In the Field, Round 2: Malvern, Arkansas and Novaculite Trade

I have just returned from my second round of fieldwork this summer…as you know from my previous post, my first round was working on the mission San Juan del Puerto near Jacksonville, Florida…round two was the two week Arkansas Archeological Society Summer Archeological Training Program (AKA “the summer dig”)…I love this dig as it gives professionals two weeks to work alongside many regular folks who are intensely interested in archeology…it (along with Arkansas Archeology Month) is probably one of our biggest outreach events of the year.
This year it was hosted by Dr. Mary Beth Trubitt and my sister station to the north (Henderson State University)…we were excavating on two Archaic-period (6,000 old) sites near Malvern, Arkansas…these sites are very deep (2 meters of deposits or more) and FULL of novaculite flakes and stone tool debris…
What’s novaculite you ask? Well novaculite is a sedimentary rock composed mostly of microcrystalline quartz…it is a recrystallized variety of chert….chert reformed under the intense pressure and heat formed during the formation of the Ouachita Mountains. It is dense, hard, white to grayish-black in color, translucent on thin edges, and has a dull to waxy luster.
The word novaculite is derived from the Latin word novacula, meaning “razor stone” which is appropriate as it is famous as a whetstones used in sharpening knives, scalpels and wood-working tools….novaculite puts the “Arkansas” in “Arkansas Stone” (another word often used for these whetstones) because novaculite only occurs within about 50 mile radius of Hot Springs, Arkansas.
This distribution is what we’re studying at these Archaic sites…it novaculite is famous for sharpening stones today, it was famous as a material to make stone tools in the Archaic period…we find traded stone all over the mid-continent…Dr. Trubitt is beginning to excavate these site by asking the question…how did this trade take place? Did travellers come to the Ouachita Mountains and quarry the materials “buffet style”? Or did local Archaic peoples set up shop as quarrymen and traders?….the latter would be extremely interesting as it runs against our previous picture of Archaic life as consting of small bands of people (20-30 family-related folks) wandering in a semi-nomadic season pattern worrying mostly about their own subsistence
This year we have only scratched the surface…literally….we did not get to the bottom of the deposits at either sites…but we have excavated a great deal of material which might help answer some of our many questions.

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One Comment on “In the Field, Round 2: Malvern, Arkansas and Novaculite Trade”

  1. July 23, 2007 at 5:38 pm #

    Dear Jamie,I have lost your email address, but I wanted to let you know that I just published a religious biography of W. E. B. Du Bois – that builds upon my Reforging the White Republic. I hope you get the chance to read it. Glad to see you’re at 20% less angst!

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