...an appreciation of these amazing artifacts is intrinsically linked to an
understanding of where and when these objects were created, and by whom.

The Nodena Archaeological Sites

The central Mississippi valley encompasses low-lying areas adjacent to the Mississippi River in present-day Missouri, Arkansas, Mississippi, and Tennessee. It is bounded on its eastern margin by the loess bluffs of Tennessee and on the west by Crowley’s Ridge in Arkansas. Nodena Mound circa 1942Nodena Mound circa 1942 The river has yielded a plentiful environment throughout history and prehistory, providing food resources and raw materials for the people that have lived there.

By the late prehistoric period (the early 1500s, just prior to Spanish explorers entering the vicinity), the Central Mississippi River Valley was home to numerous Native American Indian groups living in towns throughout the area. The remains of several of these towns were investigated by Dr. James K. Hampson in the early 1900s. Two of these former prehistoric villages were located on Nodena, his family’s farm, and became known as the Upper Nodena and Middle Nodena archeological sites. Archeological investigations at these sites have since yielded knowledge about the Native American Indians who lived there.

The Nodean Archaeological Phase

Nodena Style headpot - Different forms of Documentation (1950's to Today) The central Mississippi valley has a long history of human occupation dating back to at least 12,000 years ago and continuing to the present day. Throughout this long time period, the lifestyles, daily activities, and beliefs of the people who lived here have changed. Over time, these changes manifest themselves in ways that serve to define the particular culture responsible for them. These cultures are defined over a geographic area and the time period in which they existed. Culture areas can be further refined by archaeologists into phases, which refer to smaller, sub-areas of a particular cultural group during a specific span of time within an area.

The archeological remains of the Native American groups that were living in the northwestern portion of the central Mississippi valley (an area that today includes northeastern Arkansas and the Bootheel of Missouri) from about 1450 to 1650 AD are referred to by archaeologists as the Nodena phase, named after the archeological sites on the Hampson farm.


The Nodena Culture
We do not know what the inhabitants of the central Mississippi valley called themselves prior to the time of European contact. They may have been a part of the “Province of Pacaha” mentioned in the 1541 chronicles of the Hernando de Soto expedition through eastern Arkansas. Some archeologists equate the Nodena phase with Pacaha.

Nodena Style Point The Nodena people were farmers, growing corn, beans, and squash, as well as tending and collecting a wide variety of wild plant foods. They hunted a variety of local wildlife, especially white-tailed deer and migratory waterfowl, and caught large quantities of fish in oxbow and seasonal lakes. Some Nodena towns may have been surrounded by a ditch or a combination of a ditch and palisade wall. Towns consisted of closely-spaced houses, as well as smaller structures for storing corn, drying meat, or preparing animal hides. The focus of larger Nodena settlements was one or more rectangular, flat-topped earthen mounds that supported civic and religious buildings. Throughout the central Mississippi valley and the greater Midsouth, the prehistoric houses were square and constructed of timbers set into trenches in the ground. Lengths of cane were “woven” between these timbers and the resulting walls were sealed with packed clay, a technique referred to as “wattle and daub.” House floors were also packed with clay to produce a flat living surface. A centrally located hearth provided warmth and a cooking fire. Dr. Hampson excavated a number of such houses at the Upper Nodena site.

The Nodena people fashioned tools and implements from stone, wood, bone and antler, and shell. Their arrows were tipped by small willow leaf-shaped points, dubbed by archaeologists as the Nodena point type. They also made a wide variety of implements for gardening and hide preparation. Woodworking and basketry were common endeavors for the Nodena people, and they created ornamental objects from bone, shell, and stone. Ceramics were produced by mixing local backswamp clays tempered with crushed mussel shell. Some of the ceramic vessels by the Nodena people and their neighbors were quite artistic, including painted red and white swirls, complex incised designs (including portraits of mythical figures), and modeled effigy vessels representing people and various animals. Most of the ceramic vessels in Dr. Hampson’s collection probably were not made not for utilitarian (everyday) use, but rather for ritual use, including burial with the dead.Nodena Red and White Water Bottle

The Nodena people may have been the ancestors of the of the modern-day Quapaw Tribe, who in the late seventeenth century had several towns around the confluence of the White and Arkansas Rivers. The Quapaw maintained a presence in the area until their removal to northwest Louisiana in 1824, when all of their land in the Territory of Arkansas was ceded to the United States. In 1834, under another treaty, they were forcibly relocated to their present location in the northeastern Oklahoma. Present-day descendants of the Quapaw people are members of the Quapaw Tribe of Indians.

Suggested readings:
Fisher-Carroll, Rita 2001 Mortuary Behavior at Upper Nodena. Research Series 59. Arkansas Archeological Survey, Fayetteville.

Fisher-Carroll, Rita, and Robert C. Mainfort, Jr. 2000 Late prehistoric mortuary behavior at Upper Nodena. Southeastern Archaeology 19:105-119.

Gall, Daniel G. Robert C. Mainfort, Jr., and Rita Fisher-Carroll 2003 The occurrence of greenstone at late period sites in northeast Arkansas. Southeastern Archaeology 21(2):235-244.

Mainfort, Robert C., Jr. 2001 The Late Prehistoric and Protohistoric Periods in the Central Mississippi Valley. In Societies in Eclipse, edited by D.S. Brose, C.W. Cowan, and R.C. Mainfort, Jr., pp. 173-189. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington.

2005 Architecture at Upper Nodena: Structures Excavated by Dr. James K. Hampson. Arkansas Archeologist 44:21-30.

Mainfort, Robert C., Jr. J. Matthew Compton and Kathleen H. Cande) 2007 1973 excavations at the Upper Nodena site. Southeastern Archaeology 26(1):108-123.

Mainfort, Robert C., Jr., Rita Fisher-Carroll, and Daniel G. Gall 2006 Sociotechnic celts from the Upper Nodena site, northeast Arkansas. Midcontinental Journal of Archaeology 31(2):323-343.

Morse, Dan F. (editor) 1989 Nodena: An Account of 90 Years of Archeological Investigation in Southeast Mississippi County, Arkansas. Research Series No. 30. Arkansas Archeological Survey, Fayetteville.

Morse, Dan F., and Phyllis A. Morse 1983 Archaeology of the Central Mississippi Valley. Academic Press, San Diego.