disintegrated over time. A spanish missionary who visited this area when the Caddo lived here once wrote about a Caddo bowl with the head and tale of a duck carved on it. 


The location where these artifacts were found suggests that the areas surrounding the Ouachita mountains, especially the area between Arkadelphia and Malvern, contained large populations of these civilizations. These were most likely farming tribes who lived in the same place year-round. They organized complex societies who created a lot of art and burial mounds.


“The Caddos are known for their pottery because the women made highly decorated, beautiful pottery,” Trubitt said.


Information has been gathered in this collection that most likely would not be able to be gathered today because of the amount of weathering and farming that has happened to many areas where these artifacts were found. 


A grant was recently approved for the Arkansas Archeological Survey to fill the new Caddo display area to be filled with items that inform people about the history of specific artifacts and the Caddo people as a whole. This will include various plaques and a touch screen device that can be used to navigate subjects to learn about.


The rest of the Caddo building is currently being renovated into classrooms and offices. There is one classroom currently in use to teach classes where the Caddo collection may be used as a teaching aid, such as the World Cultures course. Assistant Spanish professor Dr. Margarita Peraza Rugeley is using the collection to teach her Spanish 4 class how to translate written historical information from English to Spanish.


The Caddo collection display is currently open Mon. from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., Wed. from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Thur. from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.


“Feel free to come over,” Trubitt said.