1973 Excavations at the Upper Nodena Site

Article excerpt

The only modern excavations at the Upper Nodena site were conducted during the summer of 1973. Excavations in an area designated Block B exposed the remains of two superimposed houses representing initial construction and rebuilding of an open-corner wall-trench structure. In Block C, a remarkable concentration of charred maize was found. The most noteworthy aspect of the faunal assemblage is the strong representation of birds, especially passenger pigeon and waterfowl. Five radiometric dates place occupation in the mid-fifteenth century A.D.


The type site of the Late Mississippi period Nodena phase construct, Upper Nodena (3MS4) is located about 8 km northeast of Wilson in Mississippi County, Arkansas, along a relict levee or point bar of the Mississippi River known as Congress Ridge (Figure 1). About 400 m to the east is a slough representing a former channel of the river that was active through much of the nineteenth century. To the west was Young's Lake, a fairly large but shallow body of water that was drained around 1900 (Mainfort [editor] 2003).

The smaller Middle Nodena site (3MS3), located approximately 2 km to the south on the same ridge, is thought to postdate Upper Nodena (Morse 1990:77; cf. Williams 1980). Both sites are located on property still known as the Nodena plantation, which was owned for many years by the family of physician and avocational archaeologist Dr. James K. Hampson (Morse 1989; Williams 1957), and are included within a National Historic Landmark.

Nodena plantation is located within the St. Francis Basin in the northern portion of the lower Mississippi Alluvial Valley, a region also commonly known as the central Mississippi Valley (Griffin 1952; Morse and Morse 1983). Frequent overbank flooding resulted in the deposition of nutrient-rich soils, making ecosystems in this region some of the most productive in North America (Fisk 1947; Harper et al. 1995). Of the soils present in Mississippi County, Arkansas, those at Upper Nodena are among those best for modern agriculture (Ferguson and Gray 1971).

Upper Nodena encompasses approximately 6.3 ha (15.5 acres), with a well-defined periphery, but although the site may have been enclosed within a ditch or palisade (Morse 1989:101; 1990:73), the existence of such features has not been confirmed archaeologically and remains problematic, as discussed below. In 1897 Dr. Hampson (1989:9) observed two rectangular substructural mounds (designated Mounds A and B) and "12 to 15" smaller mounds. Only the two largest mounds appear on a site map drawn by Hampson (upon which Figure 2 is based), but some of the smaller elevations were represented on a scale model of the site constructed by Hampson for use in his museum (Mainfort 2003; Morse 1989:98-99).

The largest mound, Mound A, measured approximately 36.5 m by 34 m at the base and was 4.7 m tall, with the long axis oriented northeast-southwest. Hampson (1989:9-10) described the earthwork as having two levels, the upper supporting one building, and the lower having two (see Mainfort 2005a). Mound B was a smaller platform mound, about 1.2 meters in height. Limited excavation by Hampson exposed the remains of what he interpreted as a circular structure (Hampson 1989:9-12; Mainfort 2005a). According to Hampson (1989:9), the other smaller mounds varied in size from 0.45 to 1.2 m high, and 20 to 30 m in diameter. "Mound C" represents a large concentration of burials southeast of Mound A that was excavated by the Alabama Museum of Natural History. Hampson (1989:9) describes this locality as being about a meter in height and perhaps 30 m in diameter, but the excavation records provide no basis for confirming or rejecting interpretation of this area as a constructed earthwork (Fisher-Carroll 2001a; Fisher-Carroll and Mainfort 2000). None of the smaller possible mounds at Upper Nodena have been investigated archaeologically. After nearly a century of intensive modern cultivation, most of the features described by Hampson are no longer visible on the landscape (Morse 1989). …


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