Arkansas Historic Preservation Program
Crenshaw Site (AAS Neg. No. 692926)
Crenshaw Site (AAS Neg. No. 692926)

CRENSHAW SITE, RESTRICTED, MILLER COUNTY

SUMMARY

The Crenshaw site lies in the Great Bend region of the Red River, the heartland of prehistoric Caddo culture, and it is the earliest known Caddo ceremonial center in the four-state Caddo archeological area.  The occupation of the site spans the period from AD 700 to AD 1200, the period in which Caddo culture was evolving from the earlier Fourche Maline culture.  Investigations indicate that the site contains well preserved Late Fourche Maline middens and burials, and extraordinary evidence of the earliest Caddoan ceremonial development and elaboration which have not been found elsewhere in the area, and which are preserved under flood-deposited soils.  The site is the largest and most complex transitional Late Fourche Maline/Early Caddo sites in the four-state Caddo area and it contains the key to the origin of Caddo culture.  This problem of origins of prehistoric Caddo culture is one of the most important questions identified in The State Plan for the Conservation of Archeological Resources in Arkansas (Early 1982:98-106).

ELABORATION

Previous researchers at early Caddo sites, and particularly at Crenshaw itself (see Dickinson 1936 and Wood 1962), thought that Caddo culture must have developed from an incursion up the Red River by Coles Creek peoples from the Lower Mississippi Valley displacing or overcoming a local population.  Schambach's research in southwest Arkansas, including his 20 years of acquaintance with Crenshaw, concludes that the antecedent to Caddo culture is the “native” or “local” Woodland cultural manifestation known as Fourche Maline (Schambach 1982).  In the historic context called “The Caddo Tradition” in The State Plan for the Conservation of Archeological Resources in Arkansas, the central question is “How did this major and unique Mississippi period manifestation which we call Caddo culture come into being?” (Early 1982:101).  It is Schambach's contention that the size, complexity, and preservation of the late Fourche Maline and early Caddo occupations at Crenshaw hold the potential for providing answers not only to this basic question of origins, but to many of the more detailed questions which can be expressed now only as differences in what he feels will be shown to be a “seamless transition” from late Fourche Maline to early Caddo (Schambach 1982:191).

In most of the traditional cultural patterns which archeologists study-settlement patterns, subsistence, ceremonialism, technology -- there are striking differences between Fourche Maline and Caddo cultures.  These changes seem to have occurred sometime between AD 800 and 1000, part of the time in which Crenshaw was occupied, and have been investigated for the Early Caddo in such major sites as the Davis site in east Texas and Belcher in northwest Louisiana.  Questions concerning the origins of these basic shifts in lifeways have been raised in the State Plan historic contexts dealing both with Fourche Maline culture and Caddo development (Early 1982:99) in the Great Bend region of Arkansas, and in later writing by Schambach (1982, 1990).  Some of these questions, upon which Crenshaw data will shed light are:

subsistence:  Fourche Maline culture was basically a hunting and gathering economy, with perhaps a little horticulture.  No corn has been found on Fourche Maline sites.  The Caddo were basically horticulturists, supplemented by hunting and gathering.  Although little corn has been found at Crenshaw, was it really a “new” component in the economy of the early Caddo, and what was the degree of their dependence upon such crops?  Concentrated flotation samples from different parts of the deep middens should provide evidence of other cultigens as well, giving data not yet collected at a transitional site such as this.

settlement:  Fourche Maline populations lived in small villages.  Mound with burials, cemeteries, and dark organically stained middens are characteristic of Fourche Maline sites and of the component at Crenshaw.  The occupation at Crenshaw in the earlier Caddo period seems to have been only by a few people, probably priests and caretakers.  The remainder of the Caddo I population lived in small farmsteads in the surrounding countryside.  This settlement pattern, of “vacant” ceremonial centers and small farmsteads continued throughout the Caddo period up to the time of first European contact and is depicted on the Teran map of the Great Bend of the Red River in 1691.  What brought about this change in settlement pattern, one which is unique in Mississippi period cultures of the Mississippi Valley?

mortuary patterns:  Fourche Maline burials are usually in dome-shaped mounds, single supine burials with one or two pots for offerings, but mass burials also occur, as in Mound F at Crenshaw.  The early Caddo mortuary pattern at Crenshaw seems to indicate a complex hierarchy of burial programs, from the huge deep pits in flat-topped mounds with one major individual surrounded by vast quantities of grave goods (and in some early Caddo sites also with several retainers), to those whose mandibles alone are buried in this sacred place.  The piles of skulls and mandibles are unique to Crenshaw and suggest that, possibly because of good preservation possibly because Crenshaw was a very special place, the site holds keys to the origin and development of a pattern of ceremonialism which changed over time and which may have peaked early in the growth of Caddo culture.

other ceremonial practices:  the huge pile of antler, fortuitously preserved and discovered, indicating elaborate ceremonies centered on white tailed deer, the ash bed with nondomestic debris, flat-topped mounds used for burial rather than as substructures for temples, all give witness to differences from Fourche Maline patterns, and differences from other Mississippian cultures in this early time period.  The potential is great at Crenshaw for discovering clues which can shed light on the shift from less elaborate to more elaborate religious practices (at the same time, of course, that there are shifts in settlement, subsistence, and technology).

technology:  engraving on pottery, a hallmark of Caddo ceramics, is a diagnostic shift from the normally undecorated Fourche Maline pottery.  There are “new tempering materials, vessel shapes, and manufacturing processes.  The skill and art of ceramic decoration is clearly expressed in a proliferation of new decorative motifs and techniques” (Early 1982:100).  The appearance of arrowpoints marks a change in hunting and warfare patterns.  Stone manos and metates found in Fourche Maline middens are not found in early Caddo middens.  Is this, as Schambach believes, a shift to wood technology?

Other research questions about early Caddo posed in the State Plan (Early 1982:103-104) can be tested with future research at the Crenshaw site.  Chronometric control over the transition from Fourche Maline to Caddo should be available through radiocarbon and archeometric samples.  Perhaps even more important will be bioarcheological studies on what Schambach feels may be the skulls and mandibles of as many as 1000 more individuals still buried in the “Plaza of the Skulls.”  A biological sample of this size does not exist elsewhere in the Caddo area and would provide unparalleled data on the shifts in diet, life expectancy, disease, and general health which must have occurred with the shift to horticulture and a dispersed settlement pattern.

Despite a large amount of destructive activity, there is still much of interest and significance at the site.  Three of the mounds are largely undisturbed.  There are extensive midden areas where pothunting ceased once it became apparent that graves were not present, and there is the extensive essentially undisturbed skull and mandible burial area (the Plaza of the Skulls) where pothunting has been minimal because no grave goods accompany these unusual interments and many are deeply buried (over 1 meter).

In all aspects of aboriginal Caddo life, then, the Crenshaw site has the potential for providing information needed to answer questions of “origin.”  The only modern professional excavations with problem oriented goals were those carried out for a few weeks in 1968 by Schambach; Schambach's other investigations on Rayburn's property have all been in the nature of “salvage.”  Because the site is pivotal to understanding the changes from Woodland to Mississippi economy and lifeway in southwest Arkansas, and because it may provide evidence of the origin of the present Caddo Tribe, it is considered of national significance.

In it interesting and perhaps not coincidental, that one version of the Caddo origin myth has the Caddo emerging from a cave in a hill (probably a mound) at the north end of a large prairie at the latitude of Hervey, Arkansas (Swanton 1942:27).  Hervey is (or was, it is now a ghost town) about 1.2 miles west of Crenshaw, and Crenshaw is situated at the north end of a large natural prairie called Lost Prairie.

So it seems that Caddo oral traditions, recorded in the latter part of the nineteenth century, agree with archeological evidence and opinion that the Crenshaw site was, as much as any one site can possibly be, the birth place of Caddo culture as it existed from AD 900 on.  Thus Crenshaw has profound significance, not just to archeologists, but to the Caddo people themselves.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Dickinson, S.D. 1936  Ceramic Relationships of the Pre-Caddo Pottery From the Crenshaw Site.  Bulletin of the Texas Archeological and Palentological Society 8:56-59.

Durham, James H. and Michael K. Davis 1975  Report on Burials Found at Crenshaw, Mound C, Miller County, Arkansas.  Bulletin of the Oklahoma Anthropological Society 23:1-90.

Lemley, Harry J. 1936  Discoveries Indicating a Pre-Caddo Culture on the Red River in Arkansas.  Bulletin of the Texas Archeological and Palentological Society 8:25-55.

McGimsey, Charles R., III and Hester A. Davis 1962  The Crenshaw Indian Mound of Southwest Arkansas and its Destruction.  Paper presented at the Plains Anthropological Conference, Lawton, Oklahoma.

Moore, Clarence B.  1912  Some Aboriginal Sites on Red River.  Journal of the Academy of Natural Science of Philadelphia 14 (Part I):482-644.

Powell, Mary Lucas.  1977  Prehistoric Ritual Skull Burials at the Crenshaw Site (3MI6), Arkansas.  Bulletin of the Texas Archeological Society 48:111-118.

Schambach, Frank F.  1968  Exploratory Excavations in the Midden Areas at the Crenshaw Site, Miller County, Arkansas.  A research proposal submitted to the National Science Foundation by the Arkansas Archeological Survey.  M.S. on File, Arkansas Archeological Survey.

Schambach, Frank F.  1971  Exploratory Excavations in the Midden Areas at the Crenshaw Site.  An Interim Report on Research Conducted Under National Science Foundation Grant GS2684.  Paper presented at the 12th Caddo Conference, Magnolia, Arkansas.

Schambach, Frank F.  1982  An Outline of  Fourche Maline Culture in Southwest Arkansas.  In Arkansas Archeology in Review, edited by Neal L. Trubowitz and Marvin D. Jeter, pp. 132-197.  Arkansas Archeological Survey Research Series No. 15.  Fayetteville.

Schambach, Frank F.  1984  A Unique Skull and Mandible Cemetery at the Crenshaw Site.  Paper presented at the 25th Caddo Conference, Nacagdoches, Texas.

Schambach, Frank F.  1990  Mounds, Embankments, and Ceremonialism in the Trans-Mississippi South.  Paper presented at the 11th Annual Mid-South Archeological Conference, Pinson Mounds State Archeological Area, Pinson, Tennessee.

Swanton, John R.  1942  Source Material on the History and Ethnology of the Caddo Indians.  Smithsonian Institution, Bureau of American Ethnology, Bulletin 132.

Wood, W. Raymond  1963  A Preliminary Report on the 1962 Excavations at the Crenshaw Site 3MI6.  In Arkansas Archeology 1962, edited by Charles R. McGimsey III, pp. 1-13, Arkansas Archeological Society, Fayetteville.

Wood, W. Raymond   n.d.  The Crenshaw Site:  A Coles Creek and Caddoan Mound Group in Miller County, Arkansas.  M.S. on file, University of Arkansas Museum, Fayetteville.