Carden Bottoms Excavations Meaningful Experience for Osages
July 06, 2011

The Osage Nation Historic Preservation Office, in conjunction with the Quapaw, Caddo, and the Arkansas Archaeological Survey, is participating in a series of excavations at a number of significant archaeological sites in central Arkansas. The project is funded in part by a grant provided by the National Endowment for the Humanities. The project is intended to examine changes in cultural boundaries through time in Missouri, Arkansas, and parts of Oklahoma by examining, among many other things, artistic style of pottery and pictographs. The project is co-directed by Dr. George Sabo III and Dr. Jami J. Lockhart, both of the Arkansas Archeological Survey, and Dr. Andrea A. Hunter, of the Osage Nation Historic Preservation Office.

Excavations were conducted during the weeks of April 4th through 8th and April 18th through 22nd. The opportunity was open to any Osage Nation tribal member capable of strenuous physical labor in potentially humid, warm weather. All expenses were paid. This opportunity was advertised on the Osage Nation Historic Preservation Office website as well as through the Osage News. Several members of the Osage Nation were able to take advantage of the wonderful opportunity. Sunnie Clahchischiligi, a reporter for the Osage News, was able to join them for the first week. We appreciate her participation and the attention this effort has been given by the Osage News. Please read Sunnie’s blogs using the following links: Better than Jurassic Park (, Every day is new knowledge (, NAGPRA is in effect (, and Digging for preservation (

The following description of the excavation was provided by Dr. Sabo III of the Arkansas Archaeological Survey:

Excavations in the Carden Bottoms during April (4-8 and 18-22) will concentrate on uncovering more house features like the one shown in the accompanying figure, excavated in December. We are also excavating trash pits associated with each house, which contain abundant artifacts (ceramics, stone and bone tools) along with well preserved animal and plant remains. The house and pit features were identified by gradiometery and electrical resistivity surveys conducted at the site during May, 2010.

We are extremely pleased that Sunnie Clahchischiligi, Trona Walls, Kenneth Gilmore, Martin Miles, Trini Haddon, and Kat Avant were able to participate. In addition to participating in the excavations, they were able to visit a few rock art sites in the vicinity of Petit Jean State Park. Photos of the excavation and the rock art sites were provided by the participants and are available here. We thank them for allowing us to use them.

It was, by all accounts, a fun, emotional, and educational experience. The Osage participants provided our office with accounts of their experiences during the excavation (see below). We thank them for their participation and enthusiasm in the face of the strenuous work and the weather. The Osage Nation Historic Preservation Office sincerely hopes to offer similar experiences to Osage members in the future.

Kat Avant:

The drive from Dallas to Russellville couldn’t have been shorter. Anticipation wracked my brain and made my car a bolt of lightning. I was ready for adventure. This was my first dig. Making it to the hotel I set up camp for the week, well prepared and ready for the battlefield. The first morning after arrival and a good night’s rest, I had the pleasure of meeting Dr. George Sabo III with the University of Arkansas and Kenneth Gilmore from Pawhuska who was also representing the Osage Nation, in the lobby of the hotel. We were then escorted to the dig site at Carden Bottoms. The drive was beautiful. Imagining what the area must have looked like roughly 500 years ago was a constant production in my head. Arriving at the site we met members from the Arkansas Archaeological Survey and folks from archaeological groups from the University of Oklahoma and University of Arkansas. Everyone was so friendly. They never ceased the opportunity to fill me in on any important or interesting information about the history of the dig site or tips and guidelines to successfully executing an excavation. Everyone was passionate about the project. Wither the days were wet and windy or hot and muggy, it never stopped work for the day (unless hail and tornados made themselves known!). The objects and evidence of a settlement at the site were incredibly fascinating! The team found burnt pottery shards, burnt timbers, a burnt pipe, all proof that the shelter was burnt to the ground. Also, they found animal bones, a hammer stone and flakes from cobblestones. Everyday was a new treasure, informed that this kind of experience was rare for a first timer made me take in all the delight from the achievements even more. Never have I seen such a grand group of individuals come together and work like such a team! Everyone got along so well and whenever an obstacle jumped in the way of the week’s agenda they never showed any emotional stress, just put they’re heads together to create a crowned solution and walked away from it with smiles. It was really great to see. Getting in the dirt and checking out what was waiting for us to unveil was such a blast. Everyone would share in the excitement of another person’s discovery. Everyday was a consistent unexpected undertaking of events and the company and achievements made it all worth the while. It seemed like I never learned enough about the history of Carden Bottoms or the Cahokian people. There was a continuous urge to always want to know more. Being outdoors everyday was really great. Throughout the week we were serenaded by the songs of our neighbors the red winged blackbirds in beautiful lush green fields and accompanied by consistent chances of threatening thunderstorms, which made for beautiful cloud formations above Carden Bottoms that we never got tired of observing. Members of the team were even kind enough to car pool us up to the beautiful Petit Jean Mountain and show us the fantastic rock art there. Seeing first hand evidence from descendents of the Osages was a golden opportunity. I hope it will not be the last. This experience will never be forgotten and it created friendships that will always be cherished. Thanks to everyone that made it possible.

Kenneth Gilmore:

The Carden Bottoms dig was a great opportunity to experience archaeology up close. Although I had some experience, I learned a lot from Dr. Sabo and the crew from the Arkansas Archaeological Survey. They were all very helpful and informative on matters pertaining to the field. The fact that it was a possible Osage site really made this dig special to me. We were able to participate in the excavation of one of several housing structures located on the site. The structures were located by using devices such as a gradiometer which scans the underlying soil for possible stains left by the structures. Several possible post molds were located and the position of the post molds led to the excavation of that particular area. We were able to excavate some large pottery sherds, chert flakes, animal bones, and numerous pieces of charred wood. Some of the burnt posts were still left standing upright. The theory behind the lack of materials and burned structures was that the inhabitants must have cleaned out the houses, set them on fire, and collasped them inward. On the last day all of our hard work had finally paid off. The shape of the housing structure was now clearly visible. We also had the opportunity to explore the nearby Petit Jean Mountains. There are several examples of rock art located on the south side of the mountain range in rock shelters and caves. We were lucky enough to get to see these ancient artworks. The whole area was beautiful and very peaceful. I was really sad to leave, but I'm thankful for the experience. I met a lot of great people and left with a ton of great memories. I'm hoping that there will be further opportunities for tribal members to participate in the preservation of their past. I want to thank Dr. Hunter of the Osage Cultural Preservation department and The Arkansas Archaeological Survey for this rare opportunity.

Trona Walls:

Hello, my name is Trona Walls and I went on a archeology dig in Russellville, AR at the Carden Bottoms for the Osage Nation.

We were picked up at the motel in the morning by Dr. Sabo and on the way to the dig he filled us in on the history of the site. The first day it rained and the wind was blowing, my sister and myself dug a two by two meter squared hole where a trash pit was and then we screened and we found some flint and pieces of pottery and went back the motel about four because everyone was so cold. The second day it was sunny and hot and everyone was in such a good mood because of the sun, we got a tractor out there to help with the digging process. We dug up three trash pits and a house. In the house we found the exterior poles that held up the roof and it was great. I never knew the pain-staking process that The University of Arkansas goes through to preserve every artifact and not to destroy anything. Everything is documented about every six inches down, and then cleaned it out, shot with the laser, and photos taken of everything, and then you start over and do it again. I learned how to use the survey equipment and the remote sensing equipment and the paper work and the graphing that is involved with this long process. The University of Arkansas told us about the cave art up in the hills, so on Thursday they drove us all around to show us the great cave art in the area and the scenic tour along the way.

I have always been interested in learning new things and I jumped at the opportunity to learn about our history. I enjoyed learning everything and making new friends and would love to go again at anytime. It was a wonderful experience and I would recommend it to any Osage that would like to go. 

Trini Haddon:

The other day my sister, Trona Walls; friend, Martin Miles and myself, Trini Haddon, had the opportunity of a life-time. We went on an archeological dig in Russellville Arkansas. The Osage Nation Historical Preservation was one of the sponsors of the site, other sponsors were: Arkansas Archeological Survey and University of Arkansas System. Doctor Andrea Hunter is the Director of the ONHP Department and allowed us to participate in the dig.

I had no idea what went into an archeological dig, all of the prep work, surveying, digging, screening, documenting and probably several more things that I’m not even aware of.

The site that we participated in was: housing for the Native Americans that lived in the area years back. The dig was to find out about the Native People, NOT to dig up graves. We were involved in digging up a frame of a house and the trash pit next to it, hoping to find artifacts that would give us a peek into the Native Peoples everyday life. We found lots of pottery sherds, charred wood, and flint pieces (probably from arrow heads, or hand tools of some kind.) The field we were digging in was a farm field that had had a crop of sunflowers. This field was over 6 foot ball fields large. It was massive, so you can imagine all of the prep work that was put into finding this house to dig up and document. After documentation is done the site will be returned to its former self.

If you are ever given the opportunity to go on an Archeological dig, I highly recommend it. It will be a learning experience you won’t ever forget.

Martin Miles:

The dig in Arkansas was a very enlightening trip, I found that the Archeologists actually care about traditions and respect the bones and pottery.

At one time a grave may or may not have been found and, instead of the disregard to those who lived before, they documented the area and filled it back in. The work was very precise with all of the documentation that was involved. Everyone at the University of Arkansas was very friendly and was eager to show the whole process that is involved. I enjoyed the whole experience and would jump at another opportunity to experience more with the University of Arkansas. I enjoyed making friends with the people from the University of Arkansas.

Thank you for this special opportunity.